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Communication plays a significant role in every aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not. However, have you ever wondered how important is what we say and how we do it? Going deeper into this: have you ever thought using some language forms could be violent? In this article, I would like to show how the language we use influences building our relationships, engagement, the ability to resolve conflicts, and, finally, how it determines the IT project's success. On the way to better communication and conflict resolution, I will show how the NVC framework works, which can be a solution to better understanding each other.

The Importance of Effective Communication in Project Success

From a business perspective, communication is closely linked to project success. How closely? According to the Standish CHAOS Report (November 2021), almost 84% of IT projects fail. The main reasons are:

  • lack of user input,

  • incomplete requirements & specifications,

  • unrealistic expectations,

  • lack of planning.

Going deeper, we can realize that all of them connect with communication. The work that we put into an application to satisfy some of the customer's needs may be wasted if we don't ask the user if it does. If we do not communicate openly with our clients that we cannot accomplish that scope in a given timeframe or budget, they may have unrealistic expectations. Similarly, we can relate all the above causes to communication. 

Another interesting statistic from the Project Management Institute report proves that communication problems directly cause 1/3 of project failures in the IT industry. 

NVC framework

NVC framework for cultivating compassion and understanding in our interactions with others

The question is: what can we do to improve our communication and thus increase the chances of success of our project? One of the effective communication methods that are worth considering is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). The creator of this framework is Marshall Rosenberg, the doctor of clinical psychology, mediator, and political negotiator of great merit. 

Nonviolent communication is about the open expression of feelings, needs, and requests and the ability to read them in the words of other people, regardless of the form in which they are transmitted. The basis of this method is empathy, understood as a willingness to perceive the needs and feelings of other people. The two crucial elements are needs and feelings. 

NVC is a method that allows you to build psychological safety at work. To collaborate effectively, we need to feel safe in contact with others. Then our creativity and innovation increase, so we are open to dialogue. Research conducted by Google on 180 teams shows that psychological safety in the workplace is the most vital factor influencing the increase in team effectiveness.

Nonviolent communication

The Four Fundamental Elements of Nonviolent Communication

Marshall Rosenberg, created a 4-step model, a tool that promotes learning a new way of communicating and makes it easier to establish contact. Thanks to the four steps, we can briefly convey what is important to us. So, what are these four steps based on which we can build our communication?

 

Observation

These are facts without judgments. We are simply saying what we are seeing, hearing, and touching, and it should be specific to the moment and context. When in doubt about whether what we have said is an observation or an opinion, consider whether the camera can record it. If not, then it is not an observation. Also, worth remembering is that by combining facts with judgments, we reduce the chance that the right message will reach the interlocutor because the critical tone makes the other people not accept what we are saying.

 

Feelings

These are what I feel with what I have heard, seen, or touched. It should be differentiated from words colloquially used as feelings: I feel ignored or thoughts: I think I did not get a fair deal. Feelings are our indicator of whether we meet our needs or not. 

 

Needs

These are what I need about what I feel. Needs motivate us. Everything we do or say is because of our needs, which are the same for all people. We often confuse strategy with need. What is the difference between them? An example of a need is security, and an example of a strategy is money. People sometimes think that money is what they need. It is just a strategy to meet the need (e.g., security in this case). Moreover, there are many strategies to meet that need. 

 

Requests

When I request something, I accept that the addressee may refuse me. In case of refusal, I do not use emotional sanctions (I do not take offense, I do not start criticizing, I do not perceive it as disrespect, and I do not blame the other party). It is worth remembering that the way of responding to a request determines whether it is a genuine request or not. 

 

How to request it so that other people will understand it correctly?

  • specifics rather than generalities,

  • ask for what someone might do (not what someone might think or feel),

  • ask for what you want, not what you do not.

What could be an example of a request based on NVC rules? It could look like this: would you be willing to respond before 4 pm, this Friday?

 

Remember that the four steps work both ways: not only when you talk but similarly when you listen to somebody. 

 

When learning to use the language following the four components of NVC described above, you can use the following scheme to build a message:

When I see (hear) ... I feel…. because I need (value) … so would you be willing to …

 

It is ideal to say it in 40 words or fever. Also, a good practice is to ask our interlocutor to repeat what he heard from us. Paraphrasing allows us to make sure that the other person understands us correctly.

 

Besides, it is worth remembering that the most important thing in communication is the intention, and blindly using the scheme may cause it to lose its authenticity.

 

communication and conflict resolution

How feedback in NVC can help you build stronger, more authentic connections with others

 

Feedback is crucial, especially in the workplace. Yet research has found that nearly 87% of employees want to develop in their job, but only a third report receiving the feedback they need to engage and improve. Another research shows that 65% of employees want to get more feedback. Why is feedback so important?

  • It prevents performance from going off track, 

  • It provides the opportunity for ongoing performance improvement,

  • It builds the sense of being valued

  • It helps to reinforce positive habits.

Unfortunately, we used to give feedback in static language with descriptors that reduce a person to a single attribute, positive or negative, which means we used to say: you are a good developer, or he is lazy, etc. A person labeled as a good developer may feel he has no permission to fail as part of his learning. 

 

Moreover, positive feedback expressed in this way says little to the person I give it to. Sometimes it can also be perceived as an attempt at manipulation or sarcasm, which in turn causes a decrease in motivation in the long run. 

 

On the other hand, negative feedback is difficult to handle for both the giver and the receiver. Because of static language, we usually take negative feedback too personally - as an attack on ourselves, the natural consequence of which is defense or withdrawal. It, in turn, causes us to not feel psychologically safe in the workplace, and our effectiveness and motivation automatically decrease. And it is all because of the language!

 

feedback in NVC

 

Using NVC to Foster Positive Communication in the Workplace

 

Fortunately, NVC supports us in building constructive feedback by giving us a tool for building it based on a 3-step scheme:

  1. What - it is an observation, a specific deed that has benefited us,

  2. Need - which need was satisfied thanks to this,

  3. Feeling - which nice feeling appeared.

Consider that the above is not about who or what is wrong/bad, or who or what is right/good. Judgments and labels will not do the work of fostering good collaboration. NVC is not about manipulating, persuading, or controlling other people. Moreover, with NVC you will not get what you want from others unless what you want is to invite other people to jointly make each other's lives better than what they are.

From reactive to proactive: using NVC to navigate difficult conversations with empathy

 

Another principal area where NVC is applicable is conflict resolution. Conflicts always take place at the level of the strategy chosen to satisfy needs. Rosenberg's 4-stage communication model is a program of communication behaviors that allows you to deal with conflict (in NVC, it ​​is the so-called giraffe language). At the other end is the so-called language of the jackal. It is a language that blocks empathy and provokes conflicts. This language is firmly rooted in our culture and mentality - we use it habitually and consider it normal. ​​It is related to the tendency to judge everything and everyone. Typical types of utterances are:

  • making moral judgments, 

  • criticism,

  • comparing, 

  • classifying, 

  • evaluating,

  • diagnosing, 

  • analyzing, 

  • interpreting,

  • expressions implying a lack of personal responsibility: I lied to a client because my boss told me to; I ate another candy because I couldn't resist; I wrote this report because I had to.

Resolving Conflicts through Empathy and Mutual Respect

 

NVC proposed empathy-based conflict resolution, whose stages are as follows:

  1. Presenting our needs.

  2. Presentation of the needs of the other party.

  3. Ensuring that the needs of both parties have been correctly understood and heard.

  4. Strategy proposal - always expressed in an affirmative form. 

The most important thing in solving the conflict in NVC is establishing a relationship full of mutual respect and care. Compromise is not a solution because it leads to a situation where both parties stay with unmet needs, which eventually will cause the conflict to escalate. NVC strives for win-win status by finding a strategy that meets the needs of both parties.

 

mutual respect

The benefits of incorporating NVC into your daily interactions at work

 

Let me show you some selected examples of incorporating NVC into work.

 

More clarity in emails

Knowing the four steps of the NVC model, you can write your email more concisely and precisely. By being aware of the intention with which you write an email, you can build your request consciously and get the exact answer instead of sending tons of messages to make sure you are on the same page.

 

More productive meetings

Employees often complain that meetings are too long and unproductive, and they waste valuable time in which they could do their job. Rosenberg noticed that when we speak in groups, we are often unaware of what we want back: do we need advice, feedback, be taken into account, etc.? NVC helps us to be clear on the response we want back when we speak. 

 

The W.A.I.T. protocol can be a helpful tool here too. It is an acronym for Why Am I Talking. It encourages us to carefully reflect on what we say: am I talking for approval? Am I talking to complain? Is there any question I could ask that would help me better understand what the other person is saying? What is my intention behind what I am saying? When we feel understood, we are more likely to cooperate and have the team spirit that boosts productivity.

 

A better understanding of the project

Looking at the project from the perspective of the needs it aims to satisfy can help a lot in building a valuable product. Knowing what the needs are (both the end user and the customer), we can better optimize the functionalities that the app should have or better plan the MVP of the project. It, in turn, allows for optimizing time and money.

 

Of course, there are many more areas where NVC allows us to optimize and make our actions more efficient but the above examples show how even a minor change in the process or even the way we think and speak can have an enormous impact.

Conclusion

Understanding each other at the level of needs creates a connection full of empathy. When focusing on needs without interpreting or conveying criticism, demands, or blame, engagement and creativity flourish, and solutions previously blocked from our awareness arise. At this depth, conflicts can be resolved with greater ease. This approach brings many measurable benefits: increased employee engagement, increased openness to dialogue and innovation, increased motivation to work, and increased transparency. All of this contributes to the success of the project.

If you want to stay up to date with another dose of substantive articles, I encourage you to keep an eye on the Railwaymen blog. Here you will find a lot of interesting information on topics related to the day-to-day operations of the software house. In addition, I invite you to read about our past projects, which we described in the Case Studies section. Who knows, maybe our activities will interest you enough to start cooperation with us? 

 

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