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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: