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CEO Satya Nadella handed his execs to start defusing Microsoft's toxic culture explains exactly

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella asked members of his executive team to read the book "Nonviolent Communication" after he took over in 2014, in an effort to change the company's culture.

  • At the time, Microsoft was known for having a culture of hostility, infighting, and backstabbing.

  • The book describes how people often fail at describing how they feel, and it's one of the biggest barriers to effective communication.

One of the biggest barriers to effective communication is being unable to describe how you really feel.

That's one of the big takeaways from the book Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made the members of his senior leadership team read when he took over for Steve Ballmer in 2014.

At the time, Microsoft was reeling from bitter infighting, hostility, and internal politics among its highest executives.

Nadella's goal was to transform the company's culture, and so at his first executive meeting, he passed out copies of the 2003 book "Nonviolent Communication" by psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg.

I read "Nonviolent Communication" and realized exactly why Nadella thought it could turn Microsoft around. Although the book has nothing to do with business, it provides a critical lesson in leadership and teamwork.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella did what Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates couldn't.

According to the book, communication between people often breaks down when we fail to accurately convey how we feel.

Often, when we try to express a feeling, it comes out as a judgment or criticism of someone else. For example, if you say, "I feel like I'm being misunderstood," you're not actually expressing a feeling - you're just assessing someone else's ability to understand you. Perhaps the underlying feeling is anxiety, annoyance, or something else.

Likewise, a thought like "I feel unimportant to the people with whom I work" also doesn't express an actual feeling; it simply describes how you think other people are evaluating you. The underlying feeling might be sadness, discouragement, or frustration.

Rosenberg goes on to list several words we often use to describe how we feel that are actually just interpretations of other people's actions. If you catch yourself using any of these words to describe your feelings, he suggests taking a moment to reevaluate the underlying feeling prompting those thoughts.

Words we use to express what other people are doing to us, rather than how we actually feel:

  • abandoned

  • abused

  • attacked

  • betrayed

  • bullied

  • cheated

  • diminished

  • intimidated

  • let down

  • manipulated

  • misunderstood

  • neglected

  • overworked

  • patronized

  • pressured

  • rejected

  • taken for granted

  • threatened

  • unappreciated

  • unheard

  • unsupported

  • unwanted

  • used

On the other hand, here are some of the words that could describe how we actually feel when we evaluate people with those words:

  • alarmed

  • angry

  • anxious

  • ashamed

  • confused

  • disgusted

  • displeased

  • embarrassed

  • exhausted

  • furious

  • guilty

  • jealous

  • miserable

  • nervous

  • resentful

  • sad

  • shocked

  • surprised

  • suspicious

  • terrified

  • uncomfortable

  • uneasy

  • worried

Arming yourself with a better vocabulary for expressing your feelings is key to getting your needs met in any situation, Rosenberg writes.

"When we express our needs indirectly through the use of evaluations, interpretations, and images, others are likely to hear criticism," he writes. "And when people hear anything that sounds like criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack."

For example, imagine the response you might get if you accuse a coworker of insulting you or say something like "I feel so insulted." Now, Rosenberg writes, imagine the response if you clearly articulated your feelings, like in the sentence "I feel angry when you say that, because I am wanting respect and I hear your words as an insult."

"If we wish for a compassionate response from others, it is self-defeating to express our needs by interpreting or diagnosing their behavior," he writes. "Instead, the more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately."

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