Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Swedish Steps [DRAFT v.3]

Swedish Steps(TM) in life and workplace (DRAFT v.3)

I have been a little bit obsessed with Swedish Steps recently. At my work I have a manager that happens to be a Swed. He recently presented the idea of Swedish Steps. The name has been invented by our Lead Architect - an Aussie! My manager pinned a sheet with Swedish Steps onto our SCRUM meeting wall. Based on feedback about any issue, we can climb Swedish Steps in the following manner:

Step 1. Attack

Description: in military the best defense is to attack
Example: Are you a nutter, this idea is idiotic?

Step 2. Self-defense
Description: they are likely to strike back once you attacked them
Example: This is not my fault. You are a nutter to think that I am wrong.

Step 3. Denial
Description: deny that we need to change it
Example: Why bother, we have a working solution.

Step 4. Analysis
Description: you ponder over a solution
Example: I need a moment of silence to think about this.

Step 5. Understanding
Description: when there is a light bulb over your head after sleeping on with the problem and you jump in a bath and shout out loud EUREKA

Step 6. Act
Description: respond in an emotionless (calm body and voice) and meaningful way
Example: I think you are right but I think there is very small flaw in thinking that might potentially stop us. The flaw is...

This is a very simple concept, yet many people don't think about this and don't realise how important it is to successfully interact with people in our work and personal life. The idea is that when we receive feedback from someone, we often think of it in a form of criticism of us, our, so we think, big ego. Ego, by the the way, should eventually be very small....tiny. That is a good thing. We do not think that the criticism is about what we do and naturally we behave in way that we start to attack, self-defend ourselves and deny parts or all of the feedback. We do not think that the idea of a feedback is to analyze and understand and eventually to alter our behaviour to better interact with other work colleagues, friends or life partners. Now one might ask a question, but why should I change myself for someone and for some strange idea of Swedish Steps, which accidentaly is called Swedish Steps and could as well be called Polish Steps, if only my manager was a Pole. Well, the reason is very simple - to improve communication and foster better human interactions that in turn will lead to better results. Now you might think that this can work only in work life. Well, I can assure you it can work very well in real life as well. I have observed this working well in practice, provided we jump to analysis, understanding and acting (last three steps) as quickly as possible.

It is important to notice that the reason it is called steps is not accidental. One has to climb from one step to another to reach the top. Of course one can stop at any level but it is not wise to do it. We should climb to the top. The best results are achieved when you can immediately jump first three steps, so that you end up on last two steps. One of the pretty bad (but not the worse things) you can do is to give a verbal or even worse non-verbal feedback about the problems you have with your own self control during the phase when you are on the first three steps. You can sort out first three steps in your head but it is not wise to do so. This is because sorting out first three steps has an impact on you. You are getting stressed without even knowing about this. It is subconscious. JUMP to avoid stress and save yourself. Don't be fooled to think that if you don't say anything people will not notice, in fact your body language tells people even more than you think. It is said that body language accounts for 60-70% of communication. This is one reason why geographically dislocated teams tend not to work and well as dating... is a really difficult and prone to disasters. People can tell you various things but it is our body language that lets you discover their true meaning. Most of us are not that clever to be able to trick our own body language. I personally wouldn't dare to try, I highly advise to be honest.

Silence is golden

Silence is golden and it is certainly golden when it comes to Swedish Steps. If you like music, listen to the silence when you receive feedback. If you do not know what to do it is best to be quiet and listen. Eventually sleep on with the problem and give a meaningful feedback based on last three steps (analyze, understand and act). Don't rush, take a bullet.

Bond is very important

It is important to notice that it the way that we behave triggers certain responses. The way someone gives us certain feedback can trigger a certain response. If we do it in an appropriate way, then a person will naturally jump first three steps. Appropriate way is to do it very calmly and with quiet voice. If we have a bad day and a person doesn't understand the idea of Swedish Steps, then they might focus on first three steps too much. It is all about compromise, mutual understanding and believe it or now a bond that you have with your colleague, life partner, boyfriend, girlfriend (any relationship). This might be strange but this is the reason Team Building events at your workplace are so important because it is the bond that eventually causes you to jump first three steps if you have a bad day and everything goes pear shaped. On a bad day without a bond, both people can roll down steps and eventually they will end up shattered and with bruises. It hurts. Only masochists like suffering. I am not one!

Step. 1. Attack
Attack can be done in many forms and shapes. Probably the worse thing you can do is to frown, take offense, resent and eventually affront. Stop any communication to the person, eliminate them from your world. The reason is that by stopping communication you cannot calmly discuss the issue. You have just eliminated the person that gave you feedback from your both physical and mental world. You should re-establish relationship as quickly as possible and discuss. Just after than is humiliation, often public humiliation, you can talk to your friends or work colleagues and gossip about the person that gave you feedback. We all do it in one form of another. Due to lack of information people will be coming up with all sorts of strange ideas. It is natural to seek others help but you have to be really clever to judge properly and take action accordingly because you are the one that has more information. You have a bigger jigsaw with more puzzles to connect. People can give you a missing piece to your own jigsaw. Moreover, you can use body language and a very emotional language to attack. You can attack by offending the person that gave you feedback. You can be really rude and say: Are you crazy? This is an idiotic idea. The worst is when you don't even tell them why they are being idiotic and you have no arguments in discussion. By behaving in this matter you are attacking a person rather than discussing the idea. This is prone to a disaster in one form or another. Alternatively, you can attack with meaningful arguments, you can say: You are crazy! We cannot do it because we do not have...(put anything you want). Still not very clever but probably the best form of attack as it is with a meaningful argument. On the other side what you might face is not a meaningful argument but rather a counter-attack. That means other person also needs to read more about Swedish Steps :). The person that receives a feedback should behave like a pillow and provide cushion for emotional responses. It might be harder than you think because while you control your language and emotions, internally you still handle that stressful response. This is why meditation and joga is helpful. Believe me, prolonged stress is not healthy, it causes insomnia and all sorts of other messy things.

Step. 2. Self-defense
In this step we naturally start defending ourselves, we start coming up with all sorts of reasons why the work or action that we did was the way it was. In work life, when it comes to programming, we associate ourselves with THE CODE. We thing it is THE CODE but in fact it is a piece of code. Remember EGO? BIG EGO....small ego.... This is not as dangerous step as the first step - attack. This is because there is probably plethora of meaningful reasons why a piece of code looks as bad at it does. No time, project pressure, it was valid at that time and the person didn't want to overcomplicate. In fact this is a cornerstone of XP (Extreme Programming), do not overcomplicate, provide the sollution that is flexible enough and works to resolve business requirements. In personal life, we also come up with all sorts of self-defensive ideas based on feedback. e.g. someone tells you that you didn't study enough for the exam, so you tell them, that you didn't have enough time. This might be a perfectly valid reason but what if internally you know that you have been skiving too much, you cannot fool yourself. Sometimes, you can only fool others and because it is sometimes only better be honest.

Step 3. Denial
In this step we deny that we need to alter the solution claiming that it is not necessary. We should provide meaningful reasons why we think that this is not a good idea. Eventually a compromise should resolve the problem. We should all believe in compromise. I could not agree more with Amos Oz and what he wrote about compromise.

Step 4. Analysis
You think over the idea, carefully analysing every advantage and disadvantage of the problem. Take your time, sleep on with the problem, tell them that you need to think about this. Usually there is no rush. The best thing you can do if you don't know what to do is to listen to silence and be quiet.

Step 5. Understand
This is a step when you understand what the other person means or at least you are much closer to understanding.

Step 6. Act
Provide meaningful feedback with quiet voice, no strange body language responses and most importantly be clever as eventually as with every aspect of your life wisdom is the most important asset that you have.

[ be altered for perfection...]

a.) Swedish Steps is a name fully owned by Petter M., Rodney B.

b.) Special thanks to Annie - your Swedish wisdom and creativity amazed me and let me learn more about myself. One day, who knows, Swedish Midsummer festival. I am in!

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