I beg your pardon? From the diary of a CEO

A contribution from Lorna Ritchie (free webinar on 22 April. 2016)

Today was another day to be happy and cry at the same time! Ok, at first I was really happy. After a few workshops, a few books and a lot of sharing in practice groups, I really “got” this thing with feelings and needs. Today the secretary came in and told me she wanted to go home already, that her mum had called, hung up again straight away hung up and couldn’t be reached now. It came over my lips very quickly: “Are you worried and want to know what’s going on?”. She only had to nod and was visibly moved.

YAY! NVC in action!

Well, I do have my doubts…. what would have been different before I got to know NVC? I probably would have just said, “sure, look her up”. What was so bad about that? Nothing really. I would have understood the secretary, the result would be the same – she goes home early. It looks the same when you first look at it. We still would have understood each other.

From the CEO’s point of view, the secretary has made a request… “do you mind if I end my working day now? It is common in everyday life for us to assume what the other person wants. If that’s what we want.

Just like the metaphor with the salt. When a guest at the table lifts his head after the first spoonful of soup and looks across the table, it is not necessary for him to say “when I taste the soup in my mouth, it’s a bit bland, I need seasoning, can you please pass me the salt shaker please?”
That would be awkward and out of touch with everyday life. A searching look is enough. If I spoke like that, it would be logical if someone found me strange.

So why do I want to use this NVC in my everyday life at work?

I can understand a lot of things, I’m trained as a therapist, we work in the social sector, I’m not hard to understand. However, I have observed something…… difficult to describe, but there is a kind of shift in the quality of interaction when feelings are named. And when then needs are assumed, even if the assumption is not quite spot on, there is a strong sense of clarity, very strong, when we talk about what our intention is, why are we speaking?

And there is more eye contact. Usually followed by a sense of relaxation.
Honestly, it just makes me feel good…and I’m allowed to feel good, even though …. or perhaps I’m supposed to feel good too!

Ok, increasing understanding in a stressful working day, yes, that’s helpful.
As a manager, I know that employees need motivation through feedback and a positive approach. When they feel understood, they do their work with more commitment and enjoyment. So I learn “good words” and signal that I understand them. But it’s not as simple as that…..it’s about how I express this understanding.

So to a colleague who complains about a customer who cancels an appointment, to say “You want there to be appreciation and respect and for your time to be used effectively?” …and boom…..he calms down and says, “yes …I don’t want my efforts to be in vain. I really want to be effective”. And then the customer is no longer an issue and he starts to think about how he can use his newfound time (the cancelled appointment) effectively.

It’s so much easier for me to “lead” since I address needs….it seems to me, as if it goes straight to the heart and the colleague can be absolutely certain that I have listened and understood.
And I’m happy too, there’s not so much complaining about others in the office anymore.
I really like that! And that’s what’s special…..that’s different with thisNVC.

I used to think Rosenberg was teaching me how to find other, non-violent words. Now I have…it’s not just about understanding others better, connecting with them, but that I am also satisfied and fulfilled within myself.

And the request?
Does it have to be said?
If an employee tells me that they are stressed and need more time to hand in a project report. Then I know what he wants. Don’t I? I gave him an extra day last Thursday and he wasn’t happy at all.
Well, if he had asked directly for an extension of the deadline by xyz days…. that would certainly have been possible, I would have authorised that too. If he doesn’t ask, then I’ll make a suggestion! After his reaction, I could have followed up….. he didn’t seem so happy….but I was really in a hurry. I’m curious to see if he’ll hand it in.

There was a difficult situation in the project committee today:
When Mr B., a school headmaster, refused to take part in the planned project for homeless young people, even though it would have cost nothing, everyone else on the committee was really angry.
It was only about a room in the school.
He had agreed last year! Only once a month.
The manager of the youth centre was full of judgement and questioned whether the head teacher was right to be there, whether the school headmaster was the right person to be on this decision-making body.
Tense atmosphere.
Another long meeting!
What was this actually about?
I assumed that Mr B. was concerned with the protection of the pupils and the school’s public image.
I knew that last year there had been an incident involving young people from outside the school, bad headlines in the local newspaper and the headmaster only wanted to get involved in projects that were directly related to to do with “his” pupils.

When I voiced this possibility, the situation eased.
The headmaster talked about the incident again……said that the project was also important and the arguments in favour of or against the room in the school started again…….but I only had one question on my mind:
What could be the next step for the planned project?
We needed a room, otherwise the project grant would be cancelled.
What was actually the request? Had the headmaster made a request of us? To understand him.
And to believe him, that he also thinks the project is important. Mmmm.
I took a guess….
“You want the project to take place, you want to support it, but you also need
protection for your school (including pupils).
Could it be that you would help us find another room in the district so that the project can take place?
“YAAA, exactly!”
And astonishment in the committee.
The headmaster immediately had an idea…the church round the corner had a community room that was unused one day a week.
He would enquire there.

Then there was the thing that didn’t go so well today.
I sat at the PC in the office until 8.00 p.m. again…. the bank transfers before the end of the month.
The day had been really exhausting…and the secretary had left early, so I was also on telephone duty and couldn’t easily tick off my things one after the other. On Thursday….just before Easter …. everyone else was long gone.
And I’m sitting there, taking a break and playing solitaire!

My partner rang to say he wanted to drive off to the weekend cottage, should he pick me up? Nope! It won’t work, I’ll be out tomorrow morning, and bring fresh bread. I can’t leave the office now… and drive along the country road in the dark… with my tired eyes… I’ll stay in town tonight.

Thank God he couldn’t see that I was just playing on the PC.
Hung up.
What was that all about? Why am I lying? And who am I actually lying to?
I make myself a cup of tea and and think.
So… feeling? Frustrated and tired, time pressure on my neck.
But I’m just playing around on the PC!

Need…?…want to relax…do something good for myself, reward myself after a hard day.
Well…the request, the request……what would be a suitable request?
“The request is also a strategy to fulfil a need”.
I remembered that from the workshop.
So that’s what I’m doing….I play solitaire to relax… mmmh…. now honestly … is that the best strategy?

So if I was completely honest with myself, it wasn’t. I’d be much better off sitting in front of the fireplace with a hot tea and a view of the trees, the wet smell of the garden in my nose.
And what about the money transfers?
Well, the bank probably won’t send them until Tuesday.
It’s Easter.
So I take heart… and call my partner right back.
“If you give me another half an hour, I’ll go out with you, can you pick me up?

A request to myself. That’s it! I can always check whether my chosen action
really fits in with what is important to me.
Instead, I had been sitting there feeling exhausted and had a guilty conscience…ha!
Instead of going ahead with it, I asked myself to change my decision and then to ask my partner… to support me.

“Will you pick me up at 8.30pm?”
That was concrete, understandable and doable.
Mmmm… now I can still think about whether I should overcome my sense of shame and tell him what really happened in the office when he called.

Or I can just enjoy the weekend in the countryside.
Relaxation, recuperation, enjoyment.
And practise forgiving myself.
Well, I will probably attend a NVC workshop for that.

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