NVC Practical Workshop (Notes day 2 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

When i read the following expression of gratitude, i felt delighted since it met a deep longing for recognition in me 🙂

“hi MIlla,

great thanks to you!
your minutes has been so acurate, they are very helpful for me,  to remind myself  much much better of many things and learnings that took place in the workshop.
I am amazed about your ability to listen, to write down and  at the same time to process and reflect all that was happening in the workshop. all at the same time!
best regards!”

Songs: ‘it’s a sad and scary scene with no grace at all‘, ‘to call for hands up above to lean on wouldn’t be good enough for me‘, kärlekens alla färjor



NVC -nonviolent communication- workshop, Helsinki Buddhist Center, Sunday 24.10.2010

10 persons present.

[NOTE: I’ve rearranged the order of some comments in hopes to achieve more clarity in this text. We took / were given longer time for discussions this day, and there was mostly a random / free flow in the talks. There was both laughter and tears expressed with the different reflections shared in the group. The ‘quotes’ in the text are not necessarily word by word what people actually said. This is written through the filter that is me.]

We started the day by sitting in a circle. At some point the facilitator asked if there was something someone would like to say, or if we could start with the exercises.

I expressed that I had felt disconnected and unsafe with how the day had ended the day before. We had been asked what we had learnt and what needs of ours had been met, and then a handful of persons spoke in random order. I said that I would have wanted to hear more experiences expressed, as well as wanting reassurance that everyone will get a space to speak, and that I would feel safer with a clear transparent structure, for instance a go-round, where everybody takes turns speaking, this way my needs for inclusion and learning would be met.

I was asked if I had a request, and I said that I would like for the day to end with a go-round. After this we spent some minutes trying to find out how to get this done — the facilitator said that her reason for not having a go-round was that people could speak with a different flow, I suggested that people could be encouraged with words to take space, or using a talking stick in the middle that people pick up in random order; someone expressed that they wouldn’t like to get up and go to the middle of the circle to pick up the stick [something soft can also be used as a talking stick and thrown between participants]; someone else said that they wouldn’t want to have people speaking for a really long stretch of time – and I ended up checking if anybody would have any (strong) objections to ending the day with a go-round, where everybody takes turns speaking – no talking stick – and people skipping their turn if they wanted, with the possibility to add something later – and as well that people would keep it ‘short’ ie not speak for 10 minutes. — I felt stressed and scared in this process, and am not sure if I remembered to ask if everybody had understood the suggestion.

There seemed to be a general agreement to finish with a round, but still it felt really scary and unsafe to express this openly, somehow I felt insecure and confused about what was going on. I would have liked a clearer idea for common interaction in the space, and how to make decisions together. I was afraid of internalized roles and invisible hierarchies in the group. I would also have liked to talk about how to feel safe (everyone being asked: “What do you need to feel safe in this group?”) and as well express impressions of one another’s (triggering) behaviors and (triggering) situations within the group openly, dealing with the ‘conflicts’ in the space. I made a compromise when asked what to request, because of fear of ‘conflict’ and/or getting as a response: “We don’t have time” and/or taking on more responsibility and giving more energy than I wished for, in explaining why I felt unsafe and would like to have things done differently. I was dealing with some heavy emotional processes – my mind shattered and scattered, as well as being in a physically shaky condition. So – I silenced myself. (Needs: Ease, Safety, Understanding)

EXERCISE 1: Meditating on labels – Arranging a staff-party

We split into two groups and the facilitator put post-it notes on our foreheads with labels on them. We didn’t see our own label, and we were asked to act as if the labels of the others were true. The setting given to us was a group planning a staff-party.

My group had: Kind, Dominant, Lazy, Arrogant and Stupid. We pretty quickly became severely dysfunctional and disconnected. Some of us were openly bullying the others. Others were withdrawing and expressing despair. I noticed with myself that I was trying to figure out my own role and what was expected of me. At one point I came with a harsh comment and one of the participants started saying: “But you’re supposed to be..!” After which I felt really insecure about saying anything, with the fear of disappointing others, so I turned from bullying to silent by-standing, wordlessly colluding with the violent atmosphere of the group, not saying anything anymore.

I had had “kind” on my forehead which I experienced as some sort of ‘high-status’ label in my group, since no-one interrupted me and I got attention when I was speaking. There was a person in the other group who had had “kind” as well, and she had ended up being over-burdened with tasks by the others.

After the exercise we got together in a large group. The facilitator started a feedback-round by saying that labels are powerful – “in Rwanda, having ‘Tutsi’ on the forehead, meant ‘killing one’s own child’.” We kept the labels on our foreheads when talking through our experiences, and took it off and had a look at it after we had shared our experience with the others.

Someone with the label “intelligent”, couldn’t guess her label, but had experienced exclusion, saying that just a hint of exclusion triggers strong feelings. She expressed it as having been put on a pedestal, and set aside from the others. “Intelligent” had not been useful in a group with Kind, Generous, Lazy.

Also ‘positive’ labels –expectations from oneself and/or others– can be experienced as barriers for connection.

We were asked to reflect on labels such as “child”, “man”, “woman” – things we might not usually think of as labels – and how they affect our interaction with others.

A person with “lazy” on the forehead, had experienced being labeled this way as frustrating, uncomfortable and sad, and was as well guessing that the label was “lazy”. A person who had been labeled “stupid” expressed that the exercise had really hit the mark, and that it would be useful to do it in groups with people working / making things together. She said that she had been really triggered by the group interaction and how people related to her, since she had experiences of being treated this way and had seen this type of interaction in ‘real’ life. During the exercise she had also been asking herself questions such as: “What’s my role? How should I act?” People were asked if they could relate to feeling like this in groups: “What’s going on?”

A person labeled “arrogant” expressed wishes to have had more comments on her role, so she would have known what she was from the others. Someone said that they interacted with “arrogant” as in ‘real’ life, where they would not engage with someone they label that way, cause “someone like that wouldn’t listen anyways, so it’s not worth it”. Someone was saying that there was no need to give clues to the person labeled “arrogant”, since she was already acting out “arrogant”. The facilitator was asking for an observation (“What did the camera see?”) and the person said that “arrogant” was ‘all the time‘ making comments on what the other group members were saying (the facilitator added: So ‘ten times‘ “arrogant” made comments on what the others were saying?) and that she had experienced it as really uncomfortable when “arrogant” had changed places in the circle and sat next to another member of the group and started whispering to that person. She said that this behavior made her feel excluded. The facilitator said that a person hearing that (‘excluded’) wouldn’t necessarily understand / connect with this: “I don’t understand what you mean, I didn’t exclude”. It was said that ‘exclude’ would be experienced as a label. The facilitator asked again: “What did you feel?” and the person responded: “I felt unsafe”. The facilitator said that this feeling is easier to connect with. The person responded that it’s difficult to talk about these things in groups, since it just doesn’t exist as a part of most people’s ‘reality’. She was comparing it to saying: “When you moved your coffee-cup next to the flower pot, I felt unsafe”, it just wouldn’t make sense to the other person. The facilitator suggested to give the back-story, to say that “I’ve been to meetings where this has happened many times”.

We were encouraged not to try to stop labeling people – but instead to have the awareness of that, and when, and why we do this. Labels were described as “compressed, packed life”. “What is the ‘life’ packed in the static idea / label, often manifested as ‘stiffness’ in the body?” An example sentence of this was given: I feel insecure when I’m around you, I start losing myself, I don’t know what I want – “you’re manipulative”.

Someone said that labeling was used as a form of ‘mapping’ when meeting persons, the labels come immediately. It was said that labeling, takes care of the need for safety.

Another person was saying that she could use labels as a form of ‘manipulation’, for instance if she would experience fear of having a meeting with a person and how this meeting would turn out, that if she would think of the person as ‘kind’ or that the meeting would be (for example) ‘satisfying’ and ‘safe’, that this would help in easing out fears.

It was said that labels prevent connection – they prevent persons from feeling seen and heard.

Someone asked if we had heard of Enneagrams – describing a limited amount of ‘personality-types’ – different categories that we can fit into. I mentioned horoscopes as another example of this – how people want to label themselves: “Who am I? How am I?” A continuation of this association chain: Tests in women’s magazines: “What type of girlfriend am I?” Someone added: Facebook applications. For example: “What type of dictator am I?”

When we broke off the conversation for snacks, someone looked up from a note-book and quoted Albert Camus: “Until a person has been seen and blessed by another person she does not yet fully exist.” — And then saying: “This is so true”.

Snack break —-

Listed on the flip-chart board was something similar to this:

To think about when making Requests:

    Working on the Connection: 

    1. How is it for you to hear this? (asking a person to go on holidays with you)

    2. Can you tell what you heard me say? (“cause the idea of going on a holiday with you makes me really happy. So I would like to know how/that you received the message”)

If the connection feels okay move straight to Action:


    Working on the Action:

    – what?

    – when?

    – yes or no NOW! (you want to know TODAY / NOW if the other will get some oat-milk for breakfast tomorrow)

[Here I lost concentration a bit, and I didn’t ask any clarifying questions in relation to this part, which I think might have something to do with the confusion I experienced in the following exercise.]

EXERCISE 2: Role-play – Asking, Waiting for favors from God

We were asked to pretend that we have a need – (“what did it feel like when needing support”)what to ask for? We thought about this for a while. Then we were asked to speak with “god” [the facilitator].

People sat in a circle and asked God for support. God retorted with “How would you feel supported? What concrete action would help?”

Someone was asking for support with teenagers. Couldn’t really get to a concrete request, and experienced that there was support in simply being asked those questions.

Someone asked for “2 more hours” to be able to read a text. God continued asking how this would happen, and then if there was something else than 2 hours that would help. The following request was to “Give strength and no headache.” God asked how this would be done with concrete actions, the reply to this was for God to give strength like “this” [the person making some movements with their hands]. God repeated the movements and said: Does this help? (someone said that “the task would be easy if it were a god.” The facilitator responded that she had a good reason for wanting to be god in this exercise).

The repeated questions from god was: what would help? – how could I do that?

Someone asked for support in staying present when speaking with their sister. This conversation continued for some time.

After a while God/The facilitator was asking: – Why do you ask me? When there are so many other people in here? (the response from someone in the group was: “Cause you’re god”)

The person asking for support was asking: “Are there others that can identify with difficulties with staying present in difficult situations?” Others nod.

The person continues checking: “How did you hear this request?”

Someone responds: “I didn’t hear a request, you were asking if someone could identify with this situation, and the others said yes.”

There was -to me- an unclear (to me: unsafe) process of getting to a clear request. The facilitator asked the person to ask the other participants for help in how to stay present in a difficult situation.

  • The facilitator offered to have a conversation about / to work this over, during lunch – (others asked if it was okay to be present, and the response to that was yes)
  • Someone was saying: “Breathe,” that focus on / awareness of breathing can help a person becoming more present.
  • I was saying that I haven’t been able to work on these issues / difficult situations with the help of others, and that there are on-line self-empathy exercises that are possible to go through before engaging with the difficult situation/relation – I said that self-empathy before meeting with the person would be a way to be able to stay more present. https://sosiaalikeskus.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/nvc-self-empathy-exercise/

The facilitator went on to explain the exercise, and the reason for wanting to be god. It “scares, pains worries me, when I hear people waiting for something or somebody else to make something happen.” She wanted to shed light on the myth of someone else fixing our lives, (“expecting miracles”) waiting for things to happen. Another reason for being god was to awake the imagination.

Someone expressed their doubt in humanity. The cultural idea of human beings: “We’re egotistic, lazy, don’t care about others.”

So it can be good to ask god. Starting with ‘thinking big’. Asking god for Wisdom or Love, cause “people won’t give love and can’t give wisdom”. And then try to work out concretely what this ‘wisdom’ or ‘love’ could be.

Someone shared their thoughts during the exercise about wanting phone numbers from some people, and that it wouldn’t make sense for her to ask god for this. And then she thought about what she could ask from god in relation to that, and figured she could ask for Courage. But how this courage would be made concrete, was difficult to imagine.

EXERCISE 3: Playing a game – Trying to get what you want by asking for what you DON’T want

The facilitator asked for a volunteer. The person was asked to leave the room. The rest of the group were asked to make this person do something (“what do we want this person to do?”) and we were told to make the person do this by telling the person what NOT to do.

The group decided: Standing on one leg singing.

The volunteer was asked back in, and the group started speaking “Don’t sit down. Don’t stand on your both feet. Don’t sit!! Don’t lie down. Don’t speak with your normal voice. Don’t speak. But don’t be silent either.” And so on. Finally the person managed to do as we had decided. The group applauded.

The volunteer was asked how they had experienced this. They had felt safe during the exercise, there was trust in the group.

The facilitator said that we speak with children, dogs, and other beings with labels of ‘not being intelligent’ in this way.

When talking about this, it was said that it’s fairly common to say what we don’t want, instead of what we want – with the expectation of the person behaving in a way that is wished for. – It’s not clear that the person would understand what’s wanted when communicating in this way.

The facilitator went on with suggesting that we’d get into smaller groups and do an exercise: A Yes and No game. (Or Yes in the No?) We were asked to find and express the ‘yes’ in a ‘no’. There was a discussion erupting from this, many questions on what this would mean [I visited the toilet, and when I came back, there was still a discussion going on in a large group. Once again, I did not ask any clarifying questions, maybe expecting to catch up at some point. Anyhow: We did not go into smaller groups, and the discussion ended. I’m assuming that the game would have something to do with the previous exercise, and that we were supposed to practice how to clearly express what we DO want instead of what we DON’T want – a ‘shortcut’ to having our needs cared for and making our lives more wonderful.]

There was a comment made, that an example on a dialogue (role-play with a participant) with the facilitator, about saying no, while staying connected with the needs of oneself, as well as the needs of the other, and continuously looking for something that would fit the needs of both, would simply not work when speaking in ‘real’ life with a partner.

One person asked the facilitator for advice on how to stay present in a difficult situation like that. The facilitator gave two examples that she uses.


  1. Imagine a big space on your side where all ‘jackal’ and other thoughts can be dumped (“I get TERRIFIED”; “You’re an IDIOT”). Don’t try to stop it, let it come but leave it on the side.
  2. Imagine a road in your head where there’s a green light for all the ‘jackal’ thoughts to pass through (“She should go kill herself”; “I should kill myself”; “Everybody should die”).

Sometimes the space shrinks and then it becomes about (or feels like it’s about) ‘life and death’. But it’s about making a choice about how we want to be in the world.

EXERCISE 4: Five columns – Listing Labels + OFNR

We were instructed to make five columns on a piece of paper: One for “Labels” and the other 4 for “Observations”, “Feelings”, “Needs”, “Requests”. We were told to do this exercise for ourselves and not to show it to the person we’re labeling, in order to ‘protect’ the person who you’re talking about, since words can have a huge impact, and we don’t necessarily have the power to repair or fix damage done.

We were told to choose a person we have labels on, making it difficult to connect with them, and then write all the labels in the first column. In the second column we write an observation (“What has this person done or said that stimulated this idea?”) Then move on to feelings and needs in relation to the observations – and finally a request.

Someone was expressing fears of hearing a ‘no’: A ‘Quick Fix’ mentioned – “You’ve waited too long. Too many needs waiting.” In other words, it’s important to make more requests (continuously see to it that your own needs are met) in order to make it easier to hear a ‘no’.

We got into smaller groups of 2 or 3 to do role-plays with the ofnr.

Mine looked like this. I had put labels on myself:

Labels: Alcoholic, Mentally ill, Depressed, Frustrated, Irresponsible, Uncaring, Self-hater, Megalomania, Repressed, Unhealthy, Lonely [some feelings listed in there as ‘labels’ as well..]

Observations: Getting drunk. Drinking in spite of knowing that “one glass is too many, a hundred too few”. Writing messages on facebook, not remembering the day after.

Feelings: Sadness, Loneliness, Afraid, Disturbed, Ashamed, Exhausted, Bored

Needs: Order, Safety, Food, Rest, Justice, Trust, Stability, Connection, Harmony, Recognition, Community, Consistency, Meaning

Requests: [empty]

I was talking with a person who pointed out that my body posture was ‘cramped up’, and that one way of feeling better could be to notice this and then to change into the posture I have when I feel okay, that this might affect me in a positive way.

I also managed to work out a concrete request on my ofnr – which was to start writing in the ‘gratitude book’ [an empty note book] I got this summer, in order to shift focus / my mind / energy on the things I – at least intellectually, not yet on an emotional level – understand as contributing to my well-being at the current moment. Not just paying attention to what I would like to change, or feel unhappy, sad and angry about.

Lunch break —-

We were asked: “Can anybody relate to the pain of not being needed, of not being able to contribute?” People raised their hands. We were then told that this is a way for us to realize “How you can contribute, by asking people to contribute to you.”

We had a short Opinion Poll on how to continue the afternoon, to see where our interests were:

We were asked to raise our hands —

  • Who feels interested in forgiving yourself?
  • To look more into your reactions when people tell you things?
  • Dealing with shame, guilt?
  • Nourishing your relationships?

Most of us seemed interested in all of the topics, and in the end, the facilitator suggested to:

  1. Say something short (10 minutes) about reactions when listening to others, and show us an exercise we could do at home in relation to that.
  2. Use the rest of the time for nourishing relationships.

And after a short discussion / disagreement, this is what we did.

EXERCISE 5: How to check your reactions when listening to others

AT HOME: Write the different ways of reacting on papers, and put them on the floor. For example: Giving advice – Fixing – Telling your own story – Taking away the pain in the other person or whatever your reaction is (more reactions are listed in the book by M. Rosenberg – Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life). To save time, 5 different options were put on the floor when showing how to do the exercise.

Ask somebody to be the person that you’re listening to – for instance:

A brother who is saying: “Well, I don’t want to have anything to do with the child, you know.”

Concentrate on your own reactions: In this case — fixing the situation in combination with running away from the pain. “So I really want to fix this now — what am I needing?” Connect with the need behind ‘fixing’ – “I’m desperate actually.. for.. for more support”.

Another example – a mother: “My back is still hurting after 35 years”

Reaction: “ I don’t want to hear it…” – lid on. “I feel helpless. Totally helpless. – It’s grieving. I need to really grieve all this pain.”

Next time, meeting with the person might be easier after doing this exercise.

In relation to ‘giving advice‘ – when wanting to give advice to make sure to check that it’s really wanted: “Mom I’m really eager to give you an advice, would you be ready to hear it? – Are you sure? – Okay..”

I had told the other participants of a blog that I could share a link to, with a compilation of the Do’s and Don’ts of practicing nvc – listing some of the typical responses to watch out for when giving empathy:


EXERCISE 6: Nourishing the relationships

The facilitator requested for 2-3 persons to explain why they wanted this topic.

  • To take on positive energy
  • It’s not growing from a problem
  • Wanting to express my needs in a way that is soft and causing as little conflict as possible (practicing how to get the message across in a way that is clear to the other – in a non-threatening way)

Some tanks / containers had been drawn on the flip-chart board. It was said that we nourish ourselves by giving and receiving gratitude, we fill up our tanks with gratitude. It was also said that it can be painful to receive gratitude.

An example of this was for example expressing to someone’s mother how much it means to them that regardless of the different circumstances when growing up she still managed to fix food, clean clothes etc – It’s difficult for the mother to receive this gratitude.

Someone mentioned the Finnish idiomatic expression: ‘Kissa se kiitoksella elää’ – [the cat lives on gratitude] apparently a depreciation of expressing gratitude, and that money is preferred to a “thanks”.

Someone mentioned that in according to some cultures in India, thanking a family member would be the same as not including that person as a part of the family. Family need not be thanked.

And we moved along with this:

Amongst many thousand things, there are 3 things that can help us nourish our relationships.

  • How can I make your life more wonderful?
  • Celebrating the needs that are met.
  • Making requests that make your life more wonderful.

Another example was given of how vulnerable this can be – with a partner who’d just gone to bed: Someone asking “How can I make your life more wonderful?” and the reply being “Oh no, it’s perfect, there’s nothing you can do.” Somehow there’s too much shame to ask for anything. So this person went on thinking that the partner is really tired and that they usually like it when they’re held. So she went on asking: “Are you really tired now, and would you love for me to hold you until you fall asleep?” This exchange lead to a strong reaction / denial, and nowadays they joke about it.

THE EXERCISE: Take a moment with yourself and think about either something someone has done, or some kind of gratitude that you’d like to hear from whoever it is: partner, family etc.

  • What kind of gratitude would make you dance with joy?
  • Or: What kind of gratitude would you like to deliver that would make you dance with joy?

When the facilitator asked the group to share what they had thought of, there was a pause for a couple of minutes, where no-one took the initiative to say anything. Someone said that it felt strange saying it out loud. Finally someone shared gratitude over someone showing willingness to return to discussing conflicts, in spite of going away – leaving the room, but always returning. This met a need for safety. This was role-played in the large group with someone acting as the person receiving gratitude.

Another person expressed gratitude to a workmate supporting them (the facilitator asked if the person could remember what the workmate did, and the reply was “offered help”).

Someone was talking about a relationship and saying that it “feels selfish asking for gratitude” when suggested to ask the other person what needs had been met in the relation. The person playing the other person suggested to ask for this in ‘real’ life. The response was that it already in the role-play felt like walking on 3mm thin ice and then being asked to take a step forward. Too scary.

We continued with this for a while. Then we talked about practical things. Checking who would be interested in having nvc practice meetings in Helsinki, and possibly arranging another course next year, as well as collecting emails to share info and these notes with the people participating.

And then we had a finishing round where we were encouraged to express gratitude to one another. I felt happy (relief, joy) in expressing gratitude to a person expressing worries in relation to differing opinions coming out the day before, and who had said that they had thought of not coming on the second day. I felt present, and ‘real’ when hearing this recognition of that group situations are always (always) full of pleasant / unpleasant / triggering interaction, since my own experience during the weekend had been a strong feeling of unsafety and disconnection in the group (this doesn’t mean that there were no enjoyable moments – just that the underlying needs for safety and connection was ‘screaming’ in me). I also expressed gratitude to the person taking initiative to arranging the course, and to the facilitator spending time and energy, doing this workshop / sharing skills with us over the weekend, as well as everybody taking part in it and sharing of themselves.

There were many other things said. But I will end it here.

After the circle of gratitude / feedback-round. I said that I would send the notes from the workshop to the others within a week, and I asked for others to comment on sentences they – for whatever reason – wouldn’t like to share on a blog I was planning on publishing this text on. It was decided that I would wait for this type of feedback for 2 weeks, and then publish the notes.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: