We’ve completed our plurk* here in China for this trip!
Our first weekend workshop here in Guangzhou over the weekend included about 35 participants, most of them local, but some from as far away as near Beijing.
We’ve been playing a game early in the workshop to ask folks to sort themselves by when they first learned about NVC. This week, a significant number stood in one area and remarked that they had begun learning NVC “twenty minutes ago”. How wonderful to meet so many new folks interested in communicating with connection!
At the end of the two days, we asked folks to check out with one take away (to protect time and support those who had trains and planes to catch). Almost no one fulfilled our request, with many stating at least 3 insights or take always that they imagine will change their lives, from now on. That kind of feedback makes the efforts and challenges of international travel “worth it” to me!
Today is a long, long travel day. In a few minutes, we will board the train for Hong Kong, then later this evening (8 pm Monday, local time) we take off on the first of three flights home. On Monday at 8 pm in Maui we arrive. Even though we travel for more than 24 hours, we arrive and leave at the same time! This strange time shift continues to blow my mind.
I’m looking forward to coming home and seeing you all again! We intend to offer the Mediation Dojo this Friday.
Savoring our workshop last weekend in Hong Kong gives me the sweet taste of connection and a deeper understanding of how powerful NVC can be to knit connection. About 35 participants joined us for 2 full days of exploring 9 Skills for Navigating Conflict.
We supported people in finding the Zero Step by refining their intention to connect and their awareness of Presence. We got lots of positive feedback. Among my favorites from a social worker: “I had a better session with my client today. My intuition is right…this workshop changed my life.”
Offering NVC in a language other than English has increased both my clarity and my brevity. And to support our interpreters, I slow down, and get to savor more connection. We also get to be lazy trainers since we want folks to have as much time practicing in their own language as possible. Thus we speak less so that they can speak and practice more!
We made new friends and deepened connections we started to forge last summer. Our core team enjoyed many meals together before and during the workshop, and we have continued our connection via Facebook Messenger as well, sharing tidbits of our continuing adventures. I hope we get to go back to Hong Kong someday.
We’ve spent the week in Beijing, learning more about this ancient and vast city. Chinese culture amazes and inspires me. I received so little education about Asia in my Euro-centric education. To see the fruit of 5000 years of culture dazzles my imagination. If you want to learn more, I recommend “The Story of China” with the BBC’s Michael Wood available on Amazon Prime.
And the “view” from China is so different from how this country is portrayed in some of the media. Much of the time, I find it hard to distinguish between “us” and “them”, and instead discover “we”. We all have the same needs, longings, and desires. We all want to be happy and to experience more peace.
You can see some pictures of our sightseeing and training adventures on Facebook. If we are not friends yet, and you’d like to be, please send a request via FB. Although I am concerned about FB intrusion, I don’t yet know of a more powerful strategy to sustain connection with a lot of people with such ease. Do you?
We have two days of training commencing in the morning before heading to Yantai next week.
In the meantime, please consider joining Hawkeye and Becky to continue your learning!
Hong Kong is like island living on steroids. Surrounded by familiar tropical flora like ti trees and hibiscus flowers, the energy of the city vibrates with the constant background buzz of construction. The skyline is dotted with lush green peaks and a myriad of industrial cranes hoisting new skyscrapers in every direction. With a scarcity of land, the only way to go is up!
We arrived here a few days ago with ease even in the midst of Mercury being retrograde. Ease, at least when compared with the potential problems of 24 hours of flights and airports and border crossings. As usual, Hawaiian Airlines shines with Ho’okipa (hospitality) and Aloha.
Our hosts and translators, Chi and Rube, met us at the airport and guided us to our new home. We are staying at a youth hostel (I feel so young!) in a bustling neighborhood ten minutes from the subway system which links all of the islands of Hong Kong. (Can you imagine a subway from Maui to Lana’i and Moloka’i?)
The hostel is a renovated public housing structure built after a catastrophic fire in the 1950’s. We requested comfort and quiet to soothe our jet lag and support the shift of our bodies to a new timezone 6 hours and 1 day in the future. The place fits the bill, and we have quickly acclimated, although we are in bed by 9 pm and up very early.
We’ve spent the first few days playing tourist and preparing for our Nine Skills workshop that begins today. We have about 35 folks coming to learn together with us in the spirit of mutual education. One of the joys of being an NVC trainer is I’m constantly learning from the people who practice with us. Each interaction remains a precious opportunity to practice NVC and enjoy connecting.
Now, off to breakfast, then to the great adventure of navigating the subway again to find our training venue! Please keep practicing, for your attention and intention determines whether you live in a peaceful world or go to war. I pray for peace.
Studying Nonviolent Communication in this dynamic blend of internship and academic study has deepened my understanding and proficiency with communication and self-awareness. The element of being a part of a community that values and actively practices NVC was incredibly stimulating. The multiple practice groups every week offered a dynamic level to my learning, and I also was able to spend a lot of time with NVC facilitators as I worked with NVC NextGeneration. The community element of my program provided the opportunity to absorb knowledge through conversation and collaboration. I also was able to spend time teaching to both educators and students, and through that process my understanding of these skills became much more ingrained in my own understanding. Creating lessons and explaining NVC and mediation in my own words allowed me to engage creativity with these ideas and think of them in new ways.
For instance, during a Peer Mediation Training for 7th graders, I could tell that they were struggling with the concept of “needs” relating to NVC and this lack of understanding was causing them to disengage from being active in the learning process. On the spot, I created an activity for them to understand the material in a way that also allowed them to physically move their bodies and get focused attention. I wrote “I am feeling ____ because my need for ____ wasn’t being met” on the whiteboard, shared a personal example and asked them to each come to the front of the room and share their own experience. One by one, the students came up and shared a story of interpersonal conflict. With some guidance, they stated the emotion they felt and what the underlying unmet need or needs were. They wrote the emotions and the needs on the board, deepened their understanding and became reengaged with the learning. This experience of observing the quality of learning taking place and stepping in to adjust it to better meet everyone’s needs was incredibly empowering and confidence building. I received great feedback from my fellow facilitators, and I directly saw the positive impact I made on the learning process.
I spent the majority of this quarter focusing on and developing a better understanding of the NVC mediation process. Aside from teaching regularly at local middle schools, I attended a weekly Mediation Dojo where I observed and practiced mediation. This focused learning on NVC mediation was very eye-opening into the world of conflict and understanding. I began to see much deeper into my own issues around interpersonal conflict and how there are so many roadblocks to truly understanding someone else, especially in conflict. In the Mediation Dojos, the mediations followed a simple format of going back and forth between the disputants collecting information. The mediator focused on each person one at a time, developing a sense of trust with them through employing curiosity and empathy. The goal of the mediator was to understand how they were feeling and identify the corresponding unmet need.
Mediator (turning to Disputant A): “And how are you doing?”
Disputant A: “Well, I’m angry. I hear her (Disputant B) saying that she didn’t mean to forget about our plans, but it still affects me. I showed up, I wasted my time waiting. And I feel like she doesn’t even care.”
Mediator: “I hear you that you are feeling angry. Are consideration and empathy important to you?”
Disputant A: “Yeah. Totally.”
After finding the need, the mediator then asks the other person to reflect that those qualities are important to them. This would look like:
Mediator: “Disputant B, are you willing to reflect that consideration and empathy are important to Disputant A?”
Disputant B: “Consideration and empathy are important to Disputant A.”
This seems like such a simple process, yet I watched it transform real emotions in a matter of minutes. As I participated weekly in various roles of mediator, role-playing as a disputant or just observing, I began to notice the transformational power of having the disputants repeat what is important to the other. In the last Mediation Dojo I attended, we were working with the conflict between a couple, where A wasn’t feeling accepted by B. After listening to that person speak, the mediator distilled the needs from what A said, in the disputant’s own words, and carried it over to B. “Would you be willing to repeat that A is wanting to feel cared for and valued?” B replied, “A is wanting to feel cared for and valued.” To observe this interaction in any of the roles, it is very noticeable that something shifts in the dynamic of the disputants when their needs are repeated by the other person.
In one of the first Mediation Dojos I attended, we ended up working with a conflict from my own life that I had experienced in relationship with my mom. I played myself in the mediation, and at one point, prompted by the mediator, the person playing my mother repeated my needs while looking in my eyes: “You want to feel free to make mistakes.” Even though this person wasn’t even my mom, I felt like part of me returned to life after hearing some of my deepest needs acknowledged. When there is deep conflict between two people, to hear them say what you really need is nothing less than transformational. I’ve tried to pin down the pieces of what is occurring in that moment; a sense of hope is renewed as the possibility of understanding and connection presents itself, the reflection of needs is validating on a deep level and inspires awareness and empowerment… but there is an elusive element of this moment that goes beyond being able to articulate. In my somatic experience, watching this moment happen between two people creates a portal into indescribable feelings of awe.It feels like infinite possibility and unimpeded hope. It evokes a quality of immortality and light that correlates to my definition of God.The levels of profundity fluctuate mediation to mediation, but this NVC structure creates the opportunity for deep healing, re-connection and hope.
While I was largely learning from experience, I did read two books on conflict resolution that gave tremendous depth to my education. The text Challenging Conflict: Mediation Through Understanding was written by two former lawyers who have extensive experience teaching at Ivy League schools, and now run the Center for Mediation in Law. This book was published with Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, and it is wonderful to know that the information of this book is so highly valued in the academic world. Although I already knew that the act of gaining understanding was a significant piece in any sort of conflict resolution, this book showed me why it’s important and how to assist and empower the disputants to actively engage with its unfolding. I really appreciated the authors’ focus of ensuring that the power remain with the disputants and not to view mediator as any sort of authority figure, like a judge might be seen. This empowerment of the disputants to face their conflict and realize their own resolution ability is the real transformative power of mediation.
Seeking understanding is an act that helps dissolves enemy images. Enemy images are created in our minds as a repercussion of the language of blame and control that we’ve been educated in. Marshall Rosenberg liked to say that we were taught this language because “people who are in touch with their needs do not make good slaves”. As we leave behind this paradigm of power-over language and seek to communicate with compassion and self-empowerment, we no longer need to blame other people when we experience our own needs not being met. This means that in interpersonal conflict, with tools like NVC, we can learn to understand our emotions and needs and extend that curiosity and understanding to the other people involved. Without blame and wanting to control others, we don’t need to create the barriers like enemy images to keep ourselves safe. As I have been studying NVC and cultivating a deep intention for understanding and conflict resolution, I have found it amazing how strongly the program for blame and creating enemy images is ingrained in my thinking. I do my best to only observe this blaming program as it comes into to my awareness, because I know that judging it as ‘bad’ will only perpetuate the blame dynamic and make it harder to move into higher consciousness behaviors.
Cultivating literacy around feelings and needs is the education that can shift the dynamics from dysfunctional to functional relationships. Establishing a sense of self-awareness and beginning to express those feelings and needs are the necessary steps for achieving the deep connection we crave. I see this process as a pivotal learning experience necessary for the well-being of our species. Creating connection to one’s own emotional experience and receiving validation for the basic human needs is an awakening, empowering experience. Partnered with an intention to employ Nonviolent Communication, it is a step towards internal peace. This individual commitment to inner peace is the real first step towards world peace. Participating in this community of NVC and mediation has deeply fed my sense of purpose, meaning and hope for humanity.
This week I had a somatic realization in relation to self-empathy. My partner and I had been talking and the conversation led us to both become slightly triggered. It was a mild upset, but we both needed a little bit of space to cool off. As I sat alone reflecting, I noticed a strong desire for connection. I really wanted to be connected and loving with my partner. At the same time however, I was feeling very angry at him and hurt by some of the things he said. I held these two opposing energies at the same time, comparing the different qualities. The internal conversation went a little something like this:
Me that wants connection: I would really love to just forget this whole upset and just hug and feel connected to him.
Me that wants empathy: Not until he apologizes! He doesn’t even realize how hypocritical he’s being right now! I don’t want to connect with someone who isn’t willing to understand the problem.
Me that wants connection: He is just triggered. He’ll be willing to listen once we’re connected. I am so tired of arguing. I just want to laugh about how silly this all is and relax together.
Me that wants empathy: But he accused me of being the problem and he can’t see that there are two distinct things he’s doing that are causing the problem. I just need to show him how to avoid this in the future. I have the solution that he’s so desperate for, if he would only listen.
Me that wants connection: Telling him how he’s causing the problem won’t help. It won’t get us empathy OR connection. I really want connection right now, more than anything else. I know that empathy will come after.
When I came to this realization, that I deeply wanted to feel connected more than anything else, it didn’t erase my need for empathy. While I felt a stronger energetic pull to be close to him, I still felt the angry pull to separate myself. In that moment, I could tell that he wasn’t in a place that he could listen or give me empathy. So, to meet my goal of connection, I knew I would have to approach him with vulnerability and love. I knew that I couldn’t approach him with vulnerability until the part of me that needed empathy and understanding felt some relief. The teaching of self-empathy hit me in that moment in a way that I’ve never understood it before.
“Of course!” I thought. “This is the salve that I can self-apply on my unmet needs for empathy and understanding.” I knew that this was the solution for re-establishing the connection I was desiring. I put my hand on my heart and touched my emotional wounding.
“Yeah, there is some pain, isn’t there?” Talking to myself in a gentle voice is instantly soothing. “It makes absolute sense that you would feel this way. Anyone would feel this way in your situation.” I nod, and tears well up in my eyes as I switch back and forth between the roles of giving to myself and receiving empathy from myself.
“It’s okay to feel how you feel. I understand. I completely understand and give you full allowance and acceptance to have this pain. Everything you feel is valid.” Big sigh. That usually does it. I consistently need reassurance that my emotions and reactions are valid.
I only needed about five minutes for this process, and then I had enough courage to approach my partner with vulnerability. I approached him, sensing that he was still upset, and all I did was place my hand on his. When I can move through my anger and upset to the point that I’m able to make a loving action of waving the white flag, things usually deescalate quickly from there. Often in situations where I move through my anger quickly, it’s because I didn’t get very triggered. In this case, however, I noticed a strong desire for connection as well as a strong sense of anger. Because I was so committed to reestablishing connection, I was able to proactively engage with my anger and apply self-empathy. The relief that it provided eased the need enough that I could then move into vulnerability and approach my partner with love and openness. I am so grateful for this somatic deepening of a self-empathy practice. It is a great joy when teachings move beyond the level of thinking and come to life in more dynamic experiences.
For me, the word “need” (as a noun) points to the essential, intrinsic energy that impels movement toward survival and thriving within living organisms. In other words, the power that motivates all behaviors.
Essential means “absolutely necessary”.
Intrinsic means “inside, coming from within” the organism. (The dictionary says “belonging naturally”.
Motivational means“spurring action toward a goal or outcome”.
Energy means “that which is non-material and contains potential to sustain and enrich the organism”.
Impels relates to a forward, directional impulse.
Movement implies dynamic, ever-changing motion.
Survival means “to have the necessary resources to continue living.”
Thriving naturally follows survival when abundant resources exist beyond the minimum necessary means to continue life and the organism has access to those resources. Thriving enhances survival as it increases the likelihood of long-term sustainability.
This energy contains a quality of intelligence, wisdom and compassion that continuously scans through observations (both external and internal) and determines whether pain or pleasure exists; it then motivates an organism to move strategically towards that which it senses will reduce pain and/or enhance pleasure. (In other word, sensations signal the organism about the state of its needs from moment to moment. Requests naturally emerge when the organism experiences discomfort, because of the deep impulse emanating from “needs”.)
Additionally, “needs” make meaning for the organism, contributing to learning ever more effective strategies for fulfillment. This is what I mean when I use the word “value”, which is more or less synonymous with “need”.
For me, the word “need” (as a verb) points to two levels:
1. “I need ___________” means “I require ________”, and if I do not get it, I will feel pain or suffer damage or even death.
2. “I need ____________” means “I yearn for a shift from what is, right now, to what could enhance and/or enrich my life; I notice pain in the present and move toward that which I yearn for to reduce my pain and sustain and/or enhance my life. Yearn means to long for. It is interesting for me to note that the archaic definition of yearn is “to be filled with compassion or a warm feeling.”
As I finish this reflection, I remember Marshall’s response to a question I once asked him at a Special Session: Marshall, what comes up for you when you see people in our community arguing about whether “______ is a feeling or a non-feeling” or if “________ is a need or a strategy”? I heard him say, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me at all; we are trying to use a language born from domination. We have not yet invented a language that comes from partnership.”
Certified Trainer for The Center for Nonviolent Communication, cnvc.org
Please join me in a commitment to live from the consciousness that we are one.
Please, let every word that you speak or type be emphatically cleansed of any thought or feeling of separateness before you open your mouth or press “send”. (This in no way implies there is a correct form!)
Please, let every word you hear be filtered by empathy so all you hear is “Please” and “Thank you”.
Please, let every communication express our common aim of living nonviolence and compassion.
May we remember our vision and mission each and every moment, and measure our own actions (and inactions) in relation to those commitments.
Week four of my internship with NVC NextGen is coming to a close, and there are many wonderful moments of learning to reflect on. After attending the last two NVC practice groups, I had experiences of the lessons integrating into my daily life. Last week, Jim and Jori taught about ‘have to’, as in things you feel like you have to do. They guided the group through finding to activities that we feel like we have to do, and then explained how to connect to the need that we are trying to meet through doing that activity. For example, I feel like I have to read my texts for school, but by reading the texts, I am trying get my needs for security and integrity met. We also looked at the needs that aren’t met by these activities and held space both to mourn the unmet needs and celebrate our attempts to meet some of our needs. This process of mourning and celebrating has really affected my thinking; I’ve noticed most of my experiences boil down to either mourning or celebrating something. To allow the space for both to come up naturally has really given me a more balanced view of my life.
Just the other day this lesson became very apparent as I was driving to the store. On the way, there’s a turn that is pretty sharp without much visibility. I can’t remember what I was doing while I was driving, but this particular time there was something taking up some amount of my attention, like drinking from my water bottle or opening Spotify on my phone. I turned the corner without anticipating how sharp it would be, and regrettably I didn’t navigate it with as much precision and attention as I would have liked. Luckily, I was taking it slow, but the woman in the car coming towards me didn’t seem pleased with my driving. I got to the store and parked, and I felt some shame. As I gave more attention to the feeling, I could tell there was a part of me that wanted to ignore and suppress it. Instead, I invoked the quality of mourning, and connected to the needs that weren’t met by my behavior: integrity and safety. When I allowed the mourning to occur, there was much more space for the feeling of shame. I also connected to the needs that I had been trying to meet during my inattentive moment of driving, probably ease and fun. I celebrated my attempt of trying to meet those needs.
A few days later, I was driving another windy jungle road, and I was trying to open a podcast on my phone. I instantly felt a flash of recognition *this behavior has led to mourning my integrity in the past*.It spontaneously arose as a reminder stemming from previously taking the time to mourn my action of distracted driving. As soon as this thought came up, I dropped my phone on the passenger seat. I focused on the road and experienced a surge of joy and celebration for seeing the potential to be out of alignment with my integrity and choosing not to. I didn’t drop the phone out of shame, but for the joy of being connected to my integrity. This experience showed me that mourning unmet needs is incredibly powerful and transformative. We react to unmet needs in so many ways: anger, depression, apathy- but to consciously mourn, to touch your tender heart with empathy and compassion, provides a quality of healing. Mourning unmet needs contributes to self-awareness and consequently self-empowerment. It creates more understanding and consciousness around how to get your needs met and illuminates the pathway to a more wonderful life.
Another experience I had that came to life through NVC teachings was around inviting a conversation. This past Monday, Jim and Jori taught on this subject and we were able to practice our conversation invitations. It seemed simple enough, I thought about it briefly and then said to my practice partner: “Hey, I was wondering if you have some time to sit and chat with me. I have something on my mind and I’d really love to share and hear your thoughts.” I spoke those words once, and then we moved on to something else. A couple days later, this practice re-entered my consciousness. I was in the middle of doing yoga when my partner got home and came into our bedroom. I stopped my practice and said “hi”. That morning, I had had a realization about how my life could be more wonderful, and there was a request I wanted to make of my partner. It wasn’t a “big deal”, but it was more important that just our everyday dialogue.
As I was figuring out how to say it, he kissed me on the head and walked out of the room. As I stood there on my yoga mat and had been about to launch into my spiel, I noticed that when I have something tosay that feels important, I usually just dive right in. Because my partner walked out before I could say anything, I realized: I had been about to invite a conversation. Unconsciously. This was a wonderful realization because it provided more space in my consciousness and allowed me to really think about how I wanted to approach inviting a conversation. What did I really want to say and how did I want to set the tone? And even more importantly, it gave me the space to remember the zero step, or the intention for connection. Jim and Jori coined this term for a precursory step to the nonviolent communication dialogue.
To go into a conversation with an intention to stay connected to the other person is a profound idea. In the situation with my partner, the energy I had been about to come from was very self-centered and independent, thinking only of my needs and requests. When he left the room and I realized I had been about to invite a conversation, I remembered the zero step and it shifted the energy that I would have had the conversation from. Instead of “I realized this, I need this, wow, I’m so excited about this–” I instead would have approached it instead like “I realized this would make my life more wonderful, how does that impact you?” It’s been amazing to have these learning experiences come to life. It is so inspiring that just attending a short weekly practice group can have so much impact in my thinking and behavior. There’s nothing better than the experience of expanding consciousness contributing to more fulfilling relationships!
My guess is before you even finished reading that sentence, you already knew the answer. That ancient childhood joke has become part of how we experience the world at an intuitive level.
Remarkably, for me, the joke contains an important insight into Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
As humans, we intuitively know that every behavior is motivated by a “why”, even the behavior of a chicken.
So, let’s change the joke slightly and consider, “Why did the giraffe** open her mouth?” The answer? To get to “the other side of connection.” We humans intuitively know that opening our mouth (and our ears) supports the connection we need, not only to survive, but to thrive as individuals and as a community. This understanding represents a deep insight into how to live NVC consciousness, how to make living that process more natural, and shines the light of awareness on why NVC seems to fail us sometimes.
Three questions arise:
Why does NVC seem to fail us sometimes?
How can you make living the process more natural?
How does one live NVC consciousness?
First things first: Why does NVC seem to fail us sometimes?Because of the way we have been educated, we habitually open our mouth in the service of correction, rather than connection. We are sometimes quick to judge another person’s behavior as wrong (and ours as right); we scan for people that are bad, and think its our job to straighten them out; we take on the role of moral authority, deciding not only what is or is not appropriate, but also who deserves to be punished or rewarded. We think its our job to play the roles of police, prosecutor, judge, and sometimes even executioner. We may even turn our corrective wrath on ourselves, ruminating about our own bad thoughts or behaviors, then feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious or depressed.
Operating from this intention to correct temporarily blocks the consciousness of NVC. It’s as if we armor our heart with a protective layer of separateness, anxiously scanning for threats and enemies. Tragically, this habit can get in the way of another receiving the contribution that we would like to give. And it gets in the way of getting our own needs met!
So, now looking at the second question, “how can we make living NVC more natural and available?” The quick answer is to notice more often how we naturally live NVC. In other words, train yourself to notice the times when connection flows easily, when you are joyfully receiving another person’s contribution to you and when you are openly giving to another without expectation of reciprocity.
Check your memory right now for instances when you said a genuine thank you, when you offered support to another or when you responded to another person’s request with an open heart. All of those are examples of living NVC. You can make this reality more of your lived experience by simply noting at least three examples of this each day in a gratitude journal. Writing just a three sentence report about “what’s going well” in your life can have a profound impact on well-being.**
My guess is that you live this consciousness more often than you recognize. See what happens if you watch for opportunities to acknowledge and notice gratitude and other life-fulfilling emotions.
Now, to the final and most vital question: How does one live in NVC consciousness?
Three important concepts help us to answer the question:
Clarity of intention
Openness to outcome
Living NVC always happens now. Notice and refine your sense of presence. Presence is actually our default mode. Are you present to the words that you are reading right now? If yes, that is presence. If you notice you are distracted momentarily with a thought of the past or the future, notice that your awareness of that absence happens right now. So, even the awareness of absence is a sign of presence.
Clarity of Intention
Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of NVC, once suggested in a workshop that I attended that if we want to live NVC, the first step is to “know what you want before you open your mouth.”
I used to interpret this to mean that the first step in a communication is to know what our desired outcome is. Now I understand that rather than visualizing or imagining what I want to happen, Marshall was pointing us to a clarity of intention. Knowing which strategy to use to contribute to a need comes later.
Now I endeavor to, keep my focus on what Marshall called “Spiritual Clarity”.
The word spiritual points towards an acknowledgment that we live interdependently. Your needs and my needs co-exist. If I get my needs met at your expense, we will both pay. And the opposite is also true: If you get your needs met at my expense, we both will pay. How do we pay? With disconnection, resentment, and suffering.
Clarity points to a deep and profound connection to this reality of interdependence.
When I live from this quality of spiritual clarity, my behaviors will more likely contribute to making life wonderful for everyone involved.
Openness to Outcome
The natural consequence of Presence and Clarity of Intention is an openness to outcome. We liberate ourselves in advance from any addiction to “one right way” to get our needs met. By staying connected to Needs rather than becoming attached to a specific strategy, we support a flow of connection that inevitably leads to compassionate giving and receiving.
The nickname we give to the combination of these three elemental concepts is “the Zero Step”. The Zero Step points to what we do in our consciousness before using the four components of NVC developed by Marshall (observation, feeling need and request). Ironically, when we live in the Zero Step, the four steps fade away into a naturally connecting language.
So, now we arrive at Marshall’s definition of the purpose of NVC: “To create a quality of connection that inspires compassionate giving and receiving.” And three elements help us to fulfill that purpose:
Presence: What is happening right now? How do you feel right now? Who needs what right now? What would make life more wonderful right now?
Clarity of Intention: Do I want to connect in the service of compassionate giving and receiving? Or do I want to correct? If the latter, the antidote is empathy and self-empathy to regain contact with our Spiritual Clarity.
Openness to Outcome: We finish our expression with a request, not a demand. We only want to receive from another what they willingly want to contribute. If we notice we are attached to an outcome, its a signal we need empathy!
Three quick practices:
Presence: Ask yourself, “Am I aware? What do I see, hear, smell taste, or touch, right now?
Clarity of Intention: Ask yourself, “Do I want to connect or do I want to correct?”
Openness to outcome: Consider any universal human need and make a list of all the ways that need could be satisfied. For example, consider the Need for love: How many different ways have you had that Need satisfied in your life? (A hug, a kind word, a gift, an act of service, spending quality time with someone, etc)**
So, from now, we live with a new awareness that can arise just before we next open our mouth. Where are we going, connection or correction?
We can claim our natural intuition and inclination to contribute to making life wonderful by connecting. Or we can notice, with ever increasing awareness, how our old habits of correction may still run reactively.
Each moment, we choose which destination we seek. And the next moment, we can choose once again.
*Giraffe is the term Marshall Rosenberg used as a nickname for NVC and its practitioners. Since giraffes have long necks, they can easily make observations. And, an anatomical consequence of that long neck is the strongest heart of any land mammal. It takes a lot of power to pump that life-enriching blood up to the brain of the giraffe! Thus, NVC, or giraffe language, is also know as the language of the heart.
*Note: Aubree Henke, a senior at Evergreen State University has recently begun at internship at NVC for the Next Generation. Part of her studies includes periodic reflections on her learning goals and processes. As “field supervisor”, Jim Manske has the opportunity to work closely with Aubree. When he received this first reflection paper, he asked for and obtained Aubree‘s permission to publish it here.*
Where to start! There has been so much opportunity for learning and growth in the first two weeks that I am still playing catchup to assimilate and digest it all. When I’m immersed in a quarter that is chock-full of wisdom, these papers really help me concretize the gems of what I’m learning and provide for good reflection months after I’ve completed the “learning session”. Being a part of an NVC practice group is priceless for my learning and development. To witness others going through the same communication struggles and to see their conflicts broken down with consciousness and empathy is incredibly awakening; it feels as if I am learning kinesthetically. The quality of space that is held for both the celebration and mourning of needs is incredibly impactful. It offers a learning opportunity that isn’t found in studying NVC books. As conflicts are worked out in the practice group and the underlying emotions and needs begin to be named, Jim and Jori both exhibit profound empathy by acknowledging and giving space to the met or unmet quality of the needs. Through observing these experiences, I have begun to cultivate that deepening of presence and empathy within myself. I am so grateful to be a part of this practice group so that I can witness and grow in these subtle qualities of awareness and empathy.
A huge development in my consciousness these past weeks has to do with “dissolving enemy images”. Before being aware of a new language of life, I didn’t realize that casting blame was a choice. It was the way I was taught to relate, it was how I believed the world worked. To acknowledge that everyone is acting out of their own needs, and then have the desire to connect with empathy to see what those needs might be, is still a teaching that is creating roots inside my thinking. There are many tools that I am beginning to utilize to take responsibility for my emotions when I am triggered and casting blame and shame on myself others. It still can be quite a challenge to catch me in this act and change the trajectory of my thoughts. The strategy that is the most helpful right now is to practice radical self-connection and self-compassion. In the past, my thinking framework of blame created a polarity where one person could be right, and the other had to be wrong. Because this belief still lingers in my subconscious, it can be hard for me to create the space and empathy to listen to the other person when I feel triggered. To navigate this roadblock, I internally give myself as much validation and compassion as I can, so that when I begin to listen to the other person I can remember that my viewpoint is also true. NVC is helping me see that each person has a story, and each story is completely valid. I don’t have to decide who is right or who should apologize, instead, I’m learning to acknowledge my emotions, connect with my needs and give myself compassion and time to mourn. When I’m doing this process, I can listen much better and extend empathy for the other person’s unmet needs. Quicker and quicker, I am able to see when I am creating the story of “bad other” and remember to my intention to take responsibility for my emotions and understand the other person’s reality with empathy.
Another thing that I want to celebrate my learning is how my self-talk has changed, specifically around regrettable or unconscious behavior. I have spent much of my life putting others’ feelings before my own, and when I would act in a way that hurt others, the shame spiral would be devastating to my relationship with myself. In the past couple weeks, there have been many times that I have had a very exciting practice of bringing this predicament into my conscious mind. For example, one day I went to my partner while he was working on his computer and began tickling him and talking to him in a silly way. He became agitated and angry. It caused a conflict between us. I retreated into my bedroom, alone.
While I sat on my bed, I could feel my face hot with shame. I realized the shame was coming from my unmet need for conscious behavior and integrity. I hadn’t approached him with clarity about my actions, only a subconscious desire to connect in a playful way. After taking the time to connect to mourning my integrity as well as celebrating my attempt to meet my need for connection and play, I was able to brainstorm ways that I could initiate connection without losing connection to my integrity. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I also feel mourning for the innocence and ease of relating in less-conscious ways, a sense of mourning the passing of childhood. This situation is one that comes up for me often, and I’m learning to sense the desire for connection and sit with it before acting in unconscious ways. Although this new process may not have the quality of ease that it might have in childhood, it does bring a sense of excitement that I am seeing deeper into my behaviors and decreasing my reactivity to my unconscious mind.
I am feeling very excited about this learning opportunity because it connects to so many of my passions and needs. I have a deep commitment to love and compassion, and nonviolent communication is a beautiful way to embody that pledge and create positive change in the world. I also have strong needs for growth and presence, and NVC provides an unfathomable opportunity for those qualities to be employed. Changing the structure of the only language you have ever known is no small task, and there are many lessons that leave me speechless at their subtle profundity. To be able to reshape your language structure takes a great amount of consciousness and it’s those moments where I find myself so present in my experience. NVC is a tool for communication that only benefits; to structure your life with NVC sets up opportunity after opportunity to have a more wonderful life– and that meets my need for hope.
I like Marshall Rosenberg’s definition of empathy for its simplicity and clarity. He says, “Empathy is the respectful understanding of another person’s experience.”
We also distinguish between “empathy”, which focuses our attention and presence on what is alive in another person, and “sympathy”, which shifts the focus to our own experience in a self-reflective way. Sympathy can actually block an experience of empathy.
One other related distinction concerns what is actually happening in our own experience when we are in empathic connection. We are as present as possible to the experience of another person without feeling what they are feeling. Again, feeling what another person is feeling can prevent us from experiencing the depth of empathic connection made possible by utilizing the tools and consciousness of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). We can connect with another person’s experience without having the same experience. For me, the experience of empathy is like “meditation off the cushion”.
This distinction may become clearer if you consider how we are defining feelings, especially about what feelings “mean” in NVC. We define feelings as physical sensations and emotions, “guttural” feelings. We distinguish feelings from “thoughts” or “evaluations”, which can actually block presence to our own feelings or connecting with the feelings of others.
In NVC, we see feelings as signals that give us information about the state of our needs. To oversimplify, when our need is met, we feel a certain range of feelings (often called “positive” or “good” feelings) and when our need is not met, we feel a different range of feelings (“negative” or “bad”). Thus, the cause of our feelings is the state of our needs, not what happens in the outside world, what we call the stimulus or observation.
We define needs in a specific way as well, as “that which is required universally to sustain or enhance life.” We all have the same needs. Words that point to needs tend to be vague or hazy, like “connection”, “contribution”, “learning”, or “sustenance”. We distinguish needs from “strategies” or “satisfiers” which are concrete and specific ways of meeting a need.
One example is the need for sustenance. Humans have invented or discovered about a million ways to meet this most basic of human needs; three strategies are a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet and an omnivorous diet. All strategies to meet a need come with both costs and benefits, and as impermanence is the rule, no one strategy will always work to meet a need. A person committed to a vegan diet may choose to meet their need for sustenance by consuming dairy products or meat if their pain (hunger) is great enough and their options are limited in the moment.
So, when we are training people to empathize, we are helping to clarify these distinctions, along with several more. First we are teaching people to be aware of their own needs and what needs might be met by empathizing with another person. We are also teaching and guiding them in certain practices designed to cultivate skills and awareness around 6 aspects of empathy: presence (attention on the present moment and what is actually happening); focus (on the other person’s observations, feelings, needs and requests); space (creating an opportunity for the other person to explore what is important to them while letting go of our thoughts about “agenda” or “fixing”); verbal reflection (certain language patterns designed to support ourselves and others in maintaining presence, focus and space); sensory acuity to notice “shift” (indicators that another person’s needs for empathy and understanding have been met or are unmet); and finally clarifying requests (assisting the other person by empathizing with what they may want next.)
Certified Trainer for The Center for Nonviolent Communication, cnvc.org
I’m grateful for the feedback I received from my last post. Here comes two new questions recently posed on our trainer group along with my responses:
What does a commitment to nonviolence mean to you?
I enjoy the precision that comes when someone asks for the meaning of a word or concept. I like slowing things down in order to check and see if we are using words in the same way. I sense that some communication conflicts arise because I assume shared meaning when it does not exist.
So, first, I begin with my definitions. This does not imply that they are the “right definitions” nor that they are permanent. Its just how I am using the
words at this moment in my life to point to my direct experience. I honor that you may have the same definition, or that yours may be different.
Commitment means (to me) an agreement I make with myself to align my behaviors with my capabilities, values, beliefs and Identity/Spirit.
As for “nonviolence”, I go with Marshall Rosenberg’s paraphrase of Mahatma Gandhi: “our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart”.
In other words, nonviolence is my nature. My nature is to enjoy compassionate giving and receiving.
Compassionate giving and receiving is nonviolence in action emerging from a consciousness of interdependence.
Violence and compassion cannot exist in the same moment, as far as I can tell in my experience. They belong to two realms which can never overlap, like deep sleep and waking life. Is that your experience?
My practice (of NVC and the rest of my practices) is to undo the education I have received that apparently masks* my identity as the Spirit of Nonviolence and Compassion.
So, I am committed to remembering my nature, refining my intention and focusing on Presence. (This points to what we call “The Zero Step”.)
Do you believe that, as a community, we share this commitment?
I like seeing everyone in our community (and in the world at large) as awakening beings doing the best we can to get our needs met in the midst of an education that hypnotizes us to think we are separate from one another.
My job (commitment) is to see you as Who you are, a whole human being sometimes fractured by the hypnosis of separateness, just like me.
I like to think that in our community we share this view. Based on my direct experience with every certified trainer I have had the joy of meeting since 2000 (about 75), I sense we share my understanding of commitment to nonviolence. This shared commitment has also been demonstrated to me by hundreds of people who have attended our trainings, practice groups and online presentations.
Not only that, I believe the commitment is deep in almost everyone, almost all of the time. The evidence for this is the overall lack of violence in my direct experience.
If I were to look for the existence of violence ** in my own experience, it is very challenging to find an observation. Most of the violence I have experienced occurred before adulthood.
If I extend my experience to what I receive from the media, I notice more violence. This is a violence I impose on myself for entertainment and information. Receiving images and sounds from the media is a strategy I use to meet some needs, and it comes with a cost. When I understand the costs of the strategy, I can find modifications which can preserve the needs met (for information and fun) with less cost (e.g. traumatic impact on my the well-being of my nervous system, enemy images, anxiety.).
For example, I endeavor to keep a balance of inspiring and informative news and movies with themes that support well-being, learning and fun. When I choose consuming violence for fun, I bring warmth to myself and others as we process what we have experienced. For example, we recently went to see the latest Star Wars movie, and afterwards debriefed the film with our friends with an attitude and an environment of empathy.
I’m left with some amazement: its hard for me to imagine going to almost any movie with the word war in it, yet I have been consuming Star Wars for almost 40 years. It helps me to connect to the malignant success of the education I received, and to how the “myth of redemptive violence”*** still plays out in my thinking.
So, the essence of my direct experience is that violence is rare, and becoming rarer. Most of the violence I endure is invited by me.
This is not to lessen the traumatic impact of violence that you have suffered. Every one of us has a different violence profile.*** No matter what your profile looks like, do you agree that you have choice about how you process that violence? Does it make sense to you that empathy and warmth can soothe and heal you? Does your commitment to nonviolence support your healing and well-being?
I look forward to learning from you whatever you would like to share in response to these thoughts.
* In NVC we nickname the thoughts that mask our interdependence “jackal” or “life-alienating communication”. Examples include moral judgments of right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate, who is to blame, and who deserves what. These patterns of thinking are the hangover from an education rooted in separateness.
Final note: You may be left wondering, “What happens when we don’t fulfill our commitments? What about if someone else doesn’t keep their agreement? How does NVC approach this?” Stay tuned! That’s what I intend to write about next week!
Certified Trainer for The Center for Nonviolent Communication, cnvc.org
Since I am a certified trainer with The Center for Nonviolent Communication, I have the benefit of participating in an online discussion group with my colleagues. Recently one trainer asked the rest of us for feedback on some questions she had received from organizers of a project she was working on. Here are the answers that came up for me as I considered her questions.
Q: Do any kind of ethical instructions exist about applying NVC?
For me, NVC is our natural, human language, so I get curious about natural ethics* . Five ethical principles emerge as I consider this question:
Nonviolence: The “ethics of NVC” are first and foremost to intend no harm. When harm occurs accidentally, NVC can be used for repair work and healing.
Self-responsibility and freedom: The “ethics of NVC” require self-responsibility. I feel ___________ because I need _____________. NVC, for me, is designed as a strategy to support me in connecting to my own feelings and needs and taking responsibility for them. NVC is NOT designed to tell other people what they should or should not do. NVC offers expanded choice, it does not limit choice.
Interdependence: The “ethics of NVC” require me to remember that my needs do not exist in a vacuum; rather my needs are interdependent with yours. I do not want to get my needs met at your expense, nor do I want you to get your needs met at my expense.
The Zero Step: The “ethics of NVC” require me to remember the intention of NVC (to support a quality of connection that inspires compassionate giving and receiving) and the attention of NVC, the present moment. My partner Jori and I use a nickname for this essential combination, the Zero Step.*** In other words, what comes before we “use” the model or the process? This, for me is the whole key to NVC. When I remember the Zero Step, all of the rest of NVC flows naturally.
Safety and Protection: Although the intention of NVC is connection, that connection can occur only if there is safety. Thus, assessing safety and following up with protection, if needed, must come before connection. (i.e. the protective use of force.****)
Q: To whom does NVC suit and in what life situation?
In my experience, NVC is suitable in all life situations where I can connect to the ethics pointed to above. NVC works best when I am committed to its practice rather than expecting another to comply with the model or the process.
I have “used” NVC with pre-verbal babies, non-verbal plants, animals and objects, people with more or less structural power than me, with friends, my life partner, my parents, my kids, strangers; even people with a mental health diagnosis; but mostly with me.
The main criteria, that I heard from Marshall during a private conversation are:
1. Are you speaking and acting from your own experience?
2. Is your practice of NVC contributing to well-being?
Q: When should NVC not be applied for a reason or another (eg. bad physical or mental health situation)?
It seems the skill of discernment answers the question of when to “use” empathy or honesty. I notice my discernment emerges from my self-connection, so we focus much of our training on developing self-awareness (and the Zero Step).
Q: Are there any risks about applying NVC (have they been surveyed, can they be predicted)?
I am not aware of any studies or experiments that identified risks or harms related to practicing NVC. I have had experiences when my proficiency of NVC has been lacking and caused harm.**
Using NVC is vulnerable! (Not using NVC is vulnerable, too!). We human beings are remarkably vulnerable, but we are also powerful in our resilience!
Q: Have situations been examined when NVC is hard to use/apply?
For me, NVC often seems hard to use and apply, and I’ve been a practitioner for 17 years and a certified trainer for almost 15. NVC is designed to navigate conflict (among other things) and conflict is hard!
What makes NVC hard to use are the residual effects of the programming or education I have received. The emotional slavery built into our existing cultural system (that claims and worships separateness) means, in my experience, that almost every communication is a challenge. Even expressing an NVC “apology” or gratitude can have unexpected effects!
NVC is certainly not a panacea.
There is no such thing as a perfect strategy, and after all is said and done, NVC “is” a strategy. Any strategy comes with costs and benefits, yes?
It is a powerful strategy for fulfilling its purposes:
To create and sustain a quality of connection that inspires compassionate giving and receiving;
to promote the healing of separateness and emotional slavery;
to create more honest and empathic relationships;
to resolve conflicts harmlessly;
to inspire social change that meets more needs at less cost than the present state.
In my experience it does not always “work” in the way that I would like, at least within the time frame I wish it would. Even as I celebrate the success I have with NVC, I’m left with the sweet pain of mourning how often I fall short of my own aspirations to live the Zero Step, to listen empathically and speak authentically and vulnerably, and especially to treat myself and others with compassion.
I wonder if any of this is helpful, and as always I look forward to your responses!
*I like using the word “ethics” as opposed to “morals”.
For me, ethics emerge from an internal place, focused on our own values and universal needs. No external enforcement of ethics is required because we are naturally sensitized to the feelings and needs that emerge from congruence or incongruence with our values. In other words, when we act outside of our values, we naturally feel pain!
For me, morals derive externally from a set of rules imposed by Authority which must be enforced using punishment and reward. In the face of moral Authority, we seem only to have the choice to submit or rebel.
** Ultimately, using NVC and things like it are quite “harmful” from the point of view of the Powers That Be. Once a critical mass of people live NVC consciousness, I believe all existing social structures will “fall apart” if they rely on punishment and reward as the motivators. From the point of view of the Powers, that is a disaster, and they will likely suffer terribly. (To learn more about The Powers, see Walter Wink’s books.)
***Zero Step is a concept we learned at the first NVC practice group we ever attended. As far as I know, the term was coined by Mel Schneider who offered a session with that title on that evening. I will be forever grateful to Mel. (An article on the Zero Step is coming soon!)
****The protective use of force seems to me one of the least understood parts of NVC for many people. I recommend reading Chapter 12 of Marshall’s book “NVC: Language of Life”.
Certified Trainer for The Center for Nonviolent Communication, cnvc.org
Once we learn a communication tool like NVC, our enthusiasm can extend to a heartfelt desire to share it with others. We imagine that if we are benefiting from the tools of empathy, honesty and self-connection, those we love and care for will also. We notice that our own compassion increases and our psychological suffering decreases. Of course, we want that for those we love!
Sometimes this can actually increase the likelihood of conflict, though.
Soon after we first learned NVC, our daughter returned home for a visit after time away at college. I enthusiastically engaged in “connecting conversations” liberally sprinkled with the mechanical use of observations, feelings, needs, and requests. I said things like, “Hello, dear one, when I notice you have just arrived home and are calling your boyfriend before engaging with me, I feel disappointed and frustrated because I need to connect! Would you be willing to put that phone down and hang out with us?”
Our daughter replied, “Who stole my parents and left you here?” Perhaps I answered with, “Oh, what are you observing? I think you are evaluating me. Can you be concrete and specific about what you are seeing and hearing? Would you be willing to tell me what you feel and need and make a clear and present request?”
She cried, “My God, what workshop did you attend now?” As she walked to her room and closed the door behind her.
When she regained her willingness to emerge from her room, perhaps I greeted her with, “Gosh, dear, it would have been nice if you would have empathized with my needs before just walking away! My jackals are saying its rude to shut the door in my face! Don’t you know I have feelings and needs, too? Would you like some support in learning how to connect with me, NVC-style?”
She, of course, returned to her room, maybe to have a “normal” conversation with her boyfriend on the telephone, perhaps feeling confused and frustrated, maybe longing for a sense of comfort and connection, affection and acceptance.
Meanwhile, I fumed in frustration, wondering about our failure to connect. My mind raced with both self-judgment (“I can’t even communicate with my own daughter! How could I ever contribute to peace in the world?”) as well as judgments of her (“Can’t she appreciate that I am trying to connect? She’s so ungrateful and self-centered! After all I have done for her! Doesn’t she know I’m the one who pays for that cell phone? And her car expenses? Jeesh!”)
It appeared to me that NVC had made things worse, not better. My judgments even went toward NVC: “What kind of communication method makes things worse the moment you start using it? There must be something wrong with NVC!”
Somehow, I regained the wisdom to put NVC mechanics away realizing that I had a lot to learn, and returned to “normal” conversation, surviving the Thanksgiving break. I’m grateful for the support of my wife, who no doubt gently coached me to cool it with jargon. I clearly saw that attending a brief workshop with Marshall was not enough to become an overnight expert. We needed a community of practice and support. We started attending our local practice group, the next step in a long journey of integration that still continues almost 17 years later. We also looked for ways to hang out with more experienced practitioners, joining the Planning Team that organized local workshops for Marshall and other trainers. We also dove into trying to integrate NVC into our mediation practice. We discovered more ease with using NVC with other people’s conflicts!
One important insight from that integration is the realization that practicing NVC is an inside job and does not require others to change their behaviors, capabilities, beliefs or values. In other words, in only takes one person to practice NVC!
If I knew then what I have learned since, the interaction with my daughter would have been quite different. I would have practiced “stealth NVC”, with the goal of never revealing that I was “doing NVC” and free of the expectation that she “do NVC” either. I would have started with my own “zero step”, in other words doing my best to connect with the intention of NVC to create a quality of connection that inspires compassionate giving and receiving inside me!
Here’s a couple of ways I could have practiced. First, I wish I had written down all those judgments. Writing down judgments sharpens the skill of observation. Then I could have examined each judgment and empathized with myself. For example, when I tell myself, “I can’t even communicate with my own daughter! How could I ever contribute to peace in the world?” I notice I feel exasperated and long for a sense of competence. I need connection and peace!”
Another way to practice is a “do over”. A “do over” is a practice method imagining the same scenario using NVC consciousness, exploring how it might be different:
Here comes my “do over”:
First, before our daughter arrives, I spend some time giving myself some empathy, maybe giving and receiving empathy from my wife. I notice I’m feeling nervous, needing connection and ease in this “welcome home” event. I take my time, savoring these needs, enjoying the longing for connection, anticipating the joy of our reunion. This is like my “zero step”, contacting the consciousness of NVC. I notice calm arising in me. I feel alert…and I feel open to outcome, wondering what will happen when she walks in the door…
Me: “Welcome home! I’m so glad you are here! Would you like a cup of tea or something to eat?”
Her: “I’m not hungry.”
She picks up the phone and starts to talk to her boyfriend.
I notice my disappointment and frustration. I give myself some silent empathy: I tell myself, “Aw, Jim, are you so longing to connect with your daughter. Do you want to spend every precious moment of this time connecting with her, having fun, learning what she has experienced at school?” As the sense of self-acceptance grows within me, its easy to shift my empathy toward her. I imagine she is longing for connection with her boyfriend…I feel compassion and understanding, realizing she needs the same thing as me. I feel such connection…I actually want her to connect with her boyfriend, imagining she will be happier if she gets what she wants. I want nothing more than her happiness! Of course I want to be with her, and I feel patient, savoring that she is safe, at home, with me.
After a 15 minute conversation with him, she says, “What a jerk! He says he’s too busy to see me, he would rather be with his friend.”
Me: “Ouch! I guess you feel hurt and disappointed, you want to hang out and connect with him!”
Her: “Yes! I’ve been looking forward to being with him. I’ve been away from him for so long, and I won’t be home for long! Why can’t he think of anybody else but himself!”
Me: “Awww…You really long to be cherished. You want to use the precious time you have to enjoy one another.”
Her: Crying softly, “yes!”
Silence follows, she reaches out for a hug and I hold her…
Now, re-reading my imaginary dialog a sense of warmth enfolds me. Even though the original “real” dialog happened almost 17 years ago, the feelings I have right now are what is most real for me. I feel inspired and empowered to try to use NVC in conflicts that arise in my life. I cherish the power of the “zero step” to cultivate warmth, presence and open-hearted connection. And, I still have the “do over” in my tool box for the inevitable moment when I blow it again, and slip from the consciousness of compassion and slide towards correction.
How do you feel reading this? Can you imagine how shifting from “doing NVC” to “being NVC” might contribute to your well-being? Do think that using the “do-over” might contribute to your learning and integration?
I’m open to receiving your responses and reactions!
What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.
-Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Can you imagine that? What would the world be like if there was flow between all of us based on “mutual giving from the heart”? Can you think of a more effective and reliable strategy for peace than making sure everyone’s needs are met reliably and abundantly? Are there any models for us to follow that could inspire this quality of compassionate giving and receiving?
There are likely many such models. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you catch yourself living in this world of compassion every day if you look carefully. I agree with Marshall when he says that “it is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving in a compassionate manner.”
Can you remember some acts of giving today? Practically any act of kindness counts, even a smile or a hug given to a family member; a kind word to a stranger at the grocery store or post office; retrieving something that someone has accidentally dropped and giving it back to them; giving a whole-hearted gratitude or even a tip in acknowledgment of the connection you feel with a person serving you. Even a friendly word to your dog or giving your kitty a scratch in her favorite spot. You’ve probably racked up more than 10,000 acts of compassion in your life!
And, you probably would like to be more effective in compassionate giving and receiving, or you wouldn’t keep reading this! For inspiration, let’s look at the ultimate model.
Ho Ho Ho!
The cultural superhero of this consciousness is of course Santa Claus. No other being, whether mythical or real, embodies compassionate giving and receiving more than St. Nick.
First, he enjoys listening to others express their needs. Imagine the excitement of a child climbing onto Santa’s lap and betraying her secret wishes. Nowadays, these wishes are often encrusted with layers of consumerism and materialism, but Santa hears more deeply. I imagine he connects to the needs each child expresses underneath the strategies of the latest toy or game craze: Fun, Connection, Belonging, Love…do you have other guesses?
I do not know of a more compassionate gift then deeply listening to the needs of another person without any expectation of reward or fear of punishment. Do you? In NVC, we call this kind of listening “empathy”.
Second, Santa hears only requests instead of demands. Santa understands in a deep way that he is not the exclusive and only strategy to fulfill another’s needs. If his bag of goodies does not contain exactly what another has asked for, he trusts that a multitude of other bags (strategies) exist that can fulfill the other’s needs. Santa has transformed scarcity into abundance!
Third, he also understands that requests people make to him are made with an open heart. In other words Santa hears something like, “I would really enjoy this toy Santa, and I understand that there are millions of others who may have similar requests. I trust you Santa, that you will give to me only that which you can enjoy giving!”
When Santa hears requests in this way, I’ll bet his whole body relaxes. There is no need to guard against giving a gift that you cannot give. There is no need to fear the resentment that comes with obligation or threat of punishment. Santa understands and conveys that there is a “yes” behind every “no”. The yes points to needs that we all share.
Fourth, Santa understands the joy of giving. Imagine what goes on in Santa’s mind as he checks his list, matching requests with resources and lovingly placing gifts under the tree or in the stocking. His joy must be boundless as he does not even need to watch the enjoyment of the child receiving a particular gift. I imagine Santa savoring second hand joy “in advance”, as he empathizes with the feelings and needs of the child receiving their heart’s desire hours after Santa has dropped off the gifts.
One image Marshall often used to convey this is the “joy of child feeding a hungry duck.” Who’s having more fun as the child offers bread crumbs to ducks in the local pond, the kid or the ducks? Both are enjoying the interdependence of giving and receiving. The child does not leave the pond thinking, “now that duck owes me!” There is never a hangover of resentment for a gift given from the heart.
Finally, Santa feels enriched by the opportunity to give! When children ask him for support in fulfilling their needs, Santa feels grateful because they have given Santa the opportunity to give to them. This is a virtuous cycle of hearing from another what would make their life more wonderful, then fulfilling their hearts desire triggering gratitude and joy in both give an receiver, and empowering both to ask for their needs to be met in the future. This is the flow Marshall dreamed of.
How can you participate and embody the consciousness of Santa?
Look for and make opportunities to listen deeply to others. How about you find a practice buddy and share speaking and listening for 30 -60 minutes each week? Who could you call right now to set something up?
Be on the alert for you hearing another person make a demand. If you hear a demand, take responsibility for how you heard it. Transform the demand into a request by connecting what the other person is asking for into their needs. See that the idea they expressed to you is just one of a multitude of possible ways to get their needs met.
Be willing to say “No” by revealing what you are saying “Yes” too. For example, if someone asks you to attend a holiday party with them and you feel unwell, consider saying something that conveys your empathy for the other’s request, expresses the needs you are attending to, and offers an alternative way for the other to get their needs met. “I imagine you want to have fun together at the party. I’m feeling exhausted and need to take some time to recharge my batteries by myself. How would you feel about asking Bill to go with you instead of me? I understand he is eager to meet new people.”
Pay attention and savor your acts of compassionate giving. Each gift you give is an opportunity to celebrate and feel joy. See how many times you can catch yourself each day giving a gift whole-heartedly. Write them down in a gratitude journal, expressing gratitude to yourself for creating the world you want to live in!
“The more we pay attention, the more we’ll recognize the trance of separation and, from a deep longing for connection and freedom, start examining the causes. But that desire needs to become intentional; we have to want to understand the landscape of what has happened in this country and what’s actually shaping our own limited sense of identity. We need to ask ourselves, “What is it that I’m not seeing?” And if we sincerely want to know the answer—if we want to wake up—we will open our eyes and our hearts. We will begin to free ourselves from the suffering of separation, act in ways that serve the healing of racism, and discover the blessings of realizing our true belonging with each other.”
…Although this was very tender for her, she wasn’t bringing it up for empathy or sympathy. She was bringing it up because she wanted to find a way to transform her thinking about what her sister had shared with her, so she would know what to do with the violent thoughts that were populating her mind and challenging her commitment. Out of respect for her dignity and choice, I never asked for the specific nature of the thoughts.
Anita is part of a very small tribe of people who are fully committed to nonviolence: in thought, word, and deed. There are many people who are committed to nonviolence in action; far fewer are committed in word; and way fewer are committed to nonviolence in thought. Since leadership, for me, entails inspiring others by what we are able to model, if we are committed to nonviolence in thought, and we make our inner struggles known to others as Anita did that day, we act as leaders. What we are modeling is how we can support ourselves, others who have been harmed, the communities around us, and the world at large, without creating new cycles of violence.
The practice of nonviolence begins, for real, precisely when our actions, words, or thoughts are not aligning with our commitment. Because, as I finally understood recently, our capacity often lags behind our commitment. This does not mean we are not truly committed; only that we need more practice…
It is difficult to understand NVC without first opening up to the place of vulnerability. That word vulnerable has two meanings for me; one from a place of acceptance within yourself and an openness to explore reasons. Without this openness of being vulnerable NVC would just be a word or a concept for me, and not a practice.
One of our facilitators shared with the group that we cannot show true empathy (verbal and nonverbal) and self-expression in a healthy manner without understanding our connection to self. When we can truly connect internally to our own feelings and needs, we can then listen for and reflect on the other person’s needs and feelings (empathy). When we are connected to the self, we know how to request our own feelings and needs.
“In the Nas song “Rewind,” there is a part in the beginning when he says, “the bullet goes back into the gun. ”
As a former inmate who celebrated his one-year anniversary out of prison this month, I wish I could rewind and undo every violent experience I’ve had: a prison guard stripping me naked and requesting I spread my body out so he could ensure I wasn’t being used to smuggle contraband, the officer who threw me to the ground when he arrested me, putting his knee in the back of my neck because he thought I was a dangerous murderer with a weapon, even way back to the traumatic experience my auntie acted out against me what she could not express in words to empathetic ears.
During my one-year anniversary out of prison at a Welcome Home Ceremony organized by Freedom Project early this month, I realized that behind our pain — under our violent experiences, grief and loss — we actually find our true essence and power as human beings.”
“At an NVC parenting class I recently attended, I had the opportunity to go over an exchange that I had with my two year old son. The exchange with my son had left me feeling frustrated and sad, as well as at a loss for how to deal with his refusal to cooperate with me in the morning.
I just wanted a way to work together with my son that was respectful, and effective at getting him dressed!
After reviewing the scenario with the trainer, we then created a redo of the exchange to look at what I could try doing differently. I then “tried on” the idea of checking in with myself before reaching the boiling point of my frustration. I would simply pause to see what my own needs were in that moment. In this process I was able to identify what was really important to me in the situation. I then reflected on what needs were being unmet for me (the actual cause of my frustration), and what was really going on for my son, what was motivating him.
It was suggested that I also take a moment to notice that he was in fact only playing a game, and connecting with where he was at. In this case I could say, “Ah, seems like you are having a fun game right now?”
He was playing his “you cant get me game”, and I was needing to take care of myself and feeling unable to.
My frustration began melting in the realization that underlying my need for cooperation, was my need for my son’s and my own well being, i.e.; getting him dressed warmly, and myself fed.
I took this practice home and tried applying it right away, my son noticed a difference in my approach and our level of cooperation, and even more importantly to me, our level of connection improved tremendously! All of this shifted in mere moments. It turns out, cooperation and respect are only possible when both of us are feeling connection first.”
by Joy Parker-Brown, NVCnextgen Parenting Class attendee
And warm wishes on this national holiday of gratitude!
To support peace and connection this Thanksgiving, please consider these tips for navigating your celebration with peace.
Start with gratitude! (Details below!)
Empathy before Education.
Consider reflecting what is important to the speaker before educating them on your view. For example:Guest A says: “I’m so happy Trump was elected! Now we can get our country back!”
You respond: “So, for you, you are feeling hopeful that the results of the election will help our citizens?”
Guest A says: Yeah!
You say, “Thank you! For me, I feel ____________________, because ________________ is important to me! I imagine you share that value as well! How do you feel hearing that?” Then, back to “Empathy Ears”!
At the end of the day, consider ending with gratitude and a celebration of our connection.
“I’m so grateful that we had this opportunity to share some time together. It met my needs for community, celebration, and inspiration!”
And here’s some specific tips on sharing and receiving gratitude in a powerful way.
Compliments are often judgments – however positive – of others, and are sometimes offered to manipulate the behavior of others. With a compliment we are telling someone what they did right as opposed to wrong. Both are judgments and are life-alienating statements. NVC encourages the expression of appreciation solely for celebration.
Three Components of Appreciation
What specifically did someone do that made your life more wonderful?
What need(s) were satisfied?
How do you feel right now as you consider the fulfillment of those needs?
Sometimes when we offer appreciation and gratitude like this, people feel shocked and surprised to hear it, so it’s recommended that we add a request asking for a reflection back of what was just expressed. “How do you feel hearing that from me?”
Example: Observation — Sam and Tina spent 3 weeks creating the surprise birthday party for Laura. They made call after phone call and tracked down her friends to invite them to share in the fun. Laura was surprised.
Consider the difference between:
Laura: “Gee, thank you Sam and Tina. I want to compliment you on a great party.”
With NVC: Laura: “Sam and Tina, I’m so grateful (feeling) to both of you for putting this surprise together for me (what they did). It has been so much fun (need). I really enjoyed (feeling) seeing and connecting (need) with all my friends and cannot remember having so many of them all in the same place at the same time. You’ve really contributed to my life and made my birthday special. For this I am grateful.
Receiving Appreciation and/or Gratitude
When we receive appreciation expressed in this way, we can do so without any feeling of superiority or false humility by celebrating along with the person who is offering the appreciation. Kelly Bryson, in his book, Don’t Be Nice, Be Real, says, “If we do not need approval, then what do we do when others compliment us? Compliments are one of the great joys in life and are an important way of learning about how we are affecting others.” He suggests:
When you receive a “compliment” from someone, consider asking:
What you said or did that they are reacting to
What needs were met by this (or empathize to discover this)
What feelings s/he is having about this
If you were a contractor, someone might say, “Great job on the plaster!”
You might respond with, “Wonderful, what did you like about what I did?”
Listen for needs met in their response and check them out. You hear, “Well, you got everything done in the time you said you would, the color matches perfectly, and you cleaned up when you were done!”
Now ask or empathize to discover what feelings they are having about getting that need(s) met. “Are you grateful that the work got done with ease, and that your hopes for beauty have been realized and that order has been restored?”