From the archives – non-violent communication

5th August 2010 by

One sunny morning in mid-September, we packed up ourselves, the flowery palais (aka our tent) and a hula hoop, and bundled ourselves onto a train from London to Malmo, Sweden to learn stuff at the European Social Forum. Here’s what we learnt about:

Non-violent communication

Despite all the group hugs and general warm fuzziness here at Otesha, a few of us can be a little (ahem) forceful in our opinions from time to time. Especially when confronted with someone who, say, refuses to buy Fairtrade coffee because “we should support businesses in this country”. So we thought we’d best go along to a Non Violent Communication workshop and find out the least confrontational way to tell someone you can’t grow coffee in Wales.

What we learnt…

– Non Violent Communication (NVC) lets people communicate in a way that allows them both to meet their needs while creating a genuine connection

– Hand puppets are always a good prop

– So are funny animal ears

– Doing it all properly is much more difficult than you might think

– Criticism lies in the eyes of the beholder. When you think someone’s criticizing you, often they’re just expressing their needs in a way that’s hard to hear

The whole connection business is the crux of it really.

You may think you disagree pretty fundamentally with someone, but once you stop pitting yourself against them, chances are you agree on a lot more than you expected. So you accept your differences, make a connection and go from there. Maybe Liz wants to get a train to Sweden and Jo wants to fly, they argue about it for days. Until Liz discovers that Jo thinks if they fly they’ll be preventing global dimming and doing their bit to save the world. Essentially they want the same thing, but they’re going about different ways of doing it.

What impedes or encourages connection?

You express what you feel – if you’re angry, be angry, whatever. But don’t pin the blame for what you’re feeling on ayone but yourself. Johan Rinman, who led this workshop, tells himself when he’s angry that he hasn’t listened properly. Listening to someone, without constantly thinking up your rebuttal in your head, responding only when you think you can help or you need clarification, lets you understand their feelings and their needs. Once you’ve got a grasp of their feelings and needs, you’ve probably got a connection going there and they’re putty in your hands (mwah-ha-ha). Seriously, mutual understanding, forging connections, it’s all very good stuff. Here’s how he explained this to us (complete with hand puppets):

Four ways we can listen to someone else:

1. Jackal ears turned outward. Hear criticism and reflect it back out  : (

2. Jackal ears inward. Hear criticism and take it to heart  : (

3. Giraffe ears outward. Listen for the other person’s needs, then check what they’re feeling / trying to express.  : )

4. Giraffe ears inward. Honesty. State what you’re really feeling.   : )

So how do you communicate effectively with someone you’re really at odds with?

This is something we talk about a lot at Otesha, especially on cycle tours. How do we communicate a message without sounding preachy, or like we know-it-all-and-think-you’re-wrong (and-must-change-your-bad-ways), and how can we communicate so people want to listen to us? So far what we’ve come up with is focusing on the positive, asking questions rather than forcing opinions and giving space for people to reach their own conclusions.

Where it gets really difficult

You think you’re right, and so does the other person. Neither of you will budge, so there’s no way forward. In the hippy-dippy circles Otesha often moves in, most people think freedom of expression is generally a good thing. The hard bit to swallow is that is includes the views of those who would try to quell other peoples’ human rights and freedom of expression if they could. What to do? Accept their opinions and move on? In the demonstrations in this workshop (where particpants attempted to reason with a homophobic hand puppet), no one totally suceeded in this. But the theory is that if you can give up on the instistence that your way is the right way and build a connection with someone, you might find that your needs are the same after all. It’s world changing stuff this.

This is all just the beginning really. There’s been a ton of stuff written on Non Violent Communication and slowly we shall attempt to get through some it (and maybe even put it into practice, you never know).

One Response to “From the archives – non-violent communication”

  1. Cath North says:

    I’m really excited about NVC and book on a course with Daren de Witt in July. A few years on since your post, I would really love to know how you have found NVC and if you have continued to use it?

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