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Nonviolent Communication

Irksome

Some folks tell me they find the titles of some of my blog posts a tad irksome, to say the least.

I can sympathise. I myself am often conflicted between penning titles that might garner reads (a.k.a. clickbait) vs risking irking some readers. I guess that’s the nature of (anti)social media as we now know it.

But there’s a reason I continue to risk irking some.

The Surprising Purpose of Anger

Therapists will remark that although such titles might trigger an emotional response – such as feeling irked, or worse – from readers, the trigger is separate from the response. And the response to triggers is completely within the control of the reader.

So, yes, my titles are sometimes calculated and designed to trigger readers. Given them the opportunity to introspect on their propensity for responding, the nature of their responding, and the needs they have that are not being met (cf. Rosenberg, 2005).

You might say irking some is a public service. 🙂

– Bob

Further Reading

Rosenberg, M.B. (2005). The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift: A Q&A with Marshall B. Rosenberg. Puddle Dancer Press.

 

 

 

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.

Just Bloody Ask

How many assumptions do you make in a day? Hundreds, probably. Maybe even thousands. And how often do those assumptions limit your choices, constrain your relationships, and detract from finding joy?

How would you like to make fewer assumptions, or at least, suffer less from the assumptions you do make?

Here’s a tip: Just bloody ask.

Assume that you’ve annoyed someone? Just ask them. Simply showing interest in their state of mind and status of your mutual relationship goes a long way to addressing the issue. 

Assume that someone doesn’t want what you’re offering? Just ask them.

Assume that the collaboration you need to get something done isn’t going to happen? Just ask.

Assume that everyone wants to go to Abilene, and it’s only when tyou get there you find no one did? Just ask first.

For all kinds of assumptions, until you ask, you won’t know. And when you finally ask, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.

– Bob

Musing on the above, I just found this interesting (to me) article:

Flattery isn’t feedback – it rarely encourages or inspires genuine confidence

And then there’s the whole issue of the judgmentalism inherent in praise (however sincere).

“In Nonviolent Communication, we consider praise and compliments a violent form of communication.“

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

(Feeling a bit like being punched in the gut is my response to receiving praise or compliments).

Damning with Fulsome Praise

See also:

Nonjudgmental Feedback

 

I use the phrase “would you be willing to…” to signify what Nonviolent Communication calls a “refusable request” (NVC Step 4). Here’s as couple of refusable requests I have of you:

  • Amongst my needs is the need for interaction. Would you be willing to invite your friends, peers, colleagues and bosses to follow – and interact with – my blog? If so, why so. If not, why not?
  • Also amongst my needs is the need to help, and post content relevant to you. Would you be willing to request some blog posts on topics of particular interest to you?

Thanks for considering. 🙂

We’re Still Working in the Dark Ages

Medievalism

Medievalism is a system of beliefs and practices inspired by the Middle Ages of Europe, or by devotion to elements of that period. Closely related to and encompassing Feudalism, and the Manorial system.

Foundations

Medievalism’s foundations include Faith, Seigneuriage, and land lordship.

Consequences

Despite many legal and social changes since the Middle Ages, from the perspective of folks working in organisations there’s not much difference between serfdom then and employment today. Employees are hired and remain employed at the whim of the Lords of the organisation, and dismissed with as little thought – or maybe even less thought – than serfs.

The relationship between employer and employees remains predominantly one of power-over. And although a relationship, it’s hardly ever a humane relationship. And thus hardly ever a positive contributor to organisational effectiveness.

Solutions

Whilst any kind of universal solution remains a long way off, and dependent on widespread social change, individual organisations can address the issue and consequences through deploying ideas like nonviolence, the Antimatter Principle, and redefining the collection of The Folks That Matter. Above all, though, progress depends on us recognising the medievalism implicit in the way our work works, and our relationships with that, and each other. Are you bovvered?

– Bob

Further Reading

Kahane, A. (2010). Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

 

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

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].

That’s a Great Idea But…

We’ve all experienced it. Someone comes up with a great idea for doing something different, and better. Everyone agrees it’s a great idea, and better. And yet nothing happens. Nada. Zip.

How to explain this near-universal phenomenon?

Loss Aversion

I choose to looks at the phenomenon in terms of loss aversion (and its kissing cousin, the status quo bias).

We human beings have an outrageous number of cognitive biases. One of the most powerful of these biases is loss aversion. 

Loss Aversion and the Status Quo

“In a nutshell, loss aversion is an important aspect of everyday life. The idea suggests that people have a tendency to stick with what they have unless there is a good reason to switch. Loss aversion is a reflection of a general bias in human psychology (status quo bias) that make people resistant to change. So when we think about change we focus more on what we might lose rather than on what we might get.”

~ Shahram Heshmat Ph.D., Psychology Today 

The notion that losses loom larger than gains, originally formalised by Kahneman and Tversky (1979; Tversky & Kahneman, 1991; cf. Markowitz, 1952, p. 155), has proven to have tremendous explanatory power.

In addition to basic examples, loss aversion can help to explain a wide range of phenomena, including the sunk cost fallacy, the attraction effect, the compromise effect, anticipated and experienced regret, and the status quo bias.

Needs and Relatively Ineffective Strategies

In my work as an Organisational Psychotherapist, I see, daily, folks’ reluctance to give up on their “established” strategies for getting their needs met in favour of new strategies offering more effective means for seeing those needs met. Often, MUCH more effective means.

Where does loss aversion come into it? Loss aversion explains the hold these “established” strategies have over people. The promising new strategy may look attractive, but the fear of not getting their needs met (in case the new strategy doesn’t pan out) hugely outweighs the promise of the uplift in effectiveness from the new strategy, if adopted.

“One implication of loss aversion is that individuals have a strong tendency to remain at the status quo, because the disadvantages of leaving it loom larger than advantages.”

~ Daniel Kahneman (Kahneman 1991)

Conclusions

We fallible humans cling to our established strategies for seeing our needs met for fear of losing out if we choose a different strategy, almost no matter how attractive that new strategy may be.

For me, this goes a long way to explain “resistance to change” – which may more usefully be called “attachment to the status quo”.

Psychology and neuroscience offers some suggestions how to remediate loss aversion and status quo bias. I may explore these suggestions in a future post (given demand).

– Bob

Further Reading

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus And Giroux.

Rick, S. (2011). Losses, Gains, and Brains: Neuroeconomics can help to answer open questions about loss aversion. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(4), 453–463. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2010.04.004

Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), 193–206. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.5.1.193

Rosenberg, M. B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press.

Why We’re All So Angry All The Time

In his book “The Surprising Purpose of Anger” Marshall Rosenberg tells us that anger stems from situations where our needs are not being met. When a need is unmet, we’re likely to feel frustrated and react aggressively (see: Blair, “Considering Anger from a Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective” . And, being human, we’re also likely to look for other people to blame for our needs going unmet.

That may be so. Indeed, Rosenberg’s perspective is a key element informing the Antimatter Principle.

But I have another theory. Or at least, a complementary theory. What if we’re so angry all the time – at a whole host of different things – because we have a need to feel angry? What if we find some real joy, delight – or at least catharsis – in feeling angry?

The theory: We’re all so angry all the time because we like it that way. We delight in the rush of adrenaline and flow of blood to the amygdala – and related parts of the brain – that accompanies our feelings of anger.

This might help explain some of the behaviours I see time and again in work and life. And note in myself, too.

“There’s something delicious about finding fault with something, Especially when our egos are involved (which is nearly always the case), we may protect our anger. We justify it and even feed it.”

~ Perma Chodron

Moral Imperative

We see lots of self-help articles about moderating or dealing with our anger. I suspect an underlying moral imperative along the lines of “anger is bad”. I don’t subscribe. Anger, like any other emotion, strikes me as neither bad nor good – it just IS. Of course, emotion-led responses borne of anger can lead to unfortunate outcomes – such as deterioration in our relationships with others. Which we probably would find useful to avoid, not least in the context of the workplace.

Dealing

Some research suggests that when we attempt to tackle our emotional state head-on, it only makes things worse:

“…when experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss.”

~ Oliver Burkman

Conclusion

In conclusion, may I suggest we recognise and acknowledge the feeling, embrace the delicious joy of anger, use it as fuel for our spirit, and don’t get caught up in moralistic judgments of ourself or the emotion. And remember, we don’t have to ACT on our anger.

– Bob

Further Reading

Considering Anger from a Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective ~ R. J. R. Blair
The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift ~ Marshall Rosenberg
Anger And Domination Systems ~ Marshall Rosenberg
How To Get Rid Of Anger: 3 New Secrets From Neuroscience ~ Eric Barker
Buddhism’s Solutions for Anger ~ Barbara O’Brien
The Power of Humane Relationships ~ Think Different blog post

The Relevance of Giants – 2. O Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba)

On most every occasion when I’m speaking in public – at conferences, workshops, and the like – I tend to mention one or more of my “Giants” of Rightshifting. Men and women who, through their lives and work have contributed significantly to my understanding of work, and in particular to my understanding of effective collaborative knowledge work.

Many folks express interest in these Giants, but I do wonder if they appreciate the relevance of the ideas and experiences of these Giants to their own daily lives at work.

I mean, what relevance does, say, O Sensei have to developers, testers, operations staff and the like? Which aspects of any of these Giants’ work could be useful or helpful or simply comforting to these folks?

In this occasional series of posts I’ll be exploring some of the Giants’ relevance to folks other than theorists, managers, consultants and the like. I’ll be sharing some insights into their work, and specifically, the likely relevance.

With these posts I hope to pique your curiosity just a little. Let’s continue, with this second post in the series, with O Sensei.

O Sensei

Morihei Ueshiba

(December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969)  (See also: Wikipedia entry)

I’m not going to dwell on his early life and experiences in the Japanese Army, his adventures in Mongolia, nor his experiences in Manchuria and Japan during the time of World War 2.

Aikido

I suggest the primary relevance of O Sensei to most folks working in the field of software development (and production operations) is Aikido – the martial art he developed. Excepting it’s less a martial art, and more a philosophy for life, and for harmonising with others.

Unlike many other martial arts, Aikido is focussed on caring for others, as emphasised by the translation of the three kanji: ai-ki-do as the Way of Unifying Spirit or the Way of Spiritual Harmony. O Sensei envisioned Aikido as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. O Sensei’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Blending“, one of the core techniques of Aikido, invites us to look at conflicts from the perspectives of the other person – or people – involved. For me, this has a direct connection with empathy – as promoted by e.g. Marshall Rosenberg and others of the nonviolent community.

“Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.”

~ Morihei Ueshiba

Where’s the Relevance?

How do we make it more likely that we’re all spending our time on stuff that matters? How do we go about attending to folks’ real needs? I find blending a great asset in identifying with the needs of others. As I blend, I see their perspective, and their needs, more clearly. And in turn, they can feel more listened-to. And choose to reveal other things, crucial things, that means we get to understand more about what matters to us all. With this knowledge – and goodwill – we have a better chance of focusing on what matters, and of reducing the chance of wasting some or all of our time on the inconsequential, on detours, and on dead ends.

Practical Investigation

You might like to join an Aikido dojo, to practice the physical forms of the techniques. And to discuss the philosophy with like-minded people wha have already started the journey. Beware, though, of those dojos and sensei that emphasise the physical forms at the expense of Aikido philosophy.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Life We Are Given ~ Michael Murphy, George Leonard
The Way of Aikido ~ George Leonard
It’s A Lot Like Dancing ~ Terry Dobson

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