Trust, cooperation and the Hive Switch

Trust in U.S. institutions is at all time lows in 2023. 26% of people have faith in 9 major U.S. institutions in 2023, down from about 40% in 2003 – says Gallup, who has been measuring this since 1979. Small Businesses and the Military have the greatest confidence with 65% and 60% respectively while congress and big business are at the low end with fewer than 20% of people claiming they have “a great deal of confidence” in those institutions. Large Technology Companies are not much better, at 26% confidence. 

What is going on here? Is it our recent political polarization? The COVID-19 pandemic which drove us into our homes and isolated us? Is it the rapid pace of social and technological change that is undermining people’s confidence? 

A former collegue and friend Tobias Mayer shared a post by Jenny Sinclair for an organization called Together for the Common Good. It points to the same decline of western civilization from a Catholic perspective with Capitalism’s rise of individualism, the commodification of the human body. In her case, she calls for spiritual and civic renewal – recognizing the sanctity of human life. While I am not sure with all the conclusions of her post (abortion and euthanasia in particular), the characterization of the attack on our humanity and the culture of death caused me to see some recent trends in a new light.

I’m inclined to believe that the longer term trends towards isolation and individualism, carefully described in Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam in 2000, may be the caused primarily by technological driven change. While he explores multiple factors contributing to a decline in civic participation — suburbanization, long commute times and women joining the workforce — the main cause Putnam claims was technology individualizing people’s leisure time. At that time it was television and the Internet, although he admits early chat rooms and groups could accelerate community. Since he published that book in 2000, we have now have social media, virtual reality and artificial intelligence competing for life in face to face civil society. 

A one bright spot Putnam noted in 2000 was that Americans tend to spend a lot of time in professional associations. For me personally, living in the Bay Area, I recall a vibrant pre-pandemic patchwork of meetups including Bay ALN meetup and the Engineering Leadership Special Interest Groups, multiple agile meetups. It was a source of personal connection and meaning for me, in addition to helping my career generally. During the pandemic I attended very few of these. Why is that? 

When I did I tended to do so half heartedly, often multi-tasking with my camera off. I wonder why they were so much less engaging. Was it the effort I had to spend to commute to the meetup, the social pressure to stay focused on what was in front of me, or the chance encounters of new friends and old acquaintances that made these more engaging for me?

Meetup claims their own internal data shows the fastest-growing groups host both “IRL and Online Events”. While they admit that meeting online is much more convenient (As a host you don’t have to book a space, your participants don’t have to commute, and your speaker can be from anywhere) they recognize the loss of face to face interactions.

Most companies have also adopted this kind of hybrid approach to their work culture. Attend between 4-12 days a month in the office. Plan and build connections. Then crank widgets the rest of the time. For most workers, the benefits to flexibility, not to mention those with young children or aging parents, outweigh the cost of face to face interactions.

For my own mental health, I need the social aspect of the “third place”. Leaving my home, having to put on nicer clothes, going to the office, the small talk fills some kind of need that remote work does not. Maybe it has to do with me being an ambivert. I need the interaction.

Others are different and can live for many months without that stuff. A few colleagues of mine are this way. My recently passed father in law Robert Fujimura said he thrived during the pandemic because he was an introvert. And yet, even for these introverts, they claim some socialization in person helped them get more done faster. And yet many now call what we are experiencing a “Epidemic of Loneliness“. Even for my father in law, I can’t help but wonder if his memory decline was associated with his isolation – and being a widower from his wife – introvert scientist though he was.

Could our evolution as a species have something to do with this?

Jonathan Haidt, and evolutionary psychologist claims in part three of A Righteous Mind that humans are “90% chimpanzee, 10% bee”. Chimpanzees are mostly selfish, compete with one another for sex, food and status. Bees, (and termites and wasps) are the most group oriented animals in nature, and divide up their labor, will die to protect the hive.

Haidt claims that humans have become successful in terms of overall biomass compared to chimpanzees because of what he calls our ultrasociality – our ability to live in very large groups that have some internal structure and can benefit from the division of labor. We are willing to cooperate with one another, divide up tasks to achieve common goals (more than living in a flock or a herd). Whether it’s to hunt, gather, raise children or raid your neighbors village, prehistorical humans were better at coordinating than chimps because we have a capacity for what he calls shared intentionality. [1]

Why does this matter? Not only for our own health and sanity individually, we need to work together to achieve our shared goals. For instance – winning a football game, building a new product, creating a successful startup, or battling climate change – all require us to work together. Most of our lives are spent in corporations, however, these corporations might not be getting the most they can from us. 

Inside institutions, Gallup measured only two in 10 U.S. employees feel connected to their company culture. Those who are connected to their companies mission are 3.7x more likely to be engaged, 5x more likely to recommend their organization as a great place to work, and 68% less likely to feel burned out a work very often or always, and  55% less likely to be looking for new job opportunities. The phenomenon of quiet quitting, and the great resignation had CEO’s worried over the last three years. Enough for engineering executives to be worried enough for companies like McKinsey to author papers to prey on this anxiety with articles like: Yes, you can measure developer productivity and Kent Beck’s response suggesting this is a bad idea.

So, if connection and cooperation is important, but fragile and hard to creat – it’s useful to understand how we can trigger what Haidt calls the “hive switch”. His hypothesis is that if you create the right environment, you are able create “synchrony – a spirit of all for one and one for all – where you are truly working for the good of the group, and not just for their own advancement within the group.”[2]

How do you create this environment? Haidt himself shares that singing together, marching together, dancing together and even taking hallucinogenic drugs together can stimulate the conditions for a “Hive Switch”. 

While you probably won’t be having raves at work anytime soon — unless you are Michael Scott, and you create an espresso fueled disco party — there are some steps he suggests to build shared intentionality.

Haidt’s guidance:

  1. Increase similarity, not diversity. If you want to make a human hive, make everyone feel like a family. Don’t call attention to racial and ethnic differences – make them less relevant by ramping up similarity and celebrating shared values and common identity. 
  2. Exploit synchrony – people who move together and say “we are one, one team”. The example is company exercises in the morning at Toyota, rituals like “the Haka for the All Blacks” or my own personal favorite, and actual daily standup meeting (where you are standing in a circle around a kanban board). 
  3. Create healthy competition between groups, not individuals. Intramural sports competitions, or between group rivalries. 

I don’t necessarily understand all his recommendations. I’ll try to treat number 1 and 3, which I have the most challenge with individually.

Increasing similarity

  1. It seems strange to avoid increasing diversity in 2023 when we are finally addressing systemic racism and lack of gender diversity in tech companies where I work. Helping people feel they belong to your church, company, nation or family for who they are, seems to have all kinds of benefits for individuals as this intervention on belonging shows.
  2. For friends I have in under-represented groups – this kind of lack of a feeling of belonging has led to them disengaging and wanting to quit. That seems wrong ethically – it’s unfair to individual. It also doesn’t make much business sense to employe someone then not get the most from that individual.
  3. It could be Haidt meant to amplify our “similarity” or human-ness, rather than our differences. This would seem to be consistent with his later work in “The Coddling of the American Mind”, where he wrote about what he calls the common-humanity ethic – referencing Dr. Martin Luther King, the marriage equality act of 2012 and others, contrasted from the great untruth of “Life is a battle between good people and evil people”. I will choose to interpret it this more charitable way vs the negative way of reducing diversity to gain productive and healthy teams.

Healthy Competition

I’m not sure what healthy competition looks like in practice. Is this like the Olympic games? Done in the spirit of our common humanity? Softball leagues are good, but interdepartmental rivalry seems fraught.

In this case I look to Deming who claimed in the New Economics that competition will eventually cause a human system to be destroyed. As he says:

Left to themselves in the Western world, components become selfish, competitive, independent profit centers, and thus destroy the system. The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the organization. We cannot afford the destructive effect of competition.

Deming, W. Edwards. The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, third edition (p. 36). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Instead, he claims, we need a greater level of cooperation between groups – people, companies, even between nations to enable greater prosperity. This is the case for organizations that have enabled a focus on partnerships, an ecosystem strategy, where we work together for mutual benefit.

The system must be managed, and managed toward an aim. His suggested aim is

The aim proposed here for any organization is for everybody to gain—stockholders, employees, suppliers, customers, community, the environment—over the long term.

Deming, W. Edwards. The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, third edition (p. 36). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

In other words, win-win-win.

This is why I agree that amplifying our shared humanity with words like family reduces the effects of a kind of self-orientation. Self orientation erodes trust, as people believe your vision or purpose is self seeking.

In David Maister’s famous “trust equation” from his book A Trusted Advisor, the denominator that eroded trust for consultants most was the orientation towards the self. It outweighs the benefits of competence, intimacy, and reliability.

There are deep cultural assumptions in the US around competition. In US management, we believe we need to measure and manage people individually to get high performance. This harmful assumption, destroys our ability to work together and help one another. So who cares about that, as long as I’m getting mine?

In a world where we need more cooperation to get things done, and our trust and connection to our organizations purpose is more and more eroded, amplifying our common humanity, across races, generations, genders, religions, political parties, whether urban or rural helps us solve problems together. Assuming it’s for the right kind of purpose (like solving our climate crisis, a global pandemic, urban decline or fentanyl addiction) vs the wrong kind (a dangerous populism, xenophobic nationalism or destructive war), I’m all aboard.

Maybe the feature of humanity that makes it cohesive and cooperative is one that can be harnessed for good or ill, and it’s up to us to make sure we are serving a mission that is pure.

Personally, I’ve found my greatest motivation when I’m working toward a common goal with others, amongst a group that cares about me as a person. I did this during the COVID pandemic with a non profit contact tracing group, doing Salesforce pro bono work, or at my son’s scout troop.

This is more towards the notion of  transformational leadership where individuals set aside their selfish interests and work toward a common vision, giving them autonomy on how to achieve those goals. I enjoy working on a team that is trying to achieve a noble mission greater than my own career advancement. Even if it’s the survival of the company.

For me, this is why I do what I do. Creating this kind of experience for others gives me purpose because it creates more joy, purpose and connection for others. Whether it’s in my Scout Troop, my Church, my company or family. It doesn’t have to be in person, but having in person interactions for me makes that feeling of belonging so much easier. Espresso anyone? 

[1] Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (pp. 234-235). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

[2] Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (p. 258). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

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Angelo’s Agile Odyssey

This is a story about learning, enabling bureaurcracies, power, incentives and influence. It will unfold over several weeks. Enjoy!

Angelo is an agile coach. Angelo started as a quality engineer on his team who built internal tools. He read a book on Scrum and took a class on how to be a ScrumMaster. He introduced some new practices like retrospectives and daily standup. His team appreciated how he brought the team more predictability and less weekend work for their project work. He also introduced some concepts from Kanban like limiting work in process and measuring and managing his team’s workflow. He liked this kind of work more than finding bugs and filing bug reports.

His manager Carla, buoyed by this success, recommended him to his 5 other teams in another region. Angelo learned a bit about the challenges around consulting, He a couple of books his Scrum trainer recommended – “A Trusted Advisor” and “Secrets of Consulting”. The division, a security team in a financial services company company, adopted agile practices as part of their agile transformation. The PMO was happy because they finally had a system they understood how to engage with. 

Another large tech company eventually acquired this team as his title changed from Quality Engineer to the central organization responsible for agile adoption. When Angelo applied and accepted the new role as an Agile Coach in that organization, he was thrilled. Now, he had the authority to make the changes in other organizations that he could never make on his own. He could implement the best practices he always dreamed of. 

Angelo was invited to help ScrumMaster Shreya adopt some better scrum practices. Shreya was an independent contributor (IC) for the team who build data analysis tools for a team moving services from SAP to the public cloud. He set up a 1:1 for the next day. 

“How can I help you?” Angelo asked. 

“I want to become a better ScrumMaster and run my meetings more effectively.” Shreya shared.

“OK, how do you run your scrum meetings today?” Angelo asked.

 “Well, the Engineering manager gives individuals a list of things they need to do. In the Scrum Meeting, we review these and make adjustments where it makes sense.” 

Sounds like a command and control environment, Angelo thinks. Rather than judge it on the spot, however, he decides to give some of the coaching questions a try.

“What do you want to achieve here?” Angelo asks.

“Well, the meetings are boring, each person reading out to their manager what they did. I want to run the meeting more efficiently.” Shreya replies.

“OK. Do you mind if I observe the meeting?”

“No problem, we have one this afternoon. I’ll forward you the invitation,” Shreya responds. 

During the meeting, Angelo takes a bunch of notes. Right after, he slacks them to Shreya. 

Sprint Planning Meeting

  • The manager is assigning tasks
  • Not much conversation between team members.
  • No agenda for the meeting
  • The team doesn’t leave with a group commitment.
  • Missing Product Owner

Shreya shares – “Thanks for the feedback, I’ll take a look”. 

Angelo feels happy that he provided some guidance. He has a sinking feeling though, that his advice will not be implemented. So, he decides to meet with Shreya’s boss, Carla. They scheduled a meeting for next Tuesday to find out what is going on here.

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Rules of Threes

While running today, I was thinking about various models out there that describe leadership and change in human systems. I was reacting to an old post by Martin Fowler where he criticized bimodal models of IT as a false dichotomy similar to the Speed/Quality tradeoff.

One example Fowler references is Simon Wardley’s three tiered model of Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners model of organization. A three tier model is better than a two tier model.

A warning oversimplifying typologies, especially kinds of people, can easily lead to stereotypes and shallow thinking.

While these models can be useful in galvanizing groups around a shared identity, they fail to capture the complexities and nuances of real-world systems. All models are wrong…some are dangerous!

This got me thinking—it could be an enjoyable endeavor to compile various numeric rules and continually expand upon them. These rules range from categorizations of types of people to observations in nature and summaries of processes.

Rule of 2’s

The concept of Yin and Yang, representing complementary forces in balance.

Night and Day, symbolizing the opposing yet interconnected aspects of our existence.

Sleep and Wake, embodying the cycles of rest and activity.

System 1 (Intuitive and Automatic), System 2 (Effortful and Analytical) – Two systems of thinking by Daniel Kahneman

Rules of 3’s

Types of people

Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners – Simon Wardley

Commando, Infantry, Police – A variation on the same theme by Jeff Atwood

Sociopaths, Clueless, Losers – A psycho sociological description of organizational pathologies by Venkatesh Rao. It’s humorous because it uses the Office as an example.


Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose – Dan Pink. 3 things that motivate people for complex work.

Autonomy, Collaboration, Empowerment – By Richard Lee – From his Work that Counts in and Across Team work, a great training and book on how to be more effective in a complex organization.

Conscious/Subconscious/Intuition – A model of mind by Carolyn Lewis. Her recommended training helped individuals challenged by a harsh critical inner voice, including myself. The model aligns with elements of Kahneman’s work while introducing the additional layer of intuition.

Rules of 4’s

Seasons – spring, summer, fall, winter

Habits – Cue, Craving, Response, Reward – James Clear

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – The OODA Loop by Boyd.

Rule of 5’s

Mental Models, Team Learning, Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery and, Shared Vision – Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

Rule of 7’s

Effectiveness – be proactive, focus on goals/results, prioritize, pursue win/win solutions, understand others, seek synergy and renew your whole person – 7 habits of highly effective people

Positive Change – 1. Strive for congruence 2. Honor the past, the present, people, 3. Assess what is (one of my favorites) 4. Attend to networks 5. Experiment. 6. Guide and allow for variation 7. Use your self (My other favorite). The 7 Rules of Positive, Productive Change by Esther Derby – a useful guide when trying to influence change in a human system.

Rule of 8’s

Organizational Change. 1. Establish a sense of urgency 2. Build a guiding coalition 3. Establish a Shared Vision, 4. Enlist a volunteer army 5. Enable action by removing barriers 6. Generate Short Term Wins 7. Sustain acceleration 8. Institute change – John Kotter Leading Change

The Five Questions of the Coaching Kata by Mike Rother

I’m sharing these models because I’m interested in exploring leadership concepts and finding ways to distill them into simple, memorable patterns for practical application. As part of my job, I strive to communicate complex ideas in digestible chunks so that teams can effectively utilize them..

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How to say “No” and preserve your relationships

In a surprising way, the pandemic has shown me what I valued underneath the technicolor zebra stripe of my google calendar. The connections I have with family and friends.

I laughed a year ago when I watched the Portlandia episode “Cancel it” (2 minute Portlandia episode). Apparently there is a tendency for people to accept any obligation in the future, despite their lack of wanting to, then using the miracle of technology, cancel it at the last minute over text. It goes to the absurd, canceling Christmas, couples counseling, even weddings. Well, it seemed absurd then…little did they know how things would change a couple of years later! 

I identify with this pattern. I tend to suffer from future time optimism – in a year I’ll have time to write that book, travel to Hawaii, save enough money to stop being busy, and really be happy. And socially, it’s hard for me to say “no” to something that is a year in the future, especially if I don’t have anything else on the calendar. Maybe I’m a closet curmudgeon?

I am wondering, how I might keep this slower pace post-pandemic. How might I keep the connections with those around us, without all the nonsense, the to-and-from wasteful travel/commuting? There was a bunch of waste that in hindsight felt like featuring it vs fixing it.

Maybe I need a special code-word with friends/family when they ask me to signup for something that I feel obligated to do, but I don’t really want to do? (e.g. “Cacao” for Portlandia fans, Oklahoma for Ted Lasso fans). 

I recently had an exciting opportunity to help with some volunteer time off for a criminal justice education non-profit. It was a great organization for a cause I wanted to learn more about. It would only be 4 hours. I worked with one of them before. A real nice guy. He gave the opportunity me to coach the MIT kids. And as a nice bonus, I would get my name on the instructor list at MIT. I anticipated the feeling of prestige, and righteousness washing over me. 

Then I thought, while that is nice, I knew it would have taken actually 8-20 hours to do it well, and given my other commitments with my day job in January, I wouldn’t be able to do the other stuff in my job well. I’d be neglecting family and other obligations. So I took a cue from Gerry Weinberg, who wrote a bunch of books on psychology and computer programming, and tried Satir’s Soft Spurn. (Virginia Satir was a famous family therapist he learned most of his psychology from, and by extension influenced the entire agile community to be more human-centered.)

I said  ‘Thanks for thinking of me. I really enjoyed working with you before and this seems like a great cause. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit for me. I wish you the best and I’ll shop it around with others…’ And I was able to find someone else for whom it did fit.

The soft spurn consists of three elements:

1. Show genuine appreciation, in words, tone, and body language (for example “I’m honored that you would ask me”)

2. Give a regretful but clear no, without excuses (saying, “Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit for me.”

3. Indicate an opening to some other relationship in the future (saying, “…at this time”). [1]

For me, #3 was an opening or concession to some other helper. It seemed to work. I preserved my existing commitments for January and maybe evened deepened my relationships by connecting my friend with another coach who could volunteer time.

And if you hear me give you that response, please know I’m honored you would ask me for help. And, while I might not what to do whatever it is you are asking me to do, I value you as a person and our relationship. I might want to do it later.

If you end up using this, please let me know how it goes for you.

[1] Weinberg, Gerry. More Secrets of Consulting (Dorset House, 1985), 77

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The Future of Work

I’m getting involved with Zerobase. They are building a 100% private contact tracing app, to preserve our civil liberties AND flatten the curve. It’s exciting, because the speed and self organization of this organization feels different. They have built the organization on the principles found in Stanley McChrystal’s Team of Team’s approach.

They have combined Shared Consciousness + Empowered workforce, rapidly bringing people on focusing on their super powers. In two weeks they are poised to launch in 5 cities. They went from 2 people to 150 in 2 weeks. Every day feels like a week.

They have all the essential ingredients from Dan Pink’s Drive. They have Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery. The purpose – To stop the spread of corona virus while retaining your privacy. Autonomy through empowered execution (mostly using slack and daily calls) – leaders who ask questions, reaffirm the meaning and purpose and mastery – aligning people to their super-powers. Since they aren’t paying salaries, they need to rapidly onboard, give people a sense of the mission. Since people may only have 2 hours a day, they need to not tie them up in meetings, etc.

As Matt Mullenweg says, they focus on the baton, not the runner. I am excited to share some of the lessons I’m learning from their leadership. Running a globally distributed organization with all volunteers – rapidly getting a product to market. What might happen if we ran all our organizations like this? How might embracing remote work create the kind of value and organizations that we always wanted to be in?

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Notes from Sam Harris’ Matt Mullenweg’s New Future of Work

My notes from Sam Harris’ New Future of Work podcast interviewing Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg of This is a wordpress site, btw.

Level 1 – Working Physically together

  • Watching the clock, staying there, bosses to look over someone’s shoulder. Taylorism.

Level 2 – Recreating Physical Workspace remotely

  • Doing level 1 remotely. Old models stay – in new pants, like “teleworking”, or movies were “talking pictures” before.

Above is based on the Factory Model – focus on inputs – possible to fake not working for 3-4 months. 

Below is based on the Knowledge worker model – focus on outputs – not possible to be judged by “showing up from…matt based based it on Dan Pink “DRIVE” model: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Good video here.

Level 3 – Investing in your remote space

  • SE130 Seinheiser
  • Arctis 7
  • (remove machine learning to remove background noise)
  • iOS app
  • Screen for Writing Ability…How do you apply, Interact, e.g. Slack/Tickets

Level 4 – Moving Asynchronously

  • Give agency to produce the same output with different inputs
    – 2016 relay race team – focused on baton handoff, shave seconds off the baton handoff….
  • Tap into the global talent pool
  • Follow the sun: US, AsiaPAC, Europe – 24/7
  • Decisions take longer, but they become better
  • Most meetings are terrible (Meeting for status updates, forcing people to get people in the same place in the same time, getting “reactions” vs HIPPO culture, Extroverts, Men speak more than women)
  • Moving asynchronously enables people whom English isn’t a first language, removes biases, take a walk, think about it for an hour
  • Maybe decisions take 1 day or 2, but decisions are much better than reacting in real time

Level 5 – Nirvana….Unattainable

  • Doing better than any in person work can do
  • Fun things,  Can do things that might be socially awkward or impossible in an office (e.g. puppy, health, mental well beings) e.g. in between meetings 20 squats or pushups, candle, treadmill desk
  • WordPress uses their own app to identify who has met up with eacother. (Use Zerobase for this?)
  • All org structures are tradeoffs. Optimize for Resilience. Focus on Antifragility, try to make teams super cross functional, allow them to ship/iterate. Teams of 20 should be able to ship as they did when they were 


  • Concern about Security – Endpoint security should solve this, vs access control model of security: “walled garden”, only as strong as the weakest link….Assume trusted employees don’t align with the interest of the company. Look at behaviors, what we want….
  • Managers – hard to recreate this online. Try checking in on people more often.  If they are slumped in their desk, can’t see it. Also start meetings with check-in.


  • Transparency: Zoom, Slack, a blogging platform. Something to replace email – email is nice, it’s async but it’s private. P2 is an asynchronous blogging system built on WordPress. Matt gets only private email on HR things….People ask questions for Matt with Google Alerts when people mention a topic you are interested in. Salesforce has Chatter. 
  • Acronymn API – Assume Positive Intent
    • 99% of the time they are not trying to attack you. Use Emoji, etc. Be conservative on what you put out. Write kind/humane messages as possible. Perceive that people could mis-interpret
    • Hop to audio calls right away to de-escalate things. Or de-escalate yourself. Take a few mindful moments away from the computer – be kinder to another person
    • Don’t use punctuation at end of sentences
    • Be clear what you agree to e.g. instead of Yes, say Yes, I am approving increasing salaries for these 3 hires.

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Never Split the Difference Negotiation One Sheet

As I mentioned before, I loved Chris Voss’s book “Never Split the Difference“. So much of life is a negotiation. As an agile coach, I’m trying to get adults to change ingrained behavior. As a parent, I’m trying to influence my child to change his behavior. As a customer, I want to get better service, better products. In large software companies, most managers face a dilemma of influencing other teams to help them deliver the functionality they need so they can get their job done. I’ve found Chris’ 1 sheet helpful to get in the right frame of mind before I go into a negotiation. Specifically, writing down the goal, what I want to achieve and calibrated questions are very helpful.

Negotiation One Sheet

Chris Voss

  1. What are my specific goals for this negotiation?
    • Think through best/worst-case scenarios but only write down a specific goal that represents the best case.
    • Set an optimistic but reasonable goal and define it clearly.
    • Write it down. 
    • Discuss your goal with a colleague (this makes it harder to wimp out). 
    • Carry the written goal into the negotiation.
  2. What is a summary of facts up till now? 
    • Summarize and write out in just a couple of sentences the known facts that have led up to the negotiation. So you can be ready to respond with tactical empathy with your counterpart
    • Why are you there? 
    • What do you want? 
    • What do they want? 
    • Why?
  3. Labels, Accusation Audit
    • Prepare 3-5 labels that summarize how the counterpart feels about these facts. Anticipate how your counterpart feels about these facts you’ve just summarized.
    • It seems like _________ is valuable to you. 
    • It seems like you don’t like _________. 
    • It seems like you value __________. 
    • It seems like _________ makes it easier. 
    • It seems like you’re reluctant to _________.
  4. Calibrated Questions: 
    • Prepare 3-5 calibrated Questions to reveal value to you and your counterpart and identify and overcome potential Deal Killers. Effective negotiators look past their counterparts’ stated positions (what the party demands) and delve into their underlying motivations (what is making them want what they want).
    • What are we trying to accomplish? 
    • How is that worthwhile? 
    • What’s the core issue here? 
    • How does that affect things? 
    • What’s the biggest challenge you face? 
    • How does this fit into what the objective is?
    • How can I help to make this better for us? 
    • How would you like me to proceed? 
    • What is it that brought us into this situation? 
    • ?How can we solve this problem? 
    • What’s the objective? / What are we trying to accomplish here? 
    • And the Mother of all questions: “How am I supposed to do that?”
  5. Questions to identify behind the table deal killers
    • When the decision is done by committee, you want to get the support of that committee
    • How does this affect the rest of your team? 
    • How onboard are the people not on this call? 
    • What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?
  6. Questions to identify and diffuse deal killing issues
    • People you are negotiating with are comfortable with the way things are. Change might look like they aren’t doing their job. How do you make them look good in the face of such change?
    • Pick 2-3 of these sets of question and ask together to get information that will help you identify the real issue at hand
    • What are we up against here? 
    • What is the biggest challenge you face? 
    • How does making a deal with us affect things? 
    • What happens if you do nothing? 
    • What does doing nothing cost you?
    • How does making this deal resonate with what your company prides itself on?
  7. Noncash offers
    • Prepare a list of noncash items possessed by your counterpart that would be valuable.
    • Ask yourself “What could they give that would almost get us to do it for free?”

Voss, Chris. Never Split the Difference (p. 258). Harper Business. Kindle Edition. 

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Getting More Negotiating One Sheet

I’ll often use this sheet to prepare for negotiation. It’s from Getting More. The most useful concept from this book is the idea that each sides values things differently, and unequally. If you can uncover those, you might be willing to make a trade that is fair, without the dreaded compromise.

Quadrant I: Problems and Goals
1. Goals: short/long term.  
2. Problem(s): in reaching your goals.  
3. Parties: List. Decision-maker. Counterpart. Third parties.  
4. What if no deal? Worst case?  
5. Preparation: Time, relative preparation. Who has more information?
Quadrant II: Situation Analysis
6. Needs/interests: of both parties: rational, emotional, shared, conflicting, unequally valued.   
7. Perceptions: Pictures in the head of each party? Role reversal, culture, conflicts, trust.
8. Communication: style, relationship?   
9. Standards: theirs, norms.   10. Reexamine goals: Why say yes, why say no? For both parties.
Quadrant III—Options/Risk Reduction 
11. Brainstorm: options to meet goals, needs. What to trade or link?   12. Incremental: steps to reduce risk.  
13. Third parties: common enemies, influencers.  
14. Framing: to create a vision, develop questions to ask.   15. Alternatives: to improve/effect deal if necessary.
Quadrant IV—Actions  
16. Best options/priorities. Dealbreakers. Giveaways.  
17. Who presents: How and to whom?  
18. Process: Agenda, deadlines, time management.  
19.Commitments/incentives: Especially for them.  
20. Next steps: Who does what?
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Negotiate as if your life depended on it

Like the Baader Meinhoff Phenomenon, when I read a book about something, I start to see everything as related to that book. I recently read the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, and this book is no exception. I highly recommend it, and it’s fun to use its tips in personal and professional life. I have started to see how so much of my life is a continual negotiation. 

Similar to Getting More, another negotiation book I like,  it focuses on the emotional factors that influence a negotiation. Unlike getting more, it has some unique and useful tactics that have emerged from the rough and tumble world of FBI international hostage negotiation. Reading the book, I realized my type is an accomodator, so I can apply the tips specifically for my type.

Here are some nuggets I took from it…

First, most negotiating advice is wrong. In Fisher and Ury’s famous Getting to Yes which was the seminal book from the 80’s Harvard Negotiation Project world, the goal is to remove emotion from the negotiating table. You look for the “win win” solution, insist on objective criteria, focus on interests, not positions. I used this process myself, I liked it because it was a methodical problem solving approach, and worked with logical problems and logical people. However, if there were underlying issues of values, emotions, respect, fairness, gender discrimination it tended not to work super well. I never realized why.

After reading this book, I realized it is because it assumed we can get people to act rationally. In a hostage negotiation situation, they most definitely are not. And as Tversky and Kahneman uncovered in their seminal work of behavioral economics Thinking Fast and Slow, people behave irrationally all the time. For example, people will pay more to prevent a loss than to achieve a similar gain. I always buy every insurance certificate in the Game of Life, even though I know the chances I’ll come out ahead by my auto and fire insurance is low. I like to avoid losses.

So, rather than try to protect us from the Freuidian Id (our instinctive self), smart negotiators use emotions to achieve a good outcome. This may sound manipulative. In some ways it is. As Voss says, how many of us know that $1.99 is a scam, and yet how many things in the world are priced at $2.00? We still allow ourselves to be “taken” by this deal all the time. And yet, the far worse scenario is that you don’t negotiate, buyers and sellers don’t make an exchange, the real estate deal isn’t done, the hostage ends up dead, the relationship is broken, the war is started. So negotiation is important.

And yet, if you take a stance that the other side as the enemy rather the situation – it can help uncover unexpected solutions to a difficult negotiation impass. For example, my son wants 30 minutes of iPad time in the morning. We have 15 minutes to leave for school. I mirror “you want 15 more minutes of iPad time”. Yes, because I don’t get a lot of time at night. I label “It seems like you really value iPad time”. Yes. I ask, “how am I supposed to do that” (calibrated questions). He suggests, what if I get all ready and I can do it on the bike. I say OK, that’s coming off your time at night. He says OK. 

So, if you are empathetic, use mirroring, get the other side to share what they really need, vs what they are asking for – you can come up with a creative way to get their needs met (get respect, money, 30 minutes of screen time) and get your needs met (not pay too much for a hostage, let the other side save face, get to work on time). It’s not a “soft” strategy. Much like Sun Tzu’s art of war, it’s about how to be smart about managing conflict without having to use your power overtly. Sort of a Judo of business negotiation. 

Here are the specific tips.

  • Use a Late Night FM DJ Voice – low with downward inflections for things that are not up for debate. e.g. We’re going to school at 7:00 am. I added an orange to your lunch. 
  • Use Mirroring – repeat the last three words the person said. It’s oddly mechanical, but it almost always works. 
  • Use pauses – after naming an offer, be silent. 
  • Use Tactical Empathy – Label the emotions of the other person
  • e.g. “It seems like you don’t like agile very much”
    • Empathy is being able to identify the point of view of your counterpart, and then speak that point of view aloud
    • Make a commitment to understanding their world
    • It’s not agreeing with it
  • That’s Right!
    • Look for a “that’s right”. Especially with Assertive people, this will open the door to a great deal.
    • Avoid “You’re right” – they will never follow through on you being right
    • Your goals is really to get them to solve their own problem
    • Avoid “yes” – the guy across the table will find a way to weasel out of the deal later
  • Use calibrated questions to say “no
    • How am I supposed to do that?
  • Look for black swans – these are unknown unknowns that give you leverage in a negotiation – these can only be discovered in face to face interactions. 
  • Leverage – what gives you power in a negotiation
    • Negative: Do it or I take something away you love (your reputation, your family, etc) – plays on loss aversion
      • “To get real leverage, you have to convince them they have something to lose if you don’t do a deal”
    • Positive: Do it and I’ll give you something you want (a car, a phone, a house, a raise)
    • Normative: Do it and it will support one of your values (religious, identity) e.g. if they use Christian language, label “this seems like an issue of stewardship for you”
  • Bargaining
    • Get them to name a price first
    • Then talk persistently about non-cash offers
    • Ackerman Method – plays on the psychology of making the other side feel like they are getting every last drop.
      • Start by offering 65% of your target price (you can do it by mentioning a range, or referring to an extreme anchor) e.g. “At Harvard they charge $2500 a day per student”.
      • Using lots of calibrated questions, get them to  85%
      • Then to 95%
      • Then finally, 100% (but offer in non-round numbers – $105.17 vs $110 – makes you seem very analytical, and that they have squeezed every last drop from you
      • Offer a gift, something that inspires reciprocity
  • Noncash offers
    • Ask yourself “What could they give that would almost get us to do it for free?”
  • Prepare a negotiation one-sheet
    • If you panic, you fall to your highest level of preparation
    • Here is the Black Swan group’s “one sheet” (this is Chris Voss’s consultancy)
    • This is what they give their hostage negotiation clients to prepare. 
    • I also have one that I use from “Getting More”, I’ll share that in another post
  • Fair is a four-letter F word
    • Use it positively (that’s fair)
    • Avoid using it negatively, e.g. “that’s not a fair offer” because it puts the other side on the defensive
    • If someone offers you an unfair offer
    • People do all sorts of irrational things to achieve fairness, look at Iran and it’s self defeating quest to enrich uranium, it’s lost billions in oil revenues – but if India and China can do it, they reason, why can’t Iran?
    • If someone lobs the “we’ve given you a fair offer”, you can either say “Fair?” then a long pause, or “It seems like you are ready to provide the evidence that supports that”.
    • Try using it early on in a negotiation “I want to make sure we’re treating you fairly at all times, if at any point you feel I’m treating you unfairly, please let me know and we’ll address it.” This sets you up as a fair negotiator, above board, a reputation you want.
  • Beware of “yes”
    • There are three kinds of yes’s
      • Yes – I hear you
      • Yes – Counterfeit – I am saying yes but later will find a reason to back out
      • Yes – Commitment – The real deal, they will change their behavior, and follow through on the agreement
    • To get to the real “yes” Don’t 
  • Learn to love “no”
    • No is the start of the negotiation
    • Try to evoke a “no” in order to make the other person feel in control, 
    • To restart a negotiation, no can be more powerful than a yes “it seems like you’ve given up on this project” (you are mislabelling a reality to get them to say no, so you can start the negotiation again)
  • Pay attention to those who will influence the deal, those who aren’t there
    • Many deals are killed by people not present at the negotiation
    • Even when you don’t know who they are, you can ask calibrated questions to address these “behind the table deal killers”
      • How does this affect the rest of your team?
      • How onboard are people not on this call?
      • What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?
  • There are three kinds of negotiators and depending on what type you are dealing with, specific tools work better for them
    • Analyst:
      • See themselves as realistic, prepared, smart
      • Want to collect facts and information
      • They hate surprises
      • Their goal is to reach the optimal solution
      • See silence as an opportunity to think
      • Tools: Use labels, use data to explain reasons, don’t ad-lib, use data comparisons to disagree
    • Assertive
      • See themselves as honest, logical, direct
      • May appear harsh, aggressive, emotional to others
      • Cares about being heard
      • See silence as an opportunity to talk more.
      • Tools to use: Calibrated questions, mirroring, summaries labels, get them to say “that’s right”
    • Accommodative
      • See themselves as personable, conversational, relationship-focused
      • Others see them as friendly, too talkative
      • They are likely to give something up first 
      • May overpromise, give something they can’t deliver
      • Interpret silence as anger
      • Likely to withhold objections now to preserve the relationship
      • Tools: use what and how questions focused on implementation

So, how to start with these. I recommend starting by using calibrated questions. Try to get the other side to solve your problem for you, without saying no. Let me know how it works for you!

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3 tips for debriefs on your team

RAF Pilot Walking Away from Hawk Aircraft in Silhouette

My sister’s partner, Adam, recently shared the original Top Gun article that inspired the movie with me. It reminded me of my father. My father was a RIO in the F-14 in the seventies and eighties, and later taught at Top Gun. He passed a few years ago. I think about his life, his service to his country, and what, if anything, I can apply to my life. Despite being around him, visiting his office, going on “tiger cruises”, he didn’t talk much about how he went about his work.

The article mentions the debrief after the “bad hop”. I coach teams and leaders to build better software, and, I’m always on the lookout to borrow (OK, steal) metaphors that can give us more of an edge. Project, sprint, iteration retrospectives are often the highest leverage catalysts for change. However, I wondered if I could take some lessons from a pilot’s debriefing for this.

A 2015 HBR article by Doug Sundheim lays out the simple format of these reviews.

There are four key questions:
1. What were we trying to accomplish? Start by restating the objectives you were trying to hit.
2. Where did we hit (or miss) our objectives? Review your results, and ensure the group is aligned.
3. What caused our results? This should go deeper than obvious, first-level answers.
4. What should we start, stop, or continue doing? Given the root causes uncovered, what should we do next, now that we know what we know?

The three things that really help me with these are:

1. Start with Objectives

The key part of this that is different from how I usually run sprint, kaizen, project retrospectives is starting with the objectives over starting with question 4. In Scrum, we start with the “sprint goal” so this is built in. If using a flow based model, the objective is something you need to be explicit about adding into your system. OKR’s can work, or a milestone, or an operations review. The key bit is starting with what you ALREADY agreed was the goal so that things don’t drift off into discussions on the meaning of life.

I’ve seen this often where we argue about what to change, and it’s only until we bubble up one level to discuss what we’re trying to achieve, that we realize where the alignment problem is. Is it Predictability or Innovation we’re after? If you don’t know, you’re not likely to solve it at the “Keep, Stop, Continue” level. If we can start from common objectives, we have greater chance of finding tactics to achieve.

2. Make it routine

The current program I’m leading, we stopped the cadence of the overall (cross team) retrospective. We experimented with doing them after standup, when there was time. Individual teams do it after planning, usually. However, we never ended up doing them. Now that we’re operating in a flow based model using a Kanban system, we identify tickets (features) that are challenged. The question is when to set aside time for debrief.

For pilots, briefing occurs 90 minutes before a flight. Debrief within 30 minutes after. Using the analogy of a post flight debrief, we could set a rule that whenever a feature is moved from “to verify” to “done”, we schedule a retrospective within one day. Or after the feature is live with data, we review.

On the other hand, as Don Reinertsen says, cadence helps lower transaction cost [2] making small batches economically feasible. So, if we schedule each debrief on demand, the cost of getting everyone aligned is higher.

So, now we are experimenting with retrospectives on a biweekly cadence with debriefs and post-mortems on demand. Stories are queued up for discussion, in advance (flowing off our kanban board to another board where we will have improvement meetings). I’m looking forward to what we learn from this. I expect we’ll have better attendance, however I also worry we won’t talk about the “good hops” that happened and why.

3 Make it safe

In the Sundheim article, he explains how the Army teaches you to “leave your stripes at the door”. Bourke in a similar article discusses how fighter pilots will leave off their name tags and rank insignia during debriefs. Why all this attention on safety? Not only is it good for morale, it’s essential to create a learning environment. In an environment where you are fighting for self preservation for your ideas, hide mistakes, and point the finger on blame, you won’t learn. Your lizard brain will take over. As the two year project Aristotle showed at Google, creating psychological safety also correlates strongly with the highest performing teams at Google.

So, in the valley where your boss is already wearing flip flops to work? One thing I do is to borrow a trick from Henrik Kniberg from Lean from the Trenches. He moved his retrospectives to a room where there were only chairs and a whiteboard, no conference room table. [4] It’s strange but it seems to help reduce the finger pointing. The second thing I do is to remind people at the beginning of the meeting that it’s about the process, not the people.

If the folks are new to this, an explicit exercise might be in order. I’ve run secret straw polls ala Ester Derby and discussed Norm Kerth’s Retrospective Prime Directive in pairs. You need to be aware of how much safety is in the room, how much power distance exists and adjust your approach accordingly.

So how do you do debriefs?


[2] Reinertsen, Donald G.. The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development (p. 10). Celeritas Publishing. Kindle Edition.
[3]By DefenseImages, CC 2.0 on Flickr.[4]Henrik Kniberg. Lean from the Trenches (Edward Kraay) (Kindle Locations 747-748). The Pragmatic Bookshelf (358158).

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