Ask, Don’t Tell

I am now participating in my Columbus book club virtually via FaceTime.  They have a lazy susan for their iPad so they can spin me to face whoever is talking; it works pretty well.  We’re working on improving our communication skills with the book Nonviolent Communication:  A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg.

I find the premise fascinating.  If we can learn to “use our words” (as my mother used to say) compassionately, we can hear each other and connect to one another in new ways.  I am struggling to apply these concepts in my real life.  For example, here is a typical situation:

Reading my email, I discover that someone has still not done something they were supposed to do months ago.  This is the 5th month of exchanging emails and having calls and still seeing no action.  I’m frustrated and stumped.  I immediately think, “What the hell is his problem?  Why is this so difficult?  Why can’t he just do what he’s supposed to do?”

I am judging my colleague as bad.  However, NVC suggests that instead of just reacting, my “words become conscious response based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting.  We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention.  In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others.”

The first step is, according to Rosenberg, to observe behavior.  In this case, I observe that my colleague is not doing his job.  This sets off the NVC alarm–I’m judging what that person’s job is and whether or not he is doing it.  I try again:  I am receiving delayed and incomplete information that implies the customer has been left hanging.

The second step is how do I feel about it?  I’m frustrated, angry, irritated, and worried that the customer is dissatisfied.

Step 3:  what is my need?  This is a hard question.  Why do I feel responsible for how this customer is getting treated by the person who is actually responsible for the relationship?  I will get paid the same regardless, so it’s not money.  It’s unlikely to affect my career in any way.  I guess it’s a core value of mine.  But there is also the fact that I don’t want another fire drill if this drags on too long.

Step 4:  Request concrete actions.  I need to know what the customer’s state of mind is.    I’m just guessing at this point.  I also need to know exactly what this person believes has to happen to reach resolution.  I want him to tell me each step, when it’s going to happen, and what he needs from me so he can get it done.  Then, I want to know it’s done.

As I write this, I realize that I have been telling him what he needs to do.  Maybe I should ask him to tell me what he needs from me?