Learning to Let Go
I’ve just come back from six weeks in Delhi, working there with around eighty people engaged in software development – mainly coding and testing – as members of a number of different product teams located in various other geographies around the world.
This post is by way of thanks to the Delhi folks for their hospitality, generous spirit, and humanity – and for helping me (re)learn a valuable lesson.
The Lesson Relearnt
The lesson in question is: people do not learn from hearing things.
I see my present role – of which my time in Delhi was but one example – as fundamentally about inviting folks’ curiosity and interest. No more, no less. In essence I am asking the question:
“Would you be willing to examine with me – or amongst yourselves – your current views and assumptions regarding the field of software and product development?”
Whether they choose to accede to the request or not matters to me – not because I have any agenda for them, but because my needs include making meaningful connections with people, and helping folks’ life become more wonderful. Given the amount of time folks spend at work, I can think of few better opportunities to pursue my needs. If people choose not to engage with my request, I respect that choice, even though I personally see it as a lost opportunity for all concerned.
So, of what am I “letting go”? I’m letting go of the need to be an expert. Of the need to have answers to their problems (I don’t even know their problems, really). And of the need to tell them all about how highly-effective software and product development works. As someone who has been examining my own views and assumptions of software and product development for the best part of forty years, I’m letting go of the idea that I can help people learn and grow by simply telling them things from my own experiences. Unless they ask. And they may not know that asking me is an option.
“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.”
~ Galileo Galilei
Some years ago, recognising the dysfunctions inherent in telling folks things, I used to withhold information unilaterally – until I thought folks were ‘ready’ to hear it, piece by piece. Having learned from e.g. Argyris, Noonan, Kline and Rosenberg, nowadays I try to make it clear that, to the extent that I have any knowledge or information that might be useful to someone, the timing and manner of its sharing can be something on which we can decide together.
I suspect this notion of self-paced ‘pulling’ of information or knowhow is pretty novel to many people. And so I suspect that many may not connect with the notion straight away. At least, not in a way that they might immediately benefit from.
In summary then, in attempting to help folks have a more wonderful life at work, I believe that if I have any part to play it’s in simply being there, with them, giving of my full attention:
“The quality of our attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking. Attention, driven by deep respect and genuine interest, and without interruption, is the key to a Thinking Environment.”
~ Nancy Kline, More Time To Think