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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg

I recently finished reading Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, and thought it would be worth putting forth a few comments.

It was recommended to me by a colleague who pointed out that my use of language on my blog (and perhaps in person) was "confrontational." At least, that's how I'll paraphrase their comment. I admit, I'm often a fan of hyperboles and metaphores, and I like having an "in your face" style or writing. I've always said that I will back down if I'm wrong - just as long as you can show me where I'm wrong, which can be construed as an aggressive way to go through life, and was probably what prompted my colleague to raise their concerns.

Anyhow, I took this book out from the library a couple weeks ago, and I've been slowly digesting it. I hadn't realized that there was a version available online (see the link above), but I'm glad it's there for future reference. I had to return the book last night, and ended up reading the last 60 pages in a rush.

With that said, I should probably make my first comment on the book: I skipped a few paragraphs here and there. My overall feeling of the book is that it would be well delivered as a motivational talk, but the translation to book format left me feeling unimpressed with the style. I often felt like I was reading a transcript from a motivational speaker - which is not quite the same as seeing it in person. That's not a comment on the contents - just that I felt that a book is really not the ideal media for this particular message.

That said, the contents were interesting: The author clearly knows what he's talking about and is able to walk you slowly through the process. When distilled to it's bare minimum, you can divide language into good and bad methods of communication.

The good:
  1. Speaking of Observations to express facts.
  2. Describing Feelings to express impact of observations
  3. Describing Needs, which underlay feelings and impact of observations
  4. Making Requests to indicate what you would like to happen.
The Bad:
  1. Making Judgments or interpretations of observations that are not neutral
  2. Inappropriately assigning Blame for actions, muddling motivations or creating scapegoats for actions.
  3. Being Unclear or Vague about Observations, Needs, Feelings and Requests. (If you don't get it right, you're not any better of than you were before.)
  4. Making Demands, and no one enjoys being told what to do.
Of course, the author is never this concise about what he's trying to teach you, and the above is my own interpretation. What the author does, instead, is walk you through a myriad of examples of each one, showing it in theory, in abstract, in practice and in a situation you might encounter. Overall, it's helpful to have these examples and they are really the best reason to sit down and read the book. I found myself skipping over much of discussion to zoom into his "anecdotes", which were really informative and entertaining.

That said, I'm not going to claim to have distilled out all of the value of this book. In fact, my breakdown of the book above probably won't make much sense without the context in which the author places them. There are also a lot of tips scattered throughout the book that are very useful for improving your communication skills. My favorite is "when you would like someone to change their behaviors, tell them what to do, not what not to do." Another enjoyable part of the book is the chapter where he reflects on how to turn his communication style inward to look at how we do our internal communication, which was really insightful to me as well.

One other thing that I need to clearly state about this book is that I felt the book was really just scratching the surface of it's topic. The constant and underlying message in this book has to do with communication through empathizing with people around you - how to be a good listener and to understand what people are telling you. Unfortunately, I felt that there was a lot more to this element of his method than what the author was willing to discuss. As a scientist, I always love the gory details of how the mind works and would have enjoyed a bit more depth on the subject. Overall, I'm left with the impression that the author believes that if you apply the communication style, you'll learn to be more empathetic and to express your emotions more clearly - and understand those of the people around you better. I often found myself wondering if the opposite approach might be more effective, although I can see how that would be much more difficult to encapsulate into a book.

Anyhow, to conclude, I think this book is worth a read. I wasn't a fan of the style of the book, and found the author dwelled too long each point, but I found it to be an insightful and helpful book overall. I might even rank it as inspirational, within its genre.

How much did I get out of it? That's a good question. I'll start blogging again this week, and people are more than welcome to comment on whether they notice a change in my tone. (-:


Monday, June 16, 2008

Random Update on FP/Coding/etc.

I had promised to update my blog more often, but then failed miserably to follow through last week. I guess I have to chalk it up to unforeseen circumstances. On the bright side, it gave me the opportunity to come up with several things to discuss here.

1. Enerjy: I learned about this tool on Slashdot, last week while doing some of my usual lunch hour "open source news" perusal. I can unequivocally say that installing the Enerjy tool in Eclipse has improved my coding by unimaginable leaps and bounds. I tested it out on my Java codebase that has my FindPeaks application and the Transcriptome/Genome analysis tools, and was appalled by the number of suggestions it gave. Admittedly, I'm self taught in Java, but I thought I had grasped the "Zen" of Java by now, though the 2000+ warnings it gave disagreed. I've since been cleaning up the code like there's no tomorrow, and have brought it down to 533 warnings. The best part is that it pointed out several places where bugs were likely to have occurred, which have now all been cleaned up.

2. Threading has also come up this past week. Although I didn't "need" it, there was no way to get around it - learning threads was the appropriate solution to one problem that came up, so my development version is now beginning to include some thread management, which is likely to spread into the the core algorithms. Who knew??

3. Random politics: If you're a grad student in a mixed academic/commercial environment, I have a word of warning for you: Not everyone there is looking out for your best interests. In fact, some people are probably looking out for their own interests, and they're definitely not the same as yours.

4. I read Michael Smith's biography this week. I was given a free copy by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, who were kind enough to provide my funding for the next few years. It's fantastic to understand a lot of the history behind the British Columbia Biotechnology scene. I wish I'd read that before having worked at Zymeworks. That would have provided me with a lot more insight into the organizations and people I met along the way. Hindsight is 20/20.

5. FindPeaks 4.0: Yes, I'm skipping plans for a FindPeaks 3.3. I've changed well over 12000+ lines of code, according to the automated scripts that report such things, which have included a major refactoring and the start I made at threading. If that doesn't warrant an major number version change, I don't know what does.

Well, on that note, back to coding... I'm going to be competing with people here, in the near future, so I had best be productive!

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