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Compassion

The irony of my situation. is not lost on me (although I guess it’s lost on most everyone else).

My career has been driven for at least the past thirty years by my concern and compassion for those many millions of folks working in jobs where they have no chance to fulfil their innate potential. Not to mention the unemployed, who also have little to zero opportunity to exercise any of their innate potential.

And now I find myself in the same situation. Oh, the irony.

“Please, just attend to my needs”

This is the silent plea of everyone in your organisation (and everyone in our lives, for that matter).

Silent because of fear of appearing weak or needy. And silent because those in need rarely realise they have unmet needs, let alone realise that their needs could be attended to.

Are you hearing their requests? Are you doing something, anything, about them?

How would you feel if your heartfelt pleas continually fell on deaf ears? Do you care how others might be feeling?

– Bob

Compassion Makes For A Better Developer. Period.

I’m loving the book “Compassionomics” by Steve Trzeciak, Cory Booker and Anthony Mazzarelli. I’m finding oodles of research-based data and information of immense relevance to software development organisations, and to businesses generally. 

Not that research, science, and evidence is going to sway folks much if at all. Yet, for those already swayed, the information in the book might be useful. 

There’s a bunch of terms – terms widely in use in the medical business field – explained in the book. Here’s a brief introduction to some of them: 

Burnout

“Decades of rigorous research have identified three hallmarks of burnout: emotional exhaustion (being emotionally depleted or overextended), a lack of personal accomplishment (the feeling that one can’t really make a difference), and depersonalisation. Depersonalisation is the inability to make that personal connection.”

~ Trzeciak & Mazzarelli

Depersonalisation also results in reduction in empathy for patients, and in treatment with compassion.

Compassion Fatigue

Literally, running our of compassion for patients.

Adherence

In the field of medicine, adherence is defined as the extent to which patients are able to follow treatment recommendations from health care providers. Non-adherence is, of course, the opposite: patients patients not following treatment recommendations.

The most common example of non-adherence is when a patient is supposed to be taking prescribed medication but is not taking his or her pills. But non-adherence can be about much more than just not taking medication. It’s also a factor with other treatments, like patients with kidney failure who do not show up for scheduled dialysis treatments. Or when a physician recommends that a patient modifies a certain behaviour – like quitting smoking, losing weight, or exercising regularly – but that patient doesn’t follow through.

Compassion Satisfaction

Compassion satisfaction is the degree to which a person feels pleasure or satisfaction from their efforts to relieve others’ suffering. Aside: It’s this idea that informs the Antimatter Principle.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue (emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and, in this case, also taking on stress from taking care of those that are stressed from being sick)

“A lack of compassion leads to increased workforce issues”

“A new field of research is suggesting that when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line. Consider the important—but often overlooked—issue of workplace culture…Employees in positive moods are more willing to help peers and to provide customer service on their own accord…In doing so, they boost coworkers’ productivity levels and increase coworkers’ feeling of social connection, as well as their commitment to the workplace and their levels of engagement with their job. Given the costs of health care, employee turnover, and poor customer service, we can understand how compassion might very well have a positive impact not only on employee health and well-being but also on the overall financial success of a workplace.”

~ Dr. Emma Seppälä, “Why Compassion in Business Makes Sense”

Emotional Labour

Emotional labour is the management of one’s emotions (both one’s experienced emotions as well as one’s displayed emotions) to present a certain image.

For decades, researchers in management and organisational behaviour have been studying emotional labour by service workers across all types of service industries. For health care providers, emotional labour includes the expectation of compassionate behaviours toward patients, even if those providers aren’t actually feeling an emotional connection with the patient in that particular moment. (A word of caution here: Please resist the temptation to trivialise emotional labour as “faking it.” It goes much deeper than that…)

Neuroplasticity

Recent advances in neuroscience have overturned the long-held belief that the brain’s structure and function was essentially fixed throughout adulthood, in favour of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the human brain’s ability to form, reorganise and grow new synaptic connections, even through adulthood. 

Summary

Are you really telling me the all this research has no relevance to the software industry? That developers, etc., have no need of compassion? That compassion won’t make for a better developer? Tcha!

– Bob

Further Reading

Trzeciak, S., Booker, C. and Mazzarelli, A. (2019). Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference. Studer Group.

Getting Along

When all is said and done, all our artifices, all our strivings, all our efforts to organise work… it’s simply about figuring our how to get along (with each other). 

If we’re getting paid but not being productive, the payers will rankle and cavil, and they and we won’t get along. If we’re producing stuff that doesn’t meed the needs of our customers, they will feel frustrated and they and we won’t get along.  If we treat some folks like pariahs or cogs in our machine, they won’t feel valued or respected, and they and we won’t get along.

There’s really no more to work, and organisations, than getting along. In Rightshifted organisations, for example, such as the quintessential ones, folks simple get along better.

What does it take for us all to get along?

– Bob

Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality Reframed

I recently posted a quickie repeating Phil Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality.

I accept that many folks find his choice of vocabulary less than clear. So, here’s a reframing of his four absolutes, reframed in the Antimatter Principle vocabulary (a reframing which you may or may not find more helpful).

  1. The definition of quality is meeting everyone’s needs, NOT “goodness”.
  2. The behaviour that causes quality to happen is paying attention to folks’ needs, NOT inspection.
  3. The performance standard for quality is “all needs met, for all the Folks that Matter™️”, NOT “that’s good enough”.
  4. The measurement of quality is the cost of focus, NOT indices.

– Bob

Choices

As a society, and as a species, we have a choice: 

The Domination System, supported by the Myth of Redemptive Violence

OR

Nonviolence, especially an end to violence against women and girls.

It’s either-or time, folks. 

#StopViolenceAgainstWomen means #EndTheDominationSystem

Which in turn means we cannot expect the present Domination System (government, politicians, the retributive “justice” system,…) to do ANYTHING constructive or useful. Action is simply contrary to their interests.

– Bob

Further Reading

http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk. (n.d.). A different world is possible. [online] Available at: https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/a-different-world-is-possible/.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

~ Dalai Lama

Found in: Trzeciak, Stephen; Mazzarelli, Anthony. Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference (p. 23). Studer Group. Kindle Edition.

Where Are All the Helpees?

Amongst my needs, maybe even my most compelling need, is to help people. That’s one reason I blog. Tragically, then, I need helpees – folks that actually need some kind of help.

Aside: I have a very specific definition of “help” (v) here:

“To give aid or support, as requested; be of service.”

I don’t see taking partial or complete responsibility for someone else’s problem or issue as any kind of “help”, whether invited or no. Nor doing I regard the providing of advice, solicited or unsolicited, as ever being helpful.

I define helpees as folks that actually need some kind of help. Folks that are actively engaged in try to get something done, but are, by their own admission, less than entirely able to make as much progress as they need, less than entirely able to see that thing through (for a multitude of reasons) at the speed they need.

Refusable Request

Would you be willing to help me find more helpees?

– Bob

Psychological Safety – Oh! The Irony

The march of time seems to have judged “psychological safety” as a passing fad. Not that it’s an irrelevant idea – far from it. 

I suspect psychological safety gained some acclaim because everybody wanted it for themselves. “Yes, please. I feel anxious, exposed and at risk when I speak out, so I’d really appreciate some psychological safety, thank you.”

We’ll skip over the unlikely prospect of any managers being interested in providing an environment of psychological safety (why would they need to do that?) and get straight to the irony.

The Irony

I’ve spoken with some number of colleagues who all attest to feelings of anxiety, being exposed and being at risk of judgement by peers in the software community when they speak out about certain, possibly contentious or unpopular issues. 

Aside : I suspect it’s more often fear of the consequences of speaking out that’s at the root of these anxieties, rather that fear of being judged per se. 

The irony being, of course, that whereas individuals are fine with accepting psychology safety provided by others, they’re far less interested in extending psychological safety in turn.

What are you doing on a daily basis to extend psychological safety to others?

– Bob

Further Reading

http://www.psychologytoday.com. (1 June 2015). Tired of Being Judged? Try This. | Psychology Today. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/longing-nostalgia/201506/tired-being-judged-try [Accessed 13 Sep. 2021].

How Much Do You Care?

In recent times I have noted an upswing in the frequency of conversations about the ethical dimension of software development. Although still early days, many aspects of the social implications of software are beginning to receive more attention.

Effective Software Development

The dog’s breakfast that is Agile in the real world today exemplifies, for me, a key aspect of these ethical questions. Not that ethical questions are at all limited to the software industry.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about how people with a clear understanding of e.g. Agile software development (yes, there are some) tolerate, even support, a pallid, ineffective version in their workplace because their jobs and livelihoods depend on not rocking the boat. I’m talking about how folks go along with an ineffective and crippled approach for an easy life. Although how easy is it to stand by and watch project after project fail or limp along, with the consequent frustration and angst for all concerned?

With the oft-reported woefully low levels of employee engagement in most organisations, it’s hardly surprising that people just let such things slide by with little or no comment, complaint or action.

Satyagraha

We might take a leaf out of Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign playbook. He placed the idea of satyagraha at the heart of his toolkit of civil resistance. What is satyagraha? Online references describe it as “truth-force” or “the force that is generated through adherence to truth”.

Note: In this context, I choose to regard “truth” as referring to ethical imperatives such as justice, fairness and righteousness, and not simply factual truth. And yes, everyone has their own “truths” a.k.a. assumptions and beliefs. As do groups, such as organisations.

At the core of satyagraha is the willingness to suffer for the truth. Spiritual, emotional and physical suffering, borne in public, serves to emphasise the degree to which the satyagrahi care about the issue upon which they are campaigning.

Do You Care Enough to Suffer?

In the case of Agile, as with other aspects of how organisations run themselves today, it’s fair for folks to ask:

“Is it any of my concern? Don’t senior people with much higher pay grades than me hold the responsibility for these things?”

How is this any different from the old defence “I was only following orders?” 

Do you care? Do you care enough to start to say “No.”? In a civil and polite way, of course.

Are you prepared to suffer to see things become better for all concerned?

– Bob

What is “A Decent Conversation”?

Decent conversations have been front of mind for me for many years. Mainly due to my need for them, and for their conspicuous absence in most cases. Sure I get to have many interactions with people, but are those conversations? And moreover, are they “decent”?

Decent

In my most recent quickie I borrowed the term “decent” from the headline of the linked article.
Admittedly it’s a little vague. Let’s see if we can’t disambiguate a little.

For openers, a circular definition: For me, a decent conversation is one that meets my needs.

Which of course begs the question “What are my needs of a decent conversation?”. (Please prefix all the below with an implicit “For me…”).

A conversation is more that just two (or more) parties talking to each other. Or more often, at each other.

Conversations or exchanges involving simple assertions – for example “dogs are so cute” – fall short of “decent” conversations. Ditto for expression of opinion – for example, statements beginning “I think…”. I need interactions that involve supportive and mutual sense-making, not just airing of opinions.

While the word ‘sensemaking’ may have an informal, poetic flavour, that should not mask the fact that it is literally just what it says it is.

~ Karl Weick, 1995

Decent conversations must involve skilful listening, on the part of all participants. Expressly, listening for what’s “going on” with each other. Marshall Rosenberg describes this as “focussing on what’s alive, right now, in those participating”.

How often do you feel people are listening to you? That they’re interested in how you’re feeling and what you have to say? That by listening they’re connecting with you as a person? How often do you listen well enough that others feel that same way about you?

More than Listening

Decent conversations involve more than (NVC) listening. They involve empathy, compassion, and a desire to help participants evolve their understanding. To come together in reaching a deeper or more nuanced shared understanding. I sometime refer to this as “shared mutual exploration”.

Yes, that’s a high bar. But with practice and motivation – and yes, support – one that most people are capable of clearing.

Is there value in decent conversations? For me, absolutely. For others? Maybe we can have a decent conversation about that.

– Bob

Further Reading

Rosenberg, M.B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press.
Kline, N. (2010). More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World. Fisher King Publishing.
http://www.skillsyouneed.com. (n.d.). Active Listening | SkillsYouNeed. [online] Available at: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
http://www.psychologytoday.com. (2013). It’s Not Enough to Listen | Psychology Today. [online] Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/encountering-america/201303/its-not-enough-listen [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
Cordes, R. (2020). Making Sense of Sensemaking: What it is and what it Means for Pandemic Research. [online] Atlantic Council. Available at: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/geotech-cues/making-sense-of-sensemaking-what-it-is-and-what-it-means-for-pandemic-research/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
Trzeciak, S., Booker, C., Mazzarelli, A. (2019). Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference. Studer Group.
Bohm, D. (2014). On dialogue. London: Routledge.
Rodriguez, C. (2013). “On Dialogue” David Bohm. [online] Carmen Rodríguez A. Available at: https://carmenrodrigueza.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/on-dialogue-david-bohm/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].

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