We can never make people do anything
We judge. We criticize. We talk about wrongness of others. Should we?
Communication between coworkers is often taking wrong turns. Arguments, misunderstanding, gossip. No one really enjoys being part of those situations.
As a VP of Engineering, I constantly have to find the common ground between different parties. Throughout this time, I learned how to position myself in conversations.
I am going to show you a couple of tricks.
Judging others is so easy
Jack: - Have you seen that message on Slack he wrote? Mike: - Yes, I have. I can't believe he acts like that in front of the whole team. Jack: - He has zero understading in all the work we did so far. It has been explained to him already once. Mike: - Yeah, we're busting our a** here! He should pay more attention! Not a team work man ...not cool at all.
We, humans, have needs and expectations. Often, these expectations are not fulfilled and we got disappointed and angry with others.
So we go into a conversation. Mike from the example above would say the following.
The problem is that YOU don’t care about our team as other team members.
Blame, insults, put-downs, labels, and criticism are all forms of judgment. We are preoccupying ourselves with WHO is arrogant, ignorant, irresponsible, good, bad, normal…
Rather than telling others what we need (and not getting btw), our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness with others.
Let’s look at another example, which shows that a judgmental way of thinking is built-in into each one of us.
If a colleague is more concerned about details than I am, he is “picky”.
If I am more concerned about details than him, he is “sloppy, unstructured”.
We focus on the faults of others and miss out. It’s tragic. Because when faced with judgment, people defend and resist the critic. What happens then is an argument. When arguing too much, the environment becomes stressful, people become resentful of each other. Efficiency drops. People quit.
You get the point. So, how do we go past this?
Look behind the curtain - Be curious and observe
Let’s set the stage for what follows below:
Delgado, a team member sent you a chat message that you find disturbing!
What will you do? Act instantly? Defend yourself? Or ignore?
This is what you should try instead - be curious about what’s going on and instead of providing any reaction, first ask yourself:
What made him act like this? Something has to happen that I am not aware of. I need to know more.
Curiosity leads to observation. By observing what’s going on, we manage to pull ourselves out and take a bird-view of the situation in a completely objective way.
It’s so powerful because we are no longer attached. We don’t feel attacked, or criticized. This is where we start developing empathy and compassion for that other person.
Empathy and compassion
The majority of people I know are not bad people. They don’t wanna harm me in any way. So what are the chances that a colleague behind a chat message has bad intentions? I’d say pretty low.
By having a compassionate approach, we will think about that person first. For example, an approach to this disturbing chat message could go as follows:
Omg, look at this message of his. Imagine how hard it is for him, if he did not manage to find any other way to put it.
I need to understand this better.
By acting compassionately, you should have open questions only. Not assumptions and not your own evaluations.
“Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.”
J. Krishnamurti, Indian philosopher.
Expressing the need. Requesting but not demanding
There is a reason why such a chat message is disturbing to us. It triggered some feelings of ours. And it is important to self-reflect on those feelings and understand the reason behind them.
Such feeling is usually connected to our own unmet need. We might need a simple thing like “desire to have harmony in the team”. You might realize that this is not happening in the team and start panicking or being frustrated. Therefore our need is not met, and we have an emotional reaction.
In order to resolve the situation to the end, the moment has come to approach our coworker.
The next steps in this little framework are to:
To express our own needs, and feelings, so that the request we are about to make, makes sense.
To make a request (but not a demand) to our coworker for what we believe will help us resolve the situation.
Here is an example:
Hey Delgado, I see that something is going on, and it seems there is more to say. By reading your message I’m a little disturbed, as I would like for all of us to work in harmony. I would love to get 30 minutes of your time on a call so we can talk about it thoroughly.
Let’s analyze this a bit:
An observation without evaluation: Hey Delgado, I see that something is going on, and it seems there is more to say.
Expressing the feeling: By reading your message I’m a little disturbed.
Expressing the need: I would like for all of us to work in harmony.
Making a request, without demanding: I would love to get 30 minutes of your time on a call so we can talk about it thoroughly.
When faced with a difficult situation in communication with a coworker, the following steps will help you
Do not act impulsively. Wait, be curious and observe.
Assess the situation through compassion and empathy for others.
Self-reflect on your own feelings and unmet need.
Reflect on observation, express your feeling, state your need and make a request, without demanding.
This approach helps me in guiding and coaching my team members. And this isn’t something new. It’s an old method, which Marshal B Rosenberg explained in the book Nonviolent Communication. If you liked this post, then I’m sure you’ll like the book even more.
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