From Miscommunication to Miss Communication

Presented by Klaartje Van Zwoll at IT Matters Conference ONLINE

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So Hi everybody, my name is Klaartje, Klaartje van Zwoll. I live in the Netherlands and I work as a tester and agile coach at the Agile testers. A small, but happy, friendly company. So, I want to talk to you today about communication. And I'd like to have a little bit of a disclaimer first. I'm not a professional, I'm not a certified communication coach, I have no official education in this, I just want to share this with you because it has been so very important for me the last years. And also I don't know if you can feel it, but I'm quite nervous about sharing this because it does feel personal to me. And like I said, it has been a huge focus for me. And although I've grown, in a lot of ways in communicating, I'm also very much aware that I'm nowhere near perfect in it. And I'm not sure if I ever will be but we can strive to be better than we used to be, right. So why do I want to tell you something about communication or clear communication? I found out I had experience that were similar patterns in behaviour and communication within the private space and the workspace, we tend to assume a lot, at least I know I do. I assume a lot about what other people want for me what they need. We are not trained to talk about this. And often when we try to talk about needs and boundaries that we have, we failed to be specific. And by failing to be specific, we fail to reach a common understanding. So that's to be added to a lot of other people I heard this morning, or today has been important. So that's why I want to talk to you. So I need you to tell a bit about my story, my history. Two years ago, about two years ago, a, I went through a divorce. I had a relationship for about 14 years, and it ended. And, and of course, I was so devastated and felt horrible, horrible, but also it was the start of me for intense personal development. I saw a lot of veterans in my own way of thinking and my behaviour and in my ways of communicating that I wanted to change. And therefore I took some workshops and some more. And I read some books and I listened to podcasts and I read some blogs and I sponged up all of the information that's out there, or not all of it, but quite some, at least the stuff that would resonate with me. And what I learned there, I think is first applicable to well, all regions of life really not only when you're talking about communication within relationships. So what did I became aware of? I became aware of [---], like I said, that I have about assumptions I had and made about other people about the fact that I really, really find it difficult to say no. And to hold boundaries, also, that I find it difficult to say no to needs that I assume other people have. So they don't actually have to tell me this, but I will think it for them. And then I feel that I can't say no to it, and then I'll get mad about it. Yeah, that's complicated stuff. And it's not very healthy or useful for anybody. And today, I want to talk to you about these four things you see here, how to recognise patterns, how to communicate needs, how to communicate your boundaries, and how to be well more specific in general. And let it be said that this shit is awkward. Can I say shit? Yeah, I can. Okay. And it's awkward. It's clunky and it's difficult and it takes a lot of courage to do so. That has to be said. Right.

First let's talk about recognising behavioural patterns.We all know that your upbringing influences the way you communicate as an adult. Of course, this is this is something that is common knowledge. But in the last few years, I've really realised it and experienced it. That this, this actually affects a lot of what you do, maybe more than you would think in the first place. So an example I want to give to you is the Guess culture versus the Ask culture. And it's something that's from, that I got from, a blog. It's called Mater filtered guided tours blog, you see the link at the bottom. It's about these two different kinds of ways you learn to communicate, you have to Ask culture on one hand and the guest culture on the other hand, so in the US culture, in some families, you grew up with the expectation that you can really ask for anything, and that it's okay, you can ask for anything at all. But also, you've got to realise you might hear no, and that's, that's okay, too. You might hear no for an answer. On the other hand, you have to Guess culture and then this way of behaviour, behaving with each other or communicating with each other, you really avoid putting a request into words, unless you're pretty sure that the answer will be yes. So, Guess culture depend on and I'm gonna quote a bit from this because they already formulated it perfectly. Guess culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. And the key skill is putting out delicate feelers. So if you're from guess culture, unwelcome requests from an ask culture seem out of line, they seem so rude. Because if somebody asked you something that you really want to say no to, you will have to say no, but you're not really trained in doing and it will make you look rude, because you are not used to saying no to people. So how can he do this to us, Oh, my God. And so these requests may likely make you feel angry or uncomfortable or manipulate, manipulated, even. And if you're from Ask culture, you really don't understand why somebody would react in such a incomprehensible way or even a bit passive aggressive. And so I'm clearly from a guest culture. And the problem with this is the further you get away from your family, and your tight net of connections in which you have established this, this kind of speaking of behaviour, the more you have to embrace the US culture, because you will else spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage. If I [tell?] people, I mean, oh, my God, how? How could you even ask me, this was something that I would think quite a lot.

Okay. So how to recognise what behavioural patterns you have created. Firstly, read about them, listen about them. And there are of course, many ways you can divide different groups of people and different groups of behavioural patterns. But just, there's so much out there, find something that resonates with you, and that you that will help you to understand how you work how your mind works. And then for me, it really helped to reflect on the situations in which have, I found myself that were really uncomfortable, and where I didn't know if I had done the right thing, or if I could have done better. So I started to journal and started to reflect on stuff that happened. And as I practice this, as a practice this, I've found that the time between the situation happening and me understanding what actually happened inside my head would shorten. So it became more easy to understand how my brain would work and because I was seeing through some patterns, and even after a while, and this is mind boggling, it works. If that happens, I finally came to a point in which I was in a situation that was uncomfortable for me. And as I was going down my sweet old pattern that I was [used to go down of I mean, go to I was] used to going that way, that behaviour, that communication, I actually realised it and it was like oh no, you're about to do something stupid. And normally you would understand this tomorrow, but now you understand this right now. So you can actually change your behaviour at this very moment. [And that was] I felt like do from the matrix actually. Like, "no thank you old stupid communication pattern, you bastard. I'm not going to do that today." Oh, I actually have an example. So, a while ago, a friend of mine had a birthday party. And we were sleeping over it, a couple of friends there. And I was sleeping in one room with a friend of mine. And there was one luxurious, king sized bed and there was one stupid little air bed on the floor. And I asked him, where do you want to sleep? And he said, "Why I don't mind?" And then I said, "Oh, okay, then I'll take the bed." And when I went to sleep there, my mind started saying," oh, you're kind of bastard for taking the bed? Yeah, I bet. He actually wanted to have the bed and not the air mattress. And, and he didn't tell me, but I know that he wanted to. And, and I, I said no. I mean, I said, No, I wanted to have the bed." And I was actually starting to get angry about stuff that I was imagining him thinking. Hmm. And I don't know if that makes any sense. But that what was what was happening in my head. And, I could actually stop myself and recognise No, wait, what you're doing now is totally insane. Please don't. So, that was a small example of that. But I was really glad that I could stop my thoughts there and say, No, this is this is no longer the way you want to think or want to behave. So please drop it. And I felt pretty proud.

Okay, next. Next up, is communicating your needs. So all needs are valid. That's something that's really, really important to realise every need you have, is valid. So people that call you needy are people who don't know how to set boundaries, or don't know how to say no, or don't know how to hold space for you and your need, without actually acting on it. I mean, it doesn't mean that all needs can be met, you can have a need that cannot be met by the people you are working with at that time, or the people you are having a relationship with at the time. And that's okay. I mean, it might lead to conflict, it might lead to a talk, maybe you can adjust compromise. And if you can't, you can always choose to leave. But then that's something you learned. And that's okay. So all your needs are valid. For me, that was a really, really important one to internalise, or how do you say to Yeah, to get become aware of, and you are your number one advocate, if you're not going to, if you're not going to speak up for your needs, then nobody's going to do that. So you have to. And a way you can do this is that you can make or you could try to make your needs, easy to meet. And that means you have to be specific. So if I tell my manager - "manager, I need more support from you." He might think, "What does she mean with that? I mean, I always sent her this in this emails. And I don't know what she means by this." And he might feel a bit attacked, that he's not supportive enough yet. And I might feel angry that he doesn't understand what I'm talking about. So if you make this need very specific, for example, I would like to sit with you 1 on 1, 15 minutes a week. Is that something that you can do? And then he can actually say yes or no. And if he says, "Now, I can't do that. It'll take me too much time but we can sit every two weeks", then it's a nice compromise here you will have a bit of that your need met without the frustration of not reaching common understanding about what what we're talking about.

Then, I'd like to talk a bit about communicating your boundaries. This is part one: saying No. And this is an actual photo of me or my attempts to set a boundary and this door was kicked in with a falcon kick. So it didn't really work. But you know, you try and try again a practice and become better at it. So boundaries exist to keep you safe. (Let me just peek in my notes for a bit) Your boundaries, whether it is saying no, or whether it is actually talking to people about behaviour that they did, and that about boundaries that were crossed, they are not, your boundaries are not here to punish people, they exist for people to stay in connection with you, and you have them when you speak. You communicate them because you care. Because if you didn't care about the relationship you have with people, you don't have to set your boundaries, you just sod off, right? It doesn't really. So they are there and you want to communicate them, because you care about the relationship you are having with either the workspace or in private. Saying no is hard. And it can be very, very awkward and very, very uncomfortable, especially if you've grown up in a Guess culture. And you're not used to saying no, because there is somewhere a thought that says "if I say no, these people will be very, very sad. And I'm not lovable anymore." doesn't make any sense. But that's what happens in your brain. So it's uncomfortable. And you really, really have to learn to sit in this discomfort. Just sit in it and feel it. And try not to say anything during that time. Okay, that's one golden rule that I want to say to you, if you have just said no to a request Shut up. You don't want to start and say, Oh, I'm sorry. Or maybe turn your no into a maybe. And just shut up for a bit because the other person will have to need the other person needs some time to actually process the No. And maybe they'll say, okay, and maybe they will say, Well, I don't really like that. And that's okay, too, because it's not your job to protect other people from feeling hurt, or sad or disappointed. And also, when you deny a request of somebody, try not to say that you're sorry, because you should save the words. I'm sorry for behaviour that you're really sorry about and not be you should not be sorry for for protecting your own health and, [and mental. Mental. Yeah, well,] your mental health and your your own space, (I was distracted by the chat. I'm sorry. should not take a look at that.) Okay. So how can you react when somebody crosses your boundary. There are a few steps that you can take that make that easier, and makes it more specified, makes it less aggressive, and really keeps the problem with yourself. So first try to specify the behaviour that the other person had, how would have made you feel and the story you tell yourself, and then what behaviour you would you would prefer, and maybe how that would improve things. So for example, colleague of mine interrupted me during refinement. And then I can say, when you interrupted me during refinement this morning, it made me feel shitty and a bit angry. Because the story I tell myself is that you think I'm not important enough to talk. And what I would prefer is that you leave me, let me speak until I'm finished and then start with your own story. For me, that would improve the refinements because I would feel a lot more safe and a lot more accepted. Something like that. If you set your boundary like that, the other person will not feel attacked because you're not attacking his behaviour. You're just saying how it makes you feel and what your reaction is. And so the problem is with you, and then they can help you and helping us nice, we know that people like to help. We just heard that in the story. They want to help you if they want to help you if they want to have a good relationship with you, they will actually try and keep the boundary for you because they respect you and if they don't get there (Oh, I'm going way too fast. Okay, okay) It will be awkward, and clunky and difficult at first and very very very scary to do all of this actually to request the needs that you have and also to say no to requests that other peoples have. And especially speaking up and when people are crossing your boundaries, it's scary stuff. And that's okay. And when you exercise this and when you practice this, you will learn that people won't bite your head off. I mean, they might be a bit sad, or a bit, especially if if they've known you for a while and you suddenly start to change this behaviour, they might be a bit caught off guard, like, Whoa, is this coming from you? What? They have to get used to this way of speaking. And that's okay, just take time.

I think that's everything that I was it. Route. Okay. I was just rambling. But yeah, we're done. Oh, yeah. So one thing if you want to know more, and especially about books and and podcast is stuff that I got this stuff from? And let me share it with you just reach out to me. And, and we will, I can, I can give all the links and stuff to you.

Thank you very much Klaartje. I think that was an absolutely heartfelt talk. Something that is very personal to you, is a personal journey of personal growth. It's a lot to take in, to be honest. Very nice. Quality Talk. Thank you. Thanks. There's a lot of clapping and thank yous in the chat box. Does anyone have questions or remarks? I saw Kitte say something interesting, a good higher up saying that if she doesn't help herself. What is she, that she, I had the feeling that she might want to elaborate a bit on that? She was, yeah, she started asking questions. Yeah.

I mean, what I have experienced, and I've been in this in this pattern for a really long time that I would assume what other people were needing from me, and then try to live to that standard. And even get angry about what I thought other people were needing from me. And it just does not work that way. I mean, okay, so Kitte is actually saying if I don't help others, do I have failure? I don't think the two, I don't think that holding your own boundaries and helping others. If that you have to choose between the two. You can do both. You can do both. You should not help others If it means that you yourself are, Yeah, that it's that it takes a toll like take it takes a big toll on yourself. And she she says I logically know that it's not a choice, but this is what I feel. Yeah, and I understand. And if Yeah, I totally understand because I have felt like this for a long, long time. And the moment you experience that, if you hold your boundaries, you are not less lovable. And people still will love you and embrace you just the way you are maybe more because you are becoming more of your authentic self. It's, it's really not only comforting, but also it just makes you want to do this more. So just try it for a bit and see that maybe people especially get it if they are used to you helping always in every way with everything. They might be a bit confused about you saying no to some things but they must understand and there are out there that are perfect scripts to tell people why you can, why you have to deny a request and just exercise just try it for once and and see how it makes you feel and see how other people react. Yeah, very good, the people who don't accept that are not worth your help. That's a nice one. Thank you.

Okay, sorry, someone was bringing me on 'gathered town' at the meet. And I was wondering where did these voices come from? Oh, there's a lot of reactions on this. One of them is Jonah [--], did you have that situation that some people have left you because you've started to set the boundaries? For example?

No, I'm well, a bit maybe. So, of course, especially when, when I'm talking about my, my kid's father, my ex husband, our relationship changed so much. And we had to get used of I mean, we both went separate ways, and two separate chapters of growth. And we have to we had to communicate and on a different level than we used to, which is very good and way more healthy than we used to. So our relationship has changed. And it has, of course, we, we are now further apart. But it's alright. It doesn't feel like a Miss. And further than that, I don't have anybody who has left me just because I said no, I really don't have the bandwidth to go to a party with you or anything. Yeah. Or maybe I have, but I don't miss them. That should be a good thing. I think.

Yeah. It's a bit of self care. Right.


Making sure that people don't don't cross your boundaries. And then if they do you want to protect yourself. Right.


So I feel asked the question, let me see if I can manage this. So on a work situation that people respond negatively to your new boundry, when there wasn't a boundary before you have new ones. Yeah. So how do people react?

Yeah, I have been setting more boundaries at work, especially when it comes to doing all the weird extra stuff, like speaking in conferences, and that kind of things. But people have reacted in a really positive way. When I could tell them, well, I really don't have the energy to cope with this work. And then that on top of it, people would just totally understand. And that yeah, that's okay. And I don't understand your comment, fella. What is it saying? That was a cheap?

she's referring to your picture of your actual boundary, which was a cheetah.

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Okay. Well, no, it was not because I have declined,offers for conferences. And at this moment, I do actually have the energy for it. So I am choosing to, to be here at this moment. So yay.

That's wonderful to hear. Yeah. And one comment from Antonella. It's not really a question, but she says that she doesn't always practice what she preaches in terms of setting around boundaries. And so

yeah, yeah, Yeah, like, like I said, in the beginning, I just know that I'm nowhere near perfect in this. So I am practising this. And often I fall back into my own to my old patterns. And, and that that just happens, and I can't really help it, and they'll just feel a bit shitty about it. And I'll think, Oh, well, hopefully, better next, Better luck next time, and just try to keep some awareness above them.

Yeah, it's not something that you just say. That is certainly suddenly a skill that you have. It's something that you need to practice and you need.

Yeah, yeah, definitely. It's not like, it's not a Boolean. It's not like a click. So bad, but it's not. Yeah.

So we have another very long question from Antonella. And so something's in my company always request a proper written requests in order to investigate something, But in her case, people will just tell her about a bug and expect her to go and investigate it right away. How would you suggest that she explains that and have them write it down, explain the issue. Well, and I'll just toss it to her.

Okay, I'm going to make some assumptions about how this makes you feel right now but you can say something like when you just tell me about a book and expect me to go investigate it right away. I feel overwhelmed and maybe chaotic or busy. And the story I tell myself is is that I have to do this right well way. And else you will think less of my work or be (I'm looking for English words. I'm sorry). Yeah, feel disappointed, yer disappointed in my work. It would help me if you would write them down and explain the issue well, and also to me, because then I can pick it up when I need to when I have the energy or time for it, and it'll make me do my work better. And maybe you could say something like that will improve the overall quality of the product of course as well. If you have if you take a look at the bug at from a from above calmness and more focus, something like that.

There's a couple of more questions, one from Ileana, but we are running out of time so Ileana, I want to just find Glasser in Gather Town and ask her these questions, please. Thank you very much for the talk Klaartje

You are very welcome.

I really enjoyed how personal and heartfelt it was. I think that's incredibly important and valuable.

Thanks for having me.

About the talk

Last year I divorced. My relationship ended after 14 years. Naturally I was devastated, but it also meant the start of immense personal development. I recognised some patterns in my behaviour that I wanted to change. So I took a workshop. And then another. And then another. What I learned there was not only applicable to my personal relationships, but also to my professional ones.

In this talk, I want to help you understand how to recognise patterns in your own behaviour, communicate your needs and boundaries, and help you understand the feelings you may have when trying to change these patterns.

About Klaartje Van Zwoll

In 2015, Klaartje chose to switch from teaching at a primary school to software development. She is a tester and agile coach who values strong team relationships and collaboration. She has an eye for people and their interests. Over the years she built experience in different sectors including education, government and public transport. Klaartje won the Dutch Software Testing Championship in 2017, and premiered as a speaker at the Agile Testing Days in 2019.

Photo of Klaartje Van Zwoll

Klaartje Van Zwoll


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