Speak Compassion

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Friday, September 25, 2009

We Are Hard Wired for Empathy!

by @ 8:45 pm. Filed under Joe's Rants

Video from the the Wall Street Journal on the science of empathy.   Turns out we really are wired for caring and giving to each other.  I am not surprised.   You can read the article that goes with the video here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Coming To Teach #Peace in #VT

by @ 9:06 pm. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Joe's Rants, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

There is still room available in my workshop coming up on October 3, 2009 in White River Junction, Vermont.  I will be presenting my workshop Communicating Compassionately in a World of Conflict.  This workshop combines material from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, George Kohlrieser’s Hostage at the Table, and Crucial Confrontations by Kelly Patterson.  Participants in this workshop will learn the basics of Nonviolent Communication which include learning to express oneself honestly while still listening empathetically.  They will also learn to identify and define the conflicts in their lives in ways that let them take responsibility for their feelings and their actions.  They will also learn to let other people do the same.

Each time I have presented this workshop, I have added more into it that will help people put this information into practice in their daily life.  I bring with me years of experience in understanding, study, teaching and living nonviolence.  I started as the victim of violence only to start trying to understand it. I bring into this workshop the things I have learned along this journey about how and why we argue, fight and disconnect from one another and offer the things you can do in everyday life to reconnect even in difficult conversations!

The requested fee for this workshop is  $89.00 and a limited number of scholarships have been made available.    Please contact me to learn more.

To register: Please visit New England NVC

BYOC!  (Bring your own conflicts) and we will work on them!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Doing “it”

by @ 1:45 pm. Filed under Nonviolence

Some days, I find it incredibly discouraging to do what I want to do in the world, especially when I am so aware that many people have no idea why I do it or even what “it” that I do is.  Regardless of all that, I am doing it whatever “it” is because I believe in “it.”  On the days I feel discouraged because it seems to me like few people have any interest in taking a second look at “it” and perhaps giving “it” a second try, I turn to the ever powerful internet to gain some inspiration to continue doing “it” that I do.

This video did the trick to keep me at “it” (it did take about a minute for me to catch on to the message and I go it it loud and clear after that.  I also loved the song and wish I knew what they were saying)

After watching that video, I wonder if you will join me in doing it!

Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin

by @ 8:41 am. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

A blog that has become a daily read for me is called, Waging Nonviolence.  They currently have a piece up about this video which is an advertisement for HSBC where a women is protesting the trees being cut in the forest along with other green activists.   As she is arrested, and bailed out, we learn she is in a relationship with one of the loggers who was there to cut down the trees.  As they leave the police station on their motorcycle, they return to the affection that appears to be their relationship.  You can watch the video:

This reminded me immediately of James Carville and his wife, Mary Matalin who are popular TV political analysts from opposite ends of the political spectrum.  Carville is a hardcore Democrat who worked under many of the last Democratic presidents and Matalin is a diehard Republican. The two have also remained happily married despite their political oppositions.  Why?  How is this done?jamescarville.jpg

There is much that could be learned from this relationship which is why George Kohlrieser writes about them in his book, Hostage at the Table.  Kohlrieser goes onto talk in his book about the importance of bonding with another person. He further explains how you can have differences without conflict by keeping “bonding” in tact.   In other words, respect for each other’s humanity is never lost despite differences of opinion.

jamesmary.jpgThose on the opposite political ends of gay marriage, abortion, the healthcare reform debate and many other fierce political differences could learn much about not allowing those differences become ugly conflicts by keeping connected to each other’s humanity.  My suggestion is the same as it was in the last 20 articles I have written.   Keep focused on human needs because we all have them.  We are always bonded and connected despite our differences by the fact that we as human beings all have the same needs.  We may choose different strategies to try and fill those needs and yet the needs remain the same.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Conflict Resolution Tip #5

by @ 9:48 am. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Conflict Resolution Tips, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

Conflict Resolution Tip #5:  Solve conflicts when YOU are fresh and ready NOT when the conflict is fresh and ready.

So many of us want to solve a conflict right when it happens.  While this attitude might work for many tasks we face, it won’t work as well for conflict.  Our brains were not wired for conflict resolution from the start.  As soon as our brains believe we are in danger either emotionally or physically, a process some of us call “riled up” begins to happen. Our bodies start to put us in a place that is not exactly primed for conflict resolution or thinking in general.  To start with, our body starts making adrenaline to give us energy to aid us in our actions of fight or flight.  The body then diverts blood away from the higher brain functions (neocortex) and send it into the limbs we use for fight or flight.   This means the blood and oxygen that would have gone to your higher thinking and problem solving is now fleeing your brain to help you swing your arms and make fists.  Your vision is also changing.  As your body is preparing you to take flight and run, it is narrowing your field of vision so you basically can’t see the whole picture.   This process is called the Amygdala Hijack and it is not a place from which to solve conflict. Basically, the Amygdala cannot tell the difference between a lion about to eat you and an emotional attack.

So how do you regain control?  Surprisingly, it is not that hard to free yourself of the brain hijack reaction.  As long as you can step out of the event and reengage your brain, you can “snap out of it” and the adrenaline will pass, vision will return and higher cognitive processes will step up to the plate.  The most important thing to do is breathe.  In that moment it is important to get thinking going again, it is necessary to get some oxygen to the neocortex of the brain.

The next step is walk away and refocus yourself on what it is you want the outcome to be in the situation.   I might suggest checking in with the needs you would like to have met by the interchange.   I would not suggest at this juncture to focus on the needs that are not being met as you will want to try and stay focused on the positives.  Focusing on what needs you are trying to meet keeps the neocortex engaged and keeps your mind’s eye focused on the goal of getting needs met rather than being held hostage by the strategies that are not working.

If these things fail to reengage you, walk away for a few minutes and breathe.   Feelings in our bodies are created by chemical reactions that our bodies pump out on demand.  If we can cut off the demand, we also can cut off the supplier.  By walking away and focusing on something else, we are asking our body to pump out a new set of chemicals and a new emotion.   This can return us to a place where we can examine what we want, what needs are we trying to meet with our actions and what is going on for this other person.

Just as a last thought, remember you are not the only victim of the Amygdala Hijack.   When you see family, friends, coworkers with steam coming out of their ears, make note that they may also be experiencing the hijack.  They may need a moment to reengage their thinking brain.  There will be little or no conflict resolution between two people who have gone blind and can’t think.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Conflict Resolution Tip #4

by @ 10:10 am. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Conflict Resolution Tips, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

Conflict Resolution Tip #4:  Separate People From Problems Because People Are Never the Problem

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence stated in Principle No. 3: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.  There is much to be learned from the idea King put out there.  After reading dozens of conflict management books and taking several trainings courses in mediation and nonviolence, one thing that is stressed in all conflict solution-based material is the idea that people are never the problem.  It is easy in the heat of the moment to see the person as the source of the conflict and even think, “If Susan would just leave the meeting we could get some work done” and even if Susan left the meeting, whatever unmet needs existed to cause the conflict still remain.  Susan was just the stimulus to bring awareness to the real problem.  At the bottom of all conflicts are unmet needs.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the person (or groups of people) and to place blame on them for “being” the problem.  The catch of this is that by placing our energy on the person as the problem we aren’t spending any energy on the real issue at the table, unmet NEEDS!  We can say that “John is so greedy and always uses more than everyone else” and that leaves us focused on “what” we think John is and not why we need to make things run smooth again.  In the end, it is irrelevant what John “is” because what will solve the problem is a better system of making sure there is enough.  In this case, it may be the inventory system that is a problem and not John.

For example, you may have been passed over for a promotion and blame that on the boss. In this instance, you believe the boss is the problem.  You think he doesn’t like women and won’t promote one. You start to think if he wasn’t the boss, you could get ahead.  Your thinking he “is” a sexist, old fashion,  boy’s club manager.  As your wrapped up in all this blame game stuff,   there is no focus on the real issues causing the conflict.  It is even unlikely with this mindset you can even identify the real heart of the conflict which could be unmet needs for trust, productivity, even perhaps a need for better communication.  It could be the boss doesn’t know that you scored the last big account and wrote the two last sales reports.  If the real conflict here is a communication issue that needs to be addressed, chances are it won’t be addressed if you think the person is the problem.

Take a step back from your judgments and thoughts about what people “are” and look into the needs that are trying to be met.  First check in with what human needs you are trying to meet and then see what needs the other person is trying to meet.  Don’t look at the strategies, look at the needs met by asking why do I want this?  Why does the other person want what they want?  When you find the answers to these questions, you will see it is the unmet needs, not the person that is at the heart of the problem.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Conflict Resolution Tip #3

by @ 10:27 am. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Conflict Resolution Tips, Joe's Rants, Nonviolent Communication

Conflict Resolution Tip #3:  Understand the meaning behind loss and grief.

In one of my favorite conflict management books, Hostage at the Table, author and former hostage negotiator, George Kohlrieser talks about the importance of understanding loss and grief in the context of conflict.  He writes in his book:

“I have never seen a hostage situation or any act of violence that was not preceded by some loss – a person, territory, a pet, money, an object, a self image, a goal, freedom, and so on.”

The fact remains for us that, all our behavior is needs driven.  Maslowe,  Rosenberg, Glasser as well as many other great psychologists have told us for years that every action we take, every word we say, is an attempt to meet our needs.   Occasionally, we get a bit stuck on the strategies to meet our needs and are ready to go to battle for those strategies when they are in danger of loss. We also tend to grieve deeply when we have lost them.   If we perceive the only way to meet our need for sustenance is “this” candy bar.  Chances are we are going to protect it and be ready to fight for it.  We may also become somewhat distraught should we happen to lose the candy bar.   Lucky for us, there are plenty of candy bars to go around but you get the idea.  When others perceive their only strategy to meet their needs is in jeopardy of being taken away, there is going to be a conflict. If what they perceive to be their only strategy is lost, there needs to be a grieving process before moving to the next strategy. In essence, you are asking yourself, “why is this important to this person” and the answer is the need.

I have been in many mediations where one party or both parties where locked onto a strategy to meet their needs.   Either the strategy had been lost, taken away or they perceived that they would loose it.   When we can move people away from strategy thinking and get them to need thinking, we can help them grieve the losses and move on to new strategies.

Step back from the conflicts you are in and ask what need is behind the strategy this person is fighting for?  For instance, a report your boss is hung up on, or the iPod your child is demanding he/she needs or even the time dinner will be.  When people perceive an important strategy to meet a need is in danger of being taken away, there will be conflict unless you can refocus on the need behind the strategy. Once you are onto the need, you can offer new strategies to help me the need.

For more information about loss and its influence on conflict, read the book by George Kohlrieser, Hostage at the Table.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Conflict Resolution Tip #2

by @ 9:17 am. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Conflict Resolution Tips, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

Conflict Resolution Tip #2:  Clarify the meaning of words before reacting to them.

Don’t jump at the words you hear!  Clarify their meaning first!  Different words mean different things to different people. For instance when someone says, “this won’t work,” it might be best to find out what exactly they mean by the statement, “this won’t work” before reacting to their words.  Did they mean the whole thing won’t work?  Did they mean just once piece of the plan won’t work?

Take the word “Respect,”  when someones says they would like to have more respect, clarify what that word means for them. For some folks, they are referring to how they are addressed, while for someone else it may be the tone, timing or place they were addressed.   For some people respect means being called “sir” or “Ms.” while for others it means not addressing certain subject matters in the presence of others.

When someone says to you, “I would like you to treat me with some respect,” before you jump in to defend yourself, ask what the word respect means for them.  Try this format:  “When I hear you say you would like some respect, I feel curious and could use some clarity about what that means for you.  Just so we are clear about what that means for you, would you be willing to tell me what the word respect means for you?”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Conflict Resolution Tip #1

by @ 9:47 am. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Conflict Resolution Tips, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

I have decided to start a series on this blog of tips everyday people can use to deal with conflict.  Today’s tip:

Conflict Tip #1:  You don’t have to like the person you have a conflict with and you do have to find a way to connect with their needs on a human level if you want to solve the conflict.

The real deal is that we don’t have to like the person with whom we are in conflict, but we do need to connect with what is alive for them if we want to solve the problem.  When we take into account that all behavior is needs driven, we realize that the best way to solve a conflict is to get to the needs behind the behavior that is not making our life wonderful.  Essentially, this means getting to the “why” behind someone’s actions.

The catch is this, when you start to see people for their human needs and not the strategies they are using to meet the needs, we can separate the person from the problem.   Make sure you are getting to human need and not a strategy!  Human needs are simple and we don’t really have that many.  Safety, security, shelter, food, rest, sustainability are just a few of the truly human needs we have.   When you can see the person you are in conflict with for their needs and their strategies separated, it is easier to see them for their humanity.

Come back tomorrow for the next conflict resolution tip!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Presenting in Vermont October 3, 2009

by @ 1:38 pm. Filed under Conflict Resolution, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

I will be coming to Vermont on October 3, 2009 to present my workshop, “Communicating Compassionately in a World of Conflict.”  This is a basic introduction to conflict resolution and the use of Nonviolent Communication.   I will also blend some material in from books like Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and George Kohlrieser’s Hostage at the Table.  This one day workshop will give folks a chance to rethink their attitudes and approaches to conflict in personal, professional and social situations.   I know you will leave with a new outlook on the conflicts in your life.

There are also still seats available in the September 18, 2009 offering of this workshop here in New Haven, CT.   You can find more information about registration and costs on the main page of my site, Speak Compassion.com.

Recently, I created a Facebook Group for New England NVC to help spread the word about the work we are doing.   If you live in the New England States, support Nonviolent Communication and would like to join just click here.   Be sure to invite your other friends to join as well.

Here is a pretty fun video about Nonviolent Communication.  There are dozens more you can find by searching the words and this one is just fun!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


by @ 6:52 pm. Filed under Site News

I have heard that people are having issues leaving comments.  If you are having a problem, please contact me at joebrummer at joebrummer .com

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sea Glass: A Metaphor for People

by @ 9:14 pm. Filed under Joe's Rants

Those of you that follow me on twitter or FaceBook know that I am addicted to walking the beach hunting for sea glass.  Today, it dawned on me just how much of a metaphor sea glass could be for people.   It comes in all shapes and sizes, some long and thin while others are smaller and more round.   It comes in a variety of colors from green to red to deep blues.  Even the like colors seem to vary in shades, brightness and opaqueness.  Some of it is smooth to the touch while other pieces are a bit rough around the edges.   Some pieces are so thin and transparent where you can see right through them while others are thick, bulky and it is difficult to even know it was even a piece of glass laying on the sands of the beach rather than a rock.   Some pieces could easily be matched with others to make a set of earrings because they are so similar while other pieces are so unique they could only stand alone.  Some pieces are flat like a building brick while other are round or bubbled or curved or ridged like sculptures of art in fine museums.  Some pieces still have traces of their original form as bottles or headlights, or pickle jars while others have been so beaten by the waves and sands they hardly resemble glass at all, let alone the bottle of fine wine that once was held by those melted grains of sand.   What amazes me most about sea glass is that regardless the size, the color, the smoothness or shape, the beauty is unmistakable.   I have yet to pick up a piece of sea glass on the beach that didn’t find just breathtakingly beautiful.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Science Against Punishment and Rewards

by @ 11:26 am. Filed under Joe's Rants, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

I am a huge fan of TED Talks which are short 20-30 minute talks by some of the movers, thinkers and shakers of our time.   Last night, I watched this great video from Dan Pink who explains the science behind punishment and rewards as motivators.   He uses the science to show how the true motivators for humans are needs for autonomy, mastery and purpose.   When people are allowed to be in control of their own life, that is what motivates people to achieve the best.pink.JPG

What makes this lecture even more valuable for me is that the idea of doing things out of  a life-enriching energy rather than the lure of rewards or the fear of punishment, is at the heart of the philosophy in Nonviolent Communication.   If we are using extrinsic motivators as a means of coercion and manipulation rather than intrinsic motivators like joy and compassion, then we aren’t really doing things for the shear joy of doing things.  This type of motivation can really take the fun out of life.

Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh has used the example in many of his books of doing the dishes.  If you are rushing to do the dishes so you can move on to get your tea, then you are not fully alive when you are doing the dishes.   You will not experience the joy in the feel of warm soapy water on your hands because your mind is unable to notice these things while focused on getting the reward of your tea.  To take this idea one step further, if someone has now offer you a reward for doing the dishes, it only becomes a bribe.  You are not at all able to do the dishes and enjoy the process because you are only doing them to get them done so you can partake in the reward.  You are not focused on the enjoyment of the activity.   If, on the other hand, someone has threatened you with a punishment if you do not do the dishes, then your energy is one of fear and resentment.   You are not doing the dishes for the shear enjoyment of the act.  You are doing it to avoid pain.

It is also important to know and take responsibility for  we do.  People in touch with their needs and motivations don’t make good slaves.  If we are aware why we do things, we can choose the things we do and avoid doing things out of the energy of the fear of punishment or the lure of reward even if someone has tried you use those manipulations on us.   We can shift our own thinking to find our own motivations that are life enriching.  We can also learn to do only those things that we believe are life enriching and say “no” to those things that are not in harmony with our values.

When we can shift ourselves away from the thinking that I “have to” do something to avoid punishment or gain rewards, we can move into the autonomy of “choose to” thinking that acknowledges the needs behind our actions.    Instead of focusing our energy on the reward or the punishment, we focus on the needs met by our actions regardless if there is a punishment or reward attached by others.  Focus you energy on the needs met by the actions.  In the case of the dishes, the needs met by the action could be a need for order, a need for cleanliness, connection if you do them with a companion, or even a need for fun.

I might suggest you make a list of all the things you believe you have to do.  After you have your entire list written, go back and write the need met by the action you have listed.  At the link there is a list of human needs to help you identify the needs.  Try re-writing the “have to’s” into this sentence.  “I choose to…because I need” and see how it feels when you do this.

I highly recommend this video.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Embracing NVC Consciousness, Part 1

by @ 9:11 am. Filed under Joe's Rants, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

I wanted to take a few moments to present some of my thoughts about how we present NVC as trainers, facilitators and friends of this process.   It took me several tries to get this article to a point where I thought I was really getting the ideas I was hoping to express come across the way I hope they will be taken.   I would ask that you, my reader, proceed with curiosity at the points I am making here.  It may (or may not) take you the whole thing to get what I am trying to say.

As I was surfing the website called twitter the other day, I had found several folks posting and reposting the following statement or tweet: “You don’t *use* a language, you speak it. If someone is using NVC as a technique [it] can be manipulative, without intention” to which I immediately thought: “What was that thing Marshall Rosenberg said about saying “bullshit” in giraffe?”

Then, I excitedly received my much anticipated copy of the NVC Facilitators Toolkit in the mail and began to read with butterflies swimming in my stomach at the new ways to share NVC and other things I might learn.  About halfway through the introduction, I read the statement from the authors that makes what I hope is a request. It reads, “It is very important to us that the NVC Toolkit not be used to develop technical skill and fluency divorced from NVC Consciousness.”  Now this time I wasn’t looking to say bullshit and I was still frustrated with what I was reading.  Is there a “should” in there about how NVC “should” be shared?  Are there ways I could convince these folks that developing technical skill in NVC is worthwhile even if it is divorced from the consciousness they have embraced?

I have had this perception in me for sometime as I read the various NVC listserves, blogs and articles – even in the names of the workshops that people (including me) have chosen to share NVC – that there is a strong emphasis on the intention, consciousness and spirituality of NVC.   I am not opposed to that at all and at the same time I feel torn about it because I value the beauty of the mechanics of the process as well.  I also fear that some people will be scared off by this approach to NVC.

What has frustrated me about these statements about consciousness and intention is that I fear there may be audiences for NVC that we scare away with this focus and approach to sharing the technique and process. It has been my experience that not everybody is at a place in their life where they are comfortable with mindfulness, or even meditation.   I have been to some corporate workshops where even peaceful reflection exercises are met with rolling eyes, yawns, and nervous tapping feet.  I get concerned that we, as an NVC community, scare away folks who would benefit from learning the mechanics of this language of life even if they are not ready to embrace its consciousness.  I am disappointed in the belief that teaching NVC mechanics without teaching folks the consciousness is somehow not worthwhile, and to that I really do say, “Bullshit” with a touch of “girackle” and my eyes rolling to the sky.

I am not of the school of thought that believes we can teach consciousness or intention.  I am not even sure I believe we can teach people to be empathetic as opposed to helping them tap the natural empathy they posses.  I do believe the best we can do is to plant the seeds of intention and hope they grow.  Here is where I suspect some giraffes might start to disagree with me.  I also hope that even if they don’t embrace the consciousness, they embrace the mechanics as a conflict resolution tool as I find it powerful and effective.

I have felt this challenge to share NVC in places where it might have been shunned as too “touchy feely” or too “kumbaya.”  I have one friend who has done anti-violence work and conflict resolution for 20 years who does not even believe that NVC is a form of conflict resolution.  To try and sneak NVC into these environments, I have focused on the mechanics of Observations, Feelings and Needs, and Requests and combined it with as much solid science and research as I can find to show the positive effects such a language will have on productivity and morale.  I tend to teach NVC as a tool to have those sensitive conversations without shame, guilt or embarrassment.   It doesn’t mean I don’t teach and talk about the consciousness or spirituality.  I try to keep focused on the mechanics because I believe learning each piece of NVC will help foster and nurture that consciousness and empathy in others regardless whether or not I talk about it.  I believe humans are compassionate by nature and the process of practicing any piece of NVC will bring that compassion to the surface without any persuasion from me.

I believe each piece of the mechanics of NVC is strong enough to stand its own ground even if taught alone.   That is how powerful I believe NVC can be.  I am even more inspired and left in awe, when you put all the pieces together. I still don’t want to lose sight of the building blocks that make this the powerhouse of peace it is.  I am not of the school that thinks we even need to have everyone speaking from a place of spiritual bliss and connection to have the power of NVC shine where the darkness of violence lurks.   Each piece of NVC whether it be learning to express observations, to make flexible requests or even just learning not to use the word “but” in the face of an angry person, has amazing power to transform our current culture of violence to one of connection, one tool at a time.  I believe we benefit more by meeting future giraffes where they are and give them what they are ready to receive even if it isn’t all NVC consciousness has to offer.  Just the mechanics alone are a start on the road to peace.

Let’s use the tool of making observations free of evaluation for an example of what I am trying to express.   Even if someone comes to my workshop and says “fooey” to the “Kumbaya, can’t we all get along mentality you hippies are pushing,” this person may embrace the tool of observation without evaluation.   He may say that touchy-feeling stuff has no place in the work environment.  He will still leave with the skill of telling others what they are doing that is not making his life wonderful without invoking defensiveness or guilt in others.   He may not attach a feeling or need and he may follow it with a demand, yet he has learned to describe to others what is alive in him without calling them names or telling them they are too this or too that.   This is a step in the direction of a more peaceful world.

Perhaps the skill is empathetic listening.  We all know there are various active listening methods out there, my favorite being the one from the Peace Center at Yale University that uses the acronym E.A.R.S that stands for Encourage, Ask, Restate and Summarize.  There are other various versions and yet I would rather teach folks an NVC version, so I do – often times without ever telling people it is NVC.  I go over the list of the blocks to connection like “one upping” and “dismissing” and I refer to them as “fix it mode.”   I still teach them to listen with full presence and I still teach them to reflect only needs and feelings as questions that help connect us to someone and connect the speaker to their own needs.   I often don’t have a day to teach all the mechanics of NVC yet alone the spiritual intention that can come from this, yet I can still have people walking away with the skill of listening for needs and feelings.   Perhaps they aren’t ready in their lives to let go of deserve language and perhaps they are happy using terms like “good” and bad” or “right and wrong.”  Still, having them embrace compassionate listening can also foster compassion in them.

I will be doing a short NVC pre-conference workshop this fall at a national conference for health educators.   The workshop is focused on using the power of connection to have difficult conversations about sensitive health topics like disease management, obesity or sexual health.   These are topics that often bring up shame, embarrassment, defensiveness, guilt and even fear.   We have a short window to introduce the concepts of NVC and I have chosen to focus much of my energy on teaching participants OFNR to both express honestly and to listen empathetically to the needs and feelings of those clients with which they work.  My hope is that even if they take home just one or maybe two skills from OFNR, they are certainly further ahead then they were without the skills.  For instance, I am hoping they can transform evaluative statements like “you eat too much sugar” to observations like “This is the third time this week I have seen you eat a Twinkie for lunch.”  If making observations is the only skill I get people to embrace that day, I feel comfortable and content because my need to share any piece of this is met.  I realize I won’t have much time in such a short workshop to talk about consciousness or abandoning right/wrong thinking and yet I still think we can make a huge dent by introducing them to the mechanics of NVC that I believe bring us closer to our compassionate state with or without anyone talking about compassion.  (I can assure you I will be talking about compassion.)

Maybe they won’t ever find the consciousness or embrace the intention of NVC the way many of us have.  I will still have taught someone to make observations without name calling, evaluation or judgment. If that is all they ever embrace of this, I am content we are further than we would have been had they never heard of OFNR or NVC at all.  I would personally contend that having someone “use” NVC language rather than “live” NVC consciousness is still better than the alternative of using violence.  Even if someone is using NVC mechanics as a way to manipulate others, is that still not better than having them use violence?  I would much rather hear that someone is using OFNR statements to manipulate others than find they are using the edge of a blade.  At least for one of those strategies, needs and feelings were considered and spoken.   I never want to loose sight of the fact that NVC is, at its core, a strategy not a need.

I have read dozens of books on leadership and conflict resolution and I basically think many of them are just versions of NVC tools and strategies re-bundled in different models.   In the book, Hostage at the Table, author, psychologist and hostage negotiator George Kohlrieser explains that there is no conflict resolution without dialog. He goes further into explaining there is no dialog without connection to what is going on with the person.  He also explains that in order for a hostage negotiation to be successful, the negotiator must understand, connect and “bond” with the hostage taker even if he doesn’t like the person.  He reminds folks that we don’t have to “like” the person we are in conflict with yet, we do need to understand what is going on with them.

He spends a good deal of his words on the fact all behavior is needs-driven.  He suggests in the book that we must connect and bond with a hostage takers by separating the person from the problem.  He suggests this can be done by checking in with needs.  These are very NVC concepts.  The goal and intention may not be stated as connection and yet that is exactly what I have hear when I read the author’s words about “bonding and attachment.”   The author offers many other suggestions in this book, all of which are either NVC rephrased or additions to NVC I would love to see more giraffe teachers add to their list of skills to teach.

In another best selling conflict resolution book, Crucial Confrontations, observations are called “describing the gap” and the suggestions for this process sound much like Rosenberg’s suggestions for making a clear observation without evaluation.  The authors of this book state that the goal and intention of their process is that great leaders and influencers are able to hold others accountable while still being compassionate.  While not all of the book’s suggestions are congruent with the ideas of Giraffe, the underlying and hidden key of their process is still “compassion” and “seeing the human quality” They just don’t present it that way.  They use words and science to ease the reader into those scary areas.

What is it that makes these books so popular in the business world while NVC is so widely popular in the yoga centers?  I would say it has to do with the presentation.   These books and the workshops that go with them, offer the substance of compassion in disguise.  They feed people the same NVC concepts without participants noticing they are learning to listen, check in with other people’s stories or change their thinking.   They teach people empathy without ever using the word.   I suspect this is so effective because people who have been raised on domination language are afraid of empathy and feelings.   To try and sell them the concepts of NVC and be too “in your face” just scares the “beejeezus out of ‘em.”

My request in this article is that those sharing NVC find balance between the intention, the consciousness and the mechanics of Nonviolent Communication.   I would also request that those sharing NVC take the risk in letting new giraffes find their own consciousness in NVC.   I request that those sharing NVC not sell the mechanics of the model short as they are a far better alternative to guns, fists and razor blades.   Folks may start out with mechanics and, over time, I am confident they will be transformed by all this thinking about needs and feelings.  Perhaps in their attempt to “use” NVC to manipulate they will learn the connection they get in the process feels better than “getting people to do stuff.”

I sometimes think about how wonderful the world would be if we just got every person in a small town to speak and listen in giraffe, and then move to the whole county, then the state, then the region, then the country and so on.  It strikes me when I think about this that I live in a world where not only do most people speak and hear jackal, they are afraid of anything that sounds different than jackal even while they crave it.  To move people away from that is to take them out of their comfort zone.  I am happy about this and I also see that it is more effective to do that in ways that are compassionate to just how frightening that can be for them.  As a gay man, I might liken the experience to coming out.  It is frightening to come out as gay in a straight world and liberating when you do.  I can also imagine it is frightening to come out as a giraffe in a jackal world and just as liberating when you do.

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