I’ve just spend a lovely weekend at FrOSCon, the “Free and Open Source Software Conference”, in Bonn. One of the talks I attended was “Projektstatus: Nachrichten vom anderen Stern” (“Project status: Messages from a different star”) about communication. I wish I could have listened to this, when I started out as a Scrum master. It would have been so helpful! The speaker Judith Andresen revisited the Four-sides model and that communication is all about relationships:
Four-sides model of communication
The Four-sides model (“Hamburger Modell”) by Friedemann Schulz von Thun is in every German textbook on communication. It states that every message has 4 layers:
- Factual information
Facts and data
What the sender (speaker) wants to happen
- Self revelation
What the sender reveals about themselves – motives, values, emotions
How sender and receiver (listener) get along; what the sender thinks of the receiver
The lower three are open to interpretation. There can be a huge gap between the words someone says and what is perceived by someone else. It depends entirely on who is speaking and who is listening. An example:
- Factual information: “Your team is a bottleneck”
- Appeal could be:
- “Work faster”
- “Work differently”
- “Hire someone”
- Self revelation could be:
- “I’m worried, we might not be able to deploy”
- “I’m relieved it’s not my team”
- Relationship could be:
- “Your work is inadequate”
- “You’re letting everyone down”
Of these 4 layers people tend to perceive the relationship layer. This explains gazillions of “I’ve never said that!” arguments all over the world: “Hearing” the relationship layer and confounding our interpretation of what was said, with the actual words.
Here’s what you can do if you don’t want to get blindsided by interpretations:
- If you’re speaking: Anticipate possible misinterpretations and explicitly say what you do and don’t mean.
Example: “Your team is a bottleneck. I’m not saying that, because I think you’re doing a bad job. I’m saying this, because I think there’s too much work coming in and I’d like to talk about what we can do to prevent that.”
Coming to think about it, in tricky situations I try to speak out loud about all 4 layers: 1) I declare my intent, 2) why I’m speaking up and 3) what I appreciate in the other person on top of 4) stating my observations. Pretty meta…
- If you’re listening: Before being hurt and getting all defensive, ask how something was meant.
Example: “When you say that my team is a bottleneck, what do you mean? That we’re not fast enough? That we’re lazy? Do you really think that? What do you want us to do?”
Such simple measures can prevent a lot of hurt feelings, bruised egos and ultimately shipwrecked projects.