The Not-So-Funny Team Toxin: Sarcasm

Photo by clement127

Photo by clement127

I am reflecting upon work groups that are unproductive. And noticing that the problem isn't necessarily the people or the work--it's in their interactions.

Is there such a thing as a sarcasm hangover? I don't know how else to describe it. For me, it's like this: you're in an environment where people frequently make sarcastic jokes, and you might come up with a few zingers of your own. Later you feel a malaise and “off” compared to your normal pleasant self.

A while back I was at dinner with a group of friends; we hadn't all been together in a while, and the back-and-forth quips started flying across the table. A few had edge to them. The next day I was bothered by it and reached out to one friend in particular to talk about it. I realized that while I like all of these people, I didn't necessarily like myself when we got together and made sarcastic jokes like that. In theory, it would be nice to see everyone more often than once or twice a year. In my heart, I knew I wouldn't pursue it if that was the way we would act. Part of me can be a real jerk, and that's not something I desire more of.

Some people view sarcastic jokes as harmless. It's prevalent in pop culture. However sarcasm is an example of toxic behavior--behaviors called the four horsemen of the apocalypse when it comes to relationships. A toxic behavior that begets more toxic behaviors if we are not aware.

Yikes! Those jokes don't seem so funny anymore.

The experience of being in work settings where sarcasm is the norm now hits me differently. I see the verbal jabs and feel the pointed edge. I imagine pink slime slowly coating us and amplifying our negative emotions like a scene from Ghostbusters 2. If we are to spend any meaningful time together productively, our awareness needs to be raised. We make jokes to avoid uncomfortable truths. What's going on under the surface? How do we need to be with that? What support is wanted?

If your team’s productivity isn’t what you want it to be, look at what's going on between people and listen to how they joke about each other and their work. Sarcasm may be a signal of deeper issues.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The Hidden Truth about DISC

Image by Jessica Wilson

Image by Jessica Wilson

DISC is a simple model that describes four behavior traits: dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance. The simplicity makes it easy to introduce and use in short workshops, which is why Barry and I incorporated it into our Brewing Great Agile Team Dynamics presentation.

We found ourselves answering questions and talking more about DISC after our Keep Austin Agile 2018 session, and we were going deeper into what the model reveals. Barry reminded me of a core concept: every one of us has all four behavior styles within us. A certain one may be favored or applied more often, but we have the capacity for all of them.

So that coworker whose behavior challenges and downright frustrates you? It's revealing something about you. We like to think other people's behaviors is about them, and yet our reactions are clearly about us! Our coworkers, bosses, friends, and partners help us learn about ourselves. They can be mirrors to help us see inside ourselves more clearly. That quality or characteristic that makes it hard to be around them lives in us too. It might show up differently, but it's the same thing. What's the usefulness to it? Discovering the answer makes it easier to choose how to be in relationship when that quality is present--and it will certainly come up because we've already seen it in others and now in ourselves.

Looking at a model like DISC to understand how we can adapt to others' behavior and communication needs starts creating a path for us to more consciously choose how we show up and engage in those relationships. Thanks, Barry, for reminding me why such a simple concept can be incredibly powerful!

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Time to Think Together

Photo by Michael Yat Kit Chung

Photo by Michael Yat Kit Chung

Sometimes I find myself stuck over-analyzing a situation and wondering what to do next. If the system or situation I'm considering is understood well-enough, the next step should be clear. Or so I tell myself. When it is not clear, I am often reminded that others need to be involved in creating the next step--I only have a fraction of the information available to me. Inviting others to reflect and plan based on what we collectively know typically yields a better result too.

The benefits of inviting others to create and support change has been on my mind. I've been reading Margaret Wheatley's articles on organizational change, leadership, and relationships, and there are a lot of science references in her work. It's intriguing. And this passage stood out to me:

A simple means to support and develop relationships is to create time to think together as staff. Time to think together has disappeared in most organizations. This loss has devastated relationships and led to increasing distrust and disengagement. Yet when a regular forum exists where staff can share their work challenges, everything improves. People learn from each other, find support, create solutions, and gradually discover new capabilities from this web of trusting relationships.

Having worked in a number of organizations, I have seen how pressed people can be for time during the work day--it can feel like there's not enough time to meaningfully engage in conversations for regular events like sprint planning or retrospectives. I have yet to meet a team who can have a real retrospective of a 2-week sprint in under 30 minutes, although many have tried. It can be even more challenging to have time with those outside of the scrum team. When calendars are full and only small time slots are available with everyone, it is easy to feel defeated. Create the regular forum for thinking together, and over time, it may grow. And everything will improve.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The F-word (Feedback)

Photo by Valerie

Photo by Valerie

A friend told me that how the brain responds to the question, “May I give you feedback?” is similar to how the brain responds when you encounter a bear in the woods.  And I think part of why we respond with panic or anxiety at the thought of feedback is because we rarely receive open, honest, and direct words from those around us.  Instead we do the best we can with the information we have available: the confusing words and behaviors of those around us + our own thoughts and feelings.  With our inner critics, saboteurs, and imposter syndromes, it’s no wonder that we fear feedback from those around us—they might confirm the worst things we think about ourselves!

I remember a coworker telling me that I receive feedback well, and I was surprised because I felt like it was hard in the moment to do.  I remember a client nailing me with spot-on feedback about something I could have done better that increased my respect for him.  And I remember how happy I felt as a coworker and I made requests of one another that would strengthen our relationship. 

There are so many ways that we can receive and interpret feedback, and it can impact our relationships positively or negatively.  What if we were able to give and receive feedback more frequently to build more trust into our relationships?  To make them antifragile?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Lasers, Walls, and Relationships

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

My name is Allison, and I shoot lasers from my eyes.

Ok, I can’t literally shoot lasers from my eyes, but it certainly feels that way when I am in a reactive mode.  Sometimes it’s like a wall comes up between the world and me.  The atmosphere becomes more sterile.  My emotions and thoughts are packaged away as much as possible.  Reacting consumes quite a bit of internal energy.  Welcome to The Protector.

I listened to a visualization exercise a while ago that has stuck with me.  The topic was about relationships and vulnerability, or as the recording called it, “intimacy.”  Just hearing the i-word at the beginning of the recording caused a flutter of panic, but I kept listening.

I visualized the setting of a recent significant conversation.  I recalled the feelings of wanting to lean in and yet holding back and not knowing what to do or say and realizing that I was holding my breath so then I tried to breathe normally as I sat very still because I didn’t want to disrupt the moment as my friend talked about something deeply personal.  And as the visualization guide instructed me to picture a wall between the two of us, I happily envisioned a black marble slab that spanned vertically as high as I could see.  I imagined the cold, smooth texture against my hands.  I felt safe touching the wall.  Best wall ever.

Then the guide requested that I remove the wall.  So soon?  I was just getting to know my feelings from the safety of this side of the wall, and now I was slowly removing chunks of the wall.  I would peek over the top at my friend and then hide behind the remaining wall.  Piece by piece, the wall came down.  This was it: intimacy.  Seeing and being seen.  I realized I was holding my breath during the visualization.

What is it about a wall that is so appealing?  I think there’s an air of possibility that comes from the wall.  With a wall, we can be both connected and not.  Without a wall, it is one or the other.  It’s like a Schrodinger’s cat scenario where not removing the wall leaves the possibility of emotions open to imagination.  Removing the wall means intimacy.  Scary!  Which is why I shoot lasers from my eyes.  The lasers of you-should-know-better.  Lasers of don’t-tell-me-that-I-failed-you.  Lasers of this-is-important-and-I’m-disappointed.  The disappointment burns inside and finds its way out of my eyes to the rest of the world.  Self: protected.  World: potentially injured.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and I’m working on it.  I remember how wonderful it felt to be embraced in a really long hug by a fellow coach last year.  It had to be at least 10 seconds of hugging.  Wonderful.  I hold back from proposing such hugs with the people who have made it into my acceptable-for-hugging circle because I haven’t found the words, but I do try to put extra care into the hugs I receive from them and hope the other person recognizes that which is unsaid: you matter to me.

Some relationships may be formed easily and some take more time, but I do not form relationships lightly.  It means I see you for what you are and what you can become, and I delight in it all enough to let you see me too.  That’s why I’m learning to power down the lasers and tear down walls.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.