mpasierbski's 🗒️🌱

How I learned how to listen and be listened to

Backstory

In one of the sprint retrospectives, I wrote a note:

Decisions are made in siloses

At that time, our team was split into small groups working on entirely different projects. This note spawned a defensive reaction from my peers, which led to a lengthy, not very productive conversation.

Later in the week, I had a one-on-one with my direct manager and brought this topic. One thing that struck me was how he described my note and verbal explanation that followed as "aggressive". I remember how long it took me to phrase that note and how careful I was in that conversation not to hurt anyone's feelings. At that time, I was very conscious not to be aggressive, offensive, or misunderstood, and yet, that's exactly how it played out.

That led me to look for some books that would help me improve my communication skills. I found Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg, and it changed my approach to dialogs.

Nonviolent communication

Nonviolent communication is a communication style that focuses on compassion, feelings, and needs. It is free of judgment, ambiguity, blame, and anger. This applies not only to people we communicate with but also (maybe even more importantly) to ourselves.

How could I have communicated my concerns in a nonviolent way?

When A and B worked on X, I felt out of the loop. I'm worried that the team is not familiar with the changes, making it more difficult for us to contribute later on

Before, I thought that calling people out by name was provoking conflict, but there is no blame in this message, no finger-pointing. It first describes a situation, giving enough context not to be a vague statement. Secondly, it states my feelings (editorial note: "out of the loop" is not a feeling, I'm still working on my nonviolent communication skills ;) ) and worries. The third component is to state a need, but I would leave it for the discussion part. I'm confident that such a framed note would start the conversation with a much more compassionate tone.

Listen to understand

To know how to speak, one needs to know how to listen first.

The most significant change I noticed in myself is my new ability to listen with compassion, especially when taking criticism. I used to get defensive immediately, a.k.a "listen to respond" mode. Now I consciously ask myself a couple of questions before responding:

  • what am I feeling now and why
  • what my interlocutor is feeling now and why
  • what is the need that my interlocutor tries to express

I will ask clarifying questions, drill until I genuinely understand before responding. More often than not, my first thoughts are not in line with what my conversation partner is trying to express.

Summary

For me, Nonviolent Communication created this "a-ha" moment. It is a recommended lecture by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and I can see why. It changed not only how I communicate with my colleagues but, more importantly, with my family.

Michal Pasierbski © 2021

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