NVC Practical Workshop (Notes day 1 of 2)

by Milla — she=he

These are notes from a 2 day practical workshop on Nonviolent Communication, jotted down with the hopes of others interested in learning, to make use of the material presented here 🙂 The notes can also be downloaded as pdf files: Saturday, Sunday

Songs: murder on the dancefloor, om du möter varg



NVC -nonviolent communication- workshop, Helsinki Buddhist Center, Saturday 23.10.2010

10 persons present.


The person facilitating the course had just finished a book on nvc and money, and she was very happy about being and connecting with people instead of being alone, writing, and feeling angry about things.

She has been practicing and teaching nvc for 5 years.

On a flip chart board was a draft for a program:

10.00 Start

11.30 Coffee break

13.00 Lunch

15.30 Coffee break

17.00 Finish

Saturday focus on Empathy

Sunday focus on Honesty

We started with a go-round, sitting in a circle, taking turns saying: Name – how you feel sitting here right now – if you have any previous experience of nvc (to know what type of language to use, if everyone is aware of who Marshall Rosenberg, the originator of the method, is for example).

EXERCISE 1: Why and how do we communicate

We sat down in smaller groups of 2 or 3. Four flip chart papers were placed on the ground and we were asked 3 questions about communication. We had about 3 minutes to talk about and write a few words on each question, and with every new question one person was left alone by the paper, and was given about one minute to update the new person/s coming over, on what had been said before.

First question: What do you find is working well for you when it comes to communication? What do you feel happy with when it comes to communication? What do you celebrate about your communication?

Second question: What do you find challenging about communicating? What is difficult, what challenges you when it comes to communicating?

Third question: What motivated you to come here? Imagine having a motor – what drove you to come here? What is the motivation for you?

After the exercise we were encouraged to stick with what we set out for – the papers were put on the floor, in a corner, so people could check if they’d been dealing with the things that are difficult for them etc.

4 PAPER Sheets with rotating groups of 2-3 persons speaking about communication:

What works fine with communication? — encountering people (connect) — openness Challenging — hard to stay in connection with myself in a conflict situation — how to stay in connection automatically — how to be honest without hurting anybody’s feelings (myself included) — how to ask so that the other person doesn’t hear it as a demand What motivated you to come here? — to meet new people interested in NVC — english — to help myself in conflict situations and other people also — desperation — to learn to be more effective in conflict situations — community on earth and global peace.

You are happy with communications — when there is (good) communications with another, when I am not expecting/demanding anything from another — when I notice I can really hear and be present to myself + the person — happy to feel clarity and ease — when the person hears and understands me, my feelings, needs — empathy, person stays silent while you talk, trust, listens with open mind What you find challenging with communications — trust in / other stays open and listens — interrupts, analyzes, decided already — difficult to express my jackal message — the more close person, the more difficult What motivated you to come — suffering, me and others — practicing — to be a better person everywhere

What is helpful with communication — openness — making effort — reflection — willingness to find solutions — honesty — encouragement — exciting to understand, curiosity What challenges are there in communication? — honesty brings up conflicts — repetition, boredom — communicate in a soft way while being honest What motivated / drove you to come here — self-empathy in difficult situations — honesty (brings up conflicts)

being heard — quiet listening — trust — patience with listening your/someone’s pain — empathy — open mindedness — giving time What is challenging with communication? — finding a person + time — following your own story What motivated you to come here? — yhteys saman henkisiä — teot — harjoittelu — oppia tarpeiden ilmaisemista [some sort of translation: contact with like-minded — actions / tasks — practice — learning to express needs]

EXERCISE 2: Caring for our needs

We were told to imagine that it’s five o’clock on sunday – and asked to think of two needs that mainly had been fulfilled.

Some of us listed the needs on a paper, that was then hung by the window, as a reminder to check now and then, to see if we were meeting these needs. We were also encouraged to ask for help to meet the needs.

1 PAPER Sheet with 2 needs met 5 PM SUNDAY:

support and openness (food) — learning and celebration; self-development, to serve life — clarity and capacity — to be capable to be connected with myself in a conflict; to be capable to express myself so clear that the other person hears my askings as askings and not as demands — self-development/ in order to cope with my feelings & jackal ideas in difficult situations — challenges (intellectual stimulation, self-development); a sense of intimacy / openness / being ‘real’ — to know how to process reactions so I can have power within myself to become better of it; to be able to help others too, if possible, in real time — understandable expression of & time and trust for own needs / work role

Snack break —-

Shortly on some things said: How do we relate to the fact that we have a need? Some of the needs listed on the flip-chart paper were read out loud: clarity, support, challenges, connection, to serve life.

It helps us to have attention on: What stimulates needs in me? What can I ask for when I lose hope? If I think or hear someone else say: “Everything is going to hell anyways” – What to ask for in order to get hope? Something to have attention on in general as a practitioner of nvc – not just during the course, but in life in general.

Someone said as a feedback to the previous exercise that it’s easier to see the challenges, than to see the needs, that it’s difficult to figure out what needs there are.

EXERCISE 3: 4 options when hearing a message

We did an exercise called ‘4 chairs’. In this case ‘4 cushions’ since we were in a meditation hall.

There were four cushions placed in a row, representing the 4 choices we have when hearing any statement, including ‘neutral’ remarks, or for example:

“You are an idiot.” (judgment / punishment)

“You are so good.” (judgment / reward)

We can when we hear something like this, choose:

  1. Blaming / judging somebody else (‘jackal’ outwards)
  2. Blaming / judging myself (‘jackal’ inwards)
  3. Empathy – Listening for feelings and needs
  4. Honesty – Expressing feelings and needs

[‘jackal’ = expression not translated into feelings and needs]

The facilitator asked for someone to say a phrase that is challenging for them to hear. One person repeated this sentence 4 times:

“It’s just not possible to do it that way”

The 4 responses were:

1. I think you’re foolish to believe that it’s not possible.

2. Maybe I should have realized that earlier, actually.

3. Is it that you’re worried and you want more security?

4. When you say that, I feel a bit worried and I would want to know more about why you say that. (need: Clarity)

We were asked if there were any questions about the exercise. Then we repeated the exercise, once all together, and then in smaller groups – with each of us trying out the different responses Blaming (outwards/inwards) or Empathizing (outwards/inwards) in response to one person repeating a challenging phrase. We rotated seats every time someone had repeated their phrase four times and listened through the four responses.

Useful to think about when doing this exercise: Where do we go usually – what’s the usual response – what’s our usual ‘cushion’?

Feedback after doing the exercise: It felt confusing going to feelings and needs. A list of feelings and needs, might have helped. Someone suggested adding a 5th chair to the exercise: Sitting in silence – too confused and hurt to respond. Or leaving.

It was emphasized that the ‘jackal’ seats are our ‘best friends’ – it’s good to care for that energy, and to transform the judgments into feelings and needs. To see the beauty (needs) in the judgments.

Someone added that anger is beautiful, it’s the opposite of depression, it pushes to action. Depression is like death.

EXERCISE 4: Working on challenging phrases, Practicing empathy

We were told that we would practice more empathy, and get to know our ‘jackals’, reflect on how we label other people, and when we give up.

We were asked to write down something that is challenging to hear, and that we want to practice how to connect with the person saying it. It could be an actual quote of what someone has said (a practice in making an observation) or an action – “somebody yawned when I was speaking.”

After that we spent 10 minutes in groups of three. All reading our sentences, trying to help one another in finding the feelings and needs behind the sentence.

In my group we worked with: Someone – for no apparent reason – being denied the support they needed and asked for. Someone having faced 6 months of silence from another person. I had a sentence that was “Your reality is distorted”. I experienced it as difficult figuring out feelings and needs.

ABOUT EMPATHY: an image of an iceberg was drawn on a flip-chart paper. The tip of the iceberg is what is being shown by the person saying “I’m really sick of my job” – the trick to stay connected with the person, is to empathize with the need that is alive at that moment, if you would say: “So you have a need for love?” – the response could be “Don’t be a psychologist!” We might talk about something that the person is not revealing yet – try instead to stay present with the person, ask if they’re wanting to be heard / to get support, and so on — do not talk about something that the person is not in touch with themselves.

EXERCISE 5: Role-play with challenging situations, Group practicing empathy

After this we sat in a large group and the facilitator – sitting next to the ice-berg – was acting out, role-playing, 5 challenging sentences / situations, and the whole group tried to empathize with what was alive / presently going on in the person. Occasionally she was pointing at the drawing and saying “this is somewhere here, below surface, I can’t connect with what you’re talking about” when we were guessing for feelings and needs in the person.


Challenging situation/person [facilitator]: “I’m your superior, I’m in control here, you have nothing to say.”

needs: efficiency, security,

feelings: calm and sure about yourself. Self-confident, trusting yourself.

Challenging person/facilitator: “What do you want?”

Participant: “I want autonomy. I want to make my own decisions”.

Feelings and needs of the challenging person/facilitator: insecure, information (“I don’t understand” “I need more clarity.” “I want to understand more, you say you want to be a part of the decision process, and I would like to know what that would look like”.)

thoughts/fears of the challenging person/facilitator: “Will it be chaos? Will it be a revolution?”

Needs: security.

Facilitator saying to the participant: “Now a super clear request would help.”

Participant: “I want to be invited to the next meeting” (of the decision making group)

Talk in the group in relation to this role-play: When wanting to change something it helps to be clear about what we want (not vague – “wanting more inclusion”) I interjected shortly with my experience of clear requests not necessarily being helpful. Others added that there’s a strong culture of seeking and following authority in Finland, and that it might be different in Sweden. The facilitator laughed and said: “Well, let’s not get into that…”


Someone was talking of frustrations in relation to how to agree on things in their common life with their intimate partner. The challenging sentence was: “This is not the right time to discuss”

Feelings of the challenging person/facilitator: Stressed. Worried, overwhelmed.

More feelings and Needs: Understanding. Trust that they can be heard, and acceptance for how challenging it is to just sit and hear that question / request (“We need to talk”). Scared to say no, scared to say yes. Fear of what might happen. Acceptance that we’re dealing with a difficult situation.

More situations: We also went through a person staying silent / out of touch for 6 months – a triggering sentence: “Your reality is distorted” – and another challenging sentence: “Your teacher is a fraud, and abuses people”.

Lunch break —-

A book in Swedish was recommended: Led som du lär [Lead the way you Teach/’Preach’] (Liv Larsson). Apart from sharing, practice to teach NVC. The book helps people to teach nvc. The same author has also finished a book called Relationsbesiktning. [Relationship Inspection – as in Car inspection] It’s practical advice on how to work on relationships (intimate/friend/work all types of relationships).

After these book-tips it was time to continue the exercises.

EXERCISE 6: Getting to know what hinders connection – Visiting Misery café

We were going to take part in an exercise dealing with typical ideas / expressions that hinders the connection more than supports. The energy behind is important to care for, but the way it comes out / is expressed, is useful to transform.

Papers were put on the floor in a circle, a “misery café”:

The different ‘cards’ we play while sitting around the table at ‘Café Misery’:

Judgments – Right/wrong Good/Bad; Blaming – Whose fault is it?; Deserve – Punishment/reward (“I didn’t deserve to be treated like that,” “You don’t deserve any attention,” “You don’t deserve dinner tonight” – The criminal legal system is built on this thinking. The intention behind is about wanting to change harmful behavior, but the practice doesn’t hit the mark); Denying choice – Can’t … Not allowed … Not possible (Bureaucratic language. Taking away responsibility for action. Used in concentration camps); Labels – I’m … You are … They are (“She is like that therefor I…” “You are so, that’s why I’m not going to…” = label + excuse. The well-meaning intention with labels is to simplify. The example “boyfriend” was used, instead of saying “It’s this person, a man, who lives in my house blah blah”); Threat – If you … If I … If they …; Demand – Must/have to/should (close to ‘denying choice’)

We were asked to get into two groups, and start by standing behind a random paper, discussing a theme. Examples for random themes mentioned by the facilitator: Finnish politicians. People who don’t pick up dog-poo. Mail man. Women. MacDonalds. In short, any theme was welcome.

One person starts by formulating something in line with the paper they’re behind. If the topic for example would be people who don’t pick up dog-poo, the discussion could look something like this:

Judgment: “Not much to talk about, it’s plain wrong not to pick it up” Blame: “It’s the parents fault” Denying choice: “There’s nothing we can do about this” Deserve, Demand: “We should ban dog-owners” Threat, Deserve: “If they don’t start doing something about it, maybe they should be punished with fines” Label: “Complete arrogant idiots” Deserve: “Try to reward them, five cents per dog-poo they pick up”

We were told to move along the papers, and try the different roles. “Ah I labeled.. what did this do with me?”. Try to see where we “fit”, what is our habitual way/s of expressing ourselves. Ask: “Where am I at home?”

Feedback after doing the exercise: Felt depressing. Losing connection.

The facilitator said that someone she knows has a mini-version of the misery café next to her phone, with a wooden piece she moves around – if she gets triggered during a conversation, she can help herself to see what is going on. And there’s a way out:

The 4 COMPONENTS of nvc – Observation, Feelings, Needs, Request (OFNR)

The facilitator was talking of observations – what is it that stimulated my reaction? And she was giving an example of how easy it is to mix evaluation with an observation, she was describing how she was washing clothes and reaching for the box of detergent: it felt light – the first thought that came to mind was that her boyfriend had forgotten to throw an empty box away. She went to speak with her boyfriend and started: “When I saw that you forgot…” the boyfriend replied: “I didn’t forget.” and she tried again: “When I saw that the empty package was still there ..” the reply was: “It’s not empty, and I didn’t forget to throw it away.” This was meant as an example of how easy it is to put blame into ‘observation’. The boyfriend had left the pack with a small amount of detergent with the intention of washing some rags. The observation would have been: “When I lifted the pack…”

I felt uncomfortable with what was said since I experienced the example as a bit ‘self-blaming’, and I assumed that the reaction / thought / expectation “The boyfriend didn’t throw the box away!” came from a longer period of continuously not having her needs taken into consideration. For more examples that can concretely be pointed out as creating emotional unsafety, stress, and exhaustion in intimate relations read: Everyday Male Chauvinism. [ https://sosiaalikeskus.wordpress.com/everyday-male-chauvinism This is advice, and can be experienced as disconnecting, but the purpose with listing this information here, is to provide ways for people in intimate relations to become aware of disconnecting, stressful behavior and through this get a possibility to re-connect – with themselves, and/or with one another, depending how willing the partner(s) is(are) to do the work. I recommend starting to read the text by scrolling down to the examples in brown, and then read the introduction, since it might be experienced as a bit ‘dry’.]

Once again (OFNR) Observation, Feeling, Need, Request:

So from OBSERVATION to what stimulated the FEELINGS >> NEED. “When this [Observation] happens I feel.. because this need of mine is not met.” Ask yourself: Is there something that I want someone to do – when? (what and when?) Make a clear and specific REQUEST.

NVC DANCE FLOOR: This exercise is possible to do at home, put the notes (Misery Café + OFNR) on the floor, move around between the different papers, this helps to sort out – “Am I really feeling this? — no I’m really here — thinking that ‘she should be punished,’ and when I say that, I feel sad..” This exercise can be done on a piece of paper as well.

More said about this dance floor: Allow oneself to be in the blaming circle – there’s a lot of energy there that shouldn’t get lost – a lot of beautiful needs that are screaming to be met.

Needs will be changing … and when a need is sorted out / located / identified, then back to the circle … or once all the needs have been connected with, it’s possible to make a request. This was compared to pressing the gas in a car – finding the needs, and not making requests, is like pressing the gas and not moving anywhere .. it’s just a way of causing a lot of pollution in the world.

We went into two groups, trying out the dance floors. We were asked to pick a situation when it’s difficult to stay connected, and to help one another make ofnr. Not all of the participants got to try out the exercise. I tried out the exercise in relation to self-hatred, self-blame and excessive damaging alcohol consumption. I got stuck somewhere at the needs level, and realized that there is a lot of work to do to sort out a lot of past and present experiences and the feelings and needs in relation to that, in order to get to a clear request, something apart from a frustrated, exhausted “Do the work”.

Snack break —-

It was repeated that ‘these guys’ (the ‘jackals’ – the different expressions in the Misery Café) are our ‘best friends’. The notes on the floor remind us how we can be, and that we can be more careful and considerate. We were told to care for ‘these guys’ – The ‘jackals’ will never leave you alone, never forget to tell you what you value in life.


We sat in a circle and were asked to reflect on “What have I learnt?” “What needs have been met?” It was said that it’s important to celebrate met needs.

One person said she felt ‘Adventurous, stimulated, surprised’. She said that the needs she had listed for tomorrow had already been met. ‘Skills. Learning new things’.

Another one felt disappointed with the dance floor (hadn’t tried it with ofnr), she had experienced the misery café as disconnecting, and said that she still believed that nvc is a useful method though, and expressed that she was feeling tired, and had only gotten 4-5 hours of sleep the previous night.

There had been differing opinions on the importance / use of expressing requests in one of the groups, while doing the dance floor exercise.

I expressed fears around the ice-berg. A fear of staying on the surface, never going deeper. Someone else had a fear of poking too deep and scare when saying things like: “You have a need for Safety?” One way of staying clear of going too deep – is to ask yourself:

Do you want to connect or do you want to fix?


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