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:
- Observation – What is it we are observing? These are ‘concrete actions’ that we are sensing. Observation is free from interpretation, judgement, evaluation, blame etc.
- Feelings – How do we feel in relation to what we are observing?
- Needs – What are the needs, values, desires and wants that create our feelings?
- 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 www.nvcworld.com ).
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.