Tag Archives: nonviolent communication

On the road to world (and office) peace

An act of remembrance at Birkenau
An act of remembrance at Birkenau

Hurt people hurt people. That’s how pain patterns gets passed on, generation after generation after generation. Break the chain today. Meet anger with sympathy, contempt with compassion, cruelty with kindness. Greet grimaces with smiles. Forgive and forget about finding fault. Love is the weapon of the future.

Yehuda Berg

It has been my tradition to mark Remembrance Day here on my blog. This year is no exception.

I want to start by mentioning an experience I had recently and by talking through the learning that has been unfolding for me in the days and weeks that have followed.

One Monday morning, a few weeks ago, I found a response amongst my e-mails to something I had said to a colleague.  It was clear from her response that my words had not landed well with her.

I wanted to reach out and open up the opportunity for connection, so I let her know that I was open to discussion if she wanted to talk things through.

She didn’t.

A few days later, I reached out again. I sent her a personal message and asked her how she was. We had some exchanges. I asked her if she wanted to talk things through.

She didn’t.

I wondered what to do next when the answer seemed to be nothing. I was not at peace.

On the end of a coercive style

I knew my colleague was unhappy with something I’d said and I didn’t know what.  Equally, in  the course of our conversations, my correspondent said and did a number of things that I found difficult. I experienced them as attempting to control my behaviour – to coerce.

If ever you’ve been on the receiving end of someone else’s attempts to coerce you, you may know how challenging it can be.  Whereas some people make requests of you, the person who coerces does so from a place of believing he or she is right. You are told what you should do or should have done or, indeed, should not have done. Requests are made (or orders given) by implication. (Why ask “Would you mind doing…?” when you believe the other person ought to do something because it’s the right thing to do?)

You may also receive feedback from your correspondent to support his or her case. He or she uses labels, for example, to describe you or your behaviour. These are not used with the awareness that they are labels or constructs of the imagination. No, the speaker believes that they are an accurate description. Descriptions of behaviour are not neutral. The other person does not repeat the words that you said or accurately describe what you did. No, he or she tells you that you “spoke out of turn” or “deliberately crossed someone”. “You offended someone”. “You made a fool of yourself”. Anything that you did or said is lost in the midst of holding you responsible for somebody else’s response or beneath layers of judgement about whether or not you should have done what you did.

The fact that none of these descriptions accurately described what you said or did doesn’t matter to the person who is addressing you: his or her map is the territory. You may see that the other person has made assumptions and is treating them as if they were true. At the same time, the confidence of your correspondent that he or she is right is such that he or she has no reason to listen to anything you may have to say. Unless you can talk things through, it’s hard to correct misunderstandings.

How do you feel when this happens and especially when these behaviours are sustained (whether from time to time or on an ongoing basis)? For many people, they can trigger fear, anger, anxiety. Over time, they can undermine your confidence and make you question yourself. Perhaps you resist, asserting your right to choose your own behavour – and you do. You can even use some labels of your own to describe the person whose behaviour you have found so difficult.

Even so, it can be hard to feel at peace.

Good bye to bad rubbish

If you have read this far, you may think I am going to talk about the limitations of coercion. Regular readers already know I am a fan of research summed up by Daniel Goleman (in the article Leadership That Gets Results) which shows that when used inappropriately and excessively, the coercive style can have a negative impact on the way people experience their workplace and, in turn, on their productivity at work.

But no.

I promised to talk about my learnings in the midst of my experiences and this is what I am going to do.

I want to start with a path I chose not to take.

In the vernacular, there’s a phrase that is often used to describe one possible response when we are experiencing difficulties in our relationships with others: “say goodbye to bad rubbish”. This is the kind of phrase friends use to comfort loved ones after a relationship break-up, for example.

In the workplace, we may not have the option to walk away from a relationship and still, covertly, we say goodbye to bad rubbish by holding to our view that our colleague is out of line, has values that stink, is totally incompetent and more.

On a global scale, we look at our neighbours – neighbouring countries, religious groups and more – through the eyes of judgement and disbelief. This is the kind of disbelief that asks “How could they possibly do X?” without ever really seeking to know the answer. It may even be the kind of disbelief which asks this question of others whilst overlooking the times when we, too, have reacted in haste and, in doing so, have behaved in ways we would rather forget.

I am not saying that anyone should seek to make a best friend out of someone they find difficult. Men and women in abusive relationships are well advised to walk away. In organisations, we may want to work effectively with someone whose behaviour we loathe and still, to look after our own wellbeing. At the same time, as much as we want to gravitate towards and hang out with people whose company we enjoy, many times, we will encounter people whose behaviour we find difficult. Do we really want to walk away from them all?

On being human

Synchronicity is a wonderful thing. Just as I was grappling with my experiences, I decided to listen to a recorded conference call with Miki Kashtan (who is a trainer of some repute in the field of Nonviolent Communication) about collaboration in the workplace. I did not expect to take anything from her call which would help me with my colleague, but many things she spoke of landed with me.

Firstly, she described an instinct we have to withdraw when we encounter difficult behaviours. In this way, we protect ourselves from further harm. Even though I was only half listening to her as I did other things, I realised there was a message for me in this. I did want to withdraw and protect myself from more of the same. Yehuda Berg puts it this way: “Hurt people hurt people”. When we meet behaviours from people who are triggered, consciously or unconsciously, we want to protect ourselves from being hurt.

In her discussion, Miki pointed to something else. It can be easy, as we withdraw, to fall into judgement. It’s so easy that we do it without even realising that we are doing it. Their behaviour was difficult. It didn’t meet common professional standards. It clearly wasn’t rational. When we come from a place of wanting to protect ourselves, these judgements escalate a cycle of distance and mistrust so that the people whose behaviour we have found so difficult also want to step back and protect themselves.

This is the escalating cycle of pain to which Yehuda Berg refers and which is present in our most intimate relationships. And because I write this posting on Remembrance Day, I think it worth adding that the same pattern that causes us difficulty in our relationships with friends and family is also present in our relationships with our colleagues. And as much as it’s present in our relationships with colleagues, it is also present on a much larger scale in the relationships between nations or religious groups. If we follow this pattern, take the “goodbye to bad rubbish” approach, we can only look forward to conflict at the local and the global level.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Small change

It happened that, a little while before I had the experience I have described above, my friend and colleague, Tamara Laporte, had a hot date (okay, conducted an interview) with Byron Katie, author of the book Loving What Is. I’d been meaning to watch this interview and I knew that now was the time.

Part way through this interview, Tamara asked Byron Katie about an incident that had taken place in her life, when she found herself face to face with a young man with a gun. Her response in the moment blew me away: she was able to connect with what might be going on for this young man, without in any way losing her composure.

Byron Katie was able to respond with composure because she has worked extensively to catch her own thoughts, to question them and to turn them round. By transforming her thoughts – her “story”, if you like – she is able to transform her emotional experience both in the moment and across her life as a whole. She calls this process of enquiry “the work”.

You could say that Byron Katie’s work is the manifestation of Mahatma Gandhi’s often-repeated invitation to “be the change you want to see in the world”. This small change of focus can bring huge results. It was as a result of her extensive work prior to this experience and of her ability, in the moment, to do her own work that she came away from this experience alive.

The mother of all things I want to learn to do differently

Sometimes, lessons are humbling. Not least because, at times, we have to learn them again and again until they become second nature to us – or perhaps return us to our primary nature. As I sit here and reflect, I wonder what three things I would most like to do going forward.

Rupture and repair

The first thing I take from this experience is a reminder that, in any successful relationship, there is a process which another friend and colleague, Melanya Helene, calls “rupture and repair”.

This is not just what happens in our most difficult relationships.


Rupture and repair is what happens in our most intimate relationships. We experience some misunderstanding and draw away. But we also value the relationship enough to want to reconnect.  It is this desire to reconnect that motivates us to do what we need to do to overcome misunderstanding and repair our relationships.

Bringing this desire to overcome difficulties is also what allows us to transform our most difficult relationships into relationships of trust. In her densely-packed teleconference call, Miki Kashtan talks of spreading around goodwill when you most feel distrust. On a much greater scale, the process of truth and reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa came from this intention to repair what was broken.

When rupture happens, in whatever form, on whatever scale, I choose to be open to repair.

You can’t change the others

My experience with my colleague reminded me of another essential truth: the work of repairing difficult relationships begins at home.

It begins at home because we can’t change the others, we can only change ourselves.

It begins at home because our instinct to pull away from difficult relationships, our lack of trust, is itself a barrier to creating positive and healthy relationships, because it causes us to behave in ways which compound the problem.

As long as our focus is on how things should be, for example, we will struggle to deal effectively with how things are. In her conference call, Miki Kashtan describes one thing as under-rated in our society, and I agree: that thing is mourning. She talks about how much we need to experience our grief, our sadness, our disappointment, that this is how the world is – to feel this crushing disappointment all the way. All the thinking we do about how things should be leads us to harden our hearts as a protection from everything we know, deep down, to be true. Mourning helps us to maintain an open heart and it is this open-hearted softness that keeps us open to the other, even when we find their behaviour most difficult.

Both Miki Kashtan and Byron Katie invite us to examine our thinking about the other person. Indeed, Byron Katie’s work is all about examining our thinking. How are we thinking of this other person? (Our friends, our colleagues, our neighbours at local or global level). The biggest story we have to catch is that because there is something we find difficult about this other person, they are somehow, fundamentally, not okay.

The more we can catch ourselves in the midst of this story and question the thoughts we are having, the more we open up new possibilities in our relationships with others. We begin to see that whilst we find some behaviours difficult, other behaviours support us in meeting our needs. This means we can express our appreciation for those behaviours that nurture us and this, in turn, begins to change our experience and the experience of the other.

So, my second choice is this.  I want to examine the stories I tell myself about myself and about others, especially when my attachment to that story is strong.

The healing power of empathy

The more we can catch our story, examine and transcend it, the more we can come to a story that opens up the possibility of a different forward path. This requires us to understand that, no matter how others behaved, they acted with positive intentions. Kashtan points to this: that the fact that someone behaved in ways we found difficult probably means that there is something we did or habitually do that they perceive as standing in the way of them fulfilling their needs. Empathy helps us to understand this and to connect with the other person and this opens up the possibility of a dialogue which, in turn, helps us to build a cycle of increasing empathy and mutual understanding.

It’s possible, too, that we need to meet our own experience with great empathy and understanding. Beneath the judgement of the other, for example, there is often a judgement of ourself or, at least, the fear that self-judgement may be justified. For yes, we, too, are human and react, at times, in ways we abhor. When we can bring self-empathy we can hold our positive intentions with great care and mourn, rather than condemn, our own behaviour. This leads us to greater honesty with ourselves, opens up the possibility of transforming our approach over time and, in addition, makes us more forgiving of others.

So, my third commitment is to recognise both my own and others’ need for empathy.  I want to bring empathy even to the most difficult of relationships.

Implications for world (and office) peace

Why does any of this matter?

There are those in my life who have encouraged me to step away from any relationships which might be described as abusive, toxic or bullying and I certainly do not seek them out. I’m sure Byron Katie didn’t go looking for the young man with the gun.

At the same time, there are times in our lives when we do have regular contact with someone whose behaviour we don’t enjoy. Perhaps their emotions are frequently triggered. Perhaps their behaviours are unpleasant. He may be a colleague. She may be a family member.

We can, of course, move jobs, change friends, walk away from family. But new jobs bring new people who may also behave at times in ways we don’t enjoy. And it’s my experience that people yearn for a sense of connection with their family members even whilst walking away from situations where they can find no possibility for that connection to occur.

On a much more global scale, condemning “the other”, whether we are talking about men and women of a different political persuasion, national identify or religious group brings us no closer to finding ways forward which support everyone in meeting their needs.

Our relationships at work require us to find ways to connect with the people we most fear or despise, to move beyond our fear and hatred and to come to a place of empathy and understanding.

From Hiroshima, an invitation to reflect on what we have done, as well as on what has been done to us.
From Hiroshima, an invitation to reflect on what we have done, as well as on what has been done to us.

On Remembrance Day I want to add that this, too, is what is required of us.  This requires us to understand that, in war, the most appalling acts are carried out with good intentions.  This requires us to recognise that “appalling acts” are not the unique preserve of enemy forces.  Looking into our own history, even our recent history, we find that our own countrymen and women have committed appalling acts.  We need to recognise that we, too, are capable – as much today as we ever were – of committing appalling acts.  Only when we can face this truth can we begin the long walk towards peace.

Hurt people hurt people.

I want to be one of the people who is no longer hurt. And when I feel hurt, I want to respond rather than react.

I offer thanks to my colleague, to Miki Kashtan, to Tamara Laporte and Byron Katie, to Melanya Helene and to many others who have provided the inspiration to write this posting and whose thinking has also informed the content.

Bringing heart to leadership in difficult times

I have been somewhat parochial in the last couple of weeks in my approach to the news.  On 10th February, the news reached me of the death of someone whose work has enriched my life immeasurably:  Marshall Rosenberg.  Marshall was the creator of an approach to communication which he called Compassionate or Nonviolent Communication, a passionate advocate for social change, a great teacher and author of a number of books, including his core text Nonviolent Communication:  A Language of Life.

New concert hall boost for London
New concert hall boost for London

Then, too, there has been a flurry of commentary about Sir Simon Rattle.  Journalists have been speculating for months now that Rattle, whose tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is due to come to an end in 2018, will take up the post of Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.  (This matters to me because, in my spare time, I sing with the London Symphony Chorus.)  Rattle has spoken openly about his belief that London lacks a world-class concert hall and some have speculated that he is holding out for a commitment to build this hall as a condition of taking up the post with the LSO.  It seems the politicians have been listening:  in recent days, there have been public statements from various politicians.

There has been wider news.  There was an attack on a café in Copenhagen, which was hosting a discussion about free speech.  Three teenage girls left the UK, apparently to travel to Syria, raising concerns about their safety.  British football fans were caught on camera in Paris, chanting their love of racism.  There have been discussions about the Greeks in Europe.  In the UK, election fever is starting to build.

In the UK, talk of deflation has been carefully framed and, largely, played down.  Still, talking to friends and family, and to clients in the privacy of my offices in Harley Street, I am repeatedly reminded of just how different the business environment is right now compared to ten years ago.  The possibility of a round of deflation is one more nail in the coffin of hope for many businesses.

Is your organisation struggling to weather difficult times?

Businesses continue to struggle:  yours, too, may be struggling.  It can be hard to lead in an organisation that’s grappling with change.

As a leader, you have to make decisions in the face of great uncertainty, when many things you used to rely on can no longer be taken for granted, such as year on year improvements in sales and in what you can charge your clients.

The decisions you make have an impact on large numbers of people, from staff in your own organisation, suppliers, their friends, family and communities.  This can leave you feeling torn, uncertain, though you try hard to maintain the calm authority your staff expect of you.

What’s more, you know your own employment is at risk and your prospects of career advancement are diminished.  At no other time have you given more, been more tested, with less opportunity for any kind of reward.

How do you weather such difficult times?

Turning the screw on under-performance

It can be easy to think, in difficult times, that you need to use more force to achieve results.

This was the approach that Sheldon took.

Sheldon was a sales manager in a time when sales were sluggish.  Under pressure from his own line manager, Sheldon shared targets with members of the sales team and spelled out the consequences of not achieving those targets.  The consequences for the company were significant, he said, and everyone’s jobs were at risk.

Sheldon piled the pressure on individual team members, too.  One team member was new and struggling.  This team member, Ash, had made a flying start on joining the team but his results had been patchy following a down-turn in the economy.  What’s more, he was finding it hard to balance his core work with his contribution to a new initiative in the team.

Sheldon kept a close eye on Ash, giving detailed feedback on every failing he could find.  Ash was frustrated and devastated when he was copied in to an e-mail from Sheldon to the company’s MD, highlighting a particular problem and attributing it to Ash.  If only his manager had checked the facts, he would have known the problem lay elsewhere.

The thing is, the more Sheldon gave feedback, the more Ash’s performance deteriorated.

With love, not fear

One of the articles I recommend most often to leaders and aspiring leaders is Daniel Goleman’s article Leadership That Gets Results.

In his article, Goleman lays out research which identifies six different leadership styles and explains their impact on the performance of those being led.  This research suggests that the most effective leaders use a range of styles when managing their employees.  It also shows how the most effective leaders do this consciously, because they understand that they need to do what’s most effective in a given situation.

There’s more.

Goleman’s article (which he develops more fully in his book The New Leaders) shows that, over time, the use of four styles in particular is more likely to build a climate in which team members can perform.

There’s one thing that Goleman doesn’t mention in his article and that Sheldon didn’t know either.  Sheldon’s choice of leadership style was largely driven by fear.

Sheldon’s senior management were driven by fear of the consequences for the company of a whole if the sales team did not perform.  They passed their fear right on to Sheldon, together with the responsibility to find a way to increase sales.

Their approach intensified Sheldon’s fear and Sheldon lacked the skills to turn down the dial on his emotions in order to reflect on how best to handle the situation.  Like his own managers, Sheldon passed his fear right on.

Ash was already anxious when his performance started to drop and he didn’t know how to respond.  What’s more, he could see that an initiative in the sales team, designed to give better service to some of the company’s smaller client organisations, was asking members of the sales team, repeatedly, to be in two places at once.  He’d tried to give feedback to Sheldon but Sheldon seemed to be on a mission to prove to Ash that he was not up to much.

Ash was struggling to maintain his confidence and self esteem.

So was Sheldon.

So, too, were members of the senior management team.

About Marshall Rosenberg

On the day I heard that Marshall Rosenberg had died, I noticed my heart opening and the sensations in my body.  I knew it was not a day to bypass my experience but a day to take time out to be with everything that was in my heart, including the great sense of gratitude and the feelings of love.

Following the announcement of his death, colleagues at the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) set up a call for people to share their memories, to celebrate and mourn together.  Intended to last a few hours it went on for seven days.  A group set up on Facebook has become a living memorial to this towering giant of a man.

Early in his life, Rosenberg was struck by the various forms of violence he encountered growing up in Detroit.  He went on to study psychiatry and obtained a doctorate before going on to develop the approach to communication which has become known as Nonviolent Communication, with the aim of widely disseminating much-need communication skills.  During his life he worked widely around the world, bringing healing to many individual people and to troubled, often war-torn, communities.

It’s a testament to Rosenberg’s leadership that he set up a Center for Nonviolent Communication as a way to spread his approach and worked with many people around the world to share his skills.  He leaves behind many people who are themselves experienced in training others in NVC and in mediating conflict.

At the heart of his work, Rosenberg emphasised paying attention to feelings and needs so that we can find ways to meet our own needs whilst also respecting and contributing to the needs of others.  The disciplines of NVC – the process he described for communication – are especially powerful when they are rooted in love and in an intention, where there is fear, to find our way back to love.

I owe much to Marshall Rosenberg and to the approach he developed.  I am particularly grateful to the clarity of intention I have, as a result of studying with him and with others in the community, to live my life from a place of love.

Leadership with heart

This posting is, for now, my own testimonial to Marshall Rosenberg and an expression of my own love for and gratitude to him.

At the same time, I am aware of the power of love as an underpin to the kind of leadership Goleman describes in his article, Leadership That Gets Results.

Marshall advocated separating our observations from our judgements and Goleman highlights the need to step back and assess what is needed in each situation we face as a leader.

As a leader, Sheldon’s experience started to change when he learnt to notice his emotion and to bring care to his fears before choosing how to respond to each situation he faced.

The experience of his staff was also changed by this.

So, too, was their performance.

Marshall Rosenberg, 1934 – 2015.

Bringing care to times of conflict

In recent months I have found myself in the midst of a disagreement – a rather long, drawn out affair which started just when I was recovering from the experience of supporting a friend in crisis.

The experience has reminded me just how hard it can be to navigate conflict in the workplace, so that I’m going to try to talk about conflict today.

It all started with…

Have you ever found yourself, quite unexpectedly, in a situation of conflict at work?

Perhaps you did something, in good faith, which stimulated anxiety or anger in one of your colleagues.  If you’re lucky, the colleague is someone you know or someone who is skilled in handling his or her emotions constructively.  Perhaps, though, your colleague is someone you don’t know, so that you don’t have a track record of mutual respect to fall back on.  Or maybe he or she has a different track record – as someone who is prone to unexpected explosions, to trying to put people “in their place”, to… you get to write the list.

There are any number of things about your colleague’s behaviour that make the situation worse.  Firstly, in the midst of an explosion – maybe a full on amygdala hijack – your colleague absolutely believes his or her own story.  It’s not just that he or she is concerned that something might happen as a result of what you’ve done.  No.  The action you’ve taken is bound to lead to x, y, z…  If you’re not careful you, too, are at risk of getting swept up in a line of thinking which has not yet been closely examined.  Maybe, too, your colleague lacks the sense of perspective, after the fact, to examine his or her own thinking…  the case against you is proven before the facts have been gathered.  He or she may even do his very best to make sure that facts are obscured or kept out of view.

If you’re deeply unlucky, you may find that the person who is treating you in this way has a long history of similar outbursts which have, over time, been unchallenged.  Unless your organisation has a firm anti-bullying policy or a culture which is quick to address these behaviours in general or the behaviour of your particular colleague, they will continue.  What’s more, your colleague’s sense of righteousness will grow and, with it, the post-toddler temper tantrums.  In the mind of your colleague, you deserve to be treated in this way  – he or she is right, after all.

Hey, in really tough cases, your colleague may even be the boss.  Your boss.  Or the ultimate boss – the boss of all bosses, the CEO.

What’s more, whilst your colleague may not be skilled in handling his or her skills constructively, he does have other skills…

…He’s highly skilled in making unilateral decisions with no thought whatsoever for the impact on you…

…She’s hard to pin down.  When you ask a clear question or make a clear request, she has a way of ignoring them as if you had never asked…

…He’s highly selective when it comes to the facts, ignoring some, putting others forward repeatedly and vociferously, withholding some… hey!  Even distorting a few…

…She’s really strong on holding you to account for any mistakes (real or imagined) whilst being, of course, totally blameless…

What makes it hard?  Well, you, too, are human and may struggle with the emotional roller coaster that your conversations or correspondence stimulates in you – from fear to rage, anger to anxiety.  You may, even, have your own sense of self righteousness.  And if your colleague is also the boss, maybe even the ultimate boss, you may fear that your only options are to roll over and take the punches or to leave your job.

Tempting strategies that don’t hit the mark

Reflecting on my own experience in recent weeks, I’ve noticed that it’s tempting to follow certain routes.  They’re tempting – they really are tempting!

Outrage, disbelief and feeling hard done by.  Did that really just happen?!  I can’t believe that anyone would do that!  Don’t get me wrong, you feel what you feel.  The person did what they did.  It may well have been a crazy thing to do… in your map of the world.  However, nothing changes as a result of you feeling the outrage or knowing that every rule in the book has been broken – whether the real book of your organisation’s rules and procedures or the metaphorical book of what people do who are emotionally intelligent and effective in their roles.

Trying to prove you’re right.  When your sense of injustice is strong, the desire to put your case can be strong, as can your yearning to be heard and understood.  There is, though, no guarantee that you will be.  In the midst of panic or blind rage, your colleague is not in possession of the facts.  No, he or she can only relate to his own fears – the inner story of his or her imagination.  After the blind rage is over, he may still stick to the story he created when this whole thing kicked off.  Holding out for a fair hearing?  It may never happen.

Relying on policy or procedure.  You have a procedure in place that covers this kind of thing?  Maybe a grievance procedure or an anti-bullying procedure.  By all means use it and still, it may not work.  Especially if your colleague has a role in carrying out the procedure, there’s a risk that it may not be followed or that it will be followed in ways which simply confirm your colleague’s view of you.

Relying on senior management.  I’m sorry to disappoint you.  It’s possible that bringing the matter to the attention of the very people who ought to be managing your colleague will help.  It’s possible, too, that your colleagues are as ground down as you are in the battle to uphold company policy, dignity (yours, theirs), good sense and whatever else you’re longing for.

Jumping ship.  It’s possible to just walk.  To find another job.  To move.  To say “Fuck you!”  Possible. Tempting.  There is, though, the risk that you are the loser when you choose to walk away.  It was your job – and you lost it.  How unjust was that!

Resorting to anger and hatred.  Don’t get me wrong, this strategy can be as juicy as they come.  You may even find all sorts of people lining up to join in.  Think his behaviour is outrageous?  So do I!  Wonder if she’s got issues from childhood?  What other explanation can there be?!  Think he ought to know better at his level of seniority?  For sure!  But this, though it may give you some relief, will not, ultimately help you to find peace.

Care changes everything

These strategies do not work and yet, in a way, they do… provided you can bring the quality of care to your situation as it unfolds.

In my own experience, I noticed how, from the beginning, I was able to notice my needs… a longing to be heard and understood, a longing for courtesy and consideration, a deep desire for the kind of collaborative approach which might address real concerns whilst leaving everybody’s dignity intact.  What I noticed – what I notice – is how, over time, touching base with my needs has brought a sense of peace, even when they are far from being met.  Even as I write, the very act of naming my needs is bringing a quality of tenderness to my heart.

As much as I have been making a stand for my own needs to be met, I know this is not enough.  At times, throughout this process, I have taken time to put myself in the shoes of everyone else involved.  I may think that my colleague has taken a hammer to crack a nut (and, what’s more, a nut that was already open).  Still, I recognise how much this has added to his or her workload and at a time when he or she is at full stretch.  I may think that a wider group of people should feel uncomfortable and step up in the role each one has taken on and, still, I can see how hard it is to address the very behaviours with which I, too, struggle.

With care, I have found a sense of peace and liberation.  It’s not that things have gone the way I hoped – not at all.  Still, at each point in the process, I have learnt more about the personalities involved.  That step didn’t give me the information I asked for, even though, clearly, I’ve made a legitimate request.  Still, I’ve taken action to care for my needs.  I’ve taken care to acknowledge the needs of others.  Over time, I’ve come to understand the issues.  I’ve come to know what’s mine – and what’s not mine.

And what are friends for?

I could not finish this posting without adding that friends, too, have played an important role.  In the moments when I’ve thought “has this really happened?”and “am I mad?” I have called on an inner circle of supportive friends.  They have brought humour to the situation.  They have confirmed that, yes, this is way off piste.  They have helped me to keep things simple as I work out each step of the way.  Above all, they have brought care.

It is this care that has made things all right, no matter which way things go.


It’s official: compassion by leaders increases productivity

In case you haven’t already signed up to Harvard Business Review’s Morning Advantage, here’s another sign they have come up trumps again – a link to an article on the role played by compassion by leaders in boosting productivity and business results.  Morning Advantage puts it this way:

What separates great companies from the rest of herd is the compassion of its leaders, according to one new study detailed by Knowledge@Australian School of Business.  Many of us will readily agree that the best managers tend to be great motivators and promoters of success. But compassion may have a bigger impact than we think. In the 77 organizations studied, researchers saw a direct relationship between compassion and productivity — and profits. 

But being compassionate doesn’t mean avoiding difficult situations. As leadership expert Geoff Aigner found in his own research, the biggest road block managers must overcome is their reluctance to engage in tough conversations for fear of being unkind. This is a common mistake, confusing compassion with kindness, says Aigner. Leaders who truly care about the development and growth of their employees are able to push through the awkwardness, and tell it straight. 

I was surprised by the definitions of compassion offered by two thought leaders in the area and still, it does not surprise me that research supports the idea that compassion boosts productivity.  As a student of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent (or Compassionate) Communication my own experience is that compassion is an essential ingredient in forging strong relationships and provides a basis for some of the essentials of leadership, including effective coaching and the kind of ‘tough’ conversations to which Morning Adantage refers.  For this reason, I regularly reference Rosenberg’s teachings here on my blog.

But back to the article I mentioned above, do read it – whether you have doubts about such a claim or want to learn more.

There is one claim made in the article which challenges my thinking – it certainly merits further investigation.  The writer says:

A surprising outcome of Boedker’s research is the finding that, out of four levels of leadership from the executive level through middle management to frontline managers, it’s the lowest level of leaders that drives a company’s profitability. Perhaps, Boedker surmises, this is because frontline managers are more customer-facing than others and therefore have a lot more impact.

I wonder, what’s the truth of this assertion…

Lost your temper with your staff? Turning anger into gold

Recently, I wrote about how I experienced the behaviour of conductor Mario Papadopoulos in rehearsal in a posting entitled Lost your temper with your staff?  You may have lost more besides.  When we lose our temper we risk losing our authority and the respect of those we lead.  But all is not lost when we lose our temper.  The question is what to do next – and how – to turn our anger into gold.

In what way does anger become gold?  In my experience, we turn anger into gold when we take time to connect with the unmet needs that underpin our anger.  Creating this awareness opens up the opportunity to find ways to meet our needs.  We get to feel better.  And we achieve this without alienating others on whom we depend.

How can we transform anger into gold?  Here is just one of my favourite ways, from Marshall Rosenberg.  In the approach he has called Nonviolent Communication (see his book of the same name to learn more), Rosenberg encourages the use of self empathy to get beneath the surface of our anger.

How does it work?  As a first step, you might notice what has stimulated your anger and seek to make a clear observation, cutting out any “stories” you might be telling yourself or at least owning your story.  For example, your first reaction might be to think “John’s really let me down!  He’s so unreliable!  He should have let me know if there were problems meeting the deadline!” A more accurate observation might be to say: “When I asked John if he’d finished the report yet he said no.  I felt a powerful surge of anger and I notice that I was thinking ‘I told you three weeks ago that the report was due by the end of this week.  If there were problems, why the **** didn’t you tell me?'”

In this case, the observation leads us to our second step, which is to connect with our emotion (in this case, anger) and this is something that Rosenberg also encourages.  When we feel angry, there is usually another emotion – fear – lurking underneath, so it may help to make a further observation as we examine what it is we are afraid of.  Using the same example, you might notice another layer of thinking and emotion such as:  “I realised I had really messed up but I didn’t want to admit it.  I’d been so busy myself that I hadn’t checked John’s progress and with the deadline approaching there was barely time to finish the report.  I’ve been worried about how my boss has been thinking about me and I didn’t want to give him an opportunity to think less of me”.

As we begin to turn our “story” into a clear observation and connect to our feelings, we can move to the third step, which is to notice what needs were stimulated in us and – in this case – unmet.  This is about going beyond specific actions by specific people to understand the underlying needs.  In this example, it’s possible that your most fundamental need – for security – was stimulated, especially if your thoughts included thoughts about the risk of losing your job and what that would mean for your home and for your ability to pay for food and other essentials.

Once you have uncovered your underlying needs, you have the option to make a request of yourself or of someone else.  This is the final step in Rosenberg’s four-step process.  Perhaps you might start by requesting of yourself that you take time out to relax before talking to John about next steps in order to calm down.  Or you might make a request of John that he tell you just how far he’s got so that you can assess how much more need to be done to meet the deadline.

Going through this process has the potential to transform feelings of fear and anger into a deep sense of connection with our needs.  In doing so, it moves us away from our primitive “fight or flight” response towards a more resourceful state in which we can clearly assess the situation and find ways to meet our needs.

There is another way I like to use to transform anger into gold.  If you’d like a second option – keep reading.

Are you ready to have other people happily help you grow your business?

It’s not often I do it and still… today I’m sending out details to my network of an event I’ll be attending on 29th March, when Jason Stein of Heart of Business will be offering a workshop for small business owners under the banner: 

Are you ready to have other people happily help you grow your business? 

Jason has ten years experience as a certified nonviolent communication trainer in the States and has a passion for business. I know him via Heart of Business

If you’re interested to learn more, take a look by clicking here. You’ll find details of the course and also an interview with Jason which may be of interest whether or not you’re interested in attending the event. 

Especially if you’re finding it hard to make the contribution you want to make in the world and to achieve the level of income you yearn for to meet your needs comfortably, Jason is someone you might like to know about.

Oh!  And whether you’re interested or not get this:  I’m sharing details of Jason’s workshop because of requests he made of his network in recent weeks.  The first was a no-pressure, how-would-you-like-to-help request he made when he was first thinking of planning his trip.  Way to go, Jason!

The dance of honesty – being honest with others

It’s taken me a while to get to this posting, in which I want to explore what it takes to be honest to others.  Having written three postings on what I’m calling the dance of honesty I am aware that this is a vast subject – I shall touch it lightly today.

Let’s do this together.  Take a moment to think of something you’d like to share with someone at home or at work – something you’d like to share but hesitate to mention.  Notice what you feel when you think about sharing it.  Perhaps it’s irritation because you feel the other person “ought to know”.  Perhaps you feel concerned when you think the other person might be hurt or anxious when you think they might be offended.  It is these feelings and the thoughts that sit behind them that are holding you back.

Having checked in with your feelings, notice the thoughts that accompany them.  Often, when we hesitate to share some truth, it is because we have a sense that there’s some risk involved.  Perhaps there is a risk – you might know, for example, how critical your boss is of anyone who doesn’t share his view.  (I once worked with a leadership team who all told me how they’d stopped sharing ideas with their boss because his ideas always prevailed.  The boss thought his team had no creativity at all).  Perhaps your thoughts echo some old theme in your life, usually from childhood – you always feel anxious about sharing your feelings or expressing an alternative point of view.

This difference – between some objectively identifiable risk and some old fear is important.  If it’s the latter, it may be especially important that you start to take steps which will help you to differentiate between situations you faced way back when and what is true in the here and now.  (That’s a whole other posting in itself).  Either way, though, telling the truth depends on your willingness to face consequences that are – as yet – unknown.  So, right now, thinking about the thing you have not yet said, just notice how willing you are to face unknown outcomes.  It isn’t always easy.

It may not be wise.  Before you speak your truth, you may like to ask yourself, what outcome am I hoping for?  Let’s take the example above – your boss is pursuing a proposal you think is bad for your organisation.  At the same time, you know he’s slow to take on board the ideas of others.  You may have more influence over the outcomes if you take time to think through how best to convey your ideas so that he will hear you.  Perhaps you need to address his main concerns when you share your views – showing, for example, how another strategy may be more effective in boosting sales or reducing staffing costs.  Perhaps you need to speak quietly with others to whom he might listen more willingly – his most trusted colleagues in the business.

If you do decide to speak with him directly, you could do worse than follow some simple guidelines – which I combine from a number of sources (including Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication:  A Language for Life and Roger Schwarz’s The Skilled Facilitator):

  • Build and maintain connection – especially when you’re sharing something difficult for both parties, it’s important to remember to build and maintain rapport.  You can do this in many different ways – by checking in (“how is this landing with you?”), by gently mirroring body language and tone of voice, by seeking to understand what’s important to him or her.  Begin by holding the intention to connect and remind yourself of this intention if things get tough;
  • Focus on interests, not positions – be clear on what needs you want to meet by being honest and be open to the needs of others.  Do what you can to share your own needs and to hear and understand the needs of the other person.  Then you can explore strategies – a path of action – that meets everyone’s needs;
  • Share observations and avoid judgements – you’ll make it easier for the other person to hear you if you share relevant information in the form of observations (“when you said ‘X…'”) rather than presenting your conclusions as the truth.  This might include sharing your thoughts and feelings as observations – there’s a big difference between saying “You’re getting this completely wrong” and saying “I’m telling myself that you’re getting this completely wrong and that makes me feel anxious”;
  • Make clear requests – be clear what response you want and ask for it.  Be ready, too, to accept a “no”.  Equally, be ready to receive requests from the person you are talking with and be ready to say “yes” or “no”.
Whether you are speaking honestly at work or in your private life you may or may not get to an outcome that meets your needs well.  Being honest, though, helps you to test what’s possible.  It may open up a far better outcome than you expected – or provide information that tells your needs won’t be met in the way you hoped.  This, too, opens up the opportunity to explore alternative ways to meet your needs.
I wonder, how does this land with you?

Handling objections

It’s price negotiations time.  The prospect of handling sensitive discussions is looming and so is the question:  how do I handle objections from my clients?  In truth, your current and long-standing clients can be the ones who are getting the best deal as a result of your long history of agreeing an increase that doesn’t quite work for you.  So where do you go from here?

It’s easy to come to these discussions seeking to dismiss your clients’ objections – even seeing your clients’ concerns as “objections” stimulates a certain way of thinking.  I wonder, how are you viewing the possibility that your client might express concerns?  What does the word “objection” evoke in you?  And then there’s the question of your underlying philosophy as you approach your discussions.  I particularly raise this question because for many people, this lies outside their conscious awareness:  what beliefs are your bringing to your discussions of which you are not even aware?

Personally, I favour approaches which come from the desire for everyone to come away a winner – this will come as no surprise to regular readers of my blog, who know how much I favour Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication and Roger Schwarz’s Skilled Facilitator Approach.  You can find out more about Rosenberg’s approach by browsing the website for the Center for Nonviolent Communication or reading his book Nonviolent Communication:  A Language for Life.  Equally, you can root around on Roger Schwarz’s website, sign up for his newsletter, buy articles, or his book The Skilled Facilitator Approach.

But what about handling objections?  Amongst my fellow students of Schwarz’s Skilled Facilitator Approach some point to the books that spring from what’s known as the Harvard Project:  William Ury’s Getting Past No:  Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation, Roger Fisher and William Ury’s Getting To Yes:  Negotiating An Agreement Without Giving In and Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s Difficult Conversations:  How To Discuss What Matters Most.

Others recommend the VitalSmarts series which includes Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler’s Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, and by the same authors Crucial Confrontations:  Tools for Talking About Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behaviour and Influencer:  The Power to Change Anything.

I also wonder about Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling, recognising that this gives an overall framework in which to view objections – and recognising that many other authors and thinkers have tackled this same subject.

I wonder, in what situations do you handle objections and what resources (books, ways of thinking etc.) have you found most helpful?

When peace breaks out in the workplace

UN International Day of Peace

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Peace (also known as “Peace Day”) is celebrated on September 21st each year to recognise the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace.  The International Day of Peace is also a day of ceasefire – personal or political.  But what, you may ask, does Peace Day have to do with your life in the workplace?  The answer is easy to determine.

As you reflect on this question, I invite you to reflect on any relationships you have in the workplace with people around whom you feel less than comfortable.  Perhaps you’ve had an unfortunate experience or experiences in relation to that person, group, team or department.  Perhaps you’d like to enjoy greater ease in your communication with them.  Perhaps the mere thought of them stimulates emotion in you.  You are not at peace.

In all likelihood, your life at work (and maybe at home) is just a little bit harder as a result.  Thinking about that person stimulates thoughts and feelings in you that you don’t enjoy.  Working with them seems to be a real grind.  The tiny impacts accumulate over time, using energy that you could otherwise put to good use and without any real return on your mental, emotional and physical investment.

What would your life be like if you were at peace in relation to that person or people?  How would it be different for you – mentally, emotionally, physically…?  I invite you to imagine how your life would be different and how your experience of life would be different if only you were at peace.  I invite you to take time to imagine this more peaceful life and even to try it on for size.  What does it feel like to be truly at peace?

And here’s a harder question:  what would it take for you to be at peace with that person or people, no matter what their behaviour?  Because here’s the rub:  if you are thinking that your experience is only down to them, you’re giving away your power to make a difference in your own life and, as a result, you’re missing the chance to be truly at peace.  Meantime, the nagging unease, the frustration, maybe even the anger and the fear, continue to eat away at you.  Your ease, your effectiveness and your well-being are all affected.

There’s something more.  As a leader, you need to know how you can achieve peace when faced with behaviours you find difficult because you need to be a role model in this to those you lead.  Your personal Peace Day is an example to your staff.  It also provides the basis for you to coach and support them when they’re finding it tough to get along with their colleagues.

I wonder, what do you take away as a result of reading this posting?  And what are your personal next steps towards living your life in peace?

Photo copyright, iStockphoto.com, Sue McDonald

The power of the enemy image

Monday morning.  After five days away on retreat the first piece of news to filter through is the news of the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of America in an attack against the compound in Pakistan in which he lived.  The news and discussion in the following days has been endless and no doubt it will continue.  It seems to me to be an event too important to overlook on my blog even whilst I wonder what to say.  Finally, I settle on this:  the power of the enemy image.

I am not talking here about current debate on whether or not to release photos of the dead Osama bin Laden.  Rather, I am referring to what happens when we hold people as enemies in our minds.  It seems to me that, regardless of the acts committed by another, to hold someone as our enemy carries many risks.  Amongst these is the risk that we perpetrate all sorts of violence against others, doing things in relation to our so-called enemies that we would not do in relation to those we love and respect.  In the end, we have to live with the acts we have committed, whether or not they were in some way “justified”.

The examples are widespread – universal even.  Think of the parent who adminsters a slap alongside the admonition:  “don’t treat your brother (friend, pet rabbit etc.) in that way!”  Think of the customer who loses his or her temper in response to some act of perceived poor service, swearing and shouting at the person concerned.  Think of the friend who, upset, tells all sorts of other people what’s wrong with the person whose actions have stimulated strong emotions.  The examples are also abundant in the workplace.  Think of the individual who, not receiving from his or her boss support for which s/he yearns and for which s/he hasn’t asked begins to form an image of the boss as some kind of monster and to talk to others of the boss’s failings.  Think of the member of staff in our team who just isn’t producing the results we want and whom we begin to see as incompetent, lazy, stupid… And if it’s not the boss, or one of our direct reports, perhaps it’s our chief rival for a job (even the person who got the job we didn’t), John in Accounts, or IT, or, or, or…  Of course, the acts of violence are often subtle rather than overt.  They are in the way we think about another.  They are in the way we talk about another to third parties.  They are in the way we try to convey a message to another without openly stating what’s on our mind.  The list goes on.

In writing, I want to share my compassion for everyone involved in this spiral.  We do not know – though we may try to guess – what needs another is trying to meet or what prompts them to seek to meet those needs in a particular way.  Still, every action they take – no matter how violent or incomprehensible to us – is taken with positive intentions.  We, too, have positive intentions when we form enemy images of another in our minds or respond to violence with violence.  And when we imagine for one moment that we are in some way justified in committing acts of violence, still, we have positive intentions.  We are both perpetrator and victim.  There are moments when we are the victim of our most basic biology:  when, to use Daniel Goleman’s term, we are seized by an amygdala hijack.  In these moments our perception of a threat triggers a fight-or-flight response which was designed millennia ago as a response to threats we no longer face and which, still, kicks in in the moment.

As powerful as such moments are, we have choices to make.  We get to choose, provided we can understand the difference between stimulus and response.  In the gap between “X is happening” and “I believe Y” there is the opportunity to replace violence with nonviolence and in ways which preserve the humanity and dignity of self and other.  Either way, we lead by the choices we make.  Osama bin Laden led – as best we understand it – when he chose to perpetrate acts of violence (including the 1998 American Embassy bombings, the 2001 attack against New York’s Twin Towers).  He did so with positive intentions, seeking justice in the face of injustices, as he saw them, perpetrated by the United States against his fellow Muslims.  Right now, those of us who would wish for a different approach get to lead by the responses we choose to Osama bin Laden’s death.

I wonder, what enemy images are you harbouring towards others in your life?  And how do you choose to respond?