Monthly Archives: November 2013

Our Mutual Friends

Yesterday Tony DaSilva (@Bulldozer0) provided me with a wake-up call in the form of a tweet illustrating how a lack of mutuality commonly pervades relationships in our workplaces. A wake-up call, because I had forgotten just how strange the idea of mutuality must be for many folks, especially in the context of work.


When we talk about attending to folks’ needs, we’re talking about everyone attending to each others’ needs (although not to the complete exclusion of each attending to their own needs). You may not yourself have experienced the joy that comes from seeing other folks getting their needs met. It makes me sad to think just how many people may be in this situation. And I’m feeling thankful, even blessed, that I have experienced it myself, albeit rarely but at least occasionally.

When Rosenberg writes about this feeling, I can immediately and profoundly relate:

“… we have such power to make [everyone’s] life wonderful, and that there is nothing we like better than to do just that.”

“How basic is this need to give to one another? I think the need to enrich life is one of the most basic and powerful needs we all have.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Aside: When I’m thinking about mutuality – it’s generally in the sense of “common to or shared by both or all of two or more parties”.

So, how does Tony’s tweet fit here? As an example of the typical dynamic in so many organisations, and so many relationships:

  • Unilateralism rather than mutuality.
  • “What’s in it for me?” Rather than “What can I do to make someone else’s life more wonderful?”
  • Selfishly attending to our own needs and ignoring that others have needs too.
  • Missing out on the joy of serving others’ needs.

So how *could* this kind of dialogue have gone differently, had the participants been attending to each others’ needs?

Employee: “I feel depressed and frustrated because I work best and most creatively when what I’m doing feels like play. Would you be willing to let me play with this and see what emerges?”

Boss: “I feel uneasy when you mention play because I imagine my job’s on the line if this doesn’t get done soon. Would you be willing to tackle it urgently?”

Employee: “No problem. I feel energised when I have some purpose to my play, and joy when I imagine I’m making folks life more wonderful. Would you like me to keep you posted?”

Evolving Competence

A little futher down the line, time-wise, when these folks have had the opportunity both to practice, and to experience the joy that comes from seeing other folks’ needs being met, we might imagine a similar situation unfolding thusly:

Employee: “I’m guessing you’re feeling like your job’s on the line if this doesn’t get done soon?”

Boss: “Yes. I’m feeling reassured that you’ve picked up on that, because I need to keep this job at the moment, and I like to think of myself as being capable of doing a good job, generally.”

Boss: “I’m guessing you’d be happier if you could just play around with it some?”

Employee: “Yes. I feel happy and focussed because I work best and most creatively when what I’m doing feels like play.”

Boss: “Would you be willing to make it your priority?”

Employee: “Happy to. I feel energised when I have some purpose to my play, and joy when I imagine I’m doing what’s most important for others. I’m guessing you’d be happier if I kept you posted?”

Here we see empathy as the starting point for a dialogue in which each is attending more to the other’s needs than to their own. Of course, if the whole organisation has adopted this new frame, then the dynamics and context of such conversations might be somewhat – and fundamentally – different.

Absence of Judgment

We can also see, in both examples, an absence of judgment. Neither person is tied up with forming a moralistic judgment of the other person’s needs – e.g. whether they are “reasonable”, “valid”, “acceptable”, “outrageous” or whatever. Nor do they judge their own needs. Each simply takes the needs as “givens”.

Aside: In situations where folks are having difficulties in identifying or articulating their needs, it may take some mutual assistance and exploration to arrive at clarity. This is not the same as e.g. watering-down or otherwise negotiating on needs. And remembering:

“We can’t really know what we need until we get it. Only then will we know whether we need it or not.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg



Jon has posted a comment requesting a version of the example dialogue where only the employee is conscious of attending to folks’ needs. One of the many reasons I’m particularly fond of the Antimatter Principle is that it can start small, with just one person. However, it can take some patience to start with building the empathy necessary for the other person – in this case, the boss – to take the time to listen.

Here’s one way I guess such a dialogue might unfold:

Employee: “I’m guessing you’re feeling like all our jobs are on the line if we don’t get this done soonest?”

Boss: “Can you just get on with it, asap?”

Employee: “So I’m sensing that it’s important to you that the team’s in a focussed and creative frame of mind for this piece of work? That we’re able to fully give of our best?”

Boss: “Damn straight!”

Employee: “I also guessing you’re worried we won’t be able to meet the deadline, and we’ll all end up looking hopeless again?”

[It may take some time, like ten or twenty minutes maybe, continuing in this vein, with the employee reflecting back the feelings coming at them from the boss, until there’s – maybe – a ‘shift’. A shift wherein the Boss just may begin to consider the needs of the employee.]

Boss: “Yes. I guess how the team feels about this is going to impact its ability to meet the deadline…”



A Request

When writing these kinds of posts, I often feel uncertain and unfulfilled because I rarely know whether I’ve met anyone’s needs by writing them. Would you be willing to provide feedback in the form of e.g. a comment, below, about the extent to which this post has met – or failed to meet – your needs?

– Bob

Further Reading

Nonviolent Communication in Action – The REAL Center

What’s Wrong With Judgment?


Hands up all those on whom the (intentional) irony of the above title is not lost?


Most folks are habituated to being judgmental, without ever realising it. And most often blind to the effect this is having on themselves, on their well-being and on the well-being of those around them. Maybe an increased awareness of the habit might offer some scope for breaking out of the pattern and finding more joy in work and life.


This is bad. That is good. She is smart. He is cunning. That ceiling is a hideous shade of green. “Moralistic” judgments. We make such judgments a thousand times a day. Most often without even really being aware we are doing it. Judgments of others. Judgments of things. Judgments of ourselves. Negative judgments. Positive judgements.

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

I find some irony in this quotation – the implicit judgmentalism makes me smile and wince in equal measure.


“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

If we accept this frame, then remaining blind to our own judgmentalism means we also remain blind to our own (unmet) needs. But if we can begin to become aware of ourselves doing it – being judgmental – then we have a tool we can use to start identifying and articulating our needs.

“I’m all for judgments. I don’t think we could survive very long without them. We judge which foods will give us what our bodies need. We judge which actions are going to get our needs met. But I differentiate between life-serving judgments, which are about meeting our needs, and moralistic judgments that imply rightness or wrongness.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg


Nonviolent Communication, through the words of its creator, Marshall Rosenberg, invites us to consider the effects flowing more or less inevitably from our habituation to judgmentalism.

“Judgment is just a recipe for suffering: start with our dissatisfaction over how a person happens to be and mix in our desire for them to be otherwise. To make that suffering nice and rich, be sure the desire clings tightly to the dissatisfaction!”

We are all, of course, victims of thousands of years of societal conditioning, wherein judgment is seen as natural, and even constructive. Society believes profoundly in the related  Myth of Redemptive Violence, too.

“When we judge others we contribute to violence.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Research has indicated that judgmentalism is linked to raised negative affect (a.k.a. feeling “down”, or sadness of mood).

“Affect has been shown to alter a person’s ability to perform different types of tasks. Positive affect enhances creative thinking and novel problem-solving, but also increases susceptibility to distraction (thereby causing an inability to stay focused). Negative affect is believed to enhance focus, but hinder creative problem-solving.”

So, finding fault with judgement – being judgmental about it – seems…discongruent.

I’m not going to get all judgmental about judgmentalism (wink). But might we choose to consider the effects that our typical habit of judgmentalism can bring?

In essence this post is, like some of my others, a plea for a little-more self-awareness, a little more attention to our own needs – and those of others – and a reminder to myself for continued practice of same.

“Rather than educating people to be conscious of their needs, we teach them to become addicted to ineffective strategies for meeting them.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Judgment is also a sure-fire way of blocking empathy and understanding:

“One reason we rush so quickly to the vulgar satisfactions of judgment, and love to revel in our righteous outrage, is that it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, messier work of understanding.”

~ Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing

Would you be willing to monitor yourself for moralistic judgements, just for a minute, an hour or a day? I’d love to hear what you discover.

– Bob

Community Matters

If you’ve browsed around this blog, you may have noticed the Rightshifting community pages.

Here you will find a whole passle of fine folks who share the aims and aspirations implicit in Rightshifting, the Antimatter Principle, etc.

In case you find this interesting, you may feel a certain affinity with us. If so, you may also be wondering how folks get to join the community. In line with things like sociocracy and fellowship, joining is simply a matter of inviting yourself.

Practically: just send me a Twitter DM, tweet, or email to kick things off.

I like to think we’re all warm and friendly, and fairly low-key.

– Bob

The World As One

Apparently, I’m an “idealist”. As if that was some kind of bad thing.

“Oh, idealists. Pshaw! Here, we have to deal in realities.”

Yes. I am an idealist. In that I see myself as someone who chooses to imagine things as they might be, in addition to how things are – or, at least how most people regard how things are. I have no problem with that. Maybe this fits your definition of idealist. Maybe not.

Yet, I see no need for idealism to exclude realism. Why does a vision for the future need to exclude “reality”? Surely the challenge we all face is getting from where we are to where we’d like to be? From needs unmet to more needs met? Of course, that’s the unreasonable man’s point of view.

And somewhat at odds with the Buddha – of inner peace coming from an acceptance of the way things are. I can live with that cognitive dissonance. At least I choose to avoid complaining. Instead I try to find solutions. And solutions mostly require doing things differently, or seeing things differently. A change of perspective is as good as a rest.

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

~ Albert Einstein

I do find it strange that “idealist” has become inextricably associated with “impractical”. I choose to regard preserving the status quo in the face of changing situations, environments, contexts, as impractical.

I have to say I don’t much like reality. Particularly the current realities of software and product development. We could be doing so much better. That’s not vain idealism. Just observation. There ARE companies doing better. Much better. The reality is that few people know this.

My idealism is grounded in realities, though. For example the reality that I don’t expect more than a very few people will act on the knowledge of the existence of these outliers. The reality that the status quo is powerful beyond measure. And the reality that in most organisations, most people don’t need to be improving, and so don’t do much about that.

“Nothing is Nirvana, nothing is perfect.”

~ Jon Stewart

So should we just give up? Pursue our own narrow agendas, serve ourselves? Research tells us that’s not how we human beings are wired. We’re wired with a social conscience. With the need to see others fulfilled as least as much as ourselves. With the need to make a difference. Maybe we’ve all been denied such opportunities in work – and life – for so long, that we’ve forgotten the joy they bring us. But the wiring’s still there.


Having ideals doesn’t preclude a desire for action, either.

“You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong.”

~ Bono

When people dismiss ideas as “idealistic”, most often they’re saying that they can’t imagine how to bring about that idea. How to effect it. They’re rarely saying that such ideas have no merit, or wouldn’t meet folks’ needs. Failures of imagination seem quite widespread, I note – with some sadness.

“No period of history has ever been great or ever can be that does not act on some sort of high, idealistic motives, and idealism in our time has been shoved aside, and we are paying the penalty for it.”

~ Alfred North Whitehead

How do you feel about idealism? Is there a place for it in your world? It seems like we don’t hear so much about ideals these days as we used to.

“I am an absurd idealist. But I believe that all that must come true. For, unless it comes true, the world will be laid desolate. And I believe that it can come true. I believe that, by the grace of God, men will awake presently and be men again, and colour and laughter and splendid living will return to a grey civilisation. But that will only come true because a few men will believe in it, and fight for it, and fight in its name against everything that sneers and snarls at that ideal.”

~ Leslie Charteris


The anniversary of the death of John Lennon (8 December) is coming round again. For me his words say more about the idealist than any other:

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”

~ John Lennon, Imagine

– Bob

An Open Letter To My Audience


Firstly, a big “Thank you” to you, my audience for your continued attention and participation.

But just why do you choose to listen to me? I mean, what needs are you trying to get met? Here’s some options folks have shared with me over the years:

Insight. As in “Oh, I hadn’t thought of it like that. But now you’ve mentioned it…”

Perspective. As in “Oh, I hadn’t thought to look at it that way. But now I do, I can see…”

Useful new ideas. As in “Oh, we hadn’t thought of that before, but that idea could be useful to us…”

General curiosity. As in “I’m curious about stuff – and maybe I’ll learn something.”

Entertainment. Not that I’m a comedian or entertainer. Don’t look to me for laughs or a dance or a song. I don’t even have a particularly sparkling personality or charisma. Some folks do find thinking-out-loud entertaining, I suppose.

A break from work. We all appreciate a break.

My boss told me to read it. Sympathies.

Push or Pull?

Whatever the reasons, most folks in my live audiences just turn up and play the blank slate. That’s to say, they seem to want me to PUSH information at them. Which is a choice I respect. But there are other choices. Like coming prepared, for example. Specifically, coming prepared to PULL information. I have an extensive blog, I’ve written papers and been videoed, I tweet a bit. I always feel disappointed when folks turn up not having any real fore-knowledge of what I’m talking about. Which, btw, is most people, most of the time.

It doesn’t really bother me having to introduce my material before getting to the meat of meeting folks’ needs. God knows I’ve done that often enough. But it’s not very stimulating for me, and more importantly it leaves so much less time for helping you folks get your specific needs met.

So, if you’re thinking about being in my audience any time soon, would you be willing to give a little thought as to whether you’d like to make some preparations, some study, beforehand? Would you be willing to think about whether pulling information might work better for all concerned? Would you be willing to give some thought as to how we might work and learn together? It would help me meet my need of providing you with the best possible value in our limited time together. And maybe it might help you get more of your needs met, too.

– Bob

The People vs. System Conundrum


I’ve seen recently that some folks have difficulty reconciling Deming’s 95% rule:

“Dr. Deming taught me that 95% of the performance of an organization is attributable to the system (processes, technology, work design, regulations, etc.) and [only] 5% is attributable to the individual.”

~ Tripp Babbitt

with Jerry Weinberg’s Second Law of Consulting:

“No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem.”

~ Jerry Weinberg

I can appreciate the dilemma, but resolve it myself thusly:

It is always a people problem (as per Weinberg), but the solution is not to try to change the people (that’s a pointless red herring). Rather, the solution is to change the system (as per Deming).

Even better is having the people (the workers) change the system themselves (with the active participation of management, so everyone can share the normative learning experience).

“It’s easier to act our way into a new way of thinking, than think our way into a new way of acting.”

~ Jerry Sternin, The Power of Positive Deviance

And how might we all decide what changes to make to the system? Just apply the Antimatter Principle. The most effective knowledge-work system – and organisation – is one in which eveyone’s needs get attended to.

– Bob


Hansel and Gretel

In the popular fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm, two children, Hansel and Gretel, leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind them as they are led deep into the dark and forbidding woods to die. Nothwithstanding the plot twist in which their breadcrumbs are eaten by birds, more recently the term “breadcrumbs” has come to mean any series of links or steps which allow people to keep track of their location, by means of references to the way back “home”.

I often feel the whole tech industry is like a bunch of children lost in the dark and forbidding wood, lacking a trail of breadcrumbs, not knowing which way to turn to find their way out and back “home” – home where software and product development is warm, safe, secure, and successful.

With the Antimatter Principle, I see a path out of the darkness, and a way back home. A path of breadcrumbs (without those pesky birds).

The Idealised Design

If we had a blank slate, what kind of situation might we choose to create, in order to build organisations that are highly effective at knowledge work – and meeting customers’ needs?

Research in various fields such as psychology, neuroscience and sociology have provided us with breadcrumbs along the path to that “home”. Here are some of the breadcrumbs I have in mind:

Low Distress

Distress reduces cognitive function. That’s to say, when we’re stressed-out, we simply can’t think any where near as well as when we’re more calm and unworried. Distress also contributes to ill-health (both physical and mental) and even increased mortality rates (death).

High Eustress

Eustress (positive stress) gives us positive motivation, derived from feelings of fulfilment, increased attention and higher levels of interest in what we’re doing. Eustress correlates with challenging work (depending on our perception of that work). Stress in the workplace is unlikely to go away any time soon, but we can adjust our perceptions such that we derive more eustress and less distress from the inevitable stressful stimuli.


When we’re immersed, zoned-in, fully present in doing something, we derive feelings of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment. In other words, most people love the feeling of being completely absorbed in what they’re doing. The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi goes so far as to describe this state as one of “spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”


“We must completely abandon the goal of getting other people to do what we want.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Coercion and use of force tends to generate hostility and to reinforce resistance to the very behaviours we are seeking. Genuine autonomy – lack of all coercion – is so far from how most people see the world, it may be the most difficult breadcrumb of them all for us to embrace.

Absence of Fear

Fear (of e.g. punishment) diminishes our self-esteem and our goodwill towards the perpetrators. It also obscures any compassion underlying the perpetrators demands. We’d all like folks to take action out of the desire to contribute to life – rather than out of fear, guilt, shame, or obligation. Wouldn’t we?

A Multitude of Opportunities for Gratitude

Research in the fields of neuroscience and positive psychology show us that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects – for example, making us happier, healthier and more positively-disposed towards others (pro-social motivation).

“A growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.”

~ Dr. Blair Justice & Dr. Rita Justice


“Our goal is to create a quality of empathic connection that allows everyone’s needs to be met.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

By empathy, I’m choosing to use the term as it’s often used in e.g. counselling: an expression of the regard and respect we hold for another – whose experiences maybe quite different from our own.

“I have a sense of your world, you are not alone, we will go through this together”.

Carl Rogers, the founder of person-centred counselling, concluded that the important elements of empathy are:

  • We understand the other person’s feelings.
  • Our responses reflect the other person’s mood, and the content of what has been said.
  • Our tone of voice conveys the ability to share the other person’s feelings.

“It’s harder to empathise with those who appear to possess more power, status, or resources than us.”


By presence I mean simply taking the time and effort to be present with one another, giving fully of our attention, with deep respect and genuine interest.

“Our presence is the most precious gift we can give to another human being.”

I share the view of Nancy Kline, author of “More Time to Think” and proponent of the idea of the “Thinking Environment”, that

“The quality of our attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”

~ Nancy Kline


We may choose to see the inherent beauty in being human, and thereby the beauty in our needs – needs related to our essential nature as human beings.

We are by nature compassionate. We are by nature alive. We are by nature creative.
We are by nature playful. All of these qualities manifest us as human beings.

And when we act as fully human, this beauty emanates, and we live it and we see it in other people, and in the wider world of Nature, too.


“I believe that the most joyful and intrinsic motivation human beings have for taking any action is the desire to meet our needs and the needs of others.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Isn’t joy the motivation we’d most wish folks to act out of? So much better than fear, obligation, guilt or shame. And so much more effective than e.g. money, fame, power-over or other such extrinsic motivations.


Most workplaces I have come across have been toxic to the expression of feelings and emotions. “Business” and emotions are not cozy bed-fellows, it would seem. Yet the irony is that all business is, at its root, driven by emotion. Everything we do as human beings is driven by emotion (and concomitant needs). People buy because of emotion. People make decisions and choices based on emotion. Even “hard” science is largely moderated by emotion.

Repressing our emotions causes us distress, and denies our humanity.


We can’t win at somebody else’s expense. We can only fully be satisfied when other folks’ needs are fulfilled as well as our own. This is not the common theory-in-use in capitalism.


“Unless we come from a certain kind of spirituality, we’re likely to create more harm than good.”


Constructing our idealised design, by following the path laid out by these breadcrumbs, we may just find ourselves living and working in organisations that better meet our needs as human beings, and that (better) meet the needs of ALL the folks – owners, shareholders, core groups, executives, managers, employees, customers and society at large – whom our organisations ostensibly exist to serve.

– Bob

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