In software engineering, disagreements on how to approach a project or differences in technical expertise are just par for the course in this line of work. But just because conflicts are common, doesn’t mean that we need to let them simmer and grow. So, how do we handle these conflicts in a way that promotes growth and progress for the team? Enter Kim Scott’s radical candor and Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model.
Both methods focus on creating a safe and open environment for honest and direct communication, promoting understanding and empathy among team members. Kim Scott’s radical candor encourages the practice of giving and receiving candid feedback, while the NVC model emphasizes understanding and expressing one’s own needs and the needs of others in order to resolve conflicts nonviolently. The NVC model encourages the use of observations, feelings, needs and requests, which are all integral parts of the model and are used together in order to communicate in a structured, effective and efficient way.
In my recent experience with my team, Internal Tools, I found myself facing a conflict over the best way to approach a user story. A user story is a brief statement of a feature or requirement that an end user needs in an Agile software development framework. It is used to capture requirements and prioritize them in an easily understandable format. User stories are often accompanied by story points, which are a numerical value assigned to each one of them to indicate its complexity and effort required to implement it. These story points are determined by the group as a team agreement.
The conflict arose when a couple of colleagues decided to change the technology of that user story, while they were debating on which was the best approach, to a new and different one, even though no one on the team had worked with it in depth or mastered it. At first, I felt excited and slightly overwhelmed by the new challenge and decided to go along with it. However, after spending two days going over documentation and making tests without success, I found myself feeling lost and frustrated. I knew what I had to do, I needed to address the situation with my crew.
This is when I remembered what my colleague Xavier Albaladejo, Executive Transformation Coach, taught us in an “All-Hands” session about radical candor and the NVC model and used it to raise my concerns with my team. I made sure to structure my message using the keywords “When” to express my observations, “I feel” for my feelings and “I need” to make my requests, and to make clear what I was looking for from my team. This is the message I sent:
“Hi team! I am taking this chance to raise my concerns regarding this user story:
When we change the technology, to one that nobody in the team masters, and the user story’s story points score stays the same and is not adapted.
I feel lost and frustrated when I test it without success. Plus, I feel the pressure to produce results since the score has not changed.
I need to do a pairing session with another person of the team to test it together and to have the user story evaluated and scored again if we finally decide to move on with the new technology.”
I also decided to add a final request, in the form of a suggestion, as part of my message to establish what steps could be taken in order to avoid similar issues in the future and improve the team’s performance. For this reason I also included:
“In the future, I would like that trying a new technology becomes a team decision and that we all develop an action plan on how to approach it and we adjust the user story’s story points accordingly. Plus, as a personal preference, I rather have complementary user stories on the side, in order to combine learning new things with adding value to the team. It makes me feel productive, valuable and overall great about my work”.
By using Kim Scott’s radical candor and the NVC model, I was able to clearly address my concerns directly and honestly, while also being caring, empathetic and in a structured manner. This approach helped to open up a dialogue with my team, and we were able to come to a resolution that was beneficial for everyone. Plus, we were also able to define as a group the strategy for learning and incorporating the new technology that my colleagues suggested for future user stories.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. How do you approach conflicts in your own teams? Do you have any tips or techniques that have been effective for you in the past? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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