Tag Archives: Conflict Management

Ask Why – To Understand

This is a follow on post from my post called Ask How (Don’t say No). Sometimes in some situations it makes more sense to Ask Why to increase understanding.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a passionate conversation about a topic.  Someone says something, perhaps in a strident tone, this can force a reaction from others that implies that what has been said is wrong.  The response can stop conversation dead in it’s tracks as processing of the remarks take place.

Now a facilitator can help keep the conversation going and relieve the tension and let the point carry on to it’s final conclusion.  We don’t have a facilitator all the time though, so we can train ourselves to react quickly still but thoughtfully as well.

I suggest the first response is ‘Why?’, ‘Why do you say that?’  This could help create a response that helps the person retrieve an important item that adds further context.  Sometimes excitement causes that person to forget to mention that important piece of context.  Asking Why is an Open Question and keeps the conversation going rather than perhaps escalating into an out and out disagreement.


Some Causes of Dysfunctional Workplaces

Here are some real observations over 25 years of working in software development and in volunteer organisations as well.  I can give specific anecdotes for each and every one of these listed anti patterns.  I can be contacted privately to share only via a voice conversation.  I also wouldn’t want to be recorded for fear of retribution or legal action (in fact it should be the reverse, should be illegal to allow these behaviours).
Many people relate to these issues because they tell me them also and the research confirms that with 9 out of 10 people unhappy at work .  They are afraid to voice an opinion and rightly so.  They want better but are fearful because they have families to support and can’t risk losing a job or going backward.  Those unnamed people should be acknowledged and this is their anonymous voice through me.
The issues being raised mean that people suffer and when people suffer then the company as a whole will suffer.   Ill performing teams means work is not done to the best of everyone’s ability.  Absenteeism goes up and is a further cost impediment to the company.  People take their work problems home and take it out on their family making for a inharmonious home life.  They bring this feeling back to work and the cycle continues.
 Note some of these are similar but are stated again to imply a subtlety that ought to be acknowledged.  I regretfully acknowledge that I’ve been a perpetrator of some of these wrongs driven by what I’ve observed in the workplace – that is it appears to be condoned behaviour and some don’t even realise that it’s a problem and that it is normal.
Some or even all of these apply to employees as well, but we single out management as they need to lead and should be leading through actions otherwise why be in this position.
 I’m sorry to say that some people marketing themselves at Agile Coaches and Consultants exhibited these (anti-)patterns.  But I guess we all need to learn including myself.  That includes standing up for what is right and just.
 Now, you may not agree with the list, parts of it or the whole idea of it.  To that I point you to another blog post entitled You don’t have to agree, You have to take notice –  and is my response to this.
After this list I’ve provided some resources on how you can improve.  It’s not just a rant but a rant with proposed solutions.  It’s a small starting but it’s a starting point.
 Finally I will use this to help myself improve. Knowing is the first step. If you attend an interview with me expect some of these to mentioned as questions framed as either have you experienced this and what did you about it or have you been guilty of any of these and what did you do correct it.  They way you answer will determine if I use you.  It will filter out a lot of people but then again I only want the best.

The List (which could grow)

  1. Asking for estimates and then taking them as commitments
  2. Providing estimates for work they aren’t going to be doing
  3. Taking estimates and applying a factor either up or down.  That’s right I don’t trust you.
  4. Publicizing an arbitrary deadline without asking anyone else first.  Especially prevalent in companies listed on the stock market.
  5. Playing the blame game when a publicized deadline like the above is not met.
  6. Asking employees to cut corners in favour of an ill-conceived short term goal mostly in their own self interest
  7. Telling employees who know how to do their job how to do their job, especially when they aren’t the expert
  8. Asking someone to do something knowing that they may not have the right skills or fall just short and then chastise them when they do in fact come up short
  9. Related not creating a learning opportunity with it’s accompanying expected failure points that allows someone to increase their skills
  10. Providing an unsafe work environment: physical, psychological and emotional
  11. Using expletives/profanity during a meeting to cover over a weakness or to feign a form of bravado
  12. Not apologising for using expletives/profanity as if it were a right that no one else holds
  13. Permits and/or uses slurs (racial, sexual, social background) assuming that everyone is Ok with that
  14. Seeks others to ‘cheer them on’ when they have an axe to grind further encouraging base human behaviour in others
  15. Willingly treat outside contractors and suppliers with contempt.  Permits others to do the same.  Used as a tactic to think a contractor can come on board full time because they will then get better treatment in return
  16. Permits others to treat outside contractors and suppliers with disdainful behaviour and slights.  Almost the same as the previous except they didn’t really start it but still happy to condone it
  17. Instilling fear into employees such that their only way of expressing issues and problems is to whine about during a break when management isn’t present
  18. To meekly acknowledge an issue but not follow up.  Lip service to better management.
  19. Seeking to put themselves forward at the expense of their team, which encourages subordinates to think that this is just the way it is for it to be repeated elsewhere
  20. Condoning less than civil behaviour amongst employees.  For example allowing attacks either aggressive or passive, reasoning that this is just the way it is.  Refusal to acknowledge this as bad behaviour
  21. Reflects bad behaviour by using it as a lever to coerce others to fall into line
  22. Allowing a culture of intolerance to differences
  23. Resorts to firing of employees rather than discussion when a problem arises or a personality conflict occurs
  24. Hiring someone and then when they don’t come up to expectations are immediately marched out and humiliated.
  25. Refusal to defend employees against an unreasonable customer
  26. Making false promises to coerce compliance.
  27. Exuding a power persona, that they laud over others.
  28. Wantonly flaunting privileges of a position.  It’s visible to others and they know it.
  29. When subjected to false promises themselves do not follow up with the promise.  Talks behind their back about the false promise.
  30. When hearing of a false promise not offering to follow up on behalf of the aggrieved party – the complaint is actually a request
  31. Make (what turn out to be) erroneous or fake gestures/claims.  Not following up to explain hoping it ‘blows over’
  32. Not attending to the needs of employees to grow and feel that they are appreciated
  33. Making employees the villains when problems arise
  34. Happy/relieved to let good employees go as they were a threat anyway
  35. Overriding the thoughts and decisions of employees because ‘you know best’ and ‘you need to be seen to exert your authority’
  36. Bosses of bosses condoning and allowing bad behaviour because they are needed to be seen to support who’ve they’ve put in place
  37. Preferring to make snide comments sometimes the other party is not present rather than provide meaningful feedback.  It’s more funny and others may get a chuckle out of it
  38. Make comments/gossips behind people’s backs rather then confronting the real issue
  39. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating this is how you should have done it
  40. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating that you should have know this already
  41. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating that your not ready to be considered part of the group
  42. Not providing a welcome for a new employee – ignoring them, not offering to take them out if from out of town
  43. Allowing a contractor to be treated as a second class citizen and condoning derogatory comments about the contractor and to the contractor
  44. Believes their emotional well being is more important than employees and therefore it’s Ok to go off, get mad but not allow the same of employees
  45. Does not see that a complaint is really a request.  Will portray the complainer as just another moaner and whinger
  46. Says they will do something but actually using it as a tool to better their own position because it will cause failure for others
  47. Does not provide information.  “need to know basis’ is an anti-pattern
  48. Thinks nepotism is a good thing.  ‘My brother, my wife, my girlfriend can do this job’  implies arrogance and self interest
  49. Believes dissent to be a bad thing.  Can’t have employees injecting another opinion
  50. Believes a quiet meeting is a good meeting.  They are doing what I tell them
  51. Will use sex as a tool.  e.g. Women will use alluring and sometimes even crude gestures (touching) to cover weakness.  Men will resort to innuendo in a passive aggressive stance.
  52. Intolerant to failure.  Will not accept failure and will record it as a negative against an employee.  Promotes a culture of ‘It’s better to not be wrong’
  53. Encouraging a complaining culture by complaining oneself and not seeking to address the complaints of others and themselves. Laizez Faire attitude
  54. Congratulating bad behaviour like saying ‘They handled that tricky situation well’  ‘He’s a real political animal, not many can handle themselves like that’ – hiding an impediment actually
  55. Don’t think they need to get any better.  Doesn’t read books, attend seminars or give seminars.  ‘I’m a manager because I now this stuff already’
  56. Disrespectful use of nicknames without a rapport established, e.g. Hey Davo, Paulo.
  57. Brazenly takes credit for what others have found or created. Take it as their own and doesn’t acknowledge others.
  58. Will not thank someone for their work when they leave because they don’t like them.
  59. Worse, do not organise a leaving ceremony like everyone else gets to send a message.  Rather it says your heartless
  60. Not standing up for a colleague when you and others know that a wrong has been committed against that person
  61. Failing to be learn lessons and apply learnings from those lessons.  Often reviews are performed but it’s a lip service.  No tangiable outcomes arise
  62. Failing to maintain an improvement backlog.  A tangible way to track improvement rather than lip service and hope for the best
  63. Not being accountable to team goals and seeks to blame others when things go wrong
  64. Happy to perpetuate a blame and recrimination culture because that is the way it is and it’s normal
  65. Adept at performing the Cover Your Ass Manoeuvrer and then openly celebrating it and accepting plaudits for it
  66. Failing to be of service to employees, that is not practising Servant Leadership.  That is we need to look after the needs of others so that we may all succeed as well
  67. Allows a situation to fester out of a misplaced loyalty.  Related to the HiPPO syndrome.  Meanwhile ideas and alternatives are ignored.
  68. Casts those who provide suggestions, ideas and alternatives as disloyal villains of the HiPPOs
  69. Allowing the HiPPOs to take on jobs or roles for which they are lacking skill when others have the skills required
  70. Allowing HiPPOs to bury other ideas and accepting flimsy reasoning for allowing it to occur
  71. Allow traditional requirements knowing they are wasteful to the client because it means more billing hours. This creates disharmony for the client and the workers. Should use an Agile Contract.
  72. Using the requirements to shoehorn another product that isn’t needed. Taking advantage of customer ignorance, but it comes back to bite when the budget is absorbed and it doesn’t work.
  73. Assuming others do not have the ability to manage and condemning them for it
  74. Failure is Ok as long as it vindicates my own position
  75. Maintains siloes of information.  Doesn’t allow information to be shared between groups.  Doesn’t share information with team members.  Prevents good information from reaching others that could help them achieve their goals.
  76. Thinking that every problem needs to be solved by them negating/nullifying the capability of the team.  Arrogance.
  77. More generally thinking that employees have to be told what to do and must always ask what to do next.  Same theme as the previous, arrogance and assuming the team will not function without them
  78. Thinking burnout is a failure of the employee rather than a symptom of a bad system of work
  79. Thinking that keeping everyone busy by overloading is more efficient.  The busy work paradox.  Not Limiting WIP
  80. Thinking that employees do not need slack to learn new stuff, to recharge and to reconnect.
  81. Working longer than 8 hours a day thinking that your effective.  This is only short term, long term you’ll feel it
  82. Claiming that reading a document at home over dinner is chargeable to the client – greedy
  83. Resorting to snide comments as a way of dealing with a comment or suggestion that you don’t like
  84. Causing the health of employees to fail due to overwork or emotional exertion.  Some even result in death.
  85. Immediately criticizing the detail of a suggestion and therefore negating the validity of a suggestion as a whole. A Fear Response.
  86. Holds a meeting looking for ideas but then focuses on those that align with their own
  87. Admonishing in public rather than providing feedback in a private yet positive setting
  88. Maneuvering to covertly remove someone from a team via meetings and conversations and to then spring it on the poor unfortunate person.
  89. A derogatory comment designed to support a superior who feels challenged by someone else’s question.  Suits them better for their own goals and purposes.
  90. Sidelining or worse ostracizing introverts making their input appear less valuable
  91. Complaining about introverted behaviour, they should be more outgoing, rather than accepting people as they are and helping them grow and helping them to utilize their natural talent
  92. Related but more general, immediately discounting the thoughts of others because the opinion of the HiPPO counts more
  93. Upon seeing someone not tapping on a keyboard automatically thinking that they are slacking off.  I’m paying you to code not think.
  94. An employee doesn’t immediately understand a new concept or instruction and conveys this.  Subsequently this is held against them, they must be below par.
  95. Upon receiving new information or a new concept, silence is taken as acceptance.  Later on when something goes wrong as a result, it’s the always the employee’s fault.
  96. Not providing training and support for an employee who needs to improve in a weak area.  Better to move them on.
  97. Using and emotional release or outburst from someone against them, speaking ill-will of them
  98. Encouraging a Hero culture.  Heroes get stuff done.  Actually the reverse is true and teams get things done faster than Heroes.  Teams mean there is no weak link
  99. Similar yet different to be mentioned, playing favourites which results in others being favoured over others for the wrong reasons (mostly)
  100. Again similar, protecting some from consequences whilst others are not.  Overall, protection from consequences is not good.
  101. When listening we are actively looking to refute
  102. Doesn’t ensure a there is no weak link by neglecting to create an environment of cross pollination, cross training, knowledge sharing and mutual support amongst team members
  103. Confusing uncertainty with weakness.  Being certain implies arrogance and does let other opinions exist
  104. Thinking that talking to oneself (e.g. Rubber Ducking) is a weakness and saying something that will stop someone doing it like ‘Your going mad’.
  105. Admonishing others when they appear to show ‘weakness’
  106. Creating a stressed environment by stating at the start that you’ve only got one chance or your out
  107. Confusing silence with harmony.  Silence can mean artificial harmony and absence of useful conflict.
  108. Forcing consensus even when consensus is not really present therefore ignoring potential showstoppers
  109. Not committing to removal of obstacles like lack of information about requirements, not having the tooling to perform a job effectively, quickly and with quality
  110. Committing to performing work when you and everyone knows that something is not needed and is a wasted effort
  111. Committing to performing work when you and everyone else knows that there is not enough information to perform the work
  112. Disallowing others to seek information when information is lacking
  113. Is vengeful and seeks retribution when told something that doesn’t agree with them.
  114. Delivers information in a way that will invite a vengeful response in the future, generally untraceable to the previous incident(s)
  115. Barring employees from talking to customers because its seen that there should only be one funnel of information
  116. When hearing of a new improvement seeks to hide it or discount it because it would not suit their own purposes or damage their perceived standing amongst others.  Cites reasons to cover this up that ring hollow.
  117. Brings in outside consultants to tell them what the insiders have already told them and then chooses to ignore or rubbish the findings.
  118. Using email to relay news. Email is a copout for direct communication.
  119. Allow oneself to be exposed to Insider information (listed company) which results in strange decisions that favour personal gain at the expense of others.  Strangely congratulated if you can achieve this.
  120. Use of the excuse ‘Too busy’ – means there is a root cause being ignored
  121. Finding an excuse rather than a reason
  122. Related – using the excuses for not following up in a timely and respectful manner
  123. Creating excuses to create a barrier that prevents the real problem from being seen.  Other need to deal with the emotional obfuscation.
  124. Having the perpetual blind eye.  As long as it doesn’t effect me then why bother.
  125. Saying that we are running an Agile project but then carrying on like a traditional project manager and handing out tasks instead of allowing self organisation.
  126. Publicizing a project as being an Agile project and even writing articles about it when events like the previous dysfunction and many other wastes occur.
  127. Saying that they are Agile but not stating against which benchmark or not demonstrating principles from the Agile Manifesto.  Egocentric self assessment designed to validate oneself in front of others.
  128. Superficially labelling people causing them to be pigeon holed and not able to grow, they wont last long as employees and will move on by themselves.
  129. Using the above a tactic to passively remove someone who’s getting in your way
  130. Thinking the best way to change someone is to command them to change
  131. The second last one and almost the best, not apologizing for any of the above mentioned behaviours
  132. Finally, the best one, recognising any of the above and not doing anything to correct it.
 Here are some resources to help correct these.
  • Read Books – Marquet, Lencioni, Agile Literature on Coaching, Management 3.0, Emotional Intelligence
  • Coaching Courses – Esther Derby, Lyssa Adkins, Linda Rising
  • Training/Transformation Companies – Adapt By Design
  • Websites:
    • Lolly Daskal – good example on not being a sycophant from LinkedIn.com, she posts on inc.com as well
    • Christopher Avery writes on everyone taking responsibility
    • Juergen Appelo, inc.com, mile.com, HappyMelly.com
  • A fantastic video from Joshua Kerievsky on Anzeneering
  • Use twitter and follow these people
  • Use LinkedIn/Twitter to ask for help
  • Act your way to better behaviour.  Pick some items to improve on and recognise when those behaviours occur and try to take the right track rather than the old wrong track
  • Provide Life Coaching to help you and employees deal with life’s little struggles at work and at home

Ask How (don’t say no)

Firstly this is intended as a reminder post as there is probably more to say about this in the future.

A response I’m still training myself to do is to ask How, instead of outright no when I’m presented with an idea.

I find by asking How, defensive constructs do not appear and the full story emerges and greater understanding emerges.  Untold benefits then emerge by themselves.  I want to give examples of myself exhibiting this incorrect response as well as me being on receiving end.  That will come later.

This is filed under Being Agile (not just Do Agile) and Conflict management.  I have other blog posts that deal with this in a related way – 1, 2, 3

Any comments welcome in the meantime.

You don’t need to Agree, You have to take Notice

Anyone had a good idea?  Tried to express it?  What happened?

Do you receive a positive response?  Did you get shouted down immediately?

Maybe the response was a bit more sinister and insidious manifesting itself in initial tepid enthusiasm and then degenerating into passive aggressive behaviour like the occasional snide remark.

In the world of software and solution delivery, I’ve learnt the hard way to take everyone’s opinion on board.  That is any idea is a good idea and up for grabs.

Any idea deserves patient and respectful discourse.  Why do we want to do this?

1.  They can save a lot of pain and heartache later.  On many occasions suggestions have been made (by myself and others) only to have more expensive mistakes occur because these ideas and suggestions were not heeded.

2. Being respectful will encourage more ideas so we can avoid point 1.  On the other hand discouragement of ideas will prevent ideas from coming forward.  We should be humble enough to accept any comment and treat it with dignity.  And don’t feign dignity, mean it, you will be found out if you aren’t and you will never attain respect for yourself.

3. And coming off point 2, you gain respect for yourself.  Your colleagues will see you as an equal and therefore feel more comfortable coming to you which in turn gives you trust;

4. Respect and Trust builds true collaboration and from collaboration we can really do great things together.

5. It’s good for your health and the health of others.  This comes from giving up the command and control mentality which creates the stresses on ourselves and on others.

6. Good health encourages more quality thinking.  You’ve accepted their suggestion they feel good.  You feel good for taking it on.  You’ve got past that feeling of lost control – others have control as well – a shared control.

7. It helps with the bottom line.  Point 1 illustrates what are real tangible examples.  Other examples are less sick days.  Improved productivity are quantifiable as well.

8. The most important thing, happiness is increased.  That 8 hours spent of the day at work should be a happy feeling.  No more Mondayitis, man flu etc.  Let’s enjoy all of it.


At any level we should accept ideas for improvement.  Try to mitigate our natural and human tendency to immediately disregard the opinions of others.  “you don’t need to agree, you have to take notice” is the mantra I live by.

For more – take a look at the Toyota Way,  Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet, Lean Software Development by the Poppendeicks, Peopleware by Tim Lister and Tom DeMarco, Slack by Tom DeMarco, Agile Coaching and works in Systems Thinking.  All of these are related and intertwined.

Hopefully I will write some more about this and similar topics and even update this post 🙂