Archive

Dialogue

Those Bastards Need To Get A Grip

I see many, many people projecting their needs onto others. And most often with no awareness that they’re doing that. Or of the consequences.

Examples of Projecting Needs

Here are some examples which might help clarify what I’m talking about:

“My son needs to clear up his room.” No, he probably doesn’t need to do that, from his point of view. More likely the parent needs him to clean up his room. And maybe that’s because the parent has an (unmet) need to live in an orderly, clean house.

“Politicians need to stop lying.” No, they don’t. If they did need to do that, they would do that. More likely the speaker has an (unmet) need for politicians to be more open, transparent, honest, or whatever.

“Minorities need to stop whingeing and suck it up.” No, they don’t need to do that. From their perspective, they probably have a whole bunch of needs they feel are not getting met. And in this case, the speaker probably doesn’t need them to “to stop whingeing and suck it up”, either. More likely the statement is a proxy for some deeper need that the speaker is not even aware of. Maybe he or she needs some special consideration themself, and feels that others (said minorities) getting attention and special consideration is detracting from their own need.

Consequences

Would you be willing to consider the possible consequences of framing your needs in terms of things you believe other people “should” be doing?

–  Bob

Further Reading

Speak Peace In A World Of Conflict ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Unlocking Human Potential

I’ve often felt frustrated to the point of distraction when in the company of people with what I guess to be potentially great ideas, and yet no opportunity to share and explore them.

This bugs the hell out of me.

AndI don’t have any kind of solution.

That bugs the hell out of me, too.

Dream The Impossible

But I’m resolved to believe something can be done. Indeed, for the past few years, at conferences, and in other opportunities for conversation, I’ve shared my frustrations and sought others’ sentiments, opinions and suggestions.

Could an online solution work?

I’m sceptical. Worth an experiment or two perhaps, though.

If not online, then face to face?

Which raises the question of frequency of meeting up, locations, travel, people’s schedules, and that whole nine yards.

In the (shared, physical) workplace, most of those issues go away, or at least diminish.

Yet even then, I rarely see folks engaged in discovering what ideas, experiences, etc. their peers possess that might be interesting, enlightening, valuable or otherwise useful.

I guess learned helpless and the status quo both have some part to play in that.

And the sheer act of doing something, anything to help those folks who have a need to see their ideas aired can contribute to much joy for all concerned.

Are such “meaningful conversations” (as opposed to more or less idle chat) something you need? And what about your friends, colleagues and peers? Do they have similar or related needs?

Action

Is there anything you could be doing today that might help air these ideas, provoke meaningful conversations, and attend to these kinds of folks’ needs?

For what is human potential if not the latent ability to have great ideas, individually and together, and see them impact the world?

– Bob

We Know Not What We Do

blinders

I love to see folks interacting compassionately with each other. Eschewing judgement. Looking for what’s alive in one another. Helping each other grow in spirit. It would be fair to describe that as something I need.

Most times when I’m with an established group of people however, I find that need not getting met. Most times, I feel sad at the subtle, unwitting violence implicit in folks’ interactions. Violence in terms of judgmentalism, not least.

Over the past two or three years I’ve been working on weaning myself off judgmentalism. I sense I have a long way to go still, but in my journey I note four stages I have passed through so far:

Water

A blindness to the world of judgement in which we all live. An absence of awareness of the effects it’s having on our relationships and social cohesion. And an unwitting participation in continually passing moralistic judgments on just about anyone and everyone we encounter.

Fire

When awareness dawns, it can kindle a burning desire to do something about it. When I was in this stage I continually beat myself up (judged myself a failing person) for my lack of non-judgmentalism and my inability to produce non-judgmental thoughts and actions. This stage often also brings a burning passion to proselytise e.g. non-violence, and convert others to the non-judgmental path.

Air

After a time, the flame dies, to be replaced with an an airy nonchalance. With sangfroid. With equanimity. But I found this stage a little forced. a little delusional. Yes, I was acutely aware of the times I was making moralistic judgements. And yes, I could interrupt that line of thought and not act on the judgment – by saying or doing something, for example. Yet my judgments of people still bothered me. Still triggered negative thoughts. Still caused me angst. And maybe folks sensed that, even as I tried to suppress it.

Earth

I guess I’m just turning the corner into this stage. Here I find I’m easier with others and their way of being. I find it much easier to just be present and list without judgement. I still find myself conscious of the judgments my mind is still making, but the resulting angst is lessening. I’m bothered less, about what people do and how they are. And interrupted responses are fewer, and weaker.

I suspect there are more stages yet to come (wry smile).

Alienation

For all my progress, or maybe because of it, I find myself ill at ease in group situations where the dynamics and customs of the group reflect the “water” stage. It makes me feel uneasy to see folks doing casual violence to each other, and unwittingly alienating each other, often contrary to their declared purpose for being a group in the first place.

For example, I was a guest of a warmly welcoming local Toastmasters group last night. The stated aims of the group are to help people with public speaking in a safe and friendly environment. And yet the Toastmasters “rituals” – at least as interpreted by this group, and seen through the lens of nonviolence – seem to me to undermine those aims. Specifically:

  • Judgment
  • Competition
  • Constructive criticism
  • Advice
  • Etc.

Are there ways of being as a group that could avoid these undermining behaviours? That could bring more joy to folks’ interactions and building of relationships? I believe so. Maybe the rituals have to change. Or maybe just their interpretation. I would love to see some nonviolence principles come into play (sic):

  • Nonviolent feedback rather than judgment
  • Playing together rather than competing with each other
  • Sharing needs (met or not met) rather than providing “evaluations”
  • Empathy rather than advice
  • Etc.

I guess this would help get my needs met more effectively. And the needs of the folks in the group, too, perhaps.

How do you feel about the dynamics of the groups of which you choose to be a part? Could you imagine more joy, more joyful interactions, deeper and more human relationships? Would you be willing to consider what you could do, both yourself and in concert, to help that happen?

– Bob

 

Framing the Antimatter Principle

How we choose to frame things makes our communications more or less easy for our listeners to understand.

A recently published study suggests that, for most in the workplace, framing an issue in terms of its moral dimension elicits a more positive response that framing that same issue in terms of simple utility.

In other words, if we choose to justify a proposal as the “right thing to do”, we’re more likely to carry folks with us than if we attempt to frame that same proposal in terms of its effectiveness.

I have been conscious of this choice for many years, both in the context of Rightshifting, and more recently in terms of the Antimatter Principle.

For me, the Antimatter Principle is a great example of a proposal that can be framed either way. My personal preference is to talk about the moral dimension, about how its the “right thing to do” to attend to folks’ needs. But I’m also conscious of there being a variety of different audiences, with likely a variety of different responses to the question of utility vs morality.

Arguing The Case In Your Own Organisation

If you’re a proponent of the Antimatter Principle, I guess you’ve started some conversations about it with other folks in your workplace. And everyone is an individual. Social Styles (Wilson Learning) tells us that we can do well to remember different people like to receive information in different ways (see: Driver, Expressive, Analytic and Amiable styles). In different frames.

So, depending on who you’re talking to, maybe it might help to understand their social style, and choose the frame best suited to that?

My bottom line is that I try to understand someone’s needs – in terms of the style of communication they receive best – and then adopt the frame that’s likely to be most helpful.

This generally breaks down into:

  • Executives and managers: Utility
  • Workers: Morality

The nice thing about the Antimatter Principle, for me, is that both frames complement each other. Neither frame is a disingenuous attempt to motivate, coerce or persuade.

The Antimatter Principle is both practically highly useful – and the right thing to do morally.

What conversations have you had about the Antimatter Principle recently? And which frame do you find yourself more drawn to?

– Bob

Further Reading

CEOs Perceived as Moral Rally More Support ~ Association for Psychological Science

Attending To The Needs Of Others

Picture of a giraffe's head

Following on from my previous post, some folks may be wondering just how to go about “attending to folks’ needs”. As the brevity of my previous post seemed to find favour, I’ll keep this one (kinda) brief, too.

Giraffe Listening

For me, it all starts with learning to listen with giraffe ears. “Listening to get in touch with what’s alive in a person” as Marshall Rosenberg puts it.

And there’s probably no better place to start learning to listen than with oneself. I mean, listening TO oneself. You can do it in secret, without anyone knowing, until you’ve found a little confidence in the practice of it. Confidence which may help in listening to others.

Empathy

Empathy is “the ability to be wholly present with someone”. It’s not what you say, and certainly not what you think. It’s the ability to just be present, non-judgmentally, with someone.

Again, I’d suggest practicing on yourself first. It’s particularly tricky to empathise with others if you haven’t quite found the knack of empathising with yourself.

Learn To See Your Own Needs

Even with listing to oneself and empathising with oneself, it can take some reflection and further practice to begin to understand one’s own needs. Nonviolent Communication suggests that our needs derive from our feelings about things we have observed. Things someone has said, or done.

Identifying these triggers, objectively (like a fly-on-the-ewall, without judgement) can lead us into exploring the feelings they trigger.

And thence to the needs that the trigger has met – or failed to meet.

And ultimately to making a refusable request of ourself – or another – in an attempt (experiment) to get those needs met.

Experiencing this four-step process for and with ourselves puts us in a better place to begin to do the same with others.

Moving On To Others’ Needs

When you’ve built up a little reservoir of confidence in listening to yourself and empathising with yourself, then it might be time to engage with others.

Ike Lasater suggests it can be helpful to negotiate an explicit agreement with each person you might want to engage with. At least, if they know you and your “habitual” ways of communicating with them. Adopting a new way of relating to people, with new words, can come across as weird or clumsy at first. Even with some self-practice under your belt. So to minimise freaking out your colleagues, and nearest and dearest, making a refusable request of them to allow you to try out you new moves can assuage early confusion and angst.

And a word of caution:

It’s sooo easy to “put yourself into someone else’s needs”. By which I mean, saying to yourself “I just know this person needs…[x]”.

It can be helpful to guess what they might be feeling (we can never know with any certainly) – and try that guess out on them to see if we guessed right:

“I guess your feeling [bewildered]?”

The other person is then free to confirm or deny that feeling. If they deny, we might choose to guess again. And if they confirm, then we might guess what need(s) they have (if they don’t volunteer this information) that are or are not getting met:

“I guess that’s because you need [some kind of consistency between people’s words and actions]?”

Again, the other person is free to confirm or deny your guess.

And we can even invtie them to make a refusable request:

“Would you be willing to ask something of me (or another) that might help in getting that need (of yours) met?

In summary, when you’ve got a handle on helping yourself identify your own needs (and making refusable requests of yourself, or others) then you’re in a position to begin doing the same with and for others. I take this to be what Marshall Rosenberg meant when he said:

“Empathy gives you the ability to enjoy another person’s pain.”

I find much joy – and enjoyment – in being able to empathise, and attend to others’ needs. Especially when they’re in some kind of pain. The Antimatter Principle is founded on the belief – and confirming science – that every human being does.

– Bob

Acknowledgements

My thanks to George Dinwiddie (@gdinwiddie) for suggesting the topic for this post.

Further Reading

Words That Work In Business ~ Ike Lasater
More Time To Think ~ Nancy Kline

Changing Ourselves

When I wrote, back in January, about my New Hope, I had little idea that it might prompt a blogging hiatus. But I find myself in the midst of a confusion of thoughts about just how my own perspective, assumptions and beliefs have changed, and continue to change, over time.

I’ve have been thinking about it though, more or less often, since that post. And not wanting to remain silent on the subject, and not wanting to have something fully-formed before sharing it, I’ve chosen to write this post as some kind of peg on which to hang some random musings. Maybe sharing something this tentative might encourage others to join a dialogue of mutual exploration – in a way that sharing of full-formed ideas may tend to dissuade.

Learning vs Changing

One theme upon which I’ve been reflecting has been the nature of learning vs changing oneself. When we learn things, the thing(s) we learn tend to change our actions, our behaviours. But although I love learning, and many things I have learned over the years have cause me to change my behaviour, I have difficulty in seeing this as a change in who I am – in my essential perspective, assumptions and beliefs. In my identity.

The latter kind of change, what we might call transformative change, seems much less common, at least in my own life’s experience. (Neuroscientists have a term, self-directed neuroplasticitywhich may have some bearing on this).

Distinctions

I see a range of qualitatively different things open to change:

  • New information, adopted and then influencing our decisions.
  • New strategies for living (e.g. for getting our needs met).
  • The way our brains are wired (I’m guessing the training of Kahneman’s System 1 is of interest, here).
  • Behavioural “dysfunctions” (e.g. OCD, phobias, etc.).
  • Aspects of our “personality” (example, from avaricious to generous, or from jackal to giraffe).
  • “Who we are” – e.g. our own self-image, a.k.a. identity.

I guess these various things overlap, to some extent. And I wonder if there’s any mileage to be had in making distinctions between them?

So, there we have it. That’s where my musings have taken me, so far. I don’t know where it’s going, how long it might take, or the sights we may see along the way, but would you be interested in joining me in this journey of discovery?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Neuroscience of Leadership ~ David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz
Can We Change Who We Are? ~ Dr George Simon

 

 

Listening

ListeningDog

“Listening…means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it. It involves being sensitive, moment by moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person…. To be with another in this ways means that for the time being, you lay aside your own views and values in order to enter another’s world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside yourself…”

~ Carl Rogers

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?

Practise

Whilst in Berlin last week for Agile Testing Days 2014, I chose to avail myself of the opportunity to practise my listening skills.

In the course of this practise, I’ve learned a few things – and had a mini-epiphany – which I thought might be useful to share with y’all.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

~ Henry Miller

Judgmental Listening

I’ve written previously about judgment and its connection with the quality of relationships. I’ve been practising for a year or two now on reducing the (moralistic) judgments integral to my observations. This has brought me to the point where I’m now aware of the judgments I’m making – and have been making all my life – whilst listening to things people are saying. You know the kind of thing. Someone says something and you immediately start evaluating what they’ve said, and, incidentally, the speaker themselves: “That’s cool”. “That’s dubious”. “That makes no sense to me”. “They must be mad/bad/stupid/awesome”. And so on. A whole host of judgments.

Hierarchy of Listening

Various researchers have written about hierarchies of listening skills. The hierarchy I have in mind does not correspond closely to the core themes of these other hierarchies. Rather, I’m looking here at the question of listening from the perspective of improving the quality of interpersonal relationships. Listening effectively can help raise the quality of interpersonal relationships, whilst listening ineffectively can actually undermine those relationships.

ListeningStates

Fake Listening

Fake Listening describes situations where the “listener” is only pretending to listen. The sounds of the speakers words are heard, but the “listener” does not process those sounds to derive meaning. Fake listening can be accompanied with some or all the signs of active listening, but the speaker, sooner or later, notices that the “listener” is only faking it.

Listening to Reply

Maybe the most common kind of listening in our organisations, workplaces and working relationships today. Here, people listen just enough to detect when it’s their turn to say something, and to be able to say something seemingly relevant to the thread of conversation. Nancy Kline in her work with the Thinking Environment contrasts this with “listening to ignite thinking [together]”.

“To be an effective Thinking Partner is to proffer alert, present, non-judgmental and attentive silence to another while they are thinking. The person being listened to, the Thinker, is held in a benevolent field of attention, free of competition, in which the quality of the listening, is a ‘listening to ignite thinking’ not a ‘listening to reply'”.

~ Michael Heuerman

Active Listening

Active Listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening – otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.

“Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.”

Active listening not only means focusing fully on the speaker but also actively showing verbal and non-verbal signs of listening. Generally speakers appreciate listeners demonstrating their ‘active listening’ by the listener responding both verbally and non-verbally to what they are saying.

NVC Listening

I’m calling this state of listening “NVC listening” because it draws on the Nonviolent Communication work of Marshall Rosenberg. Specifically, Rosenberg invites us to “empty our mind and listen with our whole being” whilst “focussing on what’s alive, right now, in the other person”.

Other have described similar states and labelled them with terms such as “Therapeutic Listening” or “Empathetic Listening”. I choose not to use these terms, primarily because I use what I’m here referring to as “NVC Listening” as a practise technique for raising my awareness of my own judgmental listening, whilst actually trying to “empathise with what is alive in the person” to whom I am listening.

The noted Psychotherapist and creator of Client-Centred Therapy, Carl Rogers, defined empathy as:

[the perception of] the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the “as if” condition (Rogers, 1959, p. 210-211).

Active Listening vs Compassionate (NVC) Listening

There are many places on the web which explain Active Listening, its benefits, and how to practice it. But the outward signs of Active Listening can often belie our inner judgmental filters through which the speaker’s words are passing.

Compassionate listening, in contrast, need not have any outward signs. Although that might be disconcerting or unhelpful for the person speaking.

In practising NVC Listening, I try to combine the visible signs of Active Listening with internal aspects of compassionate (empathetic) listening. I try to notice myself whenever I’m beginning to start an evaluation or form a judgment, and short-circuit // override that in favour of getting in touch with what’s alive in that person.

Epiphany

The epiphany I mentioned at the head of this post is this:

We can notice our natural tendency to judgmental listening if we have something else to focus on. In NVC Listening I focus on what might be alive in the other person. Where they’re coming from. What’s important to them. Their possible feeling and needs underlying the things they’re saying.

I believe that we can improve our listening skills, and that skilful listening can have a deep impact on the quality of our relationships – relationships essential to working effectively with each other in knowledge-work settings.

Appreciating What’s Alive In People

Positive Psychology studies have revealed the positive effects on happiness, life satisfaction, energy, etc., that come from appreciation. Nonviolent Communication suggests we look for what’s alive in people.

“[Some people] have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.”

~ A.H. Maslow

Whenever I’m practising NVC Listening, I’m not only also trying to sense what’s alive in the person to whom I’m listening, but also I’m trying to appreciate that aliveness. To value it. To savour it. To give thanks for it. When it’s working for me, this appreciation gives me the energy I need to continue.

“Whenever we are appreciative, we are filled with a sense of well-being and swept up by the feeling of joy.”

~ M.J. Ryan

Listening to Ourselves

All of the above not only applies when we’re listening to other people, of course. It applies at least as much when we’re listening to ourself. To our own thoughts, feelings and needs.

Irony

And the irony of writing about listening – absent any immediate opportunity to listen to the thought and reactions of the reader, and connect with them as people – is not lost on me.

Invitation

I invite you to have a go at “NVC Listening” when you find yourself with a suitable opportunity. I’d be delighted to hear how it seems to affect the quality of the relationship with the person – maybe even yourself – to whom you are listening.

– Bob

Further Reading

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall Rosenberg
More Time To Think: A Way of Being In The World ~ Nancy Kline
Active Listening ~ Skills You Need
It’s Not Enough To Listen ~ Jessica Grogan, Ph.D.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,293 other followers

%d bloggers like this: