Conflict & Communication, Day 1 (one year course)

by Milla — she=he

Today’s Song: Björk – The Triumph of a Heart

So, I’m participating in a one year course on Communication & Conflict Management, and here are the notes from the first day of the course.

This can also be read as a pdf: Friday at Oranssi, Sunday at Oranssi



Communication and conflict management – a one year course in Helsinki, Finland – first meeting at Oranssi, 16.00 – 21.00, Friday 25.2.2011

7 persons present.

The woman teaching was ill, and had flown in from Sweden against doctor’s advice. She informed us she couldn’t hear well on her right ear.

We sat in a circle and were asked to silently have a look around, and to notice how we feel, after which we had a round, each person taking turns: Saying our name, and what it feels like sitting in this room.

Things shared: Feeling a bit shaky, coming straight from work, needing peace and harmony, not calm in her mind, feeling excited about the course, “can’t believe it’s really happening” —– Had had problems with the car, coming late, and getting nervous when thinking the thought “I’m always the one who’s late”. Happy about being here, not having so much practice with nvc, willing to learn new things, and to get to know new people —– Tired, excited, things happening fast, not thinking that she would be with the course some week ago. Don’t know much about nvc, happy to learn, happy that the facilitator is making the commitment to teach and enabling the course to take place. Very excited “okay, let’s go!” —– Feeling calmer now, she was lost on her way here, and hates to be lost. Nice to see faces from the last course. Good that the facilitator decided to come to Finland —– Has been a dream for a while to do a one year course in nvc. Practicing with friends for quite some time. Wanting to really commit and study it, and this feels like studying – with a teacher. Restless from being away from her kid, and feeling guilty about that —– Excited to get started. A new thing, not to hear very well.

After this we were told that we would first take a moment to connect with one another, and after that speak of practical matters in relation to the course.

EXERCISE 1: Interacting in pairs and small groups – speaking of how to connect

We started out in pairs, taking a few minutes contemplating the questions: What do you want to know from somebody -what kind of information- that helps you to connect? What information makes you put more labels on the other, and what information helps you see the other person?

Thoughts exchanged: ‘Similar frame of reference’ – ‘Their profession’/’Finding out what their passions are’ (we didn’t discuss the second question)

We switched pairs and continued with this question: What can you share of yourself that enables connection with another person?

Thoughts exchanged: ‘Doing something with another person’ (like arranging something practical together – ‘not the same thing as exchanging pleasantries in a class room’, or some other place where people interact in a similar way) – ‘Being open’ (speaking openly of one’s inner reality, feelings)

In a group of three we had about one minute each to: Share what helps people to connect with you.

Things shared: ‘Experiencing big changes, mother of two daughters’ – ‘Speaking openly helps.. but even better if I shut up and listen’ (laughing, not speaking the rest of the time) – ‘Speaking about feelings and needs. Feeling shaky, insecure’

New group of three – Formulate at least three questions, to ask someone, to enable connection.

Some things talked over in the small group: The question “How are you?” came up. And it was said that the answer to that was usually “I’m fine”, and even a follow up question such as “How are you – really?” was said to likely lead to a repetition of the same answer “I’m fine”. Other attempts for opening up a connection could be “How has your day been?” and “How are you feeling?” or “How are you feeling about that?” (if the persons has told something).

It was also said that introducing someone when they come new into a conversation acts as a barrier breaker. It’s common in Finland that people don’t introduce one another, which then easily leaves them out of conversations already started by others.

It was difficult to think of three specific questions that would make a connection. We agreed on that being present – making more questions – being interested in what the other is saying, could enable a connection.

The two groups listed their ‘enablers’ on a paper: ‘What is your name?’ — Introducing people to one another. — ‘How was your day?’ — ‘How has your day been?’ — ‘With what are you struggling at the moment in your life and with your self development?’ — ‘What is your biggest dream?’ — ‘May I help you?’ — ‘How are you feeling?’ — just say anything, to pay ‘positive’ attention to the person.

PRACTICAL MATTERS: About the course, About the weekend

The facilitator made circles of different size in a row, talking about the structure of the course as a “bubble bath”. A big bubble representing – big meetings – such as this, from Friday to Sunday, with a teacher present and most of the people from the course attending. We would also divide into smaller local groups – meeting up, with three persons – and having even smaller talks, with empathy partners.

The facilitator drew three circles in one round shape, as a visual of how the learning process is structured. The outer circle represented “form”, and us learning the nvc form, for instance by sitting across one another, training technique, saying things like “So you’re irritated (feeling) cause you want more respect (need)?” with not so much emotion to it – just getting used to the technique.

The second circle was “clarity”, finding out what methods work (how to create a connection), and choosing the methods that work (that create a connection).

The inner circle was a heart representing “intention”, meaning: to be able to take in everybody’s needs, not caring so much about form, i.e. not saying things like “that’s not a feeling word”, but more focusing on the intention (to connect).

Plan for the weekend:

Friday – space to connect with one another – looking at the 4 components of nvc;

Saturday – working with empathy;

Sunday – take a look at the bigger perspective, nvc and society – planning our own learning process

We talked about practical things, how to deal with the food costs, and who is a part of the group – 6 persons and the teacher, plus 3 more individuals who were not participating this weekend.

We spoke of how to deal with the information shared during the training – myself taking notes, that I would send to all the participants, with an opportunity to take out / delete anything they would find too ‘personal’ (vulnerable) to share, before publishing the material on a blog.

We also made an agreement not to share information of any personal stories told during the weekend so that someone, outside the group, would be able to identify who has said it. In other words, personal stories are okay to share, as long as we don’t make it possible for others to identify who the story is related to.

We spoke some of how we relate to information being shared, and someone expressed concerns about having personal stories shared in the notes, and not wanting for me to do unnecessary work by writing down things that wouldn’t be used. We talked of how we relate to concepts like personal/private, and in relation to this it was said that “It’s a tricky question: What is personal? What is private?”

We were asked if there were any more practical matters, and I made a request to have a round on what would make us feel safe/r practicing together. Some of the things said during this round, starting with myself: ‘Just having a round and bringing the topic of safety into the space makes me feel safer’ — ‘If there are tears in my eyes, that it’s okay to continue with the practice’ — It would be helpful to feel comfortable, for example, if crying or getting angry during the practices, to be able to stay as it is, with no ‘pushing’ [facilitator asking: What does it mean to push?] To respect the feeling that is there, respecting the small steps [facilitator: How will I know if I’m respecting?] ‘I will say that’, and the other way around, that others would say if she is ‘pushing’, cause it might be that she doesn’t understand the situation the way it is — It makes her feel safe, when people say if something is bothering them — She’s asking herself “ooh, who will be my partner during the empathy?!” also willing to ‘hit the wall’, okay as it is — The facilitator is important to feel safe, and she has complete trust in the person facilitating, so not having any problem at this point — Not sure if she’s wanting to be more safe, it’s not a need that is alive at this moment

Food break —

EXERCISE 2: Distinguishing between different feelings and needs

The facilitator was spreading two groups of cards on the floor: One group with pink cards, listing feelings. One group with yellow cards, listing needs.

We were asked to stand up and walk around, and to pick feelings that we had in relation to sentences read out loud, and, if so desired, take help from one another to find the needs in relation to those feelings. The main idea being that a feeling is pointing at a need, and that the (unmet/met) need is the cause of the feelings. After choosing our cards, the facilitator read out loud what cards we were standing by, and then asked some of us to say something more about our choice.

Example sentence 1: A colleague, or someone else, is telling you “you are so good at what you do” – What do you feel? What are the needs connected to the feelings?

Example sentence 2: You say “I feel judged – What do you feel? What are the needs?

Examples sentence 3: You are silently telling yourself “I hate myself when I do that” – What are the feelings? The needs?

EXERCISE 3: Establishing priorities between needs

The facilitator put papers on the floor, on one side of the room she put a paper that said “efficiency, speed, action” on the other end of the room was “togetherness, connection”. She said: “If you’re in a meeting, which one is more important? – In general, where do you place yourself? – What is more important for you?”

We positioned ourselves on an imaginary line between these papers, depending on what we felt closer to. The facilitator asked some of us, why we had chosen to place ourselves in that particular spot, and we explained why.

Example 2: We’re having a coffee together with a friend, talking. What is more important, choosing between: Honesty, authenticity —- Consideration, awareness, care

Example 3: Christmas eve, or some other traditional event, with your family or with close ones. What’s more important: Freedom, autonomy —- Harmony, peace


The facilitator asked us if we wanted to have a quick repetition of the four components of nvc. The group answered yes.

She drew four squares on a paper: Observation — the information you get with your senses, what you see, hear, smell – what is happening out there in the world. Feeling — meaning the physical experience in your body, that is stimulated in you, when this observation is happening – the feeling is the messenger for the need — the Need awakens by something that is happening – the feeling is the one that helps you to hear that — the Request being the action or the strategy you can imagine would satisfy this need.

The reason for putting it in that order – like a wheel – is that something stimulates you, there’s a feeling, a need, you ask the world to do something about it, and something else happens in the world, and so it goes on. It’s all the same thing – the voice of life is speaking. This –ofnr– is our way to categorize it, so it doesn’t make it so difficult for us to understand what is going on when life is speaking to us.

Someone was asking “What is the need?” – “If it helps, to define, it’s the voice of life, what do we need to live, and what do we need to ask for, to live, and how can the observations help us to live.”

EXERCISE 4: Roleplay with challenging sentences / situations – practicing empathy

We were asked to think of something that is difficult for us to hear, and to write this statement down. A challenging sentence for instance being a mother saying: “Can’t you clean up a bit.”

We sat in silence. After a while the facilitator asked if someone would be helped by hearing some of the sentences spoken out loud. The answer was yes, and someone said the sentence: “Is that dress really appropriate for a funeral?” as an example. Someone asked what would happen if it’s a physical action – and the reply was to act it out, for instance to yawn, or whatever else it is that is difficult to receive. The person continued by saying that it’s two persons arguing, and that she’s boiling inside, that her sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is disturbed, the day is spoiled – the response was that this would work as well, and to ask two persons to act it out – to scream at one another.

After this we got into groups of three with two persons doing a role-play – One saying a challenging sentence – and the other, the one finding this difficult to hear, guessing what that person might be feeling and needing. We were asked to think about someone struggling with nvc – and ask ourselves what we could do to support the learning – it was said that it’s a useful thing to think about when teaching nvc. The third person’s task was to act as support, in whatever way that would make sense to them. In the groups of three we had 30 minutes altogether – approximately 10 minutes per person.

After this, we got together in a big group, and once again we were asked to get into groups of three. This time, reversing the roles. Ask the person saying the challenging sentence, to put their ‘giraffe ears’ on – to guess the feelings and needs of the other – listening to them with empathy. Pick a situation where it’s challenging for you to connect, for instance in the example with the mother saying: “Can you never clean up here” – having her reflecting your feelings and needs – to view this as an opportunity to receive empathy. The task of the third person, was once again to act as support.


The facilitator shared 4 ideas that might help us stay with empathizing instead of ‘fixing’ or analyzing.

One image that can help is that of an ice-berg. If we imagine that we are with the other person in what they’re showing at the moment, then we are guessing at the surface. And if we’re guessing something that they are not ready to show, it might feel uncomfortable for the person – so, we lose the connection.

Another image that might help in staying connected, is that of a wave and surfer. The ‘job’ in giving empathy is to be on the wave — “What is alive in that person? What is that life force bubbling through that person at the moment?” For example: Someone says, “Oh, I hate my job” and a response like, “So you want more love?” would be below the wave, far beneath the surface, and if you come later on and ask “So you want more fun in your life?” the wave has already passed – you’ve lost the connection. If you want to empathize, you make a choice to stay where they are. Imagine that their heart is a house, and you can visit there. Check with the other person “Am I really understanding what is going on with you — are you really frustrated, cause you need more respect?”

Someone made a comment that it’s difficult to change the focus, cause we’re used to having an opinion.

We were asked to ‘close our ears’ if we had ‘had enough’ of empathy theory, cause this might make it more confusing – one distinction is to differ between content/ process. For instance when someone is saying “Oh, I’m really worried about the situation in Libya” to remember that content is more a matter of the mind (analyzing), and to connect with the process is to ask ourselves why this person is telling me this right now: “Why is this person saying that they are worried about the situation in Libya?”

Someone said that it might be helpful to think of content as ‘mind’ and process as ‘heart’. The facilitator said that it can be a huge relief to be understood on content, so that none is to prefer.

The group went on reflecting on how persons might not be aware of process at all, for instance people repeating the same story, and people around getting annoyed with them, no-one asking “Why is this story told?”

Need/strategy – the fourth concept was to discern between need and strategy. People who are practicing nvc get used to listing needs without really feeling it “My need is community, support.. blah blah blah..” what can help is to ask the question ”What would happen if I had community and support?” and the response to that might be “Well, peace inside” so ‘community’ might be a strategy to achieve peace. And then continue asking, ”What would happen if I had that?” and go on until we’ve gotten to the bottom.

EXERCISE 5: One met need, one unmet need + closing circle

At the end we had ten minutes. We sat in a circle around the yellow feeling cards laid out on the floor. Everyone was asked to pick 2 needs: a need that had been met, and another that we would have wanted more of. And then we took turns sharing our needs in a round.

I had picked ‘order’ as a need that was fulfilled, since I and another person had been arranging food and cleaning the place in a fairly ‘chaotic’ / ‘creative’ manner, and I had enjoyed that process, of seeing everything coming together, the small group meeting up for the first time for this one year long experience, and having the teacher lay out the structure of the course for us – this had satisfied my need for order.

Then I had noticed a card saying something about ‘sexuality’ or ‘sexual expression’, and I had thought about how unhappy I am, and that I’m closed off physically, and that I’m very sexual when I’m enjoying life. In Finland people do not touch, and now I had gotten to the stage where I would not enjoy if someone would touch me. So, I picked a card that said ‘closeness’. Cause this was something I’m very aware of – both physical and emotional closeness being needs that are present when being depressed.

End of day one.


One Response

  1. […] two of us’ — it might give a more accurate idea of where i’m at in my process of learning nvc, and practicing empathy. There are so many needs screaming in me, and it’s endless, the learning, of bodily […]

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