129. There's No Me in Team, But it's all About Me (TM) with Doc List

October 1, 2019

On today’s episode, we are joined by special guest, Doc List, to talk about team dynamics, how to be more effective as an individual and how to work better as a team. Doc comes from a family of psychotherapists and despite being educated in the field, has never worked in practice. Instead, he works as an Agile coach, trainer, and consultant as well as having a successful photography studio. Having worked with many teams in different contexts, Doc has seen firsthand how teamwork can go wrong. Even though being in a team means working with other people, at the end of the day, working on yourself is the most important thing, which is why he started the It’s All About Me Workshops. Rather than reacting, we should work on responding to others. This means moving from assumptions we have about people’s actions and trying to learn about what their motivations truly are. When we do this, we take ownership of our feelings, making them have less control over us. We are then able to be more effective on any team that we work in. To learn more, join us today!


Key Points From This Episode:


  • Which book inspired Doc to start It’s All About Me workshops.
  • What the STATE technique is and how to implement it.
  • Taking ownership of your feelings allows you to see situations with greater clarity.
  • How to understand the humanizing question.
  • Where most of the conflict with software engineering happens.
  • What ego identification is and why it’s so prevalent in the workplace.
  • Why it is important to respond rather than react.
  • What it looks like when you take ownership of your feelings.
  • Rather than making assumptions, try to understand people’s motivations.
  • When someone’ critiques your work, they are not critiquing your personally.
  • What to do in a situation someone tells you your work is wrong?
  • An explanation of what CPR is and how to use it.
  • When you say someone else is responsible for your feelings, you give them power over you.
  • How Bruce Tuckman’s team development model works.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 129. There's No Me in Team, But it's all About Me (TM) with Doc List

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast, in fantabulous Chelsea, Manhattan. I’m your host, Michael Nunez Our co-host today –

[0:00:09.9] DA: Dave Anderson.

[0:00:10.8] MN: And today, we’ll be talking about there is no me in teams.

[0:00:15.0] DA: The truth is it’s all about me.

[0:00:16.9] MN: It’s all about you?

[0:00:17.9] DA: You also.

[0:00:19.8] MN: And me. And you and me.

[0:00:23.0] DA: Oh, yeah. We’re a team.

[0:00:23.9] MN: Right. We’ll be diving into team dynamics and how to be more effective, how to have a more effective team. At the end of the day, you have to work on you, because it’s all about me.

[0:00:35.8] DA: Yeah, definitely.

[0:00:36.9] MN: I’m pointing a lot here. Before I continue to point all over the place, we have a special guest. We have Doc List. How’s it going, Doc?

[0:00:44.2] DL: It’s going great. Thanks. It’s all about me.

[0:00:46.9] DA: Hey, that’s what – you’re the interviewer. I mean, interviewee. We’re interviewing you. All about you, me – Tell us a little bit about me – yourself.

[0:00:58.0] DL: I come from a family of psychotherapists. So, for context then, my father's father, my father, my aunt, my older brother are all psychologists, or some of them were. My education is in psychology. I have two younger sisters who are psychotherapists. My mother retired from her first career at 60, here in New York and went back to school to become a psychotherapist. I had a couple stepmothers who are psychotherapists. Of all those people, I'm the only one who has never been a practicing psychotherapist, which led me to claim the title of white sheep of the family.

[0:01:36.6] MN: That must be really interesting Thanksgiving, I would say.

[0:01:39.5] DA: It's a lot of mirrors around you.

[0:01:43.0] DL: Yeah. I've always said, we didn't have family meetings like other families. We had group.

[0:01:49.6] DA: But you did end up in Agile consulting and helping teams to be better, which I think in a way is a form of therapy sometimes, depending on the teams.

[0:02:00.1] DL: It is. And realistically, a lot of what I do straddles that line. By the way, one last thing about my family; I'm the only one ever called Doc. Yeah, which is just I think the irony. That's why I embraced the nickname when somebody gave it me.

[0:02:16.4] DA: That’s pretty great. They not even put on their passports or whatever.

[0:02:21.4] DL: So, back to being a little bit serious, yeah, the idea of this, the term ‘it's all about me’. When people who know me, they know I have a bit of an ego and I can enjoy from time to time being the center of attention. So, when I say, “I've done all this writing about it's all about me,” they all laugh.

[0:02:40.4] DA: Yeah. It sounds like something you should publish a book on.

[0:02:42.9] DL: There's a thought. I'm working on that right now. I'll come back to that later. Yeah. The idea of this came from a combination of sources. I've been a student of people my whole life. And I found myself somewhat frequently being asked for advice or guidance. And amongst my career moves, I've been a life coach, or a business coach. I've worked with people to help them figure out what they wanted to do. But this idea of it's all about me, began when I read the book Crucial Conversations.

[0:03:20.1] MN: I'm trying to dig my way through that book right now, actually.

[0:03:23.3] DL: Yeah. It took me three times. I read the book three times, then I took the training, because it still hadn't entirely sunk in.

[0:03:30.7] DA: Yeah. It feels like a muscle that you need to flex. That's the thing, whenever I'm reading, I'm like, “I need to be talking to somebody and really exercising it.”

[0:03:39.5] DL: In fact, when I started to get it, the technique that I found to be most significant for me was what they call STATE. Stands for state the facts, tell your story, ask, talk tentatively and encourage testing. The state the facts part, turns out to be remarkably hard for most people. And when I was starting to learn this I said to my wife, “this is what I'm learning. It's this thing called STATE and I want to practice it, so I'm not doing it at you to you with you, I don't ask you to do anything with me. I'm just going to practice.” And I started having conversations with her using that technique. Within about a year, she started doing it too, because it worked. It took that energy, that conflict energy out of the conversations.

[0:04:33.5] MN: Right, because there were only facts that were shared, not emotion.

[0:04:38.5] DL: Well, there were facts and there was emotion, but it wasn't me saying, “you hurt my feelings, or you made me angry, or whatever.” It was me saying, “I felt hurt, or I felt disrespected. I took ownership,” right? That's where I started learning some of that. Then my wife and I were – there was a period where we had three children and she wanted a fourth one and I didn't.

[0:05:03.5] DA: It’s time to state the facts.

[0:05:04.9] DL: Yeah. We went to see a therapist. The therapist talked about how we expressed ourselves and all of this. Then reading a lot of books that were related or in sort of loosely related subjects got me to thinking a lot about the idea of who owns my feelings and my behavior. That's what It's All About Me is.

[0:05:30.6] MN: Right. You take ownership of your feelings and emotions, given the facts all and around you.

[0:05:39.6] DL: Yes. So, when I do this in a workshop, I do – it's an interactive workshop and people, they write stories and I say, “write a story, a short story about the last time someone hurt your feelings, or upset you, or disrespected you.” And I'm deliberately of course setting it up, so that they will do what I want them to do, which is the opposite of what I want to teach them. They'll say, “well, I was having this conversation with my co-worker and he insulted me.” It's like, “hang on. What did he say?” “oh. Well, he said that he disagreed with me.” It’s like, “okay. How is that insulting you, right? Now let's talk about what was actually said and done.” That is so critical because it takes the emotion out of it. I say it takes all the assumptions and the interpretations out of what happened and forces me to stop and say, “what actually happened?”

At which point I can say, “okay, how did it affect me?” That's the tell your story part. How did I feel, because my feelings are mine, they didn't come from outside. They came from inside me.” So, I might have had a brother who believed me. I might have had a girlfriend when I was young, who treated me a certain way and when somebody does something that seems like it, that feels like it, I react in a way that is relevant to that memory, or that thing that got caught inside of me, instead of considering what's actually happening here.

[0:07:20.1] DA: I guess, thinking about it as that's the filter for the world. The world exists out there and people need to work together as teams in order to accomplish great goals. The irony is that we don't truly know the other people on our team. We only really know ourselves and our perceptions of them. So, you have to I guess get that perspective and frame it properly.

[0:07:46.0] DL: Yes. I'm sitting here nodding and smiling knowingly.

[0:07:51.2] DA: That's just good radio.

[0:07:54.6] DL: The challenge for most of us is how do we divorce ourselves from that reaction and move to a response? In Crucial Conversations, they talk about the humanizing question. The humanizing question is why would a rational, reasonable, decent human being do that?

[0:08:12.0] MN: Right. I think sometimes, or rather the “conflict” that happens in everyday software engineering is in pull requests. I feel this is where it goes down.

[0:08:29.0] DA: I’m laughing, because I'm feeling it right now.

[0:08:31.2] MN: Yeah. I want to break all of our listeners to the very situation I was about to explain. You have a pull request, you spent time and you put in your energy and your thoughts into this new feature that you want to put out. You say, “Hey, everyone. Could you please give me some feedback on this particular feature?” You wait a while and then the comment.

[0:08:50.9] DL: You want everybody to say, “wow, that was fantastic.”

[0:08:53.4] MN: Yeah, exactly. At the end of the day you will be like, “oh, yeah. That’s great. Approved. No comments at all.” Just want things approved, shipped fast. Then suddenly, one comment comes in, then two, then four. They’re like, the more you get, the more – I mean, this is something that I continue to work with where it's like, “okay, don't get mad, Mike. Understand it is in their best interest for the cleanliness of the code they're giving me feedback. I'm not going to storm to their desk.”

[0:09:19.6] DL: You may be giving them a little too much credit, but go ahead.

[0:09:23.4] MN: I think if whatever feedback is given, whatever reaction I have, I know that those are my – those are my feelings and my thoughts, but it's not like, “hey, he's not doing that to make me feels stupid. He's telling me, or she's telling me this one thing and I have to read it. Does that make sense?” And then respond however it is that I need to respond, whether, “hey, I think you're wrong and we need to talk about it.” Or, I'll go and fix that. I feel pull requests is the thing that where it all goes down.

[0:09:54.7] DL: Right. I love that you just set me up so perfectly without necessarily intending to, because you did the same thing, but in a positive way. You assumed the motivations, the feelings of the people reviewing. You assumed a positive intent, which is as invalid as assuming a negative intent.

[0:10:16.3] DA: Oh, no. Mike. You did it wrong.

[0:10:18.8] MN: Yeah, I did it wrong. I did it wrong.

[0:10:21.1] DL: There's no wrong.

[0:10:21.8] DA: Oh, sorry.

[0:10:23.9] MN: I feel if I know everyone in the group enough to know like, “hey, this person –whatever feedback I'm going to receive, it’s for the sake of quality code. Let’s redo it.”

[0:10:35.1] DL: That’s valid. Yeah. However, what they say – what you were talking about is what I call ego identification with the code. You’ve been a programmer for many, many years. “Any time somebody commented on, or criticized, or found a bug in my code, and therefore me, I reacted as if they’d attacked me.”

[0:10:56.1] MN: Yup. I'm working on that. I’m working on that.

[0:10:58.4] DL: Your attitude is a positive one, which I like and respect, but the reality is they said something. That's all you need to know. Here is some information for you. Sure, it might be positive, it might be somebody's having a bad day. And unwittingly, they will feel better if they make you feel worse. I'm not saying your team is like that, but it's equally possible and it doesn't matter, because you read what they give you and you respond, not react, because react is that immediate emotional react.

[0:11:31.8] MN: It’s like, “yo! What do you mean? What’s going on here?”

[0:11:37.0] DL: Then you slow down, it's why the humanizing question is so valuable, because it causes you to slow down, even if the person you're thinking about had bad intent, it doesn't matter because now you've slowed down and thought, “okay, so they said what they said. Does it change who I am? Does it change my value to the world?” No, none of that. Now I can say, “okay, these are just words. What do I do with these words? Let me read what they said about my code and look at my code and see if I agree with the words,” because it just doesn't matter. And I can never ever back to what you were saying earlier, I think. I think it was Mike.

The world, actually from a perception and an emotion standpoint, actually lives in my head. I don't know that there's any objective reality. Everything I see and hear and everything I experience is filtered through my memories, my predispositions, my experience. And I think it’s objective.

I had a conversation with a guy one day and I said to him, “where did you live before New York?” He said, “you know it's inappropriate to ask me where I'm from.” I said, “of course, I didn't ask you where you were from. I asked you where you lived before.” “oh, no. You asked me where I'm from.” He filtered what I said through his expectations, or his biases, or whatever. It was a soft, friendly environment. But nonetheless, I didn't say that, but that happens a lot. How many times have you had a conversation with your friend, your fiancé, your co-worker and they say, “I remember perfectly well that this is what happened.” You go, “but no.”

[0:13:25.3] DA: Yeah. You got to go to the Slack messages. Scour the official record.

[0:13:31.0] MN: Check the comments and the PR and Github. You'll see, this is what I – that’s all I said.

[0:13:36.0] DA: I submit to the court.

[0:13:38.8] DL: That's why when I'm working with teams I say, in spite of the fact that the Agile manifesto says working software over comprehensive documentation, document your agreements, write them down, because I've had too many instances where three months later, somebody says, “why did you do it this way?” The other person says, “because that's what we agreed on.” The first one says, “well, no it's not.” You have nothing.

[0:14:05.2] DA: Yeah. Although I guess to your point about the people's reactions coming from inside of them and being real in their own right, even if it isn't objectively true, or documented as such, I guess it's still valid to address that concern and maybe it's coming from a different place. Maybe they're having some insecurities about the deadline, or the volume of work or something, or some other aspects of it.

[0:14:35.3] DL: The tricky part of this and for me, it's really a slippery slope. I'm not perfect at this. I am much better than I used to be. That slippery slope is every time I assume someone's motivations, I respond to their motivations. If I don't ask them what's going on, I just make an assumption. And now I'm getting upset, or I'm feeling hurt, or I'm getting angry, or I'm resenting, or whatever, without ever saying what was going on.

So, part of this whole It's All About Me thing is that I owe it to myself to have those difficult conversations and to say, “look, I'm feeling hurt right now,” although that's out of order from the Crucial Conversations way, but it doesn't matter, right? “I'm feeling hurt right now. What happened is this, this and this. I don't quite know what was going on.” That's the ask. “Could you tell me?” This takes away the typical conversation, which is you hurt my feelings and of course the other person immediately goes on the defensive, and I move it to, “I'm feeling hurt. Let me tell you what I saw happen and then we can talk about it.”

The reason my wife picked this up from me was because it took so much of that negative energy out of our conversations. It worked. And all of a sudden, our conversations were not, “you hurt my feelings, you disrespected me, you upset me.” It was, “this is what happened and this is how I reacted to it.” So, owning my behavior, owning my feelings. I've had people say to me, “well, you can't just decide not to feel that way anymore. Yes, I can. I absolutely can.”

[0:16:19.6] DA: You throw them off.

[0:16:22.1] DL: Once I start saying, “Okay, what –” Keep in mind that if my behavior and my feelings are about me, your feelings and your behavior are about you. Once I recognize that, I realize that well for whatever reason you said, “Doc, you're being a jackass.” Well, that's about you, not me. It's about how you feel about me, or how you’re thinking about me, or how you're reacting to me, but it's not about who I am as a person, it's about your feelings, it's about your reaction.

[0:16:53.7] DA: Your, I guess understanding of what's going on, which you may choose to make an assumption, or you may choose to have a more difficult conversation and get more information.

[0:17:06.0] DL: It'll be less difficult if I don't attach to it. So, back to the pull request and back to the ego identification with the code. If you criticize my code, if you criticize something I've done, “okay, I can't go back and undo it. It is what it is. Let's go forward from here.” When I mentor people, that's part of what I do as an Agile coach, is I talk with people one-on-one, help them see what's going on, apply skills from Agile coaching, professional coaching, my life experience, help them see what's going on and own their thoughts and behavior.

[0:17:45.5] DA: How do you approach a situation where just working off this code review example, where someone just flat-out tells you what you've done is all wrong? You need to tear it all down and just delete it. Start over again from scratch.

[0:18:03.9] DL: There are two parts to that. One is how it affects me, the other is the technical part of it. I'm not addressing the technical part of it. I coach technical people all the time. I have no judgement about the work they're doing, the code they're writing, don't care. It's not what I do anymore. All I can address is if you feel offended, insulted, disrespected, angry because someone said that to you, that I can address. I can help you address that. And, I want you to learn how to address that, because at some point I'm going away and you're going to be on your own.

So, I don't have any judgement about whether way you wrote the code is better, or the way this other person thinks you should write is better. That's okay. That could be opinion. It could be fact. It could be group consensus, doesn't matter to me. What I care about is how you respond to that person.

[0:19:01.3] MN: Right. I think if you read the say up to Dave's point where someone says, “hey, write this again. This code is trash. You need to do it over.” The person receiving that comment can feel like, “oh, my God. The work that I've done is useless. I feel useless because of it.” But the response to that individual could be, “hey, you mentioned that we need to do a rewrite. Could you elaborate on some points as to why we need the rewrite?” That way, you can understand where they're coming from and they could just outright say, “hey, I just think it's garbage and we need to do it over.” Whether that's, “hey, bro. That's not valid. Stop that right there. Let's come with some facts as to why it's not good.” And if the person's like, “hey, if we need to fix this because of X, Y and Z, then you can do that.”

[0:19:48.6] DA: Right. We're drilling down into what the true meaning of this is trash actually is.

[0:19:54.2] MN: Yeah. Because if Bobby over there is having a bad day and writes that and you feel like, “hey, that offended me. Why do you think my code is trash?” Regardless of how he feels, that's how he feels. He feels like the code is trash. But you should talk to them. You should be like, “hey. All right, hold on a second.”

[0:20:12.5] DL: My focus is on what the authors of Crucial Conversations called CPR. CPR stands for content, which is the lowest-level, right? “You were wearing blue.” “No, I was wearing green.” “No, I know you were wearing blue.” “No. I was absolutely wearing green,” right? That's going nowhere. That's resolving nothing. That's content. What are the words? What are the actual okay, it's maybe a little useful, but mostly not.

The P is for pattern. “Every time this happens, you do this, you say this.” That was actually one of the patterns between me and my wife is she would raise something I would be busy making her wrong. Therefore, she would feel bad, right? That was the pattern. But the problem with the pattern was that it interfered with the R, which is relationship. As a coach and Agile coach and a person who mentors others, my focus is on, “you've got to work with this person. You have a relationship.” I don't care what you call it; colleague, co-worker. Even if you don't like them, you still have a relationship. You have to learn how to work with them, deal with them, communicate with them, how are you going to do that?

[0:21:21.9] DA: Yeah, yeah. I feel that. That's pretty deep. So, the idea with CPR is that you want to avoid the content and the pattern in favor of the relationship?

[0:21:32.2] DL: Yes. The difficulty in all of this is that many of us, maybe most of us grow up in an environment in which people assign responsibility for their feelings to me. And they treat me therefore like a villain. My job as a result is to say, “well, I'm not responsible.” I don't actually ever say to someone I'm not responsible with your feelings, because they'll probably hit me. But to have a conversation –

[0:22:03.8] DA: Being that it’s all about you, you want to avoid the physical pain of being hit.

[0:22:09.6] DL: So, the question becomes how do I learn how to communicate, that I can use in a way that they may learn from? And I'm okay with being overt about it and saying, “this is the tool I use,” which is again. What I do with my wife is to say, “I'm going to just start using this, because I think it'll be effective.” Or I can say to excuse me, colleague or co-worker, I'm using the STATE model from Crucial Conversations just so you know. I'm always going to look at the facts first. What actually happened? I'm going to work very hard on not assigning responsibility for my feelings or my behavior to you or anyone else, but me. And therefore, I have a choice about my behavior and how I feel.”

[0:22:49.5] DA: I love the idea of framing it ahead of time. It's like, “by the way, I'm going to try my best to be a rational person and follow this.” You're really stretching in.

[0:23:06.1] DL: The other thing about this is there's this subconscious awareness that if I say to you, “you hurt my feelings. You upset me,” I have just handed power over my feelings. I've given you power over me and how I feel and how I behave. Why would I do that?

[0:23:26.7] MN: Right. If you say, “I felt X, or Y, then it's up to you.” You're saying that you're not giving them the power of making you feel disrespected, or low, or down. It’s, “I felt this way and I can make those changes if I need to.”

[0:23:43.7] DL: Yup. So, back to your intro, there's no me and team. When I'm working with teams, you may or may not be familiar with the Bruce Tuckman model, but many people are familiar with forming, storming, norming and performing. so Tuckman came up with this 50 years ago. What he said is in studying groups and teams, he found that every group went through forming, which is coming together; storming, which is learning how to express differing opinions and ultimately, how to deal with conflict, which leads to norming. Then over time leads to what he called performing and I call high-performing.

I don't believe you could have a high-performing team without a certain level of let's call it emotional intelligence, I just wanted that phrase, emotional intelligence about how to behave and how to speak and interact with people. You cannot get to high-performing without a healthy degree of that on all of the members of the team.

[0:24:42.8] DA: You need that friction too. You need to fail a bit at it and learn what the boundaries are and understand how this other crazy person works. Not crazy in the sense of that they're insane, but they're just a very different person from you.

[0:25:01.7] MN: They have their own me that they're dealing with.

[0:25:03.3] DA: Right. Exactly.

[0:25:04.6] MN: You got to learn how to dance in the me’s.

[0:25:07.2] DL: Back to the humanizing question, why would a rational, reasonable, decent human being do that, doesn't require you to assume that the other person is rational, or reasonable, or decent. It does require you to think, “okay, but why would a rational, reasonable, decent human being do that?”

In the case of the person who takes on the pull request and gives you bad feedback, right? Says, “your code sucks. It's badly structured. Blah, blah, blah.” Whatever it is. Then you ask, “okay, what could be going on?” I think of it as giving them the benefit of the doubt. “Why would a rational, reasonable, decent human being do or say something that I find so painful?”

Okay, maybe they as you said Mike, maybe they do have the best of intentions for the quality of what we produce for the company, or maybe their wife, or friend, or their dog bit them, right? It's like, maybe –

[0:26:02.9] MN: It could be anything.

[0:26:03.6] DL: - something bad happened this morning and they're just letting it out on me.

[0:26:07.0] MN: Yeah, my grandma used to say every person has their own universe in their mind. When you have interactions with people that are off, you have to understand that they have their own – again, they have their own me to deal with and that me is an entire observable universe that is completely different than mine. You have to dance through all of that every day at work with your team.

[0:26:34.7] DA: There are two universes in New York.

[0:26:36.2] MN: Yeah, exactly.

[0:26:37.2] DL: When I present this, I actually show a picture of the world and I show it inside your head. We don't know. We don't know that there's a reality, right? We believe it. We assume it, but everything as I said earlier, everything we experience, we experience through the filters of our own experience, knowledge, history, biases, pains, happiness.

[0:27:03.2] MN: Totally. Doc, how can people contact you?

[0:27:07.3] DL: Well, first of all, I have my own company which is Another Thought. Those are two words, Another and Thought. My website is anotherthought.com. I am doc@anotherthought.com, which is an easy way to reach me. I'm on Twitter as AThought. It's another thought, but I left out another, so that I have another seven characters to use.

[0:27:32.9] MN: That’s important.

[0:27:33.4] DA: For savings.

[0:27:34.7] DL: Yes. Then a lot of what I just talked about is in my blog, which is on doclist.me. Much of my writing is there, which I'm in the process of turning into a book of some kind. I'll let you know when I figure out what book it is.

[0:27:49.7] MN: Cool. Yeah. Looking forward to it. It's forming, I guess right now. Maybe storming. Yeah, cool. We'll link to all that stuff in the show notes. Yeah, it was great catching up with you again.

[0:28:00.6] DL: Thank you. I enjoyed it.


[0:28:02.7] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit, so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five-star review and help developers just like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode. Subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.


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