Learning to Let Go

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.

Letting Go

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

– Bob

  1. Bob, Just had a couple of reactions. One, are your goals to to teach this to people: our mutual goals are “making meaningful connections with people, and helping folks’ life become more wonderful.”? And two, I like that you try to be available in case someone is curious about your thoughts and experiences, but do we do violence by refraining from conveying — or at least discussing — our message? Because we have left their lives “incomplete”? You obviously do not want to harm people in your means of communication, but you do not want to harm their “ends” or “telos” by refraining from giving them helpful information.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      As to your questions:

      One) I have no agenda for teaching things to others. This includes any kind of mutual agenda (unless and until they’d like to discuss having one). “Making meaningful connections with people, and helping folks’ life become more wonderful” is my agenda, a statement or recognition of my own needs. It’s up to other folks to choose whether they’d like to help me make my life more wonderful in these regards. The mutuality comes form my wishing to understand their needs, and what might make life more wonderful for them. Cf the Platinum Rule.

      Two) I’m not sure that keeping our message silent is in itself violent, just reducing the likelihood of others being able to e.g. understand our intent and maybe our needs, too. I don’t see “completing” others’ lives as an obligation (that obligation would in itself signify some kind of violence). I wonder if other folks have a view on this?

      And yes, I’m always aware of the potential for triggering feelings of harm or, and want to avoid that wherever possible, but it’s not always possible to avoid it. As Marshall Rosenberg observes, others’ pain comes from how *they* see a situation or event – my actions will only ever be a possible trigger, not the cause of their pain: “What others do may be the stimulus of our feelings, but never the cause.”

      – Bob

  2. Hi Flowchainsensei, Perhaps we’re speaking past each other, but I think your personal agenda is something you want people to be cognizant of (because this a personal need). This sharing of agendas to me, equates to “teaching things” to people. That doesn’t mean that you don’t learn from them also, incorporating their ideas and agenda into your own, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have an agenda when relating to people. I equate a hermit to someone who has no agenda.

    I agree with your response to question two. Instead of “violence”, perhaps there is a sadness — that we were not able to share our needs with each other — but nothing more.

    • Yes, I believe it would help meet my need for e.g. meaningful connections if at least some folks know of my personal agenda. And vice-versa, too, btw. I myself would not call this teaching, but can happily accept that some folks might call it that. I’d say a hermit might have a very concrete agenda – e.g. to be alone.

      The basic point I was trying to get across was: I’m happy to hold my hand up and say *I* have an agenda in the circumstances outlined in the post, but have no agenda on behalf of others. This in contrast to the more usual dynamic of human relationships, where folks seem to believe that they know what’s “best” for others.

      – Bob

      • I think you’re right. Hermits do have an agenda!

        And yes, I see a distinction between your concept of teaching — being more heavy handed and omniscient — versus a more collegial definition akin to a desire to share your agenda. I supposed the later to be a more accepted definition, but maybe that was just wishful thinking.

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