Nice and Respectful

Nice and Respectful

There’s an awful lot of really, really nice people in the agile community. Which makes it a pleasant community to be a part of.


Maybe being nice so much is part of the problem.

What problem?

As Liz (@lunivore) puts it: “Our industry [the software development industry] is in an awful state. A really awful state.”

(Ackoff would probably have called this a Wicked Problem).

That the industry is in an awful state has to be apparent to most people. Some folks even have well-formed ideas as to why it is so.

And (sometimes) the Agile community even tries to do something about it. Although there’s not much consensus on WHAT to do. Or even what the real roots of the problems are. (I’ll set aside for another post the issue of all the snake-oil salesmen, and the genuine but misguided folks – both being groups who muddy the waters considerably).

I for one am regularly disappointed with what I perceive to be a reluctance to engage in constructive conflict on the subject. I often see folks opt for niceness (and avoidance) over purposeful debate and dialogue.

Maybe the problem really is unsolvable.

I don’t think so.

At least, I believe we can find ways to act to ameliorate it significantly.

Maybe it seems like we have a huge mountain to climb, and that discourages us. ( I know I feel discouraged by the apparent enormity of the challenge, quite often).

And maybe it’s also partly apathy, or ennui, or learned helplessness, or… ?

But until we can put aside niceness in favour of respect, I don’t see us making much progress.

Respect for someones is not the same as being nice to them. In fact, often, being nice to someone can actually be doing them – and ourselves – a disservice. For example, Argyris calls attention to the process of  ‘easing-in’. And observes it as deleterious to productive, effective dialogue.

There’s rather more niceness and rather less respect going around than I feel is healthy. I think we can do much more on the respect front. As Norm Kerth says:

Let’s … understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

Sounds like a good position to take more generally, not just for intra-team retrospectives?

So how about giving folks (and their ideas) some more respect, and especially by being a little less nice and a little more, erm, honest and direct and challenging?

After all, when climbing a mountain, it’s rarely a cakewalk – it involves some effort and hardship, and yes, maybe some constructive conflict too.

– Bob


  1. An excellent point Bob. I agree that “constructive conflict” is what’s needed, but unfortunately people shy away from the whole notion of conflict. I know this is a generalisation, but none-the-less one that I observe to be mostly true. I agree that dialogue (as defined by Bohm (On Dialogue) , and Senge et al (Fifth Discipline)) is what is required rather than debate or discussion where egos lock horns and little gets resolved. I’m curious to know more about what you perceive as the problems in the Software Industry and more especially how we as an Agile community can come together to engage in dialogue to explore these issues.

    • I’m not sure the Agile community understands the need for (or value of) purposeful dialogue. Nor am I sure that the Agile community is mature or cohesive enough to act together – or ever will be. Naming a community after one particular solution (Agile) rather than the purpose (effective knowledge-work organisations) or the problem at hand seems dysfunctional, too.

      I do what I can to move things along, in the company of some relatively few like-minded folks, but there are millions of developers and related technical folks out there, and so few who seem to even notice the problem, let alone feel that they personally have any role in addressing it.

      FWIW There’s a Current Reality Tree diagram ( on my website which reflects my view of the problems in the Software Industry.

      As I say, I feel discouraged quite often. But soldier on, nevertheless. It’s my vocation and purpose.

      – Bob

  2. galleman said:

    An idea whose time has come. Time to connect the process of agile and the people practices those processes with the reality of spending other peoples money
    Making the Impossible Possible is possibly a book that can be adapted to the problem of too many nice people/

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