Nic Sementa is man of many skills. He’s an Agilist, a Marketing Consultant, an Entrepreneur… he does Business Development, he’s a sales ninja, and he’s someone who spends a lot of time honing his skills in listening and communicating.
This podcast began at the 2019 Scrum Gathering in Austin. Nic and I were talking and ended up on the topic of nonviolent communication. The conversation we had in Austin and Nic’s take on NVC and other communication practices was so compelling that I asked if we could pick up the topic during a podcast.
For anyone who makes their living as a traditional PM or is involved with Agile and helping to support, motivate, and lead teams, studying different communication patterns and language techniques is a survival tactic. In this conversation with Nic Sementa, you’ll gain insights into several new communication tools, how and why they work, and how you can practice a language technique like NVC from a place that is both vulnerable and strong at the same time.
Nonviolent Communication Links
Nic’s Contact Info:
I am extremely grateful to Peter and Mike for taking the time out to talk with me about NVC. If you’d like to learn more about some of what we discussed on the podcast, here are some links:
If you are looking for books on non-violent communication, try these:
And here are some of the other links we mentioned during the interview:
Social Engineering for Project Managers and Agilists
it's not all about me,
lie to me,
louder than ten,
paul f. kelly,
unmasking the social engineer
Categories: christopher hadnagy, daniel goleman, emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence, it's not all about me, kevin mitnick, lie to me, louder than ten, neurolinguistic programming, Non-violent communication, paul ekman, paul f. kelly, rachel gertz, robin dreeke, situational leadership, social engineering, takedown, the grifters, unmasking the social engineer
Earlier this week we posted a podcast interview between myself and amazing Rachel Gertz from Louder than Ten. Once of the topics we talked about was the idea of providing training in Social Engineer for PMs and Team Leads. For me, this is one of those topics I found my way to on my own, but really wish I had learned more about it earlier in my career. For many PMs, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence is a gateway towards the work of people like Dr. Paul Ekman. Once you begin learning how to be aware of and understand the unintentional information being communicated the natural next steps are to figure out what to do with that information and how to make sure the information you put out is what you want it to be. And this is where you’ve crossed over into Social Engineering.
Social Engineering is kind of a touchy subject with some folks. It tends to evoke an almost reflexive response that stems from the idea that a social engineer is an evil person who is out to do us harm. (Think Kevin Mitnick as portrayed in Takedown or Roy from The Grifters.) While there are plenty of people out there in all areas of life that are trying to grift or con their way into out lives and wallets. I would like to offer a different view.
We’re all social engineers.
And if you work in technology, leading projects or teams, you’ve probably already been exposed to things like Emotional Intelligence, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Non-Violent Communication, Situational Leadership (just to name a few). Developing your abilities in social engineering is a way to enhance or compliment your abilities in each of those areas.
Whether we are interacting with co-workers, our spouse, our children, the airline rep at the customer service counter in an airport full of angry travelers, we’re all trying to get something.
These are all simple things we face every day. Wanting them is neither good, not bad. Whether it is done with conscious intent, we are all trying to bend situations in a way that results in an outcome we desire.
If you are a project manager you probably spend a lot of your time trying to find ways to get people to do things you want them to do, or work the way you want them to work.
If you are a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach, you spend a good part of your day trying to figure out how to get people to want what you want them to want.
Some folks are naturally gifted with this. Some, not so much. The good news is that there are ways to develop your abilities in this area. The challenging part is that building your skills here is going to require learning a bit about a number of topics and finding ways to practice at using them. Developing your knowledge and abilities in this area will help you in two very specific ways:
1. It will enable you to become more mindful of the unintentional or non-verbal communication that is taking place when you interact with or observe others
If the success of the projects we work on hinges on communication (PMBOK 5th Edition Appendix X3.4), then our ability to understand what is being communicated and to manage what we communicate, is our greatest asset. Deepening your understanding of things like micro-expressions, changes in body language, conversational techniques for building rapport can only strengthen your ability to communicate. It helps you unpack the messages sent by others and can help you wrap up the messages you are sending with conscious intent. While it is unlikely you’ll end up like Sherlock or the guy in Lie to Me, simply becoming more mindful of these concepts will give you an edge and help you in your work with teams and individuals. The first step is educating yourself (some great starter resources are listed below). The second step is finding places to actually practice (in a non-career limiting, non-marriage limiting environment). The practice part can be tough - especially when you are just starting, but you’ll want to build skill and confidence before your start trying to use some of your new tools at work.
I spoke about this idea with a colleague at the Agile conference this summer and he expressed great concern that it would teach people to message information in a way that is less honest. That is certainly possible. My hope would be that developing knowledge and skill in these areas, if applied correctly, could help us to understand messages of others more clearly and to be more mindful of the noise we introd
uce into our own signals as we communicate with others.
Here are two books I’ve read recently that I recommend as a great starting place if you are interested in learning more about Social Engineering.
Unmasking the Social Engineer- Christopher Hadnagy (pictured above)
Christoper Hadnagy also has a website full of great resources at social-engineer.org
In December I wrote about how I was going to start experimenting with adopting Non-Violent Communication. And I am, sort of. I’m finding that this is probably going to be an ongoing effort and one I will need to keeping coming back to. What I have been doing so far has helped me check in with myself and come to this:
When I see that__I am not making good on my commitment to practicing NVC_
I feel _bad/frustrated/anxious_
because my need for _trying to figure out if I can actually do it_ is/is not met.
Would you (I) be willing to _man the hell up and give it a frigging chance__?
To be fair, I do spend an inordinate amount of time pondering it each day – especially when I’m driving… and get cut off by someone who very clearly has a more urgent need to get someplace than I do.
When I see that__ some &*%^%!! has cut me off_
I feel _like I wish my car came with a rocket launcher_
because my need for _deleting him/her from the road/universe_ is/is not met.
Would you be willing to _oh nevermind__
My intent in writing about this is, in part, to express that while I am working on it, I am honestly struggling with adopting NVC. A lot of how I have learned to communicate seems to be at odds with NVC practices. It is important to me, in writing about this, that I be as transparent and honest about how it is going as I can because if there are other people like me who are struggling with this (read: grew up in Philadelphia), I would like to make sure they know that they’re not alone. And to consider that maybe having trouble with this is not necessarily a bad thing, but is perhaps more about letting the dissonance from the conflict reach a level where change happens. My experiment is to see if I can adopt NVC as a practice of (initially) communicating and (ideally) of approaching other aspects of my life.
My practice (or not) so far has basically involved me noticing how I react to things, like being cut off while I’m driving or some other social injustice, which has been done to me by someone. Typically, the social injustice has very little to do with the other person and is really just me spazzing out in my reaction to something I have decided is a great crime against all things good in the universe. But, if I did have a rocket launcher, I’m pretty sure that by this time, very few people would be willing to cut in front of me in line at Walmart.
Because I have decided to don my cloak of self imposed guilt for not automatically laying down the communication habits I’ve developed over the past 40+ years in favor of a non-violent approach to life, the universe and everything, I have become hyper-aware of how non non-violent my speech actually is. This has led me to wonder if perhaps I am not more suited for a new approach called UVC – Ultra Violent Communication.
I do believe that this awareness, is very important. I do not know yet if I will be able to adopt NVC. I do know that while I am able to understand that it is more than just a communication pattern, I have trouble internalizing that. (Much the same way some people respond to the idea of a team being self organizing by winking at me in class and whispering “Yeah, but really… who’s really in charge?”). I also have observed that letting myself freak out about someone cutting me off on I-35, or having the insane gall to try and get past TSA with a bottle of water in their backpack (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) gives me a bit of an adrenaline rush. Yelling a string of obscenities from within the safety of my car at some motorist I do not know, helps no one, but the release of anger is a boost, and I have become aware that a) the outburst does nothing to change the situation in any way and b) the pull of the boost can be a wee bit habit forming. The more aware of this I become, the more I am finding that when I recognize an of an event and become aware of my emotional response, there is an increasing delay now before my reaction triggers. More and more, that delay is becoming large enough that I have the time to make a deliberate decision about what is going to come out of my mouth.
So, in on the whole transparency front, I’m not really delivering on my intent with non-violent communication yet, but in my continuing efforts to get there, the awareness is helping me cultivate a slightly less-violent communication… at least most of the time.
Non-Violent Communication is something that is not the easiest thing to define. The part of my brain that has a degree in Communications wants to explain it as a framework for communicating. This is sort of like saying that Eric Clapton’s custom built “blackie” Stratocaster is a guitar.
If you look on the Center for Non-Violent Communication site, you will learn that it is a way of communicating/interacting that is “based on historical principles of nonviolence-- the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart. NVC reminds us what we already instinctively know about how good it feels to authentically connect to another human being.”
Non-Violent Communication was initially developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, in the 1960’s “as a communication process that helps people to exchange the information necessary to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully”. Dr. Rosenberg is the author of a number of Non-Violent Communication and a number of other books on NVC.
There are aspects of NVC that touch on how we speak, how we listen, and how we bring compassion and empathy into our interactions with others. This past Spring I had the chance to interview Dr. Judith Hanson Lasater, the author of a number of books, including What We Say Matters. She explained it as:
Non-Violent communication is more of a process than a thing. And it begins first with understanding within yourself what need you are trying to meet before you speak. It’s also a process of learning how to listen to what the other person might be saying with their heart, not to get caught up with what they’re saying with their words.
And none of that sounds like it has much to do with Project Management. Except that it does. More and more, PMs on both the traditional side and Agile side are coming around to the importance of empathy in their work. As they realize that the job involves more than just getting people to do things, they are realizing the value of acknowledging that we work with human beings and that these individuals deserve more than just being told what to do.
It would be easy to say that NVC is a pattern or framework for how we talk and listen to people, but just following those practices isn’t going to mean you are really practicing NVC. As one friend said to me, “if you don’t have it in your heart, it is not the same”.
I believe this is a very important topic and it is especially important to those working in the Project Management area. If once upon a time, our focus as PMs was telling people what to do, and that has been evolving more towards the individuals and interactions focus, this is an indicator of a next stage in looking at how we approach working with others.
A great example from my interview with Dr. Lasater was when I described part of the role of someone leading an Agile team as being to empower people and “give people autonomy”. Dr. Lasater questioned me about my phrasing because it expresses my way of thinking. To say that a leader empowers, or gives autonomy means that the leader does not see the recipient as having those already. In fact, each of us has autonomy and is empowered… we (or others) may just not be aware of it. Or, as Dr. Lasater put it:
My words reflect my thoughts, my thoughts reflect my beliefs, and my beliefs run my life, especially the unconscious ones. So if I have the unconscious belief that I am some how giving someone autonomy, that's going to leak out in my words and my body language, my expressions and the rolling of my eyes and whatever I'm going to do. I have to first understand that they have autonomy and I recognize that. So I might say in that situation, “I'm feeling uneasy because I have a need for mutuality and shared power in this creative endeavor and sometimes I feel worried that the group does not move in that direction. I am wondering if you would be willing to tell me if I have said or done anything that may have inhibited your trust?”
Her explanation of how to express the message is a good example of how people often speak when using NVC. This is the opening post of a series I am going to be working on related to NVC. As a project manager, it is something I have been working towards coming to terms with for a while now. In the coming posts I’ll be writing about my attempts to gain a deeper understanding of it, my attempts to practice it and all that I learn along the way. Throughout the series I will be working in elements from my conversation with Dr. Lasater and I am also hoping to interview others who are practicing NVC while working with teams and with other trainers who are practicing it in the classroom. (Many of the Certified Scrum Trainers are now participating in NVC Friday each week.)
If you are practicing NVC and are open to being interviewed about your experiences with it, I would love to hear from you.
And, if you’d like to learn more about Non-Violent Communication, here are some valuable resources: