This is a transcript of episode 111 of the Troubleshooting Agile podcast with Jeffrey Fredrick and Douglas Squirrel.

Following up from last week, we propose some ways to become emotionally aware, which we argue again is a key skill for success in an agile team. We suggest enriching your feeling vocabulary, self-distancing through disciplined recording of your conversations, and using check-in methods to spread the practise across your team

Show links: -Center for Nonviolent Communication Feelings Inventory

Listen to the episode on SoundCloud or Apple Podcasts.


Listen to this section at 00:14

Squirrel: Welcome back to Troubleshooting Agile! Hi there, Jeffrey.

Jeffrey: Hi Squirrel.

Squirrel: So, you know, I think we owe our listeners something because last week we did something we give other people a hard time for, which is that we said a lot of things that you should do and you didn’t say very much about how to do them.

Squirrel: So we should fix that. What do you think?

Jeffrey: Oh, I don’t know. I guess we should. It’s kind of funny. It just sort of gives generic advice. I mean, clearly, people, you know, would agree with us. Hopefully that that’s the main thing, right. That what we’re saying makes sense. And people agree. Now, I think we want to do more than that.

Squirrel: Great. So what we talked about last time was emotional awareness. And we said it was good if you knew about your emotions and it was good if you shared them. And we also said it was hard to do so. The problem is, of course, what should people do in order to become emotionally aware? And the good news is we have a bunch of techniques for doing it. You want to tell us about some, Jeffrey?

Jeffrey: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s it’s interesting that people are often emotionally unaware. They’re unaware of the feelings they’re having or they’re having sort of very low resolution. So they they can say that I feel say they’re feeling good or feeling bad. And not much more. And sometimes they don’t even say that. So let’s start with one of the most interesting parts for me on this topic came about. I think the first time I came across it was through nonviolent communication, which is something we’ve discussed sort of briefly in the past. And one of the resources we talked about briefly, it’s something we will highlight here. And this is something from the Center for Nonviolent Communication. And they have this really fantastic feelings inventory. And I I love this as a tool, because what they have is a list and it has a bunch of words on it. And they’re in two categories. And they are feelings you have when your needs are satisfied and feelings that you have when your needs are not satisfied. And these are kind of basically good and bad categories.

Squirrel: Exactly. But very carefully not phrased that way, which I think is interesting.

Jeffrey: Oh, that’s right. And that’s that’s really has to do with the NVC model, nonviolent communication model, which they would say your feelings arise basically because your needs are you being met or not met. And the core idea is to learn when your needs are not being met, how to ask for them to be met. You make a request. So this idea of the link between requests to meet your needs and the feelings that are your clues is the core of it. And one of the key ideas is that the nonviolent communication that is that people have natural empathy. And if you’re able to express your feelings that you have and the needs that people are quite likely to try to help meet them.

Jeffrey: And and basically the ultimate goal of nonviolent communication is that we all have our needs met and that would be a fantastic thing. So that’s why feelings and working with your feelings and understand your feelings are so central to nonviolent communication, which is why they’ve developed such a fantastic resource for it.

No Such Think as Good and Bad Emotions

Listen to this section at 03:28

Squirrel: Great. And what I really like about the model is that that idea that there’s not good and bad feelings because, for example, let’s take a concrete example. If I’m late for the stand up and you start it without me, I might feel angry about that. I might feel sad about that. You might say those are negative feelings. I’d say those aren’t negative feelings. Their feelings about my needs not being satisfied, which are really helpful.

Squirrel: And if I just come to the last half of the stand up and miss the beginning and miss important information and then screw up a release later in the week, that’s a very negative outcome.

Squirrel: Whereas expressing my feeling, hey, I’m angry that you guys started the startup without me, that the stand up without me. That’s a useful thing. That’s a positive thing. That’s we should feel good about that. We should be encouraging that.

Jeffrey: Especially if you go the next step, which is to say that they’re behind that angry feeling is a need that is probably positive. And when people would share, it’s like I’m I’m angry, sir, without me because I am I have a need to be part of the group. I need to be contributing. And, you know, whatever it is, you know, you have a need that’s probably positive making a contribution. And, you know, a need to belong or something of that nature. And that’s behind it. And so even our, you know, articulate to yourself why it is you feel this way. One things that happens in my experience, with NVC, is you might get to the point where you request that you get to say what we know and request in the future that would meet your needs. But you also in that process might realize that what you have is a request that isn’t appropriate. That it’s it’s it’s sort of like I you might say this way in this example, I’m angry that you started without me. In the future, you know, I’ve requested in the future you never start the standup without me that no matter how late I am. And it could be that when I actually articulate, they go, well, that’s actually not think about it, that that’s not a reasonable request for me to be making.

Squirrel: Exactly.

Jeffrey: And so I think the last time we talked about that, that the value of becoming aware of being in touch with your emotions and just the challenge that people often have is they’re not really aware of them. And what I like about this, if you come back to the Feeling Inventory, then as a tool for helping become aware is because they’re asking, you mean more than simply say good or bad. And indeed, to not be that judgmental, but rather more in touch with what they are, they have this very long list and I’ll just read. And the amazing thing about this list is they have all these synonyms and, you know, near neighbors and fine shades of say, if I take the words under joyful, heading joyful, they have sort of words of like: amused, delighted, glad, happy, jubilant, pleased, tickled. Under, exhilarated they have: blissful, ecstatic, elated, enthralled, exuberant, radiant, rapturous, thrilled. Great words, words that people all will recognize, that native English speakers will all understand them, that no one will be confused by the 60 or so words that are in the positive. And 60 or so negatives. You’ll understand them all. But then if you ask yourself, how often have I used these in conversation? To describe myself or someone else, it’s like, no, no, no. I’m probably not very often so.

Jeffrey: What it illustrates, I think, is that we have a very narrow emotional vocabulary in our everyday lives. And I think that leads to sort of an unawareness. And I think there’s some you know, this is sort of verging on the Sapir Whorf hypothesis around language impacting what you what thoughts you’re able to think. My experience is if people have few words to express the nuances of their emotional state, they’re unlikely to be very aware of their emotional state yet.

Squirrel: So so a first step is read the Feelings Inventory and try to use those feelings words to describe how you’re feeling when you when you’re late to the stand up, come in and say, ‘I feel disappointed.’ I need to go find one. What could I feel about it. I feel anxious and cranky as a result of being late to the stand up. That’s that would be a helpful thing to say rather than just saying nothing and joining it and then having a bad release later.

Jeffrey: Yeah, that’s right.

Squirrel: OK. So that’s one technique. What else have we got?

Looking at Emotions with a Mirror

Listen to this section at 08:14

Jeffrey: Well, one thing I’ll say is that there’s one other word chart is worth sharing because people might be overwhelmed. I do recommend that people print out the Feeling Inventory and have it at hand because it will make this a lot easier. People might be overwhelmed by it. There’s a simpler one, which we’ve also supplied a link to, which is from Dr. David Burns. And on the Feeling Good Web site, we’ve mentioned the Feeling Good podcast many times. And he has a nice feelings inventory. It’s a bit more negative because it’s in the context.

Jeffrey: So he is the categories are anger, anxiety and depression. And then it breaks down into subcategories and then subsub categories, but has a similar idea of giving you many, many more words to understand your state.

Jeffrey: And we might be more approachable for people. This one also comes, by the way, with with his checklist of his five secrets of effective communication, which will help remind you that feeling empathy would be when you can use these words and say something like, ‘well I’d expect you might be feeling foolish after that? Or perhaps you’re feeling mortified or flustered?’ Now, these are all some examples under shy, which is under anxiety. So just an example of how the how these cascade. So in both cases, these resources try to give you more words. All right. So that’s it. So having that available, that’s the first step.

Squirrel: Mm hmm.

Jeffrey: I don’t think it’s sufficient though because part of the problem here is that people very often have very good mental models for dealing with other people, but they have trouble applying them to themselves. So they might look at these words and they can apply them to other people. Oh, this person’s feeling bewildered right now. I think that person was as is if feeling very frazzled. They seem giddy or fascinated. But myself. Mm hmm. No, I’m not. I’m not really feeling anything right now. I think this is this can be common and it goes back to sort of the roots of cognitive biases. And it’s a flavor of perhaps of naive, naive realism, which says, you know, I see the world as it is and we are our frame of the world just feels like reality. It doesn’t feel like a judgment in that case. It can. You have this flavor of not feeling like anything at all.

Jeffrey: So the good news, though, in this, again, to like what can you do about it, is that there are some tools that we can use. And generally speaking, they all come under one heading, which are are tools of self distancing. Which is to say, how can I look at myself as though I’m a different person? How can I have some distance from myself to observe myself with the same tool kit I have for evaluating other people? How can I bring that to bear on myself?

Squirrel: Indeed.

Squirrel: And we’ve talked about this before, so we’ve had a podcast episode, at least one that will we’ll link to in the show notes about the four R’s, which is our take on a very common technique, one from action science that we’ve mentioned many times of that requires very complicated materials, a piece of paper and a pen and the ability to fold the paper in half. We won’t go into the details of that technique that you’re writing down, what you were thinking and feeling and what actually happened in the room. And when you do both those things together, that gives you the distance. And because you can look down at the paper and say, ah, there’s that ‘Squirrel guy’ and he’s doing exactly what I told him not to do. Wait a minute. I’m the Squirrel guy. Oh, wait a minute. It gives you a very nice distancing. My favorite story about that is from our old friend, Benjamin Mitchell, who was actually tape recording back in the days of actual tape recorders, his conversations. And he would go back to his hotel room. He was consulting in a faraway place and he would go back to his hotel and play the tape to make one of these analysis. And then he’d shout at the tape recorder. Benjamin, stop doing that. Benjamin. Don’t do that. His name is Benjamin. He’s Benjamin, he’s shouting at the tape recorder. But the benefit is that you activate the parts of your brain and that parts of your psyche that are prepared for this analysis of other people. And it gives you enough distance that you can understand what your feelings might, in fact, be. Which is exactly what we’re trying to help you do today.

Jeffrey: Yes. Although and this is a habit, sometimes people will struggle with this. And that’s actually the origin, as I mentioned in our last podcast. The topic came out. One of the hints from the universe that we should talk about it was the London Organizational Learning Meetup and that we were doing this exercise. We were having people do the four R’s, do a two column case study. And a couple people were saying, well, no, I you know, I don’t have emotions at work or I’m not sure what my emotions are. So then so for a lot of people the two colomn case study, will be enough to trigger them.

Difficulties of Self Distancing

Listen to this section at 13:24

Jeffrey: But for some people, they have a little bit more of a difficult time even when they’re doing the self distancing. So there’s a there’s a variation on this. And and it’s essentially you’re gonna make up a story. And I’ve again, I get this from David Burns and he talks about applying this in a couple of different ways. One of one one of this was in a podcast episode when he was talking about the hidden emotion model, which we also mentioned like last week. This is a hidden emotion model for anxiety that often people who are experiencing anxiety are very nice people and they have something that’s going on that’s bothering them, but they’re not able to acknowledge those feelings.

Jeffrey: And so what David Burns described is having people in one case tell a story about someone in their situation. So he had a very interesting example of a person I believe he was a doctor who was also a golfer. And he was describing the person who asked him, what’s the what’s the time when you last had this sort of anxiety and it was some golfing. And it said, well, what were you feeling? I wasn’t feeling anything. Well, if you imagine a golfer, you know, here and I think if somebody in the way hits this golf shot and what what what’s that person that not you. But this this the story of this golfer. And they hit this this ball and it goes off. What are they thinking? You know, here’s a thought bubble. What’s in their mind? And the the person the doctor said, well, they’re probably worried a lot about making a mistake and that if they if it comes out that they made this mistake, that they’ll all of their collaborators, all of their colleagues won’t trust him anymore. And he’ll be an outcast and he’ll lose his reputation. And that will cause his business to fail. And he’ll lose all his money and their homes will be foreclosed upon and he’ll be out on the street alone.

Squirrel: Okay. All from hitting the golf ball.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Wow.

Jeffrey: That was that was his story about what a random average normal golfer would be thinking. And what’s clearly happening here is that now he’s able to express all of his feelings, the source of his anxiety that he could make up a story for someone else in that situation would feel and that and that they all it took wasn’t, you know, what’s the whole picture of your life, whatever that’s going on. But just a moment. How might someone feel doing this action, make up a story? And they were able to articulate that their emotions that were hidden from themselves in that story.

Squirrel: And our listeners, we hope some of our listeners will be clinically depressed and they may find this helpful as well. But. Many of them will not be. So they may not have quite as extreme a reaction, but taking an ordinary situation. And I’ll have a story about this later. Taking an ordinary situation, you know, this happens all the time off and say, can you just do a conversational analysis about just one of those times? Because you tell me it happens all the time. Just take one. How about last Thursday? And when you can get to an analysis of that, whether it’s the four R’s technique and the two columns or it’s this technique about a story, when you can concentrate on an example, you’ll you’ll often find there are a lot of emotions that can come out of it. I didn’t know this one about imagining it being about a generic person because he said it’s about a generic at some golfer somewhere. Not me. Yeah. What would that golfer feel? And that brought the exact emotions that I haven’t tried.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Yeah. And that was that was the most extreme case of the stories I recall of him having to make up a story with very little context. More often I think when would maybe more directly click well for someone who’s doing the two column case study, doing the work. And let’s be clear here. If this developing emotional awareness is doing work, you’re going to have to practice is the only way to develop this.

Squirrel: We forgot to mention this may not be fun.

Jeffrey: It’s almost certainly it will it will be work.

Jeffrey: It’s about as much fun as going on a Stairmaster for something like that. You know, when you’re when you’re out of shape, it’s it. Hopefully, you’ll feel good when you stop. You feel good when you get the benefits later. So I think more directly and this is another David Burns. He had another feeling good podcast episode where he talked about the doppelganger technique. In that case, he was talking about self empathy. But I still think this is something that applies very well to the two column case study. If you if you’ve got to the point where you’ve written out the dialogue in the right hand column and you have the thoughts on the left hand column, but you realize there’s no emotions. Again, you can do some sort of storytelling. How would someone else feel in a situation, not you. Because you’re not in touch with your emotions. But how would if you had someone who is like you, if you had someone who was a good friend, say, who had been through a lot of the same things, you had, in fact had been this is like you’re a dead, long lost, identical twin. This is where the doppelganger comes from. This is your this is someone who has had the same kind of life experience as you’ve had. But they’re not you. This is key. It’s sort of in and I guess if you’re Star Trek universes might might be the person with the goatee or without the goatee if you have a goatee.

Jeffrey: But this is your this is your doppelganger. They’re going through the same experiences. And you say, okay, well, how would my doppelganger how would that person. And maybe helps you give him a name that’s not your own. How would like you say, Steve? How would Steve feel if he had been in this.

Squirrel: Mine would be Hamster.

Jeffrey: Hamster. It’s like that instead of Squirrel it’s Hamster. I like that.

Jeffrey: How would hamster then have felt in that situation where these things are happening and he and and he’s thinking those things. What what kind of emotions might come up? And this is where you look at the feeling inventory and say, okay, well, you know, how’s hows Hamster going to be feeling? Well, OK. Are his needs being satisfied or not satisfied? Do you think he’s likely to be confused or embarrassed? Afraid tenses? Are they are they excited and grateful or peaceful and inspired? And you can kind of now get into it and start engaging those parts of your your mind that say, well, clearly Hamster or Steve or whoever it is is likely to be. I would guess they might be feeling these emotions in that scenario. And what you come up with is gonna be probably a pretty good guess on what it is that you’re feeling, even if you’re not aware of it.

Squirrel: There you go. Ok.

Squirrel: So should I move into this? The story that I have that relates to all this, that has some of these in it. Did you have more techniques to share with listeners? I’m not sure how many we want to share.

Jeffrey: Well, the only thing is, is that having done this in our in our offline practice, that your goal is to build to start doing it real time. So you want to get to the point that you can start practicing this regularly. So maybe if you’re doing something like the core protocols and the checking protocol, you can start to to check in with people about what it is, the feelings you have. And that can be a useful way of practicing. But with that, I’ve no more techniques. Maybe. Tell me about the story. You. You had this kind of experience with Squirrel or should I say ‘Hamster’?

Squirrel: Sure. So I’ve actually have been called Hamster once.It was a bizarre experience.

Advantages of Developing Emotional Awareness

Listen to this section at 20:58

Squirrel: Anyway, the other story I have is about a client and this person was having tremendous difficulty. I was coaching him in improving his performance in this team. And his difficulty was that he believed that somebody else did not trust him. And so he was interacting with this person frequently. And I could see why that person might not trust him. I could see the evidence in what I was observing in the company that this person was asking a lot of very detailed questions, was doing something that might traditionally call micromanagement. I could understand this person’s conclusion about not being trusted, but that didn’t help us very much because it didn’t change the situation. We couldn’t reach into that person’s brain and turn the trust switch. So we had to do something else about that. So I had him do. No surprise is write a two column case study of conversational analysis with on the left hand side what he was thinking and feeling and most importantly, feeling in this case. And on the right hand side, what had actually happened. He did a super job. A lot of people that do this, they’ll cover pages and pages and pages, even though I say you can only take one paper. He actually only had a couple of lines and he said, ‘Sorry, I didn’t have enough time to do more.’ I said, ‘this is great.’ Excellent to concentrate on the key bit. And we had done what I said before and this happens all the time. Great. Pick one. How about last Thursday? He picked one and he went through it and there were all these emotions on the left hand side.

Squirrel: and they were all needs not being met. He had a need to be trusted. He had a need to be valued. He had a need to be heard. And he didn’t feel that any of these were being met. We didn’t use the feelings inventory, although I’m now itching to do that. And especially the telling the story about somebody else, I’m going to use that probably in this coming week sometime. But once we got to those emotions, once we had them down and he was able to distance a bit, then the exercise and this was the very hard part was to go and talk about those feelings with the person affected, which he was able to do. And he came back and said, ‘Gosh, this guy’s a lot more reasonable than I thought. We seem to have better relations. This experience of micromanaging and being questioned all the time isn’t happening.’ So that was a it had stopped as a result of having the discussion about the feelings. So without giving too much detail, I don’t want to violate confidentiality. That’s a case where this set of actions had a concrete real result, that as a result of sharing the feelings in these ways of using these techniques, we got a very significant increase in productivity for this person. He was able to stop worrying and being anxious all the time about whether he was trusted and actually relax and do his job.

Jeffrey: Fantastic. And I think that really is a good example of why it’s worth taking the time to develop emotional awareness. So if you’re one of the people who are saying, I’m not sure what is I’m feeling most the time or if you’re one of the people who say, no, I’m in the workplace, I really just don’t have any feelings. Hopefully we’ve given you some tools here and now it’s up to you to go in and do the work. And if you do so-.

Squirrel: Get on the Stairmaster.

Jeffrey: Yeah, exactly. If you do that, please let us know how it works out for you. We’d love to hear from people who’ve tried doing the work and and what your experience has been. Also, if you resist this, if you’re saying if you’re if you’re refusing to go do the work. If you say, no, I don’t have emotions at work. And that’s correct. It’s the right thing to do. And I refuse. I stubbornly refused to try doing this work. Let us know that. Also, we’d love to know why that is and what your what your reasoning is. So that would be quite exciting for us to hear about.

Squirrel: Absolutely. And of course, you can do that on our brand new Web site, a link to our book coming out in May, Agile Conversations. So have a look there. You can get in touch with us. Join our mailing list, all kinds of other things. We’re on Twitter. We’re we’re all around. Come and find us. Tell us what your experiences. And of course, we always like it when you click the subscribe button, whatever that is in your app of choice, because we’re here every Wednesday and we like talking to you and hearing about your experiences as well. Super. Thanks, Jeffrey.

Jeffrey: Thanks Squirrel