The Milk of Human Kindness

To understand others and to be understood.  To be open to the beam of light that emanates from another’s soul.  To be connected deeply, so that we understand the feelings and needs of others and they understand our feelings and needs.  To sense someone’s “no” even when they’re saying “yes.”  These are some of the goals of deep communication.

In Scrum, we teach the value of collaboration, of building on each other’s work.  Before collaboration comes cooperation (which means working in the same direction), and before cooperation comes communication [2].  Communication, cooperation, and collaboration can be considered ways of being, but they are also acquirable skills. The best approach to communication that I have found is called nonviolent communication (NVC)[3].

Unlike many well-known communication systems, such as Crucial Conversations[1], NVC was not developed by management consultants with the goal of maximizing profit.  It was developed by Marshall Rosenberg who, as a youth, witnessed violent race riots in Detroit and wondered whether there was a way for all people to communicate without evaluation and judgment.  NVC’s uses an observations-feelings-needs-requests framework.  It’s the best way I know to communicate in charged situations.  I have found it rewarding to describe NVC to Scrum teams and suggest that they drop into NVC whenever a conversation becomes challenging.  It has been one of the most life-giving gifts I have provided as a Scrum coach.

[1] Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, and McMillan.
[2] At a CSM training, I heard Tobias Mayer make an observation similar to this one.
[3] For additional information on NVC see  The standard introductory book is Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

Michael de la Maza

I am an agile coach and an angel investor. As an agile coach, I have consulted and trained at dozens of companies. Major agile coaching engagements have been with Paypal, State Street, edX, Carbonite, and Symantec. I typically begin with culture first and then proceed to process improvement and business results. I believe in a non-confrontational, non-coercive approach to change in which people are invited to be and act in a new way. This takes the pain out of agile transformations.

With Rob Rubin, an online education pioneer and the Founding VP of Engineering at edX, I recently created, an online agile education portal that we plan to grow until it has the best agile content and the best learning platform.