Marshall Rosenberg and the Angry Luthier

Collaborative Communication has an interesting parallel with systems theory.

An AI-generated image in traditional Japanese style of a luthier examining a koto.
A luthier examining a koto. Image generated with AI by DALL-E.

In A Developer’s Guide to Collaborative Communication, I discuss Marshall Rosenberg’s approach to cultivating understanding and resolving conflicts without blame.

Recently, I recognized an interesting parallel with the concept of the black box in systems theory, specifically signal processing.

In signal processing, a black box applies a transfer function between an input and an output. To understand this function, we need to measure its response to an impulse of a (theoretically) infinite amount of energy in an infinitely short amount of time.

The impulse response fully describes the transfer function of the black box.

Soon after learning about signal processing in college, I was a luthier’s workshop to have my cello examined. When the luthier started knocking on it, I understood that he was black box-testing: using impulses (knocking) in order to understand its acoustical behaviour. He immediately found an issue: a hair fracture in the soundboard.

Collaborative Communication could be based on a similar idea. In the article I mentioned above, a stimulus (a project manager’s incessant talking) triggers a feeling (annoyance). Intuitively, we blame the project manager as the source of the problem. But in doing so, we do not resolve or learn anything. What systems theory and Collaborative Communication tell us, is that the information is in the response, not in the stimulus.

So if someone gets under your skin, they are merely “knocking” on your system. The knocking holds no inherent information. The information is in your feelings. They reveal valuable insights about the self — about what’s alive in you, about your needs.

Stay informed of new posts?

Sign up below and you will receive a weekly digest of new posts.

If you change your mind, you can unsubscribe at any time. You will not be spammed, and we will keep your email address private.

Article index