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Non-Violent Communication for Agile Teams

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Non-Violent Communication for Agile Teams

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As the heading suggests, today I’d like to take a brief look at the concept of non-violent communication. Communication means really a lot for software development teams. If something goes wrong, there’re misunderstandings, and if people have misunderstandings they are not working well as a team. Which, in its turn, takes toll in the software they deliver. Messed up releases, uncoordinated efforts, misunderstood motivations, assuming others miss some points, because those others didn’t tell all the people involved about their reasons for this or that action… This might sound all too familiar for our “develop-deliver” team environments. Hmm, and I wonder why there’re no soap operas about software development teams…

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The  issues of communication have been on my radar for quite long. I was figuring things out to myself, and a huge support in this self-powered research came from Bob Marshall, who’s been tweeting quotes from the book by M. Rosenberg, called “Non-Violent Communication“. I rarely insist that some book is a must-read. Actually, the last time I did that was about 2 years ago, in my Mastery vs. GTD blog. Now I can say that the NVC book is a true must-read as well. Its fields of application are so versatile. Anywhere where people get together, share the same space, work as one team — these principles will overhaul the ways of thinking and living, fostering harmonious environments.

Very briefly, to put it in my own words, non-violent communication shifts the emphasis from “resolving conflicts” to “identifying needs”. Conflicting feelings and behaviors originate from people’s needs met or unmet. Even if there’re no obvious conflicts in a team, but some unmet needs are simmering under the surface, then actions would be tainted, relations would be tainted, and all of that would boil down to what we refer to as “lack of communication“.


Here’s how lack of communication manifests itself most commonly:

  • (A) Why haven’t you done that and that?
  • (B) I didn’t know.
  • (A) Why haven’t you asked sooner?

….that’s where confused silence ensues, and that’s where we tap on simmering unmet needs. Why was it easier for person (B) not to ask sooner? Why person (A) didn’t bother to make sure that person (B) knows what needs to be done? Who was supposed to check on whom? This quick interlude can spark a dozen questions which in turn would bring in more questions. Digging to the roots of unmet needs requires empathy, compassion, and self-compassion as well.  These people skills are oftentimes ignored in software development teams.  Seems like no safety buffers are left, and people’s skills can only be ignored at our own peril. If the technical part is all handled to a T, and something is still wrong, then it’s time to look for the reasons in the people’s part.  That’s where non-violent communication steps in.

Stay tuned to our blog for more installments on non-violent communication.

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