Monthly Archives: September 2017

Sep 01

Listening without judgement

By David Starr | ITM

Hi folks,

I recently had the opportunity to run a small workshop at the Victorian residential for trainees and teachers at the Maitripa Buddhist retreat in Healesville.

The workshop ran for an hour and a half. Fifteen people attended. Thank you all that came!

The workshop focused on learning some components of Non Violent Communication (NVC), and then integrating the skills into an empathic listening exercise. The listening exercise is described in this article.

I found that people responded quite positively to the workshop and I felt very inspired when Anne asked me to write a little summary about NVC for ITM. And just to mention: I have only recently become interested in NVC, and the impact it has had on my work and personal relationships has been quite noticeable.

A little on NVC

NVC is a language and communication model developed by the late Dr Marshall Rosenberg, which in his words “helps guide us to reframe how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of habitual automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity whilst at the same time giving others our empathic attention.”

The great thing about NVC is that the other person we are communicating with doesn’t need to be knowledgeable about NVC or desire to relate to us compassionately. NVC is an indirect process that inspires people to connect to each other without the interference of criticism, judgement, accusation, evaluation, blame or punishment.

I have found that as long as the other person knows that your intention is to give and receive on a compassionate level, then they will want to join you in the process.

NVC is not a process to ‘get what we want’ from someone or to manipulate their actions. We use NVC to express our feelings, desires and requests in such a way that someone can choose to fulfil our requests and understand what it is we want –  “to arrive at a mutual desire to give from the heart …

The four components

There are four parts to NVC, which are the basis of the process. In any situation we can choose to stay in touch with these principles to either express ourselves or to receive others empathically.

The components are:

  1. Observation – What is it we are observing? These are ‘concrete actions’ that we are sensing. Observation is free from interpretation, judgement, evaluation, blame etc.
  2. Feelings – How do we feel in relation to what we are observing?
  3. Needs – What are the needs, values, desires and wants that create our feelings?
  4. Request – What could we request so that our needs can be met?

As an example, let me describe a situation I have used this process for.

I have just cleaned the house and my son has walked in from playing outside with muddy gumboots on and sat on the lounge. A response I may usually give could be regarded as being unconstructive and demanding: “Take those boots off now will you! What is going through your mind?”

But if I focus the light of consciousness on the four components of NVC, my response would sound like, “ Son, when I see you walk in the door with muddy gumboots on (factual observation), I feel irritated and puzzled (feeling) because I am wanting respect and the carpet to be kept clean (need). Are you willing to walk back outside and take them off then clean up the mud (do-able request)?”

Now, we are always free to choose if we are willing to meet someone’s request, and my son could say ‘no’, but if he sees that I am interested in connecting compassionately, then my need for respect and clean carpet has a much better chance of being fulfilled in a Non-Violent way.

The four components are the basis of NVC and can be used at any time. And it is very useful to use it on yourself to acknowledge what is ‘alive’ in you in order to gain more conscious control.

Empathic Listening exercise

This is the empathy exercise that was practised during the workshop. Please try it with a friend, partner or family member in a quiet space.

Sitting facing each other comfortably, choose who is person A and who is person B.

Person A speaks for five minutes to person B. Sharing whatever is ‘alive’ in them … whatever thoughts come up. There’s no right or wrong. It’s all about expressing yourself and being heard, which may be a personal story, or random thoughts are OK. You might talk about the current relationship with person B. Childhood interests, adulthood accomplishments, hopes, dreams etc. Must be five minutes. If you run out of things to say, both people must stay with the silence until something more comes up.

Person B listens to person A in complete silence and full attention.

Listening for the feelings and needs behind the words.

Needs can be expressed as hopes, values, wishes, desires, dreams, yearnings, things that are important to them.

Remember that giving someone your full attention is a gift to them. Notice if your thoughts drift to your own inner dialogue, judgements, comparisons, evaluations etc. Bring your attention gently back to person A. It is important to remain silent to give them the space to express and so you can sense what’s alive in them.

After the five minutes, person B then relates what feelings and needs they sensed in person A’s words, and person A can describe what feelings arose while speaking. Person B may also like to say what feelings and needs arose in them while listening. Allow a few minutes for this.

Then swap around. Person B speaks, person A listens in silence.

Repeat the cycle two more times, so both people have three turns at speaking and listening. Why? Because it takes a few ‘rounds’ of empathic listening for the transformative powers of non-judgemental attention to emerge.

The point of this exercise is to tune into the feelings and needs of someone else, which is something that we may not usually watch out for. Sometimes it is hard for us to express ourselves fully when we know we will hear a reaction. Asking the listener to remain silent gives us the freedom to say what is really going on. When we express what is painful for us we often wonder how the other person will respond, with either advice, criticism, assurance, sympathy, accusation or trying to educate, correct, punish us or fix us up.

(This listening exercise came from ).


I have found that NVC is amazing and takes a commitment to learn to use in real life and I can only offer my testimony that it is something very useful. Thank you all.

Sep 01

The work that brings us together

By Anne Mallen | ITM , Training

This year’s schools residential may have been the best one yet.

It was the third year running that students and teachers from the Melbourne and Sydney schools have gathered at the Maitripa centre  in Healesville.

The turnout was big – 50 people.

The weather at the end of February was perfect, unlike previous years which have ranged from freezing to baking hot.

The food was fantastic again, and the accommodation seems to get a little fancier every year.

As usual, students from the Melbourne school headed by David Moore and the Sydney school headed by Greg Holdaway attended, along with quite a few teachers, plus  for the first time the head of the new Sydney school, Simon Fitzgibbon.

It’s really noticeable how much the students and teachers from the schools are bonding. There’s  a warmth there, and friendships and connections are growing across state borders.

It’s been a wonderful vision by David and Greg of a unified Alexander schools experience, where everyone is safe and welcome.

Caren Bayer taught us with her usual mix of brilliance and humility.

There was singing all together, and dancing and sharing and learning from each other.

The final concert was a heartfelt affair, so much so that even the staff at Maitripa decided to participate.

A particular thank you to all the soon-to-be teachers who ran workshops at the residential. They were interesting, fun and really useful. We loved learning from you and with you.

We’re looking forward to the next one.


By Rossella Buono and Anne Mallen


Sep 01

What every member should know about AUSTAT governance

By Michael Shellshear | Governance , ITM

Good governance is about the processes for making and implementing decisions. It’s about the best possible process for making those decisions.
In AUSTAT our governance is very clearly stated.

Map of AUSTAT Governance.

AUSTAT is an incorporated association under NSW state legislation. This means that all our processes must abide by the NSW Incorporations Act 2009.

When we hold a position with AUSTAT we can’t just do what we want, there are clear guidelines that determine our actions and our decisions.

AUSTAT has a Constitution called “the AUSTAT Constitution”. The AUSTAT Constitution is a formal document that spells out our values and what we are aiming to achieve.

In the commercial world, the AUSTAT Constitution would be called a “Policy document” because it contains all our policies. Policies tell an organisation what the values of the organisation are, what goals are appropriate for it to achieve and what their identity is as a professional organisation. Only members at our AGM can change policy through a 75% vote.

Constitutional change

From time to time, teacher members may suggest that changes are made to the AUSTAT Constitution. This may be important to give direction to AUSTAT Council about how to carry out our business or to indicate when there has been a change in what we want to achieve or the reasons that we want to achieve a goal. Constitutional change needs to be carefully thought out to ensure that the directions that we give to AUSTAT Council are clear and unambiguous. Changes need to be considered for knock-on effects, double meanings, that they accurately reflect the beliefs of the majority of members and that they are achievable.

It’s important that this process is reasoned, debated and careful.

AUSTAT Council

The AGM elects teacher members to represent their interests as an elected Council. Those “interests” are written down in the AUSTAT Constitution. It’s incumbent on AUSTAT Council to follow the directives of the members that have been voted for and passed at an AGM. Therefore, it is important for you to attend AGMs with a good understanding of the issues. If that’s not possible then giving a proxy to someone who will represent your beliefs is very important.

The AGM can ask Council to undertake tasks on its behalf that don’t involve Constitutional change, but be careful because AUSTAT Council is not empowered to undertake any task that goes against the AUSTAT Constitution.

Policies reflect the members’ beliefs and goals. Procedures are how AUSTAT Council systematically implements those stated goals.


AUSTAT Council has no other business but to administer the policy that is written in the AUSTAT Constitution. AUSTAT Council may NOT write or create new policy. Read Section 18 of the AUSTAT Constitution, you can find a copy of the AUSTAT Constitution in the AUSTAT website members’ section under ‘Forms and Processes’.

Council can write and implement “procedures”. Procedures are systematic instructions on how to implement the policy that is written in the AUSTAT Constitution. Procedures can’t be used to slip in new policy that hasn’t been approved by members. The procedures must reflect the policy that is in the AUSTAT Constitution.

Every elected member of AUSTAT Council has an equal vote. There is no Presidential role. The Chair does not have veto powers, nor can he/she enforce or over-ride any decision that is made by Council. The Chair may not make a decision on behalf of Council. Three elected members have special duties. The Chair must ensure that the AUSTAT Constitution (i.e. the wishes of the members) is upheld. The Chair acts as adjudicator, sets the monthly agenda, ensures that meetings take place, that Minutes are written and that “due process” is followed in all decisions. The Secretary administers communication including notice of meetings and correspondence. The Treasurer administers  members’ fees and ensures that all spending and invoicing is in accordance with the AUSTAT Constitution. All other Council members work together to administer the AUSTAT Constitution.

The AUSTAT Standing Committees

Standing Committees are not elected by teacher members. They are appointed by AUSTAT Council to assist Council in its administration of members’ business. Standing committees have no powers to write policy or procedures. They are constituted to only make recommendations to AUSTAT Council. This is an important safeguard.

Have a look at the AUSTAT Constitution and these working relationships are written in black and white. Standing committees have an important role to play in supporting and informing AUSTAT Council. However, there are limits on what they can do and how they can do that. These limits are important in ensuring that AUSTAT policy is followed and changes in the way we operate will only occur through the resolve of members voting at an AGM.

It’s important that elected members and members appointed by Council understand what they can do and what they cannot do. It is the “scope” of our role. Governance is important because it allows us to work together with a clear understanding of our boundaries.

Governance is important. It helps if we all understand the process and its constraints.

Each member of AUSTAT, be it the Chair, the Treasurer, Secretary, Standing Committee Member or an ordinary teacher member is constrained by the policy that has been voted for by 75% of those present at an AGM. This is an important constraint and ensures that each teacher member volunteering for AUSTAT follows the wishes of the membership.

When considering Constitutional change, that comes to you as motions requiring a special resolution (75% vote), take into account the important role that governance plays in ensuring that people act in accordance with the written wishes of the members and not from their own opinion of what they think they should be doing in AUSTAT.


Michael Shellshear


Michael was asked by Council to write a short piece for ITM explaining some of the mechanics of governance within AUSTAT to assist members understand how the processes of decision making occur.


Below may help to clarify: