Archive for the ‘Weinberg’ category

Ambiguity in Communication

November 21, 2020
What is obscured ?

Communication can cause a bit of fog. I live high enough up on the 10th floor of my apartment building that my view is usually clear even when there is fog.  I can see the tops of trees and buildings but not everything. The mist turns to blue sky while many shapes on the ground remain unidentifiable – ambiguous.  The fog created from misheard or misunderstood words, ideas, and intentions requires hard to work to ‘dissipate’ than fog droplets on a sunny day.

Ambiguity in Communication

Some people associate the word ambiguity with that which is ‘unknown’ or ‘unknowable’. Others associate the word with ‘double meanings’ or unclear meanings. Let’s explore some examples of ambiguities like these in communication.

Can I hear what you are saying?

This may sound obvious, the first step in communication after one person says something is the ‘intake’ and for that to happen well, the listener has to hear all the words as they were spoken or intended. Here’s a story from my past.

When my grandfather accompanied my family on an international trip – a first for us together – we became stranded for hours on an Indian country road with a broken down car.  As we waited for hours for help, my grandfather engaged the youth that were walking alongside the road in conversation. He was intent on helping them with their English. That day in India – when I was just 12 years old, I stood nearby watching him, and wondered why he worked so hard to get his roadside ‘students’ to pronounce each word very clearly, over and over.  It wasn’t until years later that I understood that the first step in ensuring understanding is that you have to have ‘heard’ the words accurately. 

Jerry Weinberg, one of my mentors on topics of interpersonal communication, spoke in a very soft voice which made it hard for me to hear him in a big conference room. Ambient noise, distance between people, the speaker’s position and speed all have an impact on what you hear. I sometimes cannot understand the words of native English speakers because of varying accents. You can be a guru in communication, and still have difficulty at this step, whether listening or speaking.

Tuning In To the Person you are Speaking To

To go along with speaking and enunciating clearly is the idea of tuning in to your audience. If you are the speaker, are you seeking to notice that folks listening to you are paying attention to what you are saying? Are they engaged? Do you know what their ‘perspective’ or ‘vantage point’ is?  Virginia Satir, a famous family therapist, liked to point out that when a child is being spoken to by a tall parent, they may feel very intimidated by their relative size. I wish I had known to kneel down or set my kids on a chair or table when I told them important things. That way, I would have more likely seen their expression, and held their attention – showing them the importance of what I was saying.

No matter how old your audience, knowing that they appear to be responding in some fashion is key to knowing if they’ve gotten what you’ve said.  It is your job to make sure your words are clearly spoken and your listeners are engaged. Alan Alda, in his post acting career, has helped thousands of scientists and engineers to communicate well by learning to attend to their audience. Here he was less concerned about their ‘physical’ vantage point, but rather their cognitive and emotional context. What a worthy cause.

Do I understand what you said in the same way you intended?

The next issue is that one person’s meaning can be different from what the message sender intended to convey. Here are a few examples:

“Can you please trim the tree?” uttered at Christmas time might mean decorating the tree, but it could mean you are being asked to cut off some of the branches. 

When I was thrown into a French school in Burundi in 1974 with just a few weeks of French tutoring behind me – I remember the teacher asking if anyone knew anything about ‘lion’.  We had just driven through France prior to catching our flights to our new home, and I remembered having travelled through the city called ‘Lyon’ (a homonym to the animal: lion).  I blurted out “It is a city” in French.   Apparently I had missed some context, and the class burst out laughing. The instructor started drawing a lion on the chalkboard. How embarrassing!  And I still remember this to this day. Some learning has to happen via mishaps – the question is how do we get better at communicating so as to minimize the damage!

Know your audience, choose your words wisely, provide supporting context, speak clearly and you’ll find these improvements take you a long way.

Tone of voice and gesture

Another area of ambiguity in communication arises because a person’s words are mismatched to other aspects of their communication. 

If someone says: “Did you eat the rest of the cookies?” in a curious or neutral tone, this won’t likely cause defensiveness. Uttered in a suspicious, accusatory or angry tone, it will.  Most people remember the tone over the content. Stand in front of a mirror and pretend the last cookie is gone.  Practice asking this question with angry, suspicious, curious, and neutral tones.  Practice emphasizing different words as you do so. 

A sulking posture and lowered head accompanied by a ‘Yes, I’ll do it” with ‘air quotes’ around the ‘do it’ might mean your child or co-worker isn’t quite aligned with the task assignment. Spend some time noticing the gestures other people use.  First do you know what the gesture means? Is there a mismatch between the message and their hand gestures or posture?

When you notice a mismatch, where do you store that information? How does it affect you? What, if anything, do you do about it? I’ll never forget the IBM manager who was asking his teams to ‘follow the process’, but he was carrying a gun mounted to a portable piece of wood and was waving it around the all-hands meeting. Needless to say, that may have ‘matched’ what he intended, but I was not going to stick around to find out. I soon left.

Must I Read Your Mind (or How Did You Forget to Mention …) ?

Sometimes communication fails because of what’s not said or conveyed.

“Let’s watch a movie” as a suggestion is harmless (it seems), but if you, the recipient, are currently heads down studying, wound up about some deadlines, or needing some quiet time, you might expect that your partner should know movies are the farthest thing on your mind. This suggestion may trigger you to blurt out something you’ll regret, such as: ‘Are you kidding, you should know I have exams tomorrow – can’t you see I’m studying?’ This will only thicken the fog in your communication, because you never actually told your partner about the exam, the deadline, or your need for quiet.  This sort of situation happens often with people who are close to each other. They subconsciously expect their partners to have read their minds – under the illusion they had already communicated their needs.

Ambiguity frequently occurs where people’s tasks or even their roles and expectations are not well communicated. ‘I thought you were testing that feature’ or ‘I thought you were buying those groceries’. These can often be alleviated by frequently sharing intentions and checking in with each other.

If you’re interested in exploring better ways of communicating, whether for you or for your team, you can schedule a free 1/2 hour time slot for exploration here or simply send me an email me at andrea@connections-at-work.com.

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 cleanagilecoaching.com 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!)

Jerry Weinberg, Carrying On His Legacy together

August 31, 2018

August 31, 2018 – I had written this post months ago, with an eye to growing a small group of Gerald Weinberg fans eager to read his books, but I had not ever posted it. So now I offer it now in honor of Jerry Weinberg, as he very sadly passed away earlier this month. This has been hard on his whole community of followers and on us in the bookclub too.

JerryWeinberg

We originally started with Volume 3, Congruent Action of the series titled Quality Software Management, because several of the people in the Agendashift community were discussing human dynamics and I had brought up the topic of congruence. They seemed interested, so the bookclub was launched with the Congruent Action book. We are currently on Volume 4, Anticipating Change, and will cycle back to Systems Thinking, and First Order Measurement later on.  You can start anywhere in the series and still learn a lot!

I’ve recruited two fellow consultants, Steven Mackenzie, and Christophe Thibaut, to co-host this bookclub with me and it has been running for the better part of a year.  Even though two of us had read the volumes many years back, we decided that a revisit was well worth our time.  Actually Christophe has read the series twice and run a 3 year book club on this series at his company, Octo Technologies, in Paris, years ago.  Still Christophe states he learns new stuff at each new reading.

What’s in it for you?  If you want to connect with other learners, hone your skills as a manager, understand the systems at play in change work, and/or increase your toolset as a consultant, coach or software developer, do join us.

When: Every Friday morning, at 8 a.m .EDT.  We run a very tight ship with a fairly strict agenda in the way we run it, so that we finish on time.  We read just 1 chapter per week.  The approximate reading time is 20 minutes per chapter. After checking in at the start, we introduce new members, check-in, elicit for our initial high level reactions to the chapter.  Then we display the chapter’s pages from the ebook on the screen annotating it with comments as we go, sharing experiences and our connections to the material.

How: To join the discussion slack group, apply to Agendashift community here: https://www.agendashift.com/slack. Navigate to the #bookclub channel for the Zoom session link and chapter that we are on.   The meeting times are generally 8 a.m. EDT, each Friday and it is posted to the channel each week.

Where to get the books:

The 4 QUALITY SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT p-Books can be found as 4 hardbacks

  1. SYSTEMS THINKING                   (corresponds to 1,2 below)
  2. FIRST-ORDER MEASUREMENT  (corresponds to 3,4 below)
  3. CONGRUENT ACTION                 (corresponds to 5, 6 below)
  4. ANTICIPATING CHANGE              (corresponds to 7,8,9 below)

The e-books can be found as a whole set: https://leanpub.com/b/qualitysoftware or individually:

  1. HOW SOFTWARE IS BUILT
  2. WHY SOFTWARE GETS YOU IN TROUBLE
  3. HOW TO OBSERVE SYSTEMS
  4. RESPONDING TO SIGNIFICANT SOFTWARE EVENTS
  5. MANAGING YOURSELF AND OTHERS
  6. MANAGING TEAMS CONGRUENTLY
  7. BECOMING A CHANGE ARTIST
  8. CHANGE PLANNED AND UNPLANNED
  9. CHANGE DONE WELL

Jerry Weinberg has been a true hero and will continue to be an influence in the field software engineering – with many books on topics such as quality, management, testing, human interaction dynamics, systems thinking, mental models, giving and receiving feedback, design, and the psychology of programming.  His books are immensely readable and timeless in their subject matter. We never leave a session without some new insights, or connections made to the work we do or aspire to do. We hope you’ll join us on this journey.

RIP Jerry and thank you for writing these wonderful books for us !!

 

How ‘I’ met Virginia Satir

July 30, 2015

Jerry Weinberg and me (1)When I was recently at Problem Solving Leadership (PSL) workshop run by Jerry Weinberg and Esther Derby, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with Jerry and to ask him how he had come to meet Virginia Satir.  He was very happy to be asked this question.  

He started by explaining to me how when he was first studying psychology, he had read Frogs into Princes, one of the first Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) books, in which Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson were both mentioned. Based on the publication date of that book, 1979, and Virginia’s birth year, 1916, he had mistakenly assumed Virginia was already deceased.  Some time later – perhaps a year or two, by around 1985, he discovered she was still alive and was astonished and thrilled. He made sure to immediately find out where to meet her and some time later, he was able to. This is the recollection Jerry shared of their first meeting.

‘I could take you right now to the exact hotel in Mt Crested Butte, Colorado, into the exact room in that hotel, and point to the exact spot within that room, even which floorboard – where she was greeting people, one at a time, in a sort of ‘receiving’ line.  The reason I can remember this is that Virginia made each and every person she encountered feel like they were the exact focus of the universe for the time they had with her.  And those minutes felt like an eternity. You see, once I had experienced that kind of attention, it was indelibly imprinted on me.  After that, I was determined to become her student and spent many months and years training with her.  Eventually I became one of her favorite students.”

I saw the deep emotion in Jerry’s face as he described that first meeting (he was on the verge of what I’ll call happy memory tears, though I don’t know if they were sad reminiscing tears to him).  I found joy in myself because he was passing along not just the story of how he met her, but the meaning, and feelings he had at that moment.  And it helped me to understand Jerry in a different way – through connecting with emotion, which is something I cherish.

Jerry has passed on Satir’s influence to many people around the world – whether they know it or not. He has done this through his many great books about software development and consulting and also via his famed Amplify Your Effectiveness  and  Problem Solving Leadership experiential workshops.  Hearing Jerry tell his story first hand in this way, after having soaked up all the wisdom from his Satir-influenced books, was like finding the source of the Nile!

It was a great lunch and I’ll never ever forget it – city, hotel, as well as the table we sat at.