Archive for the ‘Courage’ category

Retrospective Letter to Self on my Birthday

October 17, 2018

Dear Andrea,

You’ve had a great year. It’s your birthday today and here is a little reflection from your alter-ego. Let’s admit it – you too need a boost. Everyone does.

Where did this all start?  Last fall, you were a bit dejected about the stress and fatigue and ineffective nature of your agile coaching gigs. You went radical. You wanted more joy in your work and you followed your instincts to deepen in the tools you had been reading about and following for years.

So, you decided to deepen in the practices and philosophies of Clean Language and Systemic Modeling.  Let’s not forget how you invested in yourself:

Clean for Teams – Sept 2017
Systemic Modeling – Dec 2017
Clean Space – Dec 2017
Clean Convergence – Jan 2018 (included Clean Interviewing)
Systemic Modeling – Sept 2018
Northern Taste of Clean Sept 2018

Way to go for ‘skin in the game’ and the great learnings you got from each of those! You are definitely better equipped from training, but also from putting it to use. Check out the following ways you put all of this to use:

You proposed and were accepted to present/facilitate Clean related topics at many conferences and meet-ups. The list of folders where you methodically keep track spans your whole iMac screen. Hey, you did that!

You hosted events with your mentor Caitlin Walker in the US 4 times this year – with the last one coming up in Boston on Oct 26th. You and she are offering 8 days of training across 4 modules. Two of those are all but sold out! 

You’ve started to build a small clean agile community in the US. You know Clean ways of inquiry and Clean Interviewing can be a super useful skills set to help organizations build anti-fragility into their human systems. Human systems impact products. Products impact humans too. So was born. You birthed that!

You conducted a handful of online taster courses validating that people are happy to exchange money for learning (with you, yes!) You overcame your hesitation about teaching these skills online, even learned to effectively use a Flipchart during the Zoom session.

You started coaching agile coaches and trainers. That is huge. You’re getting paid to help some of the best, most thoughtful coaches out there take on these clean and systemic skills. Not just in the US, but in other countries too.  They came to you. Wow!

You invested heavily in technology this year as well, buying backlights, an iMac, a quality Rode Mike, and a new iPad/pen – where you can also use live drawing and share via Zoom. You travelled in Europe for a month with only a SIM enabled iPad. That magic keyboard was barely touched (hint, dictate, when you can for typing).  Everything worked like a charm (well except that your SIM card provider later texted to you that you used too much on their ‘unlimited’ plan, and their plan wasn’t meant for people living in Europe. For you, three weeks isn’t living, but you’ll have to be more sparing of data usage in the future!

You were contracted by a large university to train them for a day in the use of the clean inquiry skills – yay for first big client in the IT space – at the level of Director. They wanted to improve their listening skills, and stop talking over one another, taking time to explore topics. A perfect use for Clean. 

You have been a great volunteer out there in service too.  While you give a lot of free advice, and time to edit other peoples books and work, you also started running a Jerry Weinberg inspired book club on Quality Software Management book series; you were a voice in the Agendashift community for the Clean Language channel. Gladly, there are many there now, who are training or already properly trained in Clean, who can chime in as well, when folks have questions.

You did mourn when Jerry passed away in August – that was a very big loss for you.  So sad – and glad – you are still thinking of his work! Keep that up!

You’ve taken some risks, stayed firm and on course. It hasn’t been easy being independent, but you did that because you gained your OWN life satisfaction and ability to handle any difficult situation with congruence and curiosity using these same skills. You know the value they bring!

Just wanted to say thank you for taking time out to follow your passions and beliefs during the past year. Wherever they lead from here – the world is out there for you to explore. Don’t hold back, bring your riches. The world needs them. And you will shine wherever you go; whatever you do.  [and please don’t get rid of this blog – it may seem dated, and not up to snuff visually, but it’s a great story of your past 7 years…]

Take care Andrea,

Your alter-ego

(Thank you, alter ego!)

What Are You Daring To Do?

August 14, 2017
Miki Kashtan, Non-Violent Communication expert recently posted her evolving thoughts on ‘Why Patriarchy is Not About Men’ and what we can do about.  I posted several years ago my experience report of an all day workshop with Miki and she is not only an amazing facilitator, but an amazing human and writer.
Miki says we need to stop paying exclusive attention to the individual actions (of others) and start to measure the degree to which we take action to change or affect systems we are part of.   We need to act congruently with our espoused and actual values. To change up the patriarchal system we live in we need to push ourselves out of our own comfort zones.  Her writing is about societal systemic issues and more importantly about our personal agency for change, when our values do not align.

Do you have the courage and ability to say, even when you feel uncomfortable:

“No, I won’t participate”
“I need X”
“In this context, this does/doesn’t make sense to me’?
When have you done just that? Does it include times when it meant you could have lost your job?  Or are you more prone to recoil into the safety of your current patterns, and current job with all its perks and advantages?

I am leaving the big-agile organizational transformation coaching business because I do not believe in imposed coaching.  It isn’t that I refuse to coach in a larger organization, but I won’t have a central agile department as well as other placement agencies or prime contractors between me and my client. As long as I can be a participant in a Setup process prior to engagement, I will be able to choose whether I am a good fit for a potential customer.

I have exercised my agency. I have stepped out of my comfort zone to align my values to my work life – and looking forward to new, fresh opportunities for success.

Agile Assessments as a Burdensome Weight or a Guiding Enabler

January 28, 2017

A few years back when I was a coach in an enterprise wide agile adoption program, I had my first head-on collision with a mandated agile assessment program.  At that time, I decided to get all my thoughts into a drawing which I’ll show you here, unaltered from that time.   You can see my view that assessments can be seen as either a burden imposed from above or as a supportive tool for the evolution of the team’s capability. You don’t have to read the text of the drawing, as I’ll cover each item below.

assessments-in-agileLet’s parse the Burden Side. This is where the two folks holding up the assessment say: ‘Feel awful we’re not good enough, and we’re not sure how to get there’

Hard to support in its entirety – a huge questionnaire may point out so many gaps in maturity and it leaves a team with the sense of overwhelm. We know that change does not happen all at once. It can’t.  If unpaired with dialogue and a strategy for improvement, the assessment is of no use.

Not outcome oriented – an assessment is devaluing  the business value/metric of what was delivered  by examining predominantly the process/methodology by which that increment is delivered. That seems backwards.  The delivery should be in support of the business outcomes – which is what should be measured.

Not Context Sensitive – one size evaluation fits all. Usually these types of assessments are not combined with narratives or qualitative interviews, and so we are assuming that we could be comparing like things via this numeric approach.  We know large organizations host systems that are so wildly different from one another that forcing a like evaluation should never produce a side-by-side comparison. Yet, these assessments are used for just that, in many cases.

Misses mindset –  the human element of change – the mindset shift that is so critical in causing an organization to change its way of working – is not elevated.  Assessments will always miss mindset – there’s no way to codify that other than through storytelling, the vibe, the cooler talk, the openness and engagement that manifests in a healthy organization

Cognitive Overload – an assessment with a huge number of prompts will be immediately forgotten by those to whom it is administered.

Misunderstood as a Rating – even if the issuer of the assessment believes in their own positive intent, the teams having to take the assessment see it as a measurement.  Measurements provoke a ranking system which is almost always seen as judgmental, evaluative, and unrelated to the needs that those in the improvement program have to actually improve

Appears as a Mandate – well no need to explain this one. It wouldn’t be a burden if the team had self-selected to take its own assessment, by choice!

Without Conversation, May Cause Misunderstanding – my head was in the sand when I wrote this- in fact I should have written ‘May’ as ‘Will’.  There is nothing easy about working in an agile manner at first without support, leadership, love, hope, and belief in the people doing the work.  Leaders and executives mandating assessments without having conversations and opening up channels of communication with those they are assessing are burying themselves in the myth of big data.

Let’s parse the Guiding Enabler Side – this is the side where the two folks standing on the strength of the assessment are saying ‘Now we know where we are heading’.

Supportive – we see the breadth and depth of what’s possible in an agile project and can use the ideas to self reflect on what improvement to make next.

Foundational – we can use the assessment framework to fully vest in the whole enchilada over time such that we don’t forget areas of improvement we might not initially consider.  Without a foundation, each person may have their own pet improvement projects, but we need to vet all options and agree on the way forward together

Provides Focus Points – we don’t have to do everything at once. We pick a few related items to work on before we move to the next.  

Used As a Launch Pad for Conversations – this means that we can take one assessment prompt and talk about what it will be like when we have that, what it will take to get us there, why kind of support we can ask for from each other and from management. We never shelve an assessment, we have conversations using it.

Agnostic As to How Assessed, by whom, when, with whom, for whom – it isn’t mandated. The team uses it voluntarily whenever they decide to use it.  With great coaching and willing learners, and opt-in view, this can’t go wrong or be gamed

Understood as an Improvement Baseline – this means that we can track our progress over time if we choose to continue to look at the assessment as a means of self-reflection

Views Follow-up Support For Learning as Critical – everyone acknowledges that assessments are not the point, the learning that happens in-between is.  Therefore, the surrounding organization should be happy to provide whatever is needed to help the team reach the next level

Can be Tailored-Narrowed to Context – we can choose to not focus on or even to not fill parts of the survey depending on where we want to focus energy.   We want to eliminate waste, and that includes eliminating survey elements which don’t apply at a given time.  They are there, but we don’t use them, for now.

Launches New Practices – for learners who love to create great products that meet client needs, the assessment is a way of reminding the team that we can do more, that we have a never ending supply of ideas, practices and experiments to address in our agile journey. The assessment can help launch those.  That could be an exciting prospect.

What would you add to either side of this analysis?


I am VERY LUCKY to be an Agendashift partner, with an amazing Slack community where the challenges of coaching well are discussed very openly with a lot of mutual support.

Mike Burrows has developed the most wonderful Agendashift assessment tool that is used in exactly the way I describe above – it is supportive of generative discussions on how best to create a change strategy that is context sensitive.  [If you are interested, let me know and I can help you get this launched in your organization]

In the Agendashift community of coaches, we teach coaches how to use Clean Language questions to explore the assessment prompts and what people would most like to work on next.  It is a generative approach that builds on the energy already latent in the organization.

These assessments are not used to compare teams, or to provide executives a hands-off data driven view of their agile adoption progress.

This is an amazing community trying to shift the way agile transformations are initiated so that they may be truly transformative.  It takes courage to stand up for what you believe when you are in an organization that wants to go in the other direction.

Thank you Mike, Suzanne, Jussi, Olivier, and Thorbjørn for your support last week!   I am glad I remembered my old drawing!

My ‘Intentional’ Mindful Leadership Retreat

March 26, 2016

cherriesI am planning a retreat with Selena Delesie, called the Mindful Leadership Retreat at the April 22-24th, 2016. You can read about it here, and register here.

I want to share why I am running this retreat, why at my home, and why now in my life? I want to disclose my intent!

My Intent in running the retreat is to:

1.) Share.  What holding this retreat does for me that it holds space for others to learn and share. The magic that can happen over a three day period with a small group of people is incomparably rich as compared to short  workshops. It is the ambience and generative experience I wish to replicate  – especially for those who have NOT had this opportunity before.  

2.) Invite people into my space.  Where one does one’s important life-advancing work is as important as discussing what the work is.  The learning environment you will come to has both beauty and serenity.   If you want to make a meaningful connection with someone at work, it is best not to do so with a desk between you.  Take a walk, go to a space where there is openness. That will have a beneficial effect on your communication. Learn why by experiencing it here.

3.) Spread the wealth of mindfulness and of my past influencers.  I want the effect to be far-reaching. I want to know that you’ve gotten what you needed by coming to this retreat and that I can support you even after it is over. I have my own influencers to thank. And want you to carry the torch forward.

4.) Collaborate with an amazing woman in doing something new.  Learning to go with the energy of the present moment is a gift – being able to let go of past stories, and create meaning and value in one’s life. If Selena and I can model a fresh new collaboration like ours for you, I’ll feel great – and you’ll see the reward in our faces for having tried something new and a bit scary.

5.) Create close connections between people.  Quite simply put, that’s where the magic happens and where the problems are solved. I want others to see how they can foster that happening as well.

What are some concrete Mindful Leadership exercises that you can expect from us?

Checking in: We will use checking in to launch each day in the morning and afternoon.

Temenos:  Influence Mapping / Vision Mapping – exercise in self-reflection, mapping one’s influences  and envisioning the future. Each person will be narrating their influence and vision maps during the retreat. This is story telling, a leader’s gift.

Jim and Michelle McCarthy: Personal Alignment exercise – identifying what you want, and what is blocking you from getting there. Identifying your core resources for overcoming these blocks.

Virginia Satir:

  • Five Freedoms – creating safety to speak (both at the retreat and at work)
  • Interaction Model – what happens when we are talking and responding in pairs, in slow motion
  • Congruence Model – (self, other, context) practice session with simulation of the five stances

Grove: Clean Language Questions – will be taught to help participants train their attention on others – and to remain judgement  free – a good practice for information gathering prior to reacting – for any leader.

Caitlin Walker: Systemic Modeling exercises, building up the power of the group to notice (each other) and take advantage of the diversity of experience in the room.

These tools are simple and therefore very powerful. We want you to take back some things that you can use right away!

Call to Action

Discovering, sharing and implementing your own intentions  is what Selena and I will help you do at the retreat.  The downsides of remaining with the status quo, not fulfilling yourself at work, of faltering with interpersonal or business relationship issues, and of observing disengaged workers are too many for us not to be doing this work together with you.   We do hope that if this appeals to you, you will sign up now, or join us on the upcoming webinar Q&A sessions. Details to be posted soon.

More on Intent Based Leadership

Intent based leadership is described in Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders – one of the very best leadership stories I’ve read.

Power And Love – my first NVC workshop

October 28, 2013
2013-10-27 09.36.17

Thurgood Marshall Center

On Sunday, October 27th, I attended my first Non Violent Communication (NVC) workshop. It took place in the Thurgood Marshall Center in the Shaw neighborhood of DC, which is known for the riots that took place there in the 1960s. I remember those riots – they formed very profound memories in my early childhood.  I’m glad the neighborhood which is located just miles north of DC’s convention center area looks alive and well now.  I particularly liked the retro basketball court open space that the event was held in.

The goal of this workshop was to expose and discuss the power and privilege structures that are all around us to see how we can, despite these, still show up empowered to ‘hold the whole’ – to consider the needs of those in power when we are not, and conversely to consider the needs of those we serve should we be in a position of power.

Miki Kashtan from the BayNVC and Wes Taylor, a seasoned NVC practitioner from Baltimore were the co-facilitators. Both were superb, holding the whole completely throughout the day – even when, on one occasion, there was definitely some tension in the room.  To see them both absolutely comfortable when things are not comfortable is like eye-candy to an aspiring coach like me.

The workshop began with an invitation to us all to become ‘co-creators’, to be involved when things aren’t going right.  This reminded me of my earlier post about confrontation – the collaborative kind that allows us to show up with all of our needs, feelings and requests – not being afraid to voice what is on our mind. But here in this workshop, this was framed around the needs of the whole. It isn’t either ‘me’ or ‘the whole’, it is both. It is hard for most to grasp the notion that we can all have our needs met with some give or take training and practice. I came to this session to get ideas on this topic.

Miki asked us to think about why we decided to come. Since we had 30 people and limited time, we posted the responses to this until all reasons were covered and no new ideas came up.  Here is the list:

  • When is listening just waiting – when to take action
  • (Re)define power
  • Learn how to lead from Below
  • Cultivating, not showing up in a ‘knowing’ stance
  • Learn to transform inner model (i.e. Power/Domination model)
  • How does one skillfully respond to power
  • How do we meet needs for the whole – without compromising self
  • What is our ‘Intention to Act’
  • How do we enlarge our circle of action (what is the ‘whole’ that we think of)
  • How can we use power to inspire others

After acknowledging we might not cover all of this in one day, Miki and Wes proceeded to each tell a story in which people in positions of (structural) power used that power  in a way that would fit the ‘needs of the whole’. I summarize just one here: The owner of a small pre dotcom bust IT training firm was losing money. The owner wrote a holiday letter warning everyone that cuts would need to be made. He then invited everyone to participate in a multi-day discussion to see how everyone’s needs could be met while preserving the company.  Amazingly, the sacrifices people were willing to make were more than enough to continue operating for some time.

You can see the transformative power of an inclusiveness mindset. The challenge is to keep this mindset switch ‘turned on’. In my interpretation, it isn’t enough to ooh and aah at such stories and retell them and similar ones. If you are committed to changing the existing paradigms of structural ‘power over’ mindset, you must find ways, even when not in power, to bring the ‘whole’ into focus. One of the most powerful questions to have handy at all times is: ‘What would change in how I show up if I choose to ‘hold the whole?’  In this example, both the employees and the owner chose to show up in consideration of the whole.

But we need to build trust that we can take into account the whole: Do people know what they need and want? Do they know how express it, to ask for it?  In the old model of change, from a position of power, you could just guess at what’s needed and offer it. For example, I will offer to have the offices remodeled. I’m in a position of power (I have resources) to do that. I decide how and do it. That may not work well.

In a slightly more inclusive model, you can ask people what they want. This tends to be too open ended, and may not engage people the way you expect. Why is this?  We have all internalized domination so much, that we do not engage in possibilities of change automatically and tend to remain silent, even when given the opportunity to participate.  Instead, to get the maximum engagement, you may try with offering three options for a change and invite everyone to engage in a discussion of which one.

Miki closed this session by quoting this:  ‘The alienated world is what we create every day’. If we start to recognize that by our non-action with ‘things as they are’, we are helping to sustain this alienated world, perhaps we will start down a new path.

What is generally needed for change

For change to happen, we need to

  • Recognize a need for change.
  • Acknowledge there is a possibility for change. This is indeed radical for many people, because dominations systems typically withhold information. In this manner, they self-perpetuate.
  • We need to have resources for change. This can either be structural resources and/or sheer will – mobilization of people first, with or without resources.
  • Be willing to change.

Change towards a Needs based Economy, Miki’s passion.

Miki expressed her personal passion to transform folks’ view from:

‘Structural power equates to dominance’


‘We can use structural power to increase our capacity to mobilize resources to attend to people’s needs’

What structures, processes, systems do we need to support people’s needs?  In a needs based economy, we need to attend to the whole, but we also need resources: time to practice, community support and feedback. Later in the day, those in the workshop who live and breathe NVC expressed how important it is to have your own personal coach, resonant partner, or NVC support person to help you through. The work is exhausting, draining, and difficult.

Structural Power, defined traditionally means that a power over relationship involves:

1.) Consequences if you aren’t doing as expected
2.) Control of resources by those in power, including access to information
3.) Limits and constraints on your options, imposed by those in power

‘The mere fact that these characteristics exist drain one’s energy from even engaging in the thought of making a choice’

We then discussed that waking up in a position of structural power is more morally difficult than waking up in a position where you have no structural power. Yet still, learning how to say ‘No’, or to confront is something you can do to start to create that shift in ‘structure’. Not all structure is based on physical resources, such as money and position. If you think of mindset and your individual actions as part of the shared structure or collective mindset, then your small actions to ‘shift’ the ground will make a difference.

‘Violent means cannot create non-violent results’

After lunch we started with the notion that it is not always obvious how to create the whole that works to meet everyone’s needs. Miki mentioned that reading the book ‘Creating a World that Works for All‘ helped her to change her views on this.  A story from that book about the Exxon Valdez oil spill highlights the paradoxes we sometimes face. The people protesting the spill relied on that same oil for their everyday lives.  They didn’t fully appreciate how much part of the system they already were.   What we need to ask ourselves is: ‘If you were in a position of power, what would you do to make it ‘work’ for everyone?’

Movement in Groups Activity

We played a game with short thin sticks. This reminded me a lot of some of the agile games we use to teach team and group work. Wes instructed us to hold the stick between our two index fingers and walk around the room moving the stick in space as much as we could. Then we formed pairs, holding two sticks, but the far end of each stick was held by our partner’s index finger.  We did the same in triads, and then in groups of six. Holding the ‘whole’ in this case meant holding the sticks. It sure was hard when we didn’t really have a chance to ‘know’ the others in our group. Did they prefer holding high up, low down, moving fast, moving slowly, holding horizontally or vertically. Who was leading, who was following?  We did a debrief of this and there were lots of learnings.

‘It is easier to see privilege you don’t have’

How do we lovingly invite ourselves and others to see the privileges we/they have?  I hadn’t mentioned that we had only 2 black people, and 4 Asians in the room. The rest were all white.  This was the most intense part of the day because, when Miki decided to open the discussion about privilege, she ONLY invited people of color to participate. Right away, a white man who was gay protested saying he thought he was in an underprivileged class by virtue of being gay. Another white woman gave feedback that she thought not well-off whites might also be included as an underprivileged class.
Miki explained: you do not experience what it is to be black, to be judged by your exterior if you are not black. Let’s hear first from anyone who wishes to speak who is black.  The black lady in the room said: In all of her life, she has never once been given the floor in this manner, deliberately. She welcomed the acknowledgement and asked us to see her as a black person. She said it was very transforming for her.  Everyone fell silent. It was an emotional moment.

For more on privilege and power, please google: ‘Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’. You will come to understand there are many ways that being white contributes to having more power than most realize. Miki then recommended A Swedish movie entitled ‘As it is in Heaven‘.

When we don’t have awareness of an issue, how can we create dialogue on it?  How can we create the possibility of collaboration within a diverse group?  When someone else holds the power? When we hold the power w privilege? When we hold power without privilege?

What would change in how I show up if I choose to hold the whole?

Here are some possibilities:

  • Link all actions to ‘why’, naming and acknowledging that which I value.
  • Acknowledge that you don’t know the answer – that we have to co-create the answer.
  • Show up with more confidence that I can be influence
  • Acknowledge to myself and others when you have a need for additional support, countering a pervasive cultural norm of ‘self-sufficiency’.
  • Never ‘force’ yourself to do anything if you sense a ‘no’ or resistance inside you.
  • Keep a journal
  • Invite people on the team to say ‘no’ too. Then log your reaction when you frown on the ‘no’ that does surface.
  • Show gratitude.

An embodiment practice

Miki asked us to consider the following in preparation for the game

What strengths and blocks do we have to be leaders of the whole at our best?
What qualities would you like to have that your current responses do not reflect?

We then practiced an ’embodiment’ game in groups of three. In this game, I might imagine 4 gestures which I and the two others will use to symbolize each of these: the situation, the block, empathy, and eventually the success.
We created these symbols and then practiced simulating the situation, the feeling of our block, the access to empathy – over and over and over, until we could suddenly feel that we might overcome that block and be successful.  If you can embody the feeling in gesture, then you might remind yourself in the real situation to reach to those positive symbols of empathy and feeling of success.

Wrap up and debrief

We spent some time at the end in silence thinking of the actions that we could take to

  • improve our ability for self-care
  • connect with people
  • practice holding the whole in situations of unequal power

One young lady at the very end was lamenting how darned hard this work is. She was literally in tears recounting to us her work with children in a ministry – how at the same time that her work has been very rewarding with the children who adore her – the other teachers there are in pain and hurting because of her successes. She said she felt completely burnt out with the incongruence between these two reactions and she wanted to just tell these teachers to read the NVC books.  Miki helped her by suggesting to her other ways to meet the needs of those other teachers.  Second, Miki reminded her and everyone else, that no matter what happens, if you do not have a support person, or a group of people you can count on to share your change-stories, blocks, failures, and successes, you will burn out.  How important it is to remember, coaches and change agents need lots of support!

Lead by supporting those in power out of a place of love – this leads to collaboration.  In turn, express what is important with small strategic requests.

There isn’t much I would do to improve my day spent with this community of people. I would have liked to have had more comfortable chairs. I would also prefer that everyone to introduce themselves at the beginning (rather than only doing this in small groups). I’m glad there will be post workshop outreach to create exactly the support groups we discussed at the end, whether it be an online chat group, or monthly in person meetings.

Here are some of the additional links to articles Miki has written on power and privilege.

Dilemmas of Leadership
Invisible Power and Privilege
Stepping Into Power While Maintaining Connection

I would also like to acknowledge here and cross-reference the recent posts by Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) on what he has dubbed the Antimatter Principle. At its heart is a call for people in IT and other knowledge work to begin to see the world through the lens of attending to personal needs.

What are Needs?

One Principle, One Agendum

I am grateful to my software development friends across the world who have exposed me to so many ideas and new ways of thinking about how to work with purpose and joy.

Confrontation with Empathy

October 25, 2013

This is part two of a series on Confrontation. The first part is here. These responses were provoked by this tweet from Tobias Mayer.

I’m beginning to think that confrontation is the most important behavior to cultivate in today’s IT organization. – @tobiasmayer

In the first post, I introduced two views, or mental models, of the concept of ‘confrontation’ – one that I call ‘collision style’ and one I call ‘collaboration style’.  In this post, I want to examine how we might modify our thinking so that we catch ourselves just as we are about to experience a ‘collision’ and transform it into a  ‘collaboration’ style confrontation.

To do this, I will introduce the concept of ‘Enemy Image’ as used by Marshall Rosenberg.  Non-Violent Communication embraces the radical notion that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong.  Yet, in our everyday thinking, we are constantly having images – based on our experiences in the world – that speak to rightness and wrongness; these are the images Rosenberg refers to as enemy images.   Every expression of anger, blame, insinuation, mistrust which comes out in a ‘collision’ type confrontation is in fact the tragic expression of unmet needs and is usually preceded by a flash-in-the-pan moment where the enemy image takes over.  What if we could become aware of those images, intercept them and transform them into feelings, needs, and requests. Let’s use the example from the prior post.

In the first post, the team lead/manager confronts (collision style) another team member on poor quality.  We might imagine that this manager has a need for some assurance that his or her own commitments and vision will succeed; a need for closer collaboration; a need for earlier feedback. But he does not express this. Instead, this manager has formed an ‘enemy image’ of the team member. The following thought has made an imprint on his consciousness: ‘I knew this coder didn’t care about quality. His introvert personality is unacceptable. He can’t even give me a heads up or a lame excuse.’  Following this image rearing its head, the manager proceeds to confront the team member.

An enemy image can be about yourself or others – and can be either positive or negative. It serves in every case to separate or distinguish you from others or you from your highest expression of yourself. Enemy images disable you from empathizing or examining what might be going on for you and the other person.  For a full explanation of how this works, please read this short introduction, taken from the book: Words that Work in Business, by Ike Lasater.

Imagine that the manager had acknowledged the enemy image in his mind before meeting with the team member. He might proceed with this thinking: Wow, I’ve boxed this person into a stereotype with no knowledge of the context. I hold this ‘enemy image’ that is preventing me from connecting in a way in which I might uncover what is going on.  Let me connect with my feelings and needs first:  I feel sad and frustrated that my vision for a quality product isn’t coming together in the output of the team.  I need to feel engaged and happy to be at work, and that usually comes from having a connection with the people and the work, especially when we produce great stuff. Right now I am not feeling that.  I want to share this with the team member and ask what might be going on for him. Maybe there is something I don’t know about; maybe there is some way I can support a better outcome; maybe I’ve never communicated what it is I need so that he might see my motivation better and connect with me better.

Do you see the difference?

This process isn’t only relevant to work.  I will tell you a  personal story to illustrate this.

Last week, I suffered from a very painful intestinal ailment.  On Wednesday evening, when my husband returned from work, I was in so much pain, I couldn’t  help with dinner. I went to lie down. After some time, when no-one came to check on me, I felt extremely lonely and sad.  I started forming an image in my mind of my husband as someone who wouldn’t be a good care-taker in the future. I thought, this image is not helpful. This is not helping me connect with him. He had a long day at work. He is doing all the dinner preparation. I haven’t really shared that much about my ailment – though I thought he knew I was in pain.  At that point I texted: I am sad that I am alone in my pain and illness. I need some reassurance and comfort that things may get better.

He replied: I didn’t know you are in pain. I thought you were just tired.

I replied: No, I have been in excruciating pain for hours.

If I had not first ‘caught’ my enemy image and then connected with my feelings and needs: I might have confronted him collision style:  ‘Can’t anyone around here think of me? Why are you ignoring me?  Can’t you see I’m sick and could use some comfort?’

I discovered the amazing power of this process through practicing it in this manner.

As you go through your day, you might keep a journal of the moments you experience where you have formed an ‘enemy image’. Work with that image to understand first what needs of your own are not met in that moment. Jot down your feelings and needs so that you might better be able to connect empathetically. From that space, you may then feel more empowered to ask for what you need and be more likely to have your needs met.

Will you try this and tell me how this works for you ?

This empathetic approach to confrontation can work even in a setting where positional power might be seen as a barrier.  I will be attending an NVC workshop this Sunday with Miki Kashtan of BayNVC that addresses just this. It is my first NVC workshop and I feel so blessed to have this chance. I may follow up with a 3rd post on this topic based on my learnings there.  Stay tuned.

Confrontation at Work

October 24, 2013

I am responding to a recent tweet by Tobias Mayer and the ensuing twitter conversations about the usefulness of ‘confrontation’ in the workplace. Some people responded that confrontation is bad, others said no, it is great. Each has a different mental model of what confrontation is. I will address that in this post. Tobias said:

I’m beginning to think that confrontation is the most important behavior to cultivate in today’s IT organization. – @tobiasmayer

I admit, I was multi-tasking when I read this tweet. I was listening to the congressional inquiry into the failed launch of the Affordable Health Care Act’s (ACA) system on October 1st. I was lamenting, also via a few tweets of my own, how aggressive the grilling of the contractors was. I was feeling sad that there could not be more ‘open’ inquiry and dialogue rather than this form of confrontation: ‘Did you know…?’ Did you tell anyone..? Is that enough time..? Why didn’t you..? You had to hear the tone of voice to know that this wasn’t inquiry; this was a grilling, a confrontation. The answers came back in the form of justification and blame: ‘That’s not our part of the system’ and ‘We were told to change the system only 2 weeks before the delivery date’.

In the way that most people traditionally understand confrontation, it is more like a collision than a collaboration.

Traditional confrontation (collision): I ask a team member to meet with me; I tell him his work is unsatisfactory and why. then I tell him to go back and do it over; I may ask why, but I don’t listen. I don’t explore. I don’t ask for context. I control. I demand. I assume wrongness and I don’t allow any other explanation other than the one in my head as a possible reason. In that way, I have separated myself from this person. I exert my control. In fact, I instill fear. He/she walks away, unable to speak.

Here is a more subtle scenario: I roll my eyes at your solution during a meeting while you are looking at me.

In a collaborative environment or team, people are honest and open, and don’t take offense at each other’s comments or feedback, solutions, and suggestions – even when there are divergent views and even disagreement. People know each other well and there is humor and a willingness to learn from each other. There are some companies that actively seek to foster this type of employee engagement, and there are teams that strive to create supportive learning environments. However, the ‘collision’ type of culture is more prevalent than the ‘collaboration’ type of culture.

In the collaborative, learning environment: people know when and how to speak up. They do this when their inner voice that tells them ‘something smells fishy’, ‘something bothers me about this solution,’ or ‘I am saying I support this endeavor when I don’t understand its purpose whatsoever’. In the proper collaborative environment, or with training in how to do this type of ‘confrontation’ well, people can and will speak up. They feel and observe what is not right and don’t let it fester. When they bring their observations to the team or to management, they are heard and a discussion or dialogue ensues. This is the good type of confrontation.

I recently found a great series of videos created by BayNVC. In these videos, you watch the conflict coach, Miki Kashtan, as she coaches two role players during a traditional confrontation between two people in the workplace. She coaches them to have a more collaborative, inquiry based type of problem solving approach to the issues at hand. These are role-plays of some very typical workplace issues. The first one in the series is You are not a team player. [This is an excellent series of videos on workplace conflict modeled using techniques of Non-Violent Communication. To find the rest of the series, type BayNVC workplace into the Youtube search criteria – they are numbered in the order you should watch them.]

Tobias’ aspiration to make confrontation the next most needed skill in the IT workplace makes perfect sense to me when viewed in the light of confrontation with collaborative intent. One’s inner voice is not left to fester; judgments that ring in one’s head are shared and discussed.

I wonder how many people involved in the rollout of the site can think back to moments in which they had ‘issues’ with the way things were going and did nothing about it.

In my next post, I will talk about the ‘Enemy Image’ which is a useful way to begin to break down what separates people from giving and receiving empathy during moments of impending confrontation; thereby allowing them to get closer to needs and requests that might allow for better mutual learning and solutions.