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: