In this season of Michaelmas, we have a lot to be grateful for and a lot to stand up for. While we all strive to do our best, to reach for the highest in ourselves and to recognize and support the highest in our colleagues, students and their parents, at the same time we are called to take initiative and pursue the highest in our work in a growing culture of materialistic thinking.
As the educational community endlessly debates the effectiveness of high-stakes, standardized testing at all levels, we move forward with effective individual qualitative assessment for all our students.
As schools buy into founding their curriculum upon, and spending millions of dollars on textbooks, we practice every day the art of living, teacher-led inquiry and real-life experience.
As the nation embraces ever more and more technology in the classroom bumping out the essentials of art, movement, and manual arts, we tread the path of a fully integrated artistic and physical education rich with opportunities for all students.
As the educational process becomes more and more programmed and mechanical, we leave the teachers free and responsible to connect each handcrafted lesson to each individual student.
This education philosophy was in the beginning, and continues to be every day, revolutionary. It is truly an education for the future. It is not old and it never will be. Each day teachers across the globe recreate it and make it new.
The impulse for this comes not from following a curriculum, but from doing the hard work of continually growing and developing ourselves inwardly, socially and in our work.
It is not an idea. It is a path of learning to think with our hearts. It makes perfect sense and yet it is illogical. It works beautifully and yet it is impractical. It is disconnected from much of the educational world and yet deeply connected to the future of humanity. It is simple and profound each day and yet it is complex and difficult. It asks us each day to go further in our imagination, our courage and our sense of responsibility.
May we all be renewed this Michaelmas as we work, as we practice, as we stand in the world for what is good. This is the call of the spirit of Michael. And this is worth celebrating.
Keep in touch,
These are the guidelines one school works with to create healthy conversations. When things are not going well, emotions are high, and so on, it is likely that one or more of the fol- lowing is not occurring.
1. Speak from your experience only, therefore the “I.” Be clear whether you are speaking about actual occurrences or things you have made up, conjectured or projected.
2. Connect your comment with those of the previous speakers, thereby building a cohesive conversation.
3. Paraphrase the previous speaker’s comments, if there is unclarity or when the con- nection is not obvious.
4. Address your comment to a specific person in the circle.
5. Leave pauses between comments.
6. Make one point only, thereby allowing others to contribute to the conversation.
7. It is the aim for all people in the circle to contribute to the conversation.
My commitment to the group:
• I will speak to what is important to me (thoughts, feelings, observations) in a timely manner and in a non-accusatory or non-judgmental way.
• I will be direct and specific in all my communications by using recent examples based on my experience.
• I will speak from my experience only, (not from hearsay or interpretation) and therefore speak from the “I.”
• I will paraphrase the main point of the previous speaker, especially when there is emotional content, or when I seek further clarity, or when I intend to change the subject.
• I will not interrupt when others speak.
• I will only ask questions for clarification or when I need more information.
• I will use appropriate self-disclosure to share my feelings and thoughts.
• Whenever possible, I will disclose the assumptions and motivations that underlie my ideas, comments, and actions.
• I will actively and in a timely manner solicit feedback from others on my behavior, comments and ideas.
• I will only provide feedback after given permission from the intended recipient.
• I will honor each member of the group, and leave that person free to accept or reject any or all aspects of the feedback.
• I will honor confidential information.
• I will be punctual and honor the meeting times.
Conceptual Guidelines on Healthy Written Communication
• All communication (facsimile, telephone, written, e-mail and oral)
shall be direct, factual and honest, timely, helpful and kind. It is
the responsibility of both parties to insist that the information pass these simple guidelines. It is also the responsibility of both parties to keep the content clear of the third person, i.e., he said, she said.
• If someone has a complaint with someone and does not get satisfaction from an interaction directly with that person, he is encouraged to get mediation help from the office or another party. If that does not satisfy both parties, there are three people to call: College Chair, Faculty Chair and Board President.
• Communication coming to the office will be given directly and only to the one to whom it was intended.
• Information with third party concerns shall not be disseminated from the office. There will be no memo gossip.
These helpful guidelines are from the Young Schools Guide by AWSNA which can be found in the Resource Section of the LeadTogether site and at the Online Waldorf Library.
Communication is the key element in any relationship – personal or professional. How we speak to each other, listen to each other, understand each other, determines how well we live and work together, whether it is a friendship, marriage, working relationship, parent to child relationship or teacher to child relationship.
My friend and I are going out to dinner; she hasn't been out of the house for six weeks since she had her new baby. She has her heart set on a restaurant where I don't particularly like the food. Serious dilemma? Not really. I can always find something to eat, and my friend is a happy person.
I am irritable and nervous. The book chapter I promised to write is due in a week. The children have music lessons, Halloween is almost upon us, and everybody has to eat. My husband is a busy person as well, but he "hears" my unvoiced cry for help. He takes the children out for the weekend and leaves me free to meet my deadline.
A colleague comes into my office to discuss a complicated issue. I can see that he is not having a good day. Is this the time to discuss it? No! It is not
fair to him, myself or the issue. I suggest that we talk tomorrow over coffee and cake. Sharing a meal or dessert adds warmth to the process of communication. Does this mean that we will agree on the issue? Maybe not, but we may more easily come to a compromise.
My children are nine and twelve years old. During their early years we were very conscious and conscientious about diet, medical advice, clothing, toys and the media, but as they grow, can we keep reflexively saying no to all their requests? Probably not. So we begin regular family meeting sessions discussing allowance, limited TV viewing, their responsibility around our home. We come to a compromise having discussed the issues together. Everyone is happy until the next meeting when a new issue comes up!
It is important that we are sensitive to the other person or people in a working group. It is so convenient for us when all we can see is our own agenda. It requires consciousness and skill to actively listen. In reading a newsletter from the Green Mountain Waldorf School, I came across a statement by Carl Rogers:
"The major barrier to interpersonal communication lies in our very natural tendency to judge; to approve or disapprove of the statements of the other person, or to evaluate them from our point of view. "
Every chapter in this book addresses communication in some way. The successes and difficulties of any of these groups or processes, all depend on how we relate to one another, how we truly hear what our colleague is relating to us as individuals, in a group and how we speak to each other. For the purposes of this chapter, however, we will focus on the office staff and their relationships to the other working groups in the Waldorf school.
The Role Of The Staff:
As a school grows from a small kindergarten to a full grade school, later adding on a high school, administrative needs grow as well. The work may begin on and around a kitchen table, but soon the need arises for a real office with a desk, file cabinet, telephone, copy machine, etc., and all the human beings that go along with it.
The members of the office staff hold a unique position in the Waldorf school. It is important that they communicate effectively to other members of the community and that they support the communications of others. They have both a special ability and a special responsibility to keep lines of communication open among teachers, among families, between teachers and families, between the school as a whole and the outside community.
In a young school, the office staff may be one person. This person may be receptionist, secretary and bookkeeper all in one. As the school grows, the need for office staff expansion grows so that in a school of 260 children there may be a need for four full time office staff. The Chicago Waldorf School currently has a full time receptionist/secretary, bookkeeper, development officer and administrative chairman. (See appendix for outline of job descriptions.) Each of us has specific responsibilities, but there are times when those are shared.
The fact that we employ four full-time people in non-teaching roles might seem to depart from Rudolf Steiner's intention for school management. He said,
"The nature of the art of education demands that the staff divide their time between teaching and school administration. This ensures that the running of the school will be thoroughly saturated by the whole spirit arising from the attitude that exists when every individual teacher unites to form a teaching community."
Do we, perhaps, undermine this school spirit that Steiner envisioned when we exempt teachers from administrative responsibility and employ administrators who have no teaching responsibility? I believe that we do. I think therefore that not only should every faculty member participate at some level in major administrative decisions, but every staff member should have regular connections with the children. In our school, the office staff often serve as substitute teachers. It is also the case in other Waldorf schools that office staff have a part time class responsibility such as handwork teacher, handwork assistant, maybe some skill classes with upper grades.
"Good morning, Waldorf school, this is Mary. May I help you?"
These words, repeated dozens of times daily, form an essential strand in the web of communications that supports the life of a school. Spoken in a friendly tone, they invite callers to frame their questions, state their business, express their concerns. At the same time the greeting is professional, clear and informs the caller who is receiving the call. It is so very important that people answering the phone follow this protocol.
The caller might be a prospective parent making a first contact with the school, or it might be a regulatory agency calling to check fire safety or immunization records. A parent might be calling to suggest a fundraising idea. Perhaps it is a parent calling to relate a tangled tale of misplaced lunches or carpools gone awry. It could be someone from another school seeking information, or inspiration, or support. Or it could be a local newspaper reporter responding to a press release. Personal calls come in for teachers, and messages must be relayed. The number and variety of calls reflect the complexity of the communications network that the school office must maintain.
Of course the receptionist has primary responsibility for answering the phone, but there will be times when each one of us needs to respond to a persistent ring. It is important that the person answering the phone is friendly and has some relationship to the Waldorf school. If the receptionist cannot fully respond to the caller, he or she needs to direct them to the proper person.
Many schools expedite this process with an information request form listing common questions and requests and with a space for comments. These can be easily routed to the proper person for a response. (See appendix for an example.)
School receptionists also keep a logbook where all messages for teachers and staff are recorded. Teachers and staff are then encouraged to form the habit of checking "the log book" several times a day. Some schools feel that a logbook is too public for teachers' messages and prefer the privacy of placing messages in teachers' mailboxes. A more complete phone log that records all calls received can also be a useful tool for keeping track of the many types of calls and insuring that each has been responded to properly.
Another minor but essential aspect of telephone communications is the phone tree. We have a school wide phone tree for quickly disseminating emergency information such as school closings. We also have a room parents' phone tree to quickly relay requests for services (bakers, drivers, sewers, etc.). Individual classes usually have their own phone trees for conveying information about class business.
The most tangible forms of communication involve the printed page. Many schools publish some or all of the following: weekly bulletins, monthly calendars, quarterly newsletters, annual reports, a parent handbook, and a faculty handbook.
A weekly bulletin is typically typed and Xeroxed in the office and sent home with the children. Often it is, as its name implies, a "bulletin board", notifying parents of upcoming events, calling for volunteers, reminding of school regulations, perhaps carrying classified ads. In some schools, the weekly bulletin might also be a vehicle for letters, reaction and discussion. The weekly bulletin is usually staff written, but volunteer help is welcome in collating, stapling and distributing.
A calendar most often comes home with the bulletin at weekly or monthly intervals. It is a convenient visual reminder of upcoming events and also insures that events don't overlap or conflict. Keeping the calendar up to date and making sure events are scheduled appropriately are important office tasks.
Quarterly newsletters often carry longer articles by parents or teachers. They may report school events in more detail, describe an aspect of the curriculum, address issues of interest to the whole community or show examples of students' work. They usually contain photographs or artwork. Newsletters occasionally reprint articles from other schools, forming a valuable communication link with the wider Waldorf community.
Volunteer parents typically take a large part of the responsibility for producing a quarterly, and sometimes for that reason it may flourish one year and wither the next. Newsletters are not usually produced "in house". Schools may pay for outside printing and layout, or these services may be donated. A staff or faculty member may have a large or minimal responsibility for overseeing the newsletter, suggesting content and approving articles.
An annual report is often an integral part of a fundraising drive. Some are brief pamphlets giving only a financial picture of the school and listing donors. Others are longer, giving a broad picture of school life as well as presenting economic information. Virtually all are professionally produced and printed under the supervision of a member of the administrative staff.
The parent handbook appears each fall, in most schools, slightly updated from the year before. It is an important communication tool, as it lays the groundwork for community life. (It would be a more effective tool if it were more widely and carefully read.) It addresses the school's expectations of its families in areas ranging from media viewing to dress to tuition payment, explains the organization of the school community and suggests opportunities for involvement. Some schools incorporate community addresses and phone listings into the parent handbook; others publish these separately.
Most parent handbooks are faculty or staff written. Often there is substantial parental input. At least one school issues the handbook to new parents in a loose-leaf binder, then issues only those pages containing revisions or additions to returning parents each year. Some handbooks are typewritten and Xeroxed in house; others are professionally printed.
The Chicago Waldorf School may be unique in that we also have a Room Parents' Handbook. This booklet written by and for room parents stresses their important job of listening and occasionally mediating in the school communications network. It also gives a chronological review of the year, listing all the occasions when a class teacher might need the room parent's services. The office staff needs to work closely with the room parents to be constantly aware of issues that arise among the parent body.
The Faculty Handbook , like the Parent Handbook, lays down guidelines for teachers and staff. It addresses salary and contract issues and delineates what is expected from all staff in the area of meeting attendance, school involvement, continuing education, etc. Ideally, the Faculty Handbook should be teacher-written, but often this responsibility devolves upon a member of the office staff. Or, at least, the office staff often must take on the yearly job of revising and updating a faculty-written original.
Then there are the written communications to the community outside the school: the prospectus or information packet, the press release and the advertisement.
The information packet is sent to inquiring parents and creates an important first impression. Some schools describe themselves in detail with a professionally produced prospectus. Others have only a brief pamphlet describing their school and then add to it material describing Waldorf education in general.
A typical information packet might include a general letter welcoming the inquirer's interest, a pamphlet or booklet describing the school, a tuition schedule with scholarship information, a calendar or flyer listing upcoming events, and a reprinted article describing Waldorf education.
Depending on the receptiveness of local media, press releases can alert the public to the school's existence, to upcoming festivals, workshops or lectures, to newsworthy developments such as a change of location or a new building. A feature article in a newspaper or a short spot on the evening news can stimulate local interest in a school. Press releases are most often written and sent by a development director. In the case of a special event such as the Holiday Fair a volunteer parent may take on this responsibility.
Advertisements can be similarly useful. They have the advantage that the message can be closely controlled, and the disadvantages of higher cost and lower credibility than news coverage.
As important as written communication is, human contact most surely integrates our feeling and will life. Face-to-face discussions, whether it is one-on-one or group may be regularly scheduled or impromptu, community-wide or for select groups, but meetings, with their attendant discussion, dissension, compromise and consensus, are essential for the community to thrive.
Most of the following meetings are familiar to all Waldorf schools: faculty meetings; staff meetings; college, board and committee meetings; all-school meetings; parent/teacher association meetings; class nights and orientation mornings. Administrative support is essential for the schedule of meetings to run smoothly.
As a cornerstone of Waldorf school administration, the weekly faculty meeting has its own chapter in this book. For the purpose of this chapter, however, we should add that it is most helpful to the communication network for the administrative staff to attend and contribute in faculty meetings. In this way they can better promote understanding between parents and faculty.
Furthermore, while it is well accepted that Waldorf teachers need to work out of an ever-deepening understanding of anthroposophy, when it comes to the office staff, a grounding in these principles may be viewed as less important. I believe that at least a basic sympathy with the anthroposophical outlook is essential for the office staff to communicate effectively within the school and to represent the school to the public. One way of deepening staff understanding of anthroposophy is for them to attend faculty meetings and participate in faculty group study. In some schools the office staff presents the preview of events for the week ahead. Administrative reports to the full faculty describing the nature of the ongoing work is also important.
There should also be separate staff meetings on a regular – perhaps weekly – basis. Many daily nuts and bolts decisions about school operation need to be coordinated. And, more important, regular discussion helps over time to build a constellation of people who work together smoothly and share responsibility easily.
Each school will have its own distinctive roster of Board Meetings, College meetings, and many and varied committee meetings. At many of these meetings it will be helpful to have a representative of the administrative staff. The administrative staff can also enhance the functioning of committees by typing and distributing minutes, reporting decisions and developments in the weekly bulletin or other appropriate channels, and by monitoring the calendar to be sure meetings are scheduled appropriately.
Many schools hold all school meetings one, two or three times a year. Some of these meetings are almost purely social; others are more informational, reporting on financial issues, for example, or discussing concerns of the moment. Whether or not a great deal of information is formally transmitted at all school meetings, they are an important element of a posture of openness and sharing. They also provide valuable opportunities for informal sharing and communication. Staff members may or may not have an important role to play in running the all school meetings; however, it is essential that office staff attend these meetings.
Another forum for a general meeting might be offered by a school parent teacher organization. Parent-teacher organizations, associations, or forums often host quarterly, bi-monthly or monthly meetings. In some schools these are well attended, in others not. It is important to make them vibrant and alive.
They may be settings for wide-ranging discussions; they may stick to a featured topic; they may host a guest lecturer. Many variations on these themes are possible. For many parents, meetings of a parent/teacher organization offer a way in to deeper involvement with the life of a school.
The class night, where teachers meet the parents of their students in the classroom, is a highly effective setting for communication. It is usually held two or three times a year in each grade. Here parents and teachers learn from each other and the class as a whole gains a sense of itself and is strengthened socially. In contrast to other parent evenings, class nights are nearly always well attended.
Many schools also regularly hold a sort of "open meeting" for the outside community. These are orientation mornings or open houses, often held monthly, for prospective parents, teachers from other schools and interested members of the community. They hear a short presentation on Waldorf education, tour the classrooms, have an opportunity to ask questions, and tour the classrooms. In some schools a member of the administrative staff may conduct the orientation; in others it may be taken by a faculty member. In either case, the administrative staff generally carries responsibility for publicizing and facilitating these mornings.
Both the printed word and the formal meeting are, in a sense, "controlled" communication. Every school is also familiar with the power of the "uncontrolled" communication of informal social interaction, the chat outside the school doors in the morning, the spur-of-the-moment phone call, the "meeting after the meeting."
Such communication can be a wonderful strengthening force in a community. As ideas are shared, friendships form and deepen, and the social fabric of the community is more closely knit. For this reason, it is important to provide many arenas for social interaction – from the doll-making workshop to the spring picnic to the kindergarten tea. The opportunities are endless, and the administrative staff can play a crucial role in supporting them.
However, "uncontrolled" communication can also be a weakening force. We are all familiar with the potentially devastating effects of the "rumor mill". Here the administrative staff is in a unique position, by a posture of openness and accessibility, to defuse harmful communication.
Listening is an important part of the administrators' job. The office is an easy and accessible place to drop in to share an idea or voice a concern. Sometimes a sympathetic ear is all that is needed or wanted. Other times some simple clarifications may be in order. When the issue is more complex, it is important for the office staff not to usurp the role of the faculty, the college or the class teacher. Sometimes our role is simply to put the concerned party in touch with the person they really need to talk to.
It may be difficult for the office staff to balance work pressures and deadlines with the needs of the unexpected visitor or caller. It is important for us to remember that communication, both planned and unplanned, is our job. As one administrator puts it, "People tell me I should close my door. I don't think I'm here to close my door. I'm here to listen." Another administrator told me, "You should never be too busy to listen.
If we are able to truly listen and to faithfully and responsibly act on what we hear, we members of the office staff will most effectively help our schools to grow and flourish.
Although we are all guided by Rudolf Steiner's indications, a Waldorf school each has its own unique way of working. As a teacher, parent and administrator, I have found it most valuable to visit other Waldorf schools observing classes, faculty meetings and to just informally chat with office staff. Consider the following example: In a recent visit to the Waldorf School in Lexington, MA., the primary purpose being a meeting with other colleagues to discuss the content of this book, I took the time before the meeting to visit a kindergarten class, speak with their office manager, and attend a faculty meeting. In that short period of time, I brought home new ideas from each experience:
1) The kindergarten teacher had so wonderfully arranged her play stands in such a way that the children were surrounded by the rainbow colors. I most certainly felt as a visitor held by the warmth and color in this environment.
2) As I sat in the office observing the comings and goings, I noticed several three-ring binders artfully covered with children’s' paintings. Each binder displayed various articles of a particular theme: Newsletters, curriculum guides, samples of children’s' reports, articles on Waldorf schools, Waldorf education, family life and parenting. Such a simple task! I spent years trying to figure out what to do with articles and newsletters from other Waldorf schools aside from leaving them on faculty room tables or loosely displayed on rack in the school entrance.
I immediately implemented this idea at our school happy to know these valuable pieces of information are protected and available to visitors.
3) It was a relief to sit in another school's faculty meeting and objectively observe the dynamics. I felt quite at home and chuckled inwardly at times during the discussions. It was all so familiar. The experience
gave me the opportunity to reflect on our own faculty meetings and a new perspective.
Every school needs to constantly analyze and review its communication patterns in the professional meetings at the end of each year. We must ask the question; How can we do it better? We must realize that we create the role model for our children who are being guided and formed by the manner in which adults around them communicate.
Connie Starzynski is the Pedagogical Chair at Highland Hall Waldorf School in Los Angeles and the Summer Conference Coordinator for AWSNA. Connie was also the Administrator at Honolulu and Chicago Waldorf Schools.
A Feedback Model that Works
Knowing how to create and deliver effective feedback is a key leadership skill. Effective feedback motivates the receiver to begin, continue or stop behaviors that affect performance. In addition to accomplishing its direct purpose, an effective feedback message is a self-development tool for the receiver, and it often has benefits for other members of the team.
Not knowing how to give feedback can result in messages that are hurtful, confusing, and counter-productive. Many feedback messages leave the receiver unsure of what to do with the information. "You are good as a leader" or "you could be more strategic" gives the receiver an idea of how he or she is seen by the sender, but such a message doesn't tell the receiver what behavior to repeat if he wants to continue being a good leader or what to do or what action to avoid in order to be more strategic.
• Effective feedback is based on observed behavior and tells the receiver the impact of a specific behavior on you.
• Ineffective feedback often is vague, indirect, and exaggerated with generalities. Ineffective feedback often judges the person rather than his or her actions.
A valuable resource to illustrate this skill and provide a three-step technique is the guidebook Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message by Sloan Weitzel (available for purchase from the Center for Creative Leadership online at www.ccl.org.
Weitzel's feedback technique is called SBI (shorthand for Situation-Behavior-Impact). Following these steps can help the receiver more easily see what actions he or she can take to continue or improve performance or to change behavior that is ineffective or even an obstacle to performance. An effective feedback message tells the receiver the impact of a specific behavior on the sender. Here is an example of how to use the three-step model:
Step 1: Capture the Situation
("Yesterday morning in staff meeting,...")
Step 2: Describe the Behavior
("you had a number of side conversations and at times were joking during my presentation.")
Step 3: Deliver the Impact
("When you were talking to others while I was speaking, it was very disruptive to what I was trying to accomplish. I felt frustrated and annoyed by it.")
The recipient of well-intended and well-delivered feedback receives a two-fold gift. First, there is the almost immediate benefit of hearing what others think. Second, there is the afterlife of feedback. We often replay in our mind what we've heard, review written feedback privately at a later date, and check out perceptions with family and others we trust. Often we'll make some changes immediately and then make more significant changes with deeper reflection and consideration.
Constructive feedback is a most valuable tool — useful to repair a poor working relationship, improve a team's productivity, help a co-worker be more successful in his or her career, and demonstrate your own growing abilities as an effective leader. Yet, it is a skill many managers regard as underdeveloped. A recent CCL survey of managers showed that only 5 percent reported they were very effective in providing feedback; and 98 percent said they considered strong skills in providing feedback important or very important. More than half said they had the most difficulty giving feedback to bosses. Nearly 30 percent indicated that they find it most difficult to give feedback to peers.
Ask yourself if you consider yourself very effective in providing feedback. Next, consider if strong skills in providing feedback are important or very important to you. If you fall in the majority of managers who view effective feedback as important and regard their own skill level as needing improvement, put a higher priority on developing this essential leadership skill.
Providing coaching, support and assessment tools related to conflict for leaders
Dr. Zimmerman gave the opening and closing lectures of the 2005 conference to early childhood educators from 40 different countries. The following excerpt is from the end of his opening talk, where he spoke about the art of education as an art of human encounter. In early childhood education today, working together with other adults is often the most challenging aspect of our work. Dr. Zimmerman describes how we can cultivate our ability to truly meet each other, “I” to “I”. It is this human encounter that creates the vessel of community in which our children develop.
In his book How to Know Higher Worlds, Rudolf Steiner writes the following words:
When one practices listening without criticism, even in cases where an opinion is brought forward which is entirely contrary to one’s own, one will gradually learn to become one with the being of another person, and to fully enter into that person’s world. One will learn to penetrate below the surface and hear the soul of the other behind the words.
“Behind the words. . . .” Every human being has a unique voice, and by entering into that voice a communion takes place; a connection is formed with the being of the other. In another context, Rudolf Steiner calls this the “mystery of compassion.”
The best place to start practicing is to choose the one who annoys you most, or to pick a person to whom you don’t normally pay much attention. By doing this, we build up a connection that will become fruitful in the future. We have some encounters that are brought about by the past; our legs simply carry us to the people concerned. But there are also encounters that I can consciously cultivate and make fruitful that way. In exactly the same way I can learn from encounters and in doing so make future encounters fruitful as well. Digesting the experience will make future meetings more fruitful.
I would like to conclude my contribution by telling you two little stories. The first story — both have been changed a little bit — stems from India.
After God had created the whole world, including the human being, he sent the human beings down to earth. But they didn’t enjoy the earth all that much and soon came back again. They returned to heaven much too early, and God really didn’t want to have them come back that soon. So he thought to himself, “What can I do now?” and after pondering this he came up with the following idea. He thought, “I simply have to close heaven. Only the question is, where should I hide the key? For people are smart, and they will look everywhere. Even if I sink it to the bottom of a vast ocean, they would find it.”
Finally he had the splendid idea to put the key in the heart of the human being. Within every human being there lies the key to heaven, and it can be found when one seeks the way to the heart. This is what self-transformation from out of the future means: it has to come from the heavenly being within each human being.
The second story is the story of a dying monastery (or perhaps to make it more current,
we could say an anthroposophical “branch”). The members are all over 70, and only five of them
are left in this monastic community. A friend arrives, and together with the abbot he laments the situation. “We are doing what we have always been doing, but no new people are coming.” We know how this is, it is a familiar dirge, which might sound somewhat like this: “We are doing the same thing, only the students have become so different.” So the two of them are complaining together about the terrible decadence of present-day civilization, and how the end is in sight.
On leaving, the friend says, “I can only wish you luck, but one thing I would still like to say to you. There is one among you, who is blessed by God.”
(In the anthroposophical branch one would perhaps say “an initiate,” or that this person “had special spiritual gifts.”) With that, the friend takes his leave and the five are alone again.
Now all of them are beginning to think. “Now who could that can be? The abbot? Could it be
I? Who knows? It isn’t out of the question. But I don’t really think so. Maybe it is Brother Felix? Or someone else?” And while they are all thinking about this, they begin to meet each other with a very particular quality of respect, because after all, anyone could be the chosen one! Through this, they build up a cohesion and relationship among one another that radiates from the community to such an extent that new people are attracted. The result is that the monastery blossoms again and acquires new members.
So this second story is also wonderful. What it implies is that we can discover that a divine source dwells within every other human being, and when we actively cultivate this fact within ourselves, we will also be able to work together in a different way instead of only seeing one another as acting in “typical” ways, this way or that way. Instead, we can say, “No, it is not “typical”; within this person’s “type” something unassailably divine expresses itself, something from out of the future — a seed, which
is the child within every human being, just like the child which comes into the kindergarten to us in the morning.”
This discovery is wonderfully expressed by the philosopher Martin Buber. He says, “On the way to becoming I, I say: You.” On the way to becoming myself, in the process of becoming I, I see the other.
The full lectures by Dr Zimmerman, as well as those by Joan Almon, Christof Wiechert, and Dr. Michaela Gloeckler, will appear in a volume called Playing, Learning, Meeting the Other, available through WECAN Books this spring.
A review and introduction to the book
All human activity, whatever the size of the community-whether in business, the family, schools, or politics-is group activity. Such group activity depends upon the ability of human beings to work together consciously in language. Speaking, Listening, Understanding is a book about group conversations, especially those intended to arrive at decisions and/or insights. Various types of conversations are described. In the process, we learn how individual participants, context, and mood can affect the overall process, Exercises, both group and individual, are provided for different kinds of conversations. Rather than the dynamics of group psychology, however, the author starts from the artistic aspects of conversation: namely, language and consciousness. Using examples and anecdotes drawn from many years of work with groups, Zimmermann shows in a straightforward way what can go wrong and why. Then, through a step-by-step articulation of the processes involved in conversation-speaking, listening, and understanding-he shows what kinds of awareness an practices can strengthen the group processes that facilitate creative conversation. This is a valuable resource for any group or community, and it is directed especially toward Waldorf school communities.
Here is a chapter from the book exploring the stages of conversation
NVC Instruction Guide
(Note: Much of the information in this instruction guide draws extensively from the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. as presented in his book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. We strongly recommend that the best way to learn about Nonviolent Communication is to read the book and use the workbook in combination with this guide, as well as find a group of people with whom to practice these important skills. Throughout each section of this guide you will find references to particular sections from the book or from Lucy Leu’s Companion Workbook. – Jiva Manske)
Introduction: Nonviolence and NVC
We live in a world in which violence has become more and more accepted as the norm. It’s all around us. From wars between nations to crime on the street, and even imposing on our everyday existence, violence manifests itself both explicitly and implicitly. Yet for many people, the very idea of violence seems foreign. They are not involved in physical confrontations or abuses, and thus they believe that violence is not present. But the reality is that whenever we become disconnected from our compassionate nature, whenever our hearts are not devoid of hatred in all of its forms, we have a tendency to act in ways that can cause pain for everyone in our lives, including ourselves.
Nonviolence, then, does not refer to the mere absence of physical harm. It is a way of life that takes its lead from a compassionate and connected heart, and can guide us toward a more complete and happy way of being. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” It is a practice rooted in understanding, in living honestly, and in acting empathically with all beings. Of course this starts with the self. We must first understand and act empathically towards ourselves in order to impact the world in wonderful and compassionate ways. This means cultivating nonviolence in every action and being present to our own needs and feelings in each and every moment.
Marshall Rosenberg realized the importance of nonviolence in every day life throughout his childhood and on into his adult and professional life. He understood how nonviolence could affect the world through the individual and through nurturing relationships on a personal level. Because of his experience with clinical psychology, comparative religion, and mediation, he was able to create Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as a very simple model for transforming everyday existence and for practicing nonviolence. His trainings, which began in the 1960’s, eventually grew into an institution, the Center for NVC, which was created in 1984 and which remains a vital resource for a turbulent world.
What is NVC? (Read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Chapter 1)
NVC is a “language of life” that helps us to transform old patterns of defensiveness and aggressiveness into compassion and empathy and to improve the quality of all of our relationships. Studying and practicing NVC creates a foundation for learning about ourselves and our relationships in every moment, and helps us to remain focused on what is happening right here, right now. Although it is a model for communication, NVC helps us to realize just how important connection is in our lives. In fact, having the intention to connect with ourselves and others is one of the most important goals of practicing and living NVC. We live our lives from moment to moment, yet most of the time we are on autopilot, reacting out of habit rather than out of awareness and presence of mind. By creating a space for attention and respect in every moment, NVC helps create a pathway and a practice that is accessible and approachable.
The basic model for NVC is really quite straightforward and simple. It is a process that combines four components with two parts. While the four components are specific ideas and actions that fit into the form and the model of NVC, the two parts provide a solid foundation for NVC as well as for living nonviolently. They are the basis for Marshall’s ideas of giving and receiving from the heart. These brief definitions will be expounded further in the sections below:
1. Observation: Observation without evaluation consists of noticing concrete things and actions around us. We learn to distinguish between judgment and what we sense in the present moment, and to simply observe what is there.
1. Feeling: When we notice things around us, we inevitably experience varying emotions and physical sensations in each particular moment. Here, distinguishing feelings from thoughts is an essential step to the NVC process.
1. Needs: All individuals have needs and values that sustain and enrich their lives. When those needs are met, we experience comfortable feelings, like happiness or peacefulness, and when they are not, we experience uncomfortable feelings, like frustration. Understanding that we, as well as those around us, have these needs is perhaps the most important step in learning to practice NVC and to live empathically.
1. Request: To make clear and present requests is crucial to NVC’s transformative mission. When we learn to request concrete actions that can be carried out in the present moment, we begin to find ways to cooperatively and creatively ensure that everyone’s needs are met.
1. Empathy: Receiving from the heart creates a means to connect with others and share experiences in a truly life enriching way. Empathy goes beyond compassion, allowing us to put ourselves into another’s shoes to sense the same feelings and understand the same needs; in essence, being open and available to what is alive in others. It also gives us the means to remain present to and aware of our own needs and the needs of others even in extreme situations that are often difficult to handle.
1. Honesty: Giving from the heart has its root in honesty. Honesty begins with truly understanding ourselves and our own needs, and being in tune with what is alive in us in the present moment. When we learn to give ourselves empathy, we can start to break down the barriers to communication that keep us from connecting with others.
From these four components and two parts, Marshall has created a model for life enriching communication that can be highly effective in solving conflict with our family members, with our friends, with our coworkers, and with ourselves. The basic outline of the model is the following:
When I see that______________
I feel ______________
because my need for ________________ is/is not met.
Would you be willing to __________________?
Keep in mind that this is just a model, and that using this form and this language is not the most important aspect of NVC. In fact, as you practice more and learn more, you’ll begin to notice that all four of these components can be present in the complete absence of the form.
Learning and Using NVC
Like nonviolence, itself, NVC is a practice that we must constantly pursue and refine. This guide is meant to present NVC in a simple and clear way that is accessible to everybody who is interested in the mission and projects of the Peace Army of Costa Rica. For beginners, we recommend that you work slowly, carefully, and consciously through each chapter, spending a week on each so that you can integrate the information and the model into your being. We recommend that if you are familiar with NVC, it is still important to review the basic ideas of the model now and again, and we have also tried to provide sections on specific situations that come up in everyday life. Yet because this presentation is so simple it is important to use other resources in conjuncture with practice groups and training sessions. The primary resources that you will need for introducing yourself to NVC are the following:
Leu, Lucy. Nonviolent Communication: Companion Workbook. Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press, 2003.
Rosenberg, Marshall. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press, 2003.
You can get these resources through The Center for Nonviolent Communication (http://www.cnvc.org/matls.htm).
Finding or creating a practice group is also important in order to share the experience of learning NVC with others. These are settings in which it is easy to learn from other students, as well as certified trainers, and some trainers offer many different options, depending on familiarity with the concepts and practice of NVC. To find an NVC practice group in your area, click here.
The Institute of Heartmath has done extensive research to develop a theory that when all of our organs are working together in simultaneous rhythm, our minds and our emotions tend to be more stable. More specifically, when the rhythm of our heart beat remains even, we are able to think more clearly and feel more present in every moment and in every action. This is called entrainment. This is a quick, easy practice that will help you familiarize yourself with entrainment, as well as help you get ready for your study and practice of NVC either by yourself or in a group setting. Remember, you can use this in any situation as a way to focus on the present moment.
1. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, where you will not be disturbed.
2. Begin by making yourself comfortable and begin to notice your breathing. You can do this with your eyes open or closed. Breathe normally and smoothly, without straining to take deep breaths, and notice how it feels to be present and aware of your body. If your mind begins to wander, gently bring your focus back to your breath.
3. Move your awareness over your body, and notice how you are feeling as you sit. Move through your body, from your toes, up through your legs, to your torso and through your head, and just take stock of how you feel. Focusing on your breath, notice what emotions are present right now.
4. Keeping your focus on your breath, allow yourself to become aware of your heart. As you do this, remember a specific event or a specific person that brings you a sense of appreciation. Allow that feeling of appreciation to wash over your being as you sit. If your mind begins to wander, gently refocus on your breath, and return to your feeling of appreciation.
Individual Practice—Read Chapter 1 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
-Throughout the course of the week, begin to notice how you are feeling, and when your needs are or are not met. Notice when you are acting with empathy and honesty in your relationships with yourself and with others, and begin to see the place for nonviolence in everyday existence.
-Consider the need for contribution (link), which Marshall calls the most important human need of all. Write the word on an index card or piece of paper and put it in a place where you will see it at least twice each day, perhaps on your bathroom mirror. In the morning, connect with your need to contribute and consider how you might enjoy meeting that need during the day. In the evening, before bed, consider how you did or did not meet your need for contribution without self-judgment.
-Suggested Practice—Read and do individual assignments in the Companion Workbook, pgs 57-60.
Group Practice—Review Chapter 1 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
-Review answers to individual exercises
-Companion Workbook pgs. 61-64
NVC Instruction Guide
In this guide we will follow the first few chapters of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Our hope is to simplify and present the model in a very straightforward way to make NVC easy to learn. In essence, this is a study guide for the basic skills and knowledge that are needed to begin to practice NVC and allow it to become a transformative part of our lives. For aspiring trainers, it is useful to have the Companion Workbook handy, for it provides many interesting exercises that can help to deepen understanding. Also, after each practice group, it is important to gather feedback from participants about the structure of the group and each activity that you have done. Since every person has a different learning style and every group has a different dynamic, it is important to be responsive to the needs of each.
Communication That Blocks Compassion
(Read Ch. 2 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life)
Violence is pervasive. It is not simply what we see in action movies or the grisly details of the evening news reports. Instead, it is a much more intricate concept that manifests itself in subtle ways that oftentimes go unnoticed. Starting to understand just how violence can manifest itself on such a small, personal level, and realizing that violence is much more prevalent than we might expect is the first step toward beginning to comprehend and practice a life of nonviolence.
In particular, Marshall talks extensively about the idea of “Life-Alienating Communication,” which blocks us from connecting with ourselves and with others. For Marshall, these types of language “alienate us from our natural state of compassion” (pg. 15), and thus contribute to violence by leading us to states of mind in which it is more likely that we become defensive or aggressive. The four main types of life-alienating communication can be described as the Four D’s: Diagnosis, Denial of responsibility, Demand, and Deserve. The first two are very concrete, and provide a foundation for the other forms of life-alienating communication that are found in the book and here. Notice how each builds on the others, and how they all contribute to our daily experience of life-alienating communication.
Moralistic judgments are statements or thoughts that imply goodness or badness. It is the implication that someone is something else. Similarly, when we make comparisons between our own situation and that of others, we are making a judgment, and rather than focusing on the absolute qualities of others, we are focused inward to criticize, saying that we or they are not good enough. In truth, there will always be people who are better at some things than others. But dwelling on these differences can hinder connection and other life-enriching prospects. It is as easy to fall into these patterns of life-alienating communication as it is to see why they can impede our intention to connect with empathy and honesty. When we use labels, we trap ourselves and others into categories from which it is very difficult to break free. This can lead to a very superficial understanding of others, and can make communicating and meeting our needs nearly impossible. As Marshall says,
It is my belief that all such analyses of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own values and needs. They are tragic because, when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance to them among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us. Or, if thy do agree to act in harmony with our values because they concur with our analysis of their wrongness, thy will likely do so out of fear, guilt, or shame (pg 16).
Responses that are based on fear, guilt, or shame, rather than those based on empathy, can lead to difficulties and unwanted consequences. In fact, these types of judgments can promote violence, for it classifies and differentiates between people rather than focusing on what we share as human beings living together in the world. “At the root of much, if not all violence…is a kind of thinking that attributes the cause of conflict to wrongness in one’s adversaries, and a corresponding inability to think of oneself or others in terms of vulnerability.” Moralistic judgments simultaneously deny responsibility for violent actions and make those very same actions acceptable and even laudable. Instead, we need to be aware that our judgments are a reflection of our own values, and in turn we must take responsibility for how we feel.
Exercise: Change the following statements from moralistic judgments to expressions of compassion that include our value judgments.
Ex. Violence is bad. People who kill others are evil.
I am fearful of the use of violence to resolve conflicts; I value the resolution of human conflicts through other means.
a. My teacher is mean. She assigns too much homework.
b. My boss is unreasonable. He always expects so much out of me.
c. I hate how needy my girlfriend is. She calls way too much.
Denial of Responsibility
We spend much of our life doing what we think we “have to” do. We have to go to school. We have to do our homework. We have to get a job. We have to go to work. At the same time, many of these “obligations” seem to “make us feel” in certain ways. When we use this language, it only serves to reinforce the denial of responsibility that is so inherent in much of our lives. We are conditioned to accept these situations and these consequences, but in the process we forget that we remain individual, autonomous, and empowered beings who are still able to make the choices that govern our lives. And when we deny responsibility we are less likely to see ways that we can contribute to ourselves and others, and we can become frustrated or annoyed with our existence as it seems to slip further and further from our control. This, in turn, can lead to conflict, especially when we are working or living closely with other people. Facilitating a change from this language that denies responsibility to language that acknowledges responsibility contributes to living and communicating with empathy and honesty.
Types of Denial of Responsibility
(From pg. 20) Example
Vague Impersonal Forces “I cleaned my room because I had to.”
Our condition, diagnosis, personal or psychological history “I drink because I’m an alcoholic.”
The actions of others “I hit my child because he ran into the street.”
The dictates of authority “I lied to the client because the boss told me to.”
Group pressure “I stared smoking because all my friends did.”
Institutional policies, rules, and regulations “I have to suspend you for this infraction because it’s the school policy.”
Gender roles, social roles, or age roles “I hate going to work, but I do it because I am a husband and a father.”
Uncontrollable impulses “I was overcome by my urge to eat the candy bar.”
Exercise: Replace the above examples with language that acknowledges responsibility, using the form
I choose to ___________ because I want ____________.
There are many instances when we articulate our desires as demands, especially when we are in positions of relative authority. The most important concept here, though, as Marshall says, is that “we can never really make anybody else do something, we can only make them wish they had.” We have already learned that in order to connect it is important to take responsibility for our actions, and this also applies to trying to influence the actions of others. They, too, always have a choice, and many times when we try to make others act in certain ways, it seems to lead to less, not more connection. As we learn more about NVC, we will start to discover new ways to use language to get the things that we want and still meet everyone’s needs. Whereas a demand implies the threat of punishment, criticism, or blame and tends to result in reactions based on fear, guilt, and shame, a request is something that we can make from the heart and with empathy for the feelings and needs of our listener. This is a concept that is an intricate part of the NVC model, and will be discussed in much more detail later.
We have been conditioned to believe that we will get what we deserve. If we work hard, we deserve to make money and spend it however we would like to. If we break the law, we deserve to be punished. Of course, although these ideas sound good on paper, they are rarely what actually happen in real life. Not everyone gets what he or she “deserves.” And when we think we are not getting what we deserve, we tend to disconnect from our unmet needs and lapse into blame or criticism. But the very idea of “deserve” is clearly a mode of life-alienating communication, mixing Diagnosis with Denial of responsibility at every turn. When someone “deserves” something else, like a criminal “deserves” punishment, it removes all responsibility for our own thoughts and actions from the picture.
When we use this language, we are lapsing into a judgment that moves us further from connecting with what is truly alive in us and in another person in the moment, and it blinds us from our own feelings and needs. It is also this kind of thinking that tends to be a benchmark for any domination culture, which leads to enormous suffering, both self-inflicted and from others. By allowing ourselves to get sucked into the mindset that certain things deserve to happen, we ignore reality and accept the status quo. It is such a subtle idea and yet so deep-seated within our mentalities that for most of us, we use this language and think these thoughts unconsciously. Yet if we learn to stay present to and aware of what is alive in us in the moment, and learn to understand our feelings and our needs, we will begin to take responsibility for our own situation as well as develop the necessary tools to transform ourselves and our surroundings.
We have seen in this section that there are many forms of communication that we all use in everyday life that serve to alienate us from what we are feeling and what we are needing, and impede us from communicating and connecting with empathy and honesty. These are, in fact, ways in which the violence that pervades our society has found a way into our lives below our radar. This week, pay special attention to the Four D’s and how they appear in your own conversations and in the language of others. View this as an opportunity to connect with what is alive in yourself and in those around you, and keep in mind that it is important to remain gentle with yourself and stay present even as we feel tempted to use life-alienating communication on ourselves. It may help to keep a journal of examples of when these four examples of life-alienating communication come up in your life.
-Exercise (From Companion Workbook, pg. 66): Write down a dialogue (of about 6-8 lines) that isn’t going well between two people. It could be a dialogue between you and another person in your own life (but it does not have to be). After you have completed writing down the lines, re-read them and determine if either person has communicated using one of the Four D’s.
-This week, consider the need for learning (link). Write the word on an index card or piece of paper and put it in a place where you will see it at least twice each day, perhaps on your bathroom mirror. In the morning, connect with your need for learning and consider how you might enjoy meeting that need during the day. In the evening, before bed, consider how you did or did not meet your need for learning without self-judgment.
-Suggested Practice—Other exercises from Companion Workbook, pgs. 66-67
Group Practice—Review Chapter 2 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
-Review answers to individual exercises
-Companion Workbook pgs. 67-71
Observing Without Evaluating
(Read Ch. 3 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life)
We embark on the transformative path of NVC now that we have begun to realize just how life-alienating communication permeates our lives. The first component in the model, then, is observation without evaluation. This component helps us to remain in the present moment, focusing on what concrete, specific things, events, and actions are stimulating us to feel and need. In fact, “the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence” (pg. 28). It denotes a fuller consciousness and a fuller awareness of the world around us. Noticing what we are seeing, feeling, touching, hearing, and smelling and separating those things from our own limited interpretations, opinions, and evaluations can help us to understand each situation more deeply, and guide us along the path toward connecting with what is alive in the moment with empathy and honesty.
As we have already seen, much of the language that we use in our daily existence falls into the trap of one or more of the Four D’s. Now, we can start to see that many of the times when any of those forms of life-alienating communication sneak into our language, we are mixing evaluations with our observations. When we use this kind of language, people tend to hear criticism, even if that is not our intention, and as we all know, hearing criticism can lead to defensiveness or aggression. Separating evaluations from our observations, on the other hand, allows us to stay present and connect using concrete examples and situations. It allows us to recognize the constantly changing state of the world without generalizing and falling into the Four D’s.
Here is a list of situations and examples of how evaluation can become mixed up with our observations:
Distinguishing Observations from Evaluations (pgs. 30-31).
Communication Example of observation with evaluation mixed in Example of observation separate from evaluation
1. Use of the Verb to be without indication that the evaluator accepts responsibility for the evaluation You are too generous. When I see you give all your lunch money to others I think you are being too generous.
2. Use of verbs with evaluative connotations Juan Enrique procrastinates. Doug only studies for exams the night before.
3. Implication that one’s inferences about another person’s thoughts, feelings, intentions, or desires are the only ones possible She won’t get her work in. I don’t think she’ll get her work in.
She said, “I won’t get my work in.”
4. Confusion of prediction with certainty If you don’t eat balanced meals, you’ll be unhealthy. If you don’t eat balanced meals, I fear that your health may be impaired.
5. Failure to be specific about referents Nicaraguens don’t take care of their property. I have not seen the family living in that house clean up the yard in a long time.
6. Use of words denoting ability without indicating that an evaluation is being made. Ronaldo is a poor soccer player Ronaldo has not scored a goal in 20 games.
7. Use of adverb and adjectives in ways that do not signify an evaluation has been made Alfonso is ugly. Alfonso’s looks don’t appeal to me.
As you can see, when we generalize or exaggerate, it is easy to hear these statements as attacks, which can obviously hinder, rather than support connecting with what is alive in us. Thus, it is important to stay away from words like always, never, ever, whenever, frequently, and seldom, and rather stick with specific examples and specific situations to examine how and why we are feeling right now (pg. 31).
In this section we have learned that when we mix evaluations with our observations, we risk being heard as attacking or criticizing when that may not be our intent. We have also learned that using specific language to describe exactly what is going on in particular situations is useful for connection. As before, use this week to notice the times when you are mixing evaluations with your observations (observe your observations!). Throughout each day of the week, pick moments and stop to just observe. It could be when you’re standing in line or sitting in traffic or when you’re with family or friends. Whenever you remember to do this, take a few seconds to focus on your breathing. Notice what you see around you; notice the colors and the textures of objects, and how people or things are moving. Notice what you smell, hear and taste. Notice what thoughts and feelings come up. Even only 5 minutes each day can be a helpful practice to get into and can increase your mindfulness and awareness of the present moment. It may also be helpful to write these experiences down and then go back and notice where evaluations have crept into your statements.
-Exercise 1: Observation or Evaluation? (From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pgs. 34-35)
Are these statements observations, or evaluations? For any statement that is an observation mixed with evaluation, how would we remove the evaluation?
Ex. John was angry with me yesterday for no reason.
This is an observation mixed with and evaluation, and could be changed to “John told me he was angry yesterday.”
1. Yesterday evening, Nancy bit her fingernails while watching television.
2. Sam didn’t ask for my opinion during the meeting.
3. My father is a good man.
4. Janice works too much.
5. Henry is aggressive.
6. Pam was first in line every day this week.
7. My son often doesn’t brush his teeth.
8. Luke told me I didn’t look good in yellow.
9. My aunt complains when I talk to her.
-Exercise (From Companion Workbook, pg 73-74): Go back through the table of forms of communication above, and think of an example of each that mixes observation with evaluation. Then, change that example to make sure that evaluation is not mixed with observation.
-Consider the need for clarity (link). Write the word on an index card or piece of paper and put it in a place where you will see it at least twice each day, perhaps on your bathroom mirror. In the morning, connect with your need for clarity and consider how you might enjoy meeting that need during the day. In the evening, before bed, consider how you did or did not meet your need for clarity without self-judgment.
-Suggested Practice—Other exercises in Companion Workbook, pg 73-74
Group Practice—Review Chapter 3 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
-Review answers to individual exercises
- Companion Workbook pgs. 75-79
Identifying and Expressing Feelings
(Read Ch. 4 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
The second component in our NVC model is learning to identify and express our feelings. We live in a society that does not value expressing our feelings. Instead, we are conditioned from early in our lives to act and feel in certain ways depending on each particular situation in which we find ourselves. Because teachers, parents, or friends tell us that we need to be strong and solve our problems for ourselves, or that getting upset and acting on our feelings will only increase conflict, we tend to bottle our emotions. However, although we may have misplaced the necessary vocabulary to express how we are feeling, the sentiments themselves have certainly not disappeared. As we ignore our emotions, or at the very least fail to express them in a coherent way, conflict tends to escalate as we lose our ability to connect. Since the most important part to connection is being open to what is alive in us and expressing ourselves with empathy and honesty. In fact, “expressing our vulnerability can help resolve conflicts” (pg. 40), for if we are in touch with our feelings and are able to express them to others, we can begin to get to the root of conflict. We need to rediscover a vocabulary that can express how we are feeling in a particular moment, helping us to connect with the people that we care about.
Distinguishing Feelings from Thoughts
Whenever we begin a sentence with, “I feel…” we are not necessarily communicating a feeling. Although this may seem counterintuitive at first, with a little thought and a little practice, this idea soon becomes crystal clear. In fact, we can easily notice that throughout our day, we hear “I feel…” quite a bit, and usually without attaching a feeling to the end. For example, “I feel like learning NVC can be really difficult,” does not clearly express a feeling. Perhaps what we are really trying to communicate here is that “I feel frustrated because some of the concepts of NVC are different from what I’m used to.” This expresses more concretely what exactly is going on for us in the moment. Marshall identifies three primary situations when we might confuse feelings with thoughts in everyday speech (pg. 41-43):
Distinguishing between WHAT WE FEEL and WHAT WE THINK Distinguishing between WHAT WE FEEL and WHAT WE THINK we are Distinguishing between WHAT WE FEEL and HOW WE THINK others react or behave toward us
Indicators Words like that, like, as if; pronouns like I, you, he, she, it; or names Description of what we think we are. Description of how we think others are behaving
Examples “I feel that you should know better.”
“I feel it is useless.”
“I feel my boss is being manipulative.” “I feel inadequate as a guitar player.” “I feel unimportant.”
“I feel misunderstood.”
“I feel ignored.”
Example of expression with feelings “I feel frustrated that we are having such difficulty connecting.” “I feel impatient with myself as a guitar player.” “I feel sad.”
“I feel anxious.”
“I feel hurt.”
Aside from confusing feelings with thoughts, one of the most difficult traps to keep from falling into is using language that describes how we think others are behaving towards us, rather than our actual feelings. But, as we already learned in our discussion of the Four D’s, it is important to take responsibility for what is going on in our own lives. To that effect, the following is a list of words, like ignored or unimportant, that we often use to describe how we interpret others behavior, rather than being present to our actual feelings:
(From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pg. 43).
Abandoned Cheated Intimidated Overworked Rejected Unheard
Abused Cornered Let down Patronized Taken for Unseen
Attacked Diminished Manipulated Pressured granted Unsupported
Betrayed Distrusted Misunderstood Provoked Threatened Unwanted
Bullied Interrupted Neglected Put down Unappreciated Used
Expressing Our Feelings
The most important thing to take from this is an ability to distinguish between our feelings and our thoughts. This is part of being present and open to what is alive in us in the moment. Building on the idea of observation without evaluation, we can begin to see just how important it is to be aware of our internal experiences and to be able to express ourselves honestly. In order to be more aware of our feelings, we must begin to build a vocabulary to describe exactly how we feel in the moment better than simply saying, “I feel good,” or “I feel bad.” These statements are vague and general. The following lists express how specifically we might be feeling when our needs are or are not being met. Remember, to use these words in your language you do not have to use the words, “I feel…” You might simply say, “I am sad…”
How we are likely to feel when our needs “are” being met (Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pg. 44)
Absorbed Cheerful Encouraged Glowing Merry Secure
Adventurous Comfortable Energetic Grateful Mirthful Sensitive
Affectionate Complacent Engrossed Gratified Moved Serene
Alert Composed Enlivened Happy Optimistic Spellbound
Alive Concerned Enthusiastic Helpful Overjoyed Splendid
Amazed Confident Excited Hopeful Peaceful Stimulated
Amused Contented Exhilarated Inquisitive Perky Surprised
Animated Cool Expansive Inspired Pleasant Tender
Appreciative Curious Expectant Intense Pleased Thankful
Ardent Dazzled Exultant Interested Proud Thrilled
Aroused Delighted Fascinated Intrigued Quiet Touched
Astonished Eager Free Invigorated Radiant Tranquil
Blissful Ebullient Friendly Involved Rapturous Trusting
Breathless Ecstatic Fulfilled Joyous Refreshed Upbeat
Buoyant Effervescent Glad Jubilant Relaxed Warm
Calm Elated Gleeful Loving Relieved Wonderful
Carefree Enchanted Glorious Mellow Satisfied Zestful
How we are likely to feel when our needs “are not” being met (Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pg. 45-46)
Afraid Confused Downhearted Hostile Nettled Startled
Aggravated Cool Dull Hot Numb Surprised
Agitated Cross Edgy Humdrum Overwhelmed Suspicious
Alarmed Dejected Embarrassed Hurt Panicky Tepid
Aloof Depressed Exasperated Impatient Passive Terrified
Angry Despairing Exhausted Intense Perplexed Tired
Anguished Despondent Fatigued Irate Pessimistic Troubled
Annoyed Detached Fearful Irritated Puzzled Uncomfortable
Anxious Disaffected Fidgety Jealous Reluctant Uneasy
Apathetic Disenchanted Forlorn Jittery Repelled Unglued
Apprehensive Disappointed Frightened Lazy Resentful Unhappy
Ashamed Discouraged Frustrated Leery Restless Unnerved
Beat Disgruntled Furious Lethargic Sad Unsteady
Bewildered Disgusted Gloomy Listless Scared Upset
Bitter Disheartened Guilty Lonely Sensitive Uptight
Blue Dismayed Harried Mad Shocked Vexed
Bored Displeased Heavy Mean Skeptical Weary
Brokenhearted Disquieted Helpless Miserable Sleepy Withdrawn
Chagrined Distressed Hesitant Morose Sorrowful Woeful
Cold Disturbed Horrified Mournful Sorry Worried
Concerned Downcast Horrible Nervous Spiritless Wretched
This week we have continued to build our model of NVC by adding the second component: feelings. Being in touch with our feelings and expressing them with openness and honesty helps us connect with ourselves and with others. Throughout the course of the week, take several moments each day to stop and notice how you are feeling. Stop and focus on your physical sensations, allowing yourself to integrate into the presence of the moment. Then, just observe your feelings without judgment. How do you feel? How do you know what you are feeling? Where do you focus in order to know? Again, it may be helpful to write these things down in your journal. These are important skills for remaining present and for connecting with yourself to express your feelings, as well as for understanding others.
-Exercise 2: Expressing Feelings
(From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pg. 47)
Do the following statements express a feeling? If not, how would you change it to verbally express how you are feeling?
Example: “I feel you don’t love me.”
“I feel sad because my need for connection with you is not met.”
a. “I’m sad that you’re leaving.”
b. “I feel scared when you say that.”
c. “When you don’t greet me, I feel neglected.”
d. “I’m happy that you can come.”
e. “You’re disgusting.”
f. “I feel like hitting you.”
g. “I feel misunderstood.”
h. “I feel good about what you did for me.”
i. “I’m worthless.”
-Exercise (From Companion Workbook, pg. 82). Start your own inventory of feelings. Think of a situation in which all of your needs are met. Notice what that looks like, including where you would be, how your surroundings would look, what tastes, smells, and sounds you would be hearing. Now, close your eyes and imagine yours in that exact situation. Really allow yourself to enter that state of being completely, and see, hear, smell, and touch what is around you. What feelings come up? Write down in a journal what comes up for you, then repeat the same process using a situation in which your needs are not met. You can continually add to this list of feelings as time goes on, and feel free to use the lists above as a guide.
- Consider the need for connection (link). Write the word on an index card or piece of paper and put it in a place where you will see it at least twice each day, perhaps on your bathroom mirror. In the morning, be aware of and present to your need for connection and consider how you might enjoy meeting that need during the day. In the evening, before bed, consider how you did or did not meet your need for connection without self-judgment.
-Suggested practice— Companion Workbook, pgs. 81-82elf there
Group Practice—Review Chapter 4 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
-Review answers to individual exercises
-Companion Workbook pgs. 83-86
Taking Responsibility For Our Feelings
(Read Chapter 5 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life)
The third component in the NVC model is to become aware of the universal human needs of ourselves and others. Needs are the resources that we require to sustain and enrich our lives. Every person has needs, and whether or not our needs are met determines how we feel. If our needs are being met, we tend to experience comfortable feelings, and if our needs are not being met, we tend to experience uncomfortable feelings. However, much of the time we tend to think that our feelings are caused by someone or something else. When hear what someone else says as blame or criticism, for example, we tend to think that this criticism makes us feel bad. But NVC teaches us to take responsibility for our own feelings, thoughts, and actions, and to be present with what is alive in us. So, it is important to realize that although others can provide a stimulus for our feelings, they can never be the cause. We have a choice about how we hear criticism or other negative messages. Marshall identifies four options (pgs. 49-50):
Four Options for Receiving Negative Messages
Options Example Response Results
Blaming or criticizing ourselves (“Jackal Ears In”) “Oh, I should’ve been more __________.” Great cost to our self-esteem: feelings like guilt, shame, depression…
Blaming or criticizing others (“Jackal Ears Out”) “You are________!” Anger, defensiveness, aggression
Sensing our own feelings and needs (“Giraffe Ears In”) “When I hear you say_____, I feel______ because I need______.” Communication with openness and honesty that can result in meeting our needs.
Sensing others’ feelings and needs (“Giraffe Ears Out”) “Are you feeling______ because you need____.” Communication with openness and empathy that can result in connection.
The giraffe is a symbol of NVC because it is the animal with the biggest heart. Thus, when we are thinking and acting in terms of NVC, we are using our “Giraffe Ears” to sense either our own needs or others’ feelings and needs. Conversely, the jackal is the scavenger, attacking our weaknesses and allowing our unmet needs to cloud our ability to stay present, and therefore when we are listening with “Jackal Ears” we tend to hear blame or criticism rather than the feelings and needs behind words.
Exercise: Think of a situation in which you’ve received message you didn’t like. How would you respond using each of the 4 options above?
Taking responsibility for our feelings and being aware of our needs can create a pathway for giving from the heart. In fact, sensing our own feelings and needs, as well as sensing others’ feelings and needs is the most essential component of NVC. It enables us to stop for a second and stay present with ourselves and with other people. There will be more exercises and opportunities to practice these skills below, but for now we can simply understand that if it is our intention to connect with what is alive in ourselves, or in someone else, we are practicing NVC. As long as we remain present to the feelings and needs that are coming up for each of us, we have a chance to connect and resolve conflict without being motivated by fear, guilt, or shame.
Notice that throughout much of our NVC model, the goal is to transform general statements to reflect specific observations, feelings, and needs (and later, requests). Here are some generalized speech patterns that deny responsibility for our feelings and needs
(From pg. 52)
Words or Phrases that include… Example
impersonal pronouns such as “it” or “that” “That bugs me a lot.”
a focus on the actions of others “I’m hurt when you don’t call.”
“I feel____ because you, he, she, they, it… “I feel angry because she lied.”
Exercise: Connect your feeling with your need.
Think of a situation when you had a distinct feeling. Now, what caused that feeling? Use the form “I feel________ because I__________.”
Needs vs. Strategies
When we start to take responsibility for our feelings and begin to express our needs, we are much more likely to have those needs met. How can someone help us to meet our needs if we are disconnect from them, ourselves? We are socialized to put the needs of others ahead of our own, just as we are conditioned to ignore our feelings. Yet when we ignore our own needs, they are likely to continue to go unmet, causing our discomfort to intensify, and reducing our connection with ourselves and with others. We start lapsing into language and thoughts that focus more and more on the Four D’s, and we spiral further and further away from a state of being that might lead to meeting those needs. Thus, being clear with ourselves and with others about how we are feeling and what we are needing is an essential step for reducing and resolving conflict. So, now we can build a vocabulary of needs:
Needs (From pgs. 54-55)
Acceptance Community Exercise Interdependence Protection Shelter
Air Consideration Food Laughter Reassurance Support
Appreciation Contribution Fun Love Respect Touch
Authenticity Creativity Harmony Meaning Rest Trust
Beauty Emotional Honesty Movement Self-worth Understanding
Celebration safety Inspiration Order Sexual Warmth
Closeness Empathy Integrity Peace expression Water
All of these words represent essential and integral parts of our being. And yet they make no reference to any specific person doing any specific thing. When we are speaking of specific actions we are pointing to strategies that might fulfill a need. This is an important distinction, especially as we begin to realize that sometimes there are many different strategies that could help us meet our needs.
Exercise: Think of a time when your needs were unmet. How were you feeling, and what needs, specifically were unmet? What did you do to try to meet those needs? Think of three different strategies that might also have contributed to meeting your needs.
Emotional Slavery and Emotional Liberation
Though this sounds like a simple practice, transforming ourselves and breaking free of old patterns is anything but easy. It is a process that takes practice, patience, and time. Although learning the model of NVC can be frustrating at times, it is helpful to track our progress as we learn, and it can be encouraging to know that these concepts do not come easily to many people. Thus, Marshall has identified 3 stages of the path to emotional liberation.
(From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pg. 57-60)
1. Emotional Slavery Taking responsibility for others’ feelings
Striving to keep everyone happy
Risks others becoming burdensome
2. Obnoxious Awareness of the costs of emotional slavery
Anger—remnants of fear, guilt, and shame about our own needs
We are not responsible for others’ needs and feelings, but don’t know how to respond to them
3. Emotional Liberation Respond to others out of compassion
Take responsibility for our feelings and needs
State clearly what we need while taking into account the needs and feelings of others.
This week we have continued to build our model of NVC by adding the third component: needs. NVC helps us to create a space and the resources to develop our emotional liberation. We learn to stay present to what is alive in us and respond to others with empathy, taking responsibility for our own feelings and needs. Throughout the course of the week you will encounter situations in which you experience distinct feelings. When you notice these come up for you, take a moment to realize what is causing those feelings. Remember to distinguish between a stimulus, an outside event, and the cause—the met or unmet needs—behind the feelings. This will help you develop along the path to emotional liberation and stay connected and present with what is alive in you.
-Exercise 3: Acknowledging Needs
(From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pg. 65)
Do the following statements acknowledge responsibility for a need? If not, how would you change it to verbally express responsibility for our needs?
Example: “You irritate me when you leave company documents on the conference room floor.”
“I’m irritated when you leave company documents on the conference room floor, because my needs for safety and order are not being met.”
a. “I feel angry when you say that, because I am wanting respect and I hear your words as an insult.”
b. “I feel frustrated when you come late.”
c. “I’m sad that you won’t be coming for dinner because I was hoping we could spend the evening together.”
d. “I feel disappointed because you said you would do it and you didn’t.”
e. “I’m discouraged because I would have liked to have progressed further in my work by now.”
f. “Little things people say sometimes hurt me.”
g. “I feel happy that you received that award.”
h. “I feel scared when you raise your voice.”
i. “I am grateful that you offered me a ride because I was needing to get home before my children.”
-Exercise (From Companion Workbook, pg. 88): Identify a specific situation in your own life where your need for the following was or was not being met. Use the form “I feel ________ because my need for ________ is/is not being met.”
d. understanding from others
e. understanding of others
- Consider the need for autonomy (link). Write the word on an index card or piece of paper and put it in a place where you will see it at least twice each day, perhaps on your bathroom mirror. In the morning, connect with your need for autonomy and consider how you might enjoy meeting that need during the day. In the evening, before bed, consider how you did or did not meet your need for autonomy without self-judgment.
-Suggested practice—Companion Workbook, pgs. 87-89.
Group Practice—Review Chapter 5 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
-Review answers to individual exercises
-Companion Workbook pgs. 90-93
Requesting that which Would Enrich Life
(Read Chapter 6 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life)
Once we have learned to understand and express our feelings and needs, we can start to figure out how to get our needs met. The fourth and final component in the NVC model is learning to make clear and present requests. We already ask for things throughout the day, from passing the salt at dinner to helping out around the house and at the office. But much of the time we use language that is vague or general, even when we think we are being clear. Similarly, we often ask others not to do something, without actually revealing exactly what it is that we would like. This week we will learn how to request those things that will enrich our life by asking what someone is willing to do right now. And, we will learn how to make a request without making a demand.
The following are some guidelines for making sure that we are requesting something concrete that can happen right now.
(From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pgs. 67-74).
Use Positive Action Language “I wish you wouldn’t spend so much time at work.” “Would you be willing to spend at least one night a week at home?”
Use Clear, Concrete Language “Would you please take some responsibility?” “Would you be willing to take out the trash?”
Make Conscious Requests: Be clear about what you want right now “I’m annoyed that you forgot the groceries I asked you to pick up for dinner.” “Would you be willing to go back to the store now and get the groceries?
One of the keys to being present to our feelings and our needs is expressing ourselves in clear and present language. Thus, when making a request it is important to understand and express what we want rather than what we do not want, offering a clear way for someone else to help enrich our life. Being specific about our requests will in turn help us embark on a path toward getting our needs met and connecting with another person with openness, empathy, and honesty. In order to make these clear and present requests, we must have an understanding of ourselves, including our feelings and needs, so we can clearly and consciously express how those needs could be met.
Specific Requests in NVC
A huge part of NVC is connecting with those around us. To that end, there are specific requests that we make when practicing NVC to make sure that we really are connecting. Remember that these are only steps in the process of connecting with what is alive in us as well as in our friends and loved ones.
(From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pgs. 74-77)
Request Example The NVC Process
Asking for a reflection “Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say? Make sure that message sent is message received
Express appreciation when your listener tries to meet you request
Empathize if the listener doesn’t want to reflect back
Requesting honesty “I would like you to tell me how you feel about what I just said.”
Learn about how your message is received
Learn about what your listener thinks of what we said
Learn whether your listener is willing to take particular action to meet your needs
Exercise: Think of a situation in which your needs are not being met. Write a dialogue that begins with the NVC form:
“When I see that ____________ I feel ____________ because my need for _____________ is not being met. Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say?”
How would the person you are talking to respond? Empathize with that response, and then move on to requesting honesty.
Although making these requests may seem awkward for both the speaker and the listener at first, if we approach the process with empathy and honesty, we can make sure that our messages are not received as blame or criticism. “We make clear that we’re not testing their listening skills, but checking out whether we’ve expressed ourselves clearly” (pg. 76). If we listen empathically and respond to our listener’s needs, we will continue on the road to connection. Similarly, if we make specific requests that can be made in the moment, we can make sure that we get the answers that we are looking for.
Requests Versus Demands
Of course, when we make a request, we would like our listener to comply. But if compliance is our only goal in making that request, what we have said is likely to be received as a demand. When people hear demands, they are likely to respond out of fear, guilt, or shame rather than giving from the heart (pg. 79). So how do we know when we are requesting and when we are demanding? The biggest difference is in our own response to noncompliance. If we are willing to hear noncompliance as an expression of feelings and needs, and then are willing to empathize with them, we are more likely to achieve our goals of openness and connection.
Characteristics of Requests and Demands (pgs. 79-81)
Speaker only wants compliance if the listener is willing Listener will either submit or rebel
Speaker empathizes with what the person is wanting instead of hearing it as rejection Speaker interprets noncompliance with rejection
Response to noncompliance expresses recognition of listener’s feelings and needs If the request is not complied with, the speaker will criticize, judge or guilt-trip
Empathy, when making requests, supports cooperation. If we are aware of and open to what is alive in ourselves and in others, we will continue to connect, and our needs are more likely be met in ways that will be mutually satisfying. This does not mean that we do not want our request to be met. It just means that our most important objective is to be present with the connection at hand and to create a “relationship based on honesty and empathy” (pg. 81), making sure that everyone’s needs are being addressed.
This week we have added the fourth and final component to the NVC process: making clear and present requests. Yet learning to make requests in NVC oftentimes takes more practice than the other components, because we often expect others to already understand what we want. It is also more difficult to practice on your own, so it would be a good idea to practice either with a group or with a partner who is willing to give you feedback as to whether you are being clear and present, and if what you are asking is doable in the moment (an opportunity to practice making a request!). Throughout the week, as you make requests of other people, make a special effort to be conscious of whether or not it is your objective to connect. Pay close attention to whether what you are requesting is truly a request or if it is a demand. If you feel yourself compelled to respond to noncompliance with criticism or judgment, view it as an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and recommit to your objectives of creating relationships based on empathy and honesty.
-Exercise 4: Expressing Requests
(From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pg. 88)
Do the following statements clearly express that specific action be taken? If not, how would you change it to verbally express a specific request?
Example: “I want you to understand me.”
“I want you to tell me what you heard me say.”
a. “I’d like you to tell me one thing that I did that you appreciate.”
b. “I’d like you to feel more confidence in yourself.”
c. “I want you to stop drinking.”
d. “I’d like you to let me be me.”
e. “I’d like you to be honest with me about yesterday’s meeting.”
f. “I would like you to drive at or below the speed limit.”
g. “I’d like to get to know you better.”
h. “I would like you to show respect for my privacy.”
i. “I’d like you to prepare supper more often.”
-Exercise (From Companion Workbook, pg. 98): Recall an interaction with someone that did not satisfy you. Give one or several requests you made or could have made in this situation using positive action language. Next, write down how you would tell the other person your observation, feeling, and need, and follow with 1) a request for what the listener is feeling, and 2) a request for what the listener is thinking.
- Consider the need for honesty (link). Write the word on an index card or piece of paper and put it in a place where you will see it at least twice each day, perhaps on your bathroom mirror. In the morning, connect with your need for honesty and consider how you might enjoy meeting that need during the day. In the evening, before bed, consider how you did or did not meet your need for honesty without self-judgment.
-Suggested practice—Companion Workbook, pgs. 97-98.
Group Practice—Review Chapter 6 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
-Review answers to individual exercises
-Companion Workbook pgs. 99-103.
(Read Chapter 7 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life)
Thus far we have sketched an outline of the NVC model, and have begun the transformative process of learning how to express ourselves honestly by observing our surroundings, understanding and interpreting our feelings and our needs, and requesting that which will enrich our lives when our needs are not met. But as we already know, honesty is but one part of the heart of NVC. Now we will delve into the second part of NVC, which is learning to hear and understand the feelings and needs of others with empathy. Of course, this takes patience and practice, as well, but once we begin to learn about empathy we will see how important it really is in helping us to connect with what is alive in others as well as ourselves. We will also see that it NVC only takes one person with the intention to connect. If we remain present to our own feelings and needs while keeping in mind the feelings and needs of others, we will begin to connect in ways that may have never seemed possible before.
Empathy and Empathizing
We all have experiences hearing other peoples’ problems, and most of the time we are happy to do what we can to make our companions feel better. Yet although we are all well equipped with the tools to sympathize, advise, console, or educate our friends, most of the time these things are not what they want or need. Instead, when we are suffering, a lot of the time we want empathy. We just want to be heard and understood rather than reassured or fixed. When we are upset and we look for guidance or help from others, we are calling for connection and for acknowledgment, and if we just receive advice, those needs will remain unmet.
Empathy is “a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing” (pg. 91). It is not only listening with our ears or with our minds, but with our whole being, and rather than trying to analyze and fix a situation, we are simply being present to the feelings and needs of the person in pain. “We give to others the time and space they need to express themselves fully and to feel understood” (pg. 92). Whereas always searching for ways to fix a situation can distance us from what is really going on, being present and listening with our whole being fosters connection and helps people to know that they are acknowledged and understood. Think of the times that we seem closest with others; these are times when we have shared experiences that have created a deeper understanding that someone else is a part of the same thing. Through empathy we can cultivate this idea of closeness and connection everyday, and even in every moment.
Exercise: Listening with your whole being
Think of a time when your needs were not met, and you were experiencing very intense feelings. Remember what was stimulating your emotions (your observations) and remember exactly how you were feeling and write a brief paragraph outlining your feelings and your needs. Now, write a dialogue in which you are empathizing with yourself. You will need two different characters, a speaker and a listener. What might you have said when you were upset? As the listener, hear the needs and feelings behind the language that is being used. Stay present with the speaker, without offering advice or solutions unless they are requested.
Listening in NVC
By this point we have already developed some of the tools that are necessary to understand our own observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Now, we can shift that understanding to the way we listen. All of us are constantly expressing these four components, although many people do not use the specific language we have learned in NVC. Our job as listeners, then, is to hear these four components without judgment, blame, or criticism. When we are committed to being present to what is alive in someone else, we are empathizing, and sometimes we do not even need to say a word to others to help them get through their pain. They just have to know that we are there for them to listen. We also have the option of reflecting back and paraphrasing what we have heard in order to let our speaker know that he or she has been heard. This can be an important tool that can contribute to compassion and understanding in an interaction. The following table shows examples of how to paraphrase in NVC.
Paraphrasing in NVC (from pg. 97 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life)
Question about… Example
What others are observing “Are you reacting to how many evenings I was gone last week?”
How others are feeling and the needs generating their feelings “Are you feeling hurt because you would have liked more appreciation of your efforts than you received?”
What others are requesting “Are you wanting me to tell you my reasons for saying what I did?”
Of course, since not everyone will be speaking in NVC terms, it will not always be completely clear exactly what the person is feeling and needing. Still, it is important to reflect back what we have heard and make a guess about what is going on with the other person. If we are completely at a loss and we need to ask for more information, it is important to first express our own feelings and needs, as well (pg. 97). Remember, empathy is about being present, not about worrying about making sure that the next thing we say will be the right thing. As long as we maintain an intention to connect with what is alive in the speaker, NVC will be able to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. This is especially true in emotionally charged situations, because it allows us to slow down and really connect with what is alive in the moment. And, believe it or not, taking this time to reflect what we have heard can actually save time in the end (pg. 100)!
Exercise (From Companion Workbook, pg. 110)
The following dialogue takes place between two persons who share a house:
Housemate A: “You never remember to turn off the lights.”
Housemate B: “Are you irritated and would like more awareness about how we use resources…?”
Repeat the role of Housemate B with in the following tones of voice:
a. with a little edge of sarcasm.
b. in a declarative way
c. in an empathic (sensing) way
What do you notice about tone of voice when we are empathizing?
Of course, paraphrasing is not always going to be helpful, and our attempts might be received as attacks that elicit blame and criticism. But again, as long as we remain present and committed to hearing the feelings and needs behind the words without blame and criticism, we can see this as an opportunity to enrich someone else’s life through empathy (pg. 100). Remember, life-alienating communication is a tragic expression of our needs. Using NVC, we now have the opportunity to see through the tragedy and hear exactly what is going on for those people about whom we care so much.
Empathizing with another person is not a simple process that we can just apply to each situation. Although we have a model to follow, it is important not to fall into a mechanistic routine when listening to others. We have the tools to sustain our empathy and do not have to revert to looking for solutions that might fix each problem. Instead, we can maintain our focus on what is alive in the moment. Being patient and staying with feelings and needs allows our speaker to connect more deeply with what is going on, and begin to get to the source of the pain. We will know that a person has received enough empathy by sensing a release of body tension and hearing the flow of words come to a halt. If we are still unsure, we can always ask, “Is there more that you would like to say?” or “Is there anything else that comes up for you about this?” (pgs. 102-103).
Of course, dealing with highly emotional situations is not an easy task, and sometimes our attempts to stay present with someone else’s pain are thwarted by our own unmet needs. This is because we need empathy, too. Here, we can openly acknowledge that we are not able or willing to continue empathizing, expressing ourselves of course in terms of our own feelings and needs. Or, we can silently give ourselves empathy by listening and acknowledging the voice inside our own heads. To do this, all we have to do is stop, breathe, and observe how we are feeling and needing (pg. 103). Just taking a few seconds to notice and express what is going on for us can enrich not only our own experience, but also the experience of those with whom we are empathizing.
Empathy is a powerful tool that can enrich our lives. Rather than distancing ourselves from other people by projecting our own values and our own stories onto a situation in order to find simple solutions, our goal becomes to stay present with those around us whose needs are not met. This week, take special notice of those people in your life that you know best. How do we know what they are feeling? What cues do you take from them to anticipate their needs? Pick one person and imagine a situation in which you have felt especially connected. Take note of your needs and feelings as well as his or hers. Allow yourself to connect with his or her feelings and needs, and feel what it is like to really empathize with someone on a very deep level. It may be helpful to write a description of what this experience is like. In the future, when you are having difficulty connecting with what is alive in someone else, you can think back to this experience of deep empathy and use it as a guide for empathizing even in the most difficult of situations.
-Exercise 4: Receiving Empathically
(From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, pg. 109)
Does person B respond empathically to what is going on with person A? Why, or why not?
Person A: How could I do something so stupid?
Person B: Nobody is perfect; you’re too hard on yourself.
Person B is reassuring Person A, rather than empathizing
a. Person A: If you ask me, we ought to ship all these immigrants back to where they came from.
Person B: Do you really think that would solve anything?
b. Person A: You aren’t God!
Person B: Are you feeling frustrated because you would like me to admit that there can be other ways of interpreting this matter?
c. Person A:I think that you take me for granted. I wonder how you would manage without me.
Person B: That’s not true! I don’t take you for granted.
d. Person A: How could you say a thing like that to me?
Person B: Are you feeling hurt because I said that?
e. Person A: I’m furious with my husband. He’s never around when I need him.
Person B: You think he should be around more than he is?
f. Person A: I’m disgusted with how heavy I’m getting.
Person B: Perhaps jogging would help
g. Person A: I’ve been a nervous wreck planning for my daughter’s wedding. Her fiancé’s family is not helping. About every day they change their minds about the kind of wedding they would like.
Person B: So you’re feeling nervous about how to make arrangements and would appreciate it if your future in-laws could be more aware of the complications their indecision creates for you?
h. Person A: When my relatives come without letting me know ahead of time I feel invaded. It reminds me of how my parents used to disregard my needs and would plan things for me.
Person B: I know how you feel. I used to feel that way too.
i. Person A: I’m disappointed with your performance. I would have liked your department to double your production last month.
Person B: I understand that you’re disappointed, but we have had many absences due to illness.
-Exercise (From Companion Workbook, pgs. 107): Recall two situations where you responded to someone else’s words by “doing” rather than by empathizing (examples of “doing” are advising, one-upping, educating, consoling, story-telling, shutting down, sympathizing, interrogating, explaining, and correcting). Briefly write out a 2-line dialogue for each situation.
a. what the person said (expressing pain)
b. what you said in response (name the behavior
Now, go back and change your response (b) into a verbalized empathic response (in real life, of course, your empathy might be silent.) Remember, empathy entails sensing or guessing, rather than knowing, the other person’s feelings and needs. In offering verbal empathy, we take the risk of guessing incorrectly, with the hope that the response to our incorrect guess will lead both of us closer to an accurate understanding of what feelings and needs are present.
- Consider the need for empathy (link). Write the word on an index card or piece of paper and put it in a place where you will see it at least twice each day, perhaps on your bathroom mirror. In the morning, connect with your need for empathy and consider how you might enjoy meeting that need during the day. In the evening, before bed, consider how you did or did not meet your need for empathy without self-judgment.
-Suggested practice—Companion Workbook, pgs. 106-108.
Group Practice—Review Chapter 7 in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
-Review answers to individual exercises
-Companion Workbook pgs. 109-112.
The following is a sample covenant for a community. It is offered not so much because it represents an ideal statement, but because it shows the elements that might be included in a covenant and how a covenant might be constructed. Each community will have its own set of inspired agreements and values. The process of clarifying those and putting them into written form is a valuable process that can strengthen a community. -ed
A Community Covenant
We endeavor that all of our interactions and communications will show respect for the well being of all, especially those who may disagree with us.
To that end, we commit to communicate honestly, openly, and humbly—without cynicism or a supposed sense of superiority and always with the respect that allows us to recognize the value of others as members of this community. Furthermore, we recognize the value of diverse opinions and that unity does not require unanimity.
Standards of Civility
By civility, we intend more than mere politeness. Rather we intend a basic set of attitudes and actions upon which we can build a community that is able to celebrate our differences, make decisions, and resolve conflict in a positive and forward-moving manner. These standards do not intend to stifle anyone's leadership, academic freedom, or freedom of speech. Rather they provide 'guidelines of participation' for our professional community. The goal is to create the conditions that best allow trust and positive relationships to flourish.
Therefore, the COMMUNITY administration, faculty, and staff commit to prioritize the following in our communications within THE COMMUNITY and concerning THE COMMUNITY to the general public:
1. Encouragement: encourage each other and value the contributions that all members make to the shared mission of THE COMMUNITY.
2. Collaboration: choose to enter into communication non-defensively, assuming other parties have good will toward us and are acting in good faith.
3. Forgiveness: allow others to grow through forgiveness, and avoid holding grudges.
4. Inclusiveness: prioritize inclusive language and actively recruit input from under-represented voices (bearing in mind categories like gender, culture, ethnicity, position, and rank).
Governance, Planning, and the Use of Authority
We recognize that we all exercise authority in one or more areas, making decisions that affect others. Therefore, we commit to the following tenets:
• Whether as individuals or as groups, we affirm that it is incumbent on us to value a broad perspective and seriously take into account those whom our decisions affect and those with a reasonable interest in our decisions. It is also incumbent on us, when we have a reasonable interest in decisions, to engage and offer input.
• Similarly, we acknowledge that there are times when decisions are made with which everyone does not agree. In those instances, we commit to behave with a cooperative and positive attitude, even while we may continue to work respectfully within the system to seek change.
Healthy Interaction, Input, Grievances, Complaints, and Contributions
In our communication, we will seek the most respectful, orderly, and productive tone and medium appropriate for our message and context. Particularly in times of conflict, we should, as professionals, craft our communication in a manner that minimizes miscommunication and preserves the intent of our message. The Employee handbook will outline procedures for engaging the system and working through committee and group structures to affect change. In the case of more personal grievances between individuals, all effort should be made to resolve the issue through the process outlined in the Employee Manual
We commit to the following actions:
• Be truth seekers who speak in specifics, not in generalities.
• Seek to understand fully before expressing disagreement or dissent.
• Rely on first-hand accounts.
• Strive to reconcile hurts and reach a mutually agreed upon resolution.
• Take personal responsibility for uncivil or improper actions in order to restore harmony in the community.
• Participate in the discussion of issues of concern, or if not, choose to respect the outcome.
• We commit to this covenant remembering that in the companionship of colleagues we can see the image of the highest in one another.
In doing research for the September Newsletter, I reconnected with Marjorie Spock's important booklets, "Group Moral Artistry: The Art of Community Building I and II." They have been a source of inspiration since 1986 when a colleague first shared them with me. While these little gems are available in our resource section, this week's highlight is about Marjorie herself. Last week (September 8) she would have been 110 years old. In 1922, at 18, Marjorie went to Dornach to learn eurythmy and study with Rudolf Steiner, an experience that inspired her life as a eurythmy teacher (at 100 she produced and directed a film on eurythmy), a biodynamic farmer (she was part of the inspiration for Rachel Carson's Silent Spring), a writer, and a teacher.
She was a true Michaelic warrior whose life and writing continue to fan the sparks of courage and initiative in the hearts of us all.
Keep in touch,
Here is a quote from her.
“In a universe where all life is in movement, where every fact seen in perspective is totally engaging, we impose stillness on lively young bodies, distort reality to dullness, and make action drudgery. Those who submit - as the majority does - are conditioned to a life lived without their human birthright: work done with the joy and creativity of love. But what are schools for if not to make children fall so deeply in love with the world that they really want to learn about it? That is the true business of schools. And if they succeed in it, all other desirable developments follow of themselves. In a proper school, no fact would ever be presented as a soulless one, for the simple reason that there is no such thing. Every facet of reality, discovered where it lives, startles with its wonder, beauty, and meaning.”