Yesterday I went to a daylong conference called “Nonviolent Communication Bazaar: A Day of Learning and Connection Around Communication and Conflict Resolution.” It was at a local university. I had a bit of a mixed experience and want to share my reflection here.
Overview: Overall, I had a good experience, but was a little disappointed. I had very high expectations going in, and I had to leave before the final session (there were only three, but they were each a solid 135 minutes). I think it’s easier to be disappointed with these smaller conferences, since one disappointing session is a bigger deal than at a 3-to-4-day conference. I also think that since it’s new, there’s a lot of room to grow. I really hope it grows.
I arrived a bit disgruntled and slightly irritated because the trip to the conference took at least half an hour longer than I was anticipating. Saturday morning trains do not run frequently, and I had trouble finding exact directions to the building. So I missed the opening plenary and arrived 3 minutes before the first session was to start. It turned out to be possibly the smallest conference I’ve ever attended, and there was no one waiting around to orient me. Things looked disorganized compared to other conferences. So as I tried to figure out where to go, I continued to be disgruntled and disoriented.
For the first session, I had to choose between two equally interesting topics: “Empathy and Social Change” and dealing with challenging people. I went with the latter. The facilitator was recently certified as an NVC trainer by CNVC.
I continued to be irritated during this session because I wasn’t feeling connected with the facilitator (at all). Maybe I walked in a minute or two late, but it appeared to me that she gave no initial introduction to the session. Then we went right into two activities that looked potentially cool, but I felt uncomfortable and purposeless while doing them. One involved needs and the other was a very short guided meditation. I spent the entire time during the guided meditation feeling annoyed and thinking about my escape. I’ve been in many guided meditation sessions, and this was by far the least interesting one. Then she shared a couple short writings sort of randomly that, as interesting as they were, seemed purposeless in the context of this workshop. After all of these things, I still had no clue what any of it had to do with a workshop about dealing with challenging people, nor any clue what the session was going to look like (other than maybe what I would judgmentally call a disorganized mess).
Wow, what a start to my first NVC conference! I was pretty annoyed and not thinking a lot of empathetic thoughts.
And then I escaped. I had heard of one of the facilitators of this other workshop many times, and watched a video presentation he gave. Plus I knew he was a professor at my (neighboring) university. So I was certain I would enjoy that workshop more than this.
Empathy and Social Change
This was co-facilitated by two professors, neither of whom were certified NVC trainers. They appeared to be close friends, which I felt a good vibe from. Although I missed the first 15 minutes or so, it wasn’t hard to get oriented. This session was pretty well-organized, and many clarifications were given. In NVC terms, my needs for order and clarity were definitely met.
First the facilitators modeled a paired activity: to name a situation where we had challenging feelings and explain how we felt about it, while the other person listened empathically and reflected back what they heard. I found the model they did to be heartwarming, and I really felt connected with the one who shared his (?) experience.
Then we got into pairs and did this activity both ways. My partner knew nothing about NVC and didn’t know how to respond empathically, so there was an awkward silence at first after I shared my experience. Fortunately, I acknowledged this (“do you know how this works?”, and I knew enough about it to guide him. We ended up having an interesting conversation.
After this we had a group reflection. I think I was a lot more familiar with NVC than most people there, so I thought I had more to contribute than to gain from this part. But I’m down with that—my need for contribution was met. 🙂
The final activity went on for a good while. One attendee used an example from his own experience to create an elaborate role play scene with 5 other actors. This was super interesting to watch. It was a little strange for me watching people with absolutely zero background in NVC and next to zero intro to it try to walk through this, stumbling a lot, but I really liked the facilitators’ guidance. I think they did a good job of helping people to feel safe in undertaking these activities.
Overall, as an NVC facilitator myself, the most interesting thing in this workshop for me wasn’t about social change. It was about seeing a good model of an in-depth NVC workshop. That being said, it seemed like the other attendees got a lot out of it being presented in terms of social change, and the examples in the activities were primarily focused on social change. Of course, in the end, it’s all social change, but we’re talking about politics here. I might have titled the workshop “Empathy for Sociopolitical Change,” “Empathy and Societal Change,” or “Empathy and Social Justice,” to make the distinction.
The other major thing I got out of this workshop was the focus on listening to others. So far, most of my NVC practice has been alone and has been focused on self-empathy and receiving empathy from others. For me, this has been really important and necessary. However, I think I’m ready to start focusing more outwardly and developing my listening skills. So I need more activities like this.
Finally, I liked how the facilitators made NVC their own, even if I didn’t always completely agree with how they stepped away from the original model.
This was a tightly packed conference and I didn’t stay for the whole thing, so there wasn’t much time for just meeting people and socializing. But I did go out of my way to talk to both facilitators of the last session and tell them I enjoyed their workshop. They both seem to me like naturally empathic listeners, like it’s just what they do.
One of them invited me to get dinner and chat personally. I will definitely take him up on that offer. He reminds me so much of one of my close friends. 🙂
The other one made a casual suggestion that I could facilitate a workshop at this event in the future, after I mentioned having done one. I like this idea.
Mini-Session: Certification Orientation
This was an informal, semi-impromptu session over lunch for those interested in certification. I can’t say I was impressed by those who I found out were certified or on the path to become so, but it was quite helpful.
One person also added that CNVC requests that we not call it NVC if we’re not certified by CNVC. Wow. I do not want to comply with this request. I do hear the need for integrity, and I’m open to hearing further arguments on any side of this, but I think this is a bit of a strange request and strange strategy for meeting this need. Surely there are other equally effective ways to meet this need? Like stating at the start of any workshop that the facilitator is not certified. That’s what I plan on doing.
After discovering that I liked the uncertified facilitators much better than the certified ones I interacted with, I’m especially reluctant to hear this claiming of the NVC label only for those who had been given institutional recognition. Clearly, certification does not make you a pillar of NVC. It is only a request, though, and not a demand. They made this part clear in the session. But I hear it almost as a demand. It’s almost like trademarking the label of NVC, but without punishment for using it unofficially.
During the introduction of the last two workshops, I got to hear each facilitator describe their workshop. Maybe I am judging books by their covers, but I did not have a good feeling about most of these facilitators, and the only one that kind of called to me was facilitating a topic of absolutely no interest to me: NVC for children. I believe that facilitator is certified by CNVC.
Second Session: Empathizing with Whiteness
Originally supposed to be co-facilitated with a white and a black facilitator, but apparently the black one dropped out. This facilitator is uncertified, but well on her way to certification. She is also a professor of some sort.
We did some cool activities in this workshop, and the handouts were super useful. Definitely some good takeaways for me as a facilitator and a little as a NVC learner as well. But aside from those paired and small group activities, I generally didn’t like this workshop a whole lot. It did not meet my need for order or purpose very well. There were some interesting bits in the large group discussion, but I don’t think I got much in the way of answers around empathizing with whiteness.
I was also hoping for better modeling of NVC, especially by someone who’s nearly certified, than I saw in this workshop. I feel sad and frustrated not because I am judging them, but because I’m afraid of how NVC will be perceived. I think NVC has the potential to change the whole world, so I don’t want people to be turned off of it by some disappointing and confusing workshops done by certified trainers. It’s not that I feel the need to judge these facilitators – but maybe I’m being a little perfectionistic about how I want NVC to be facilitated.
All appeared to be presenting as female, except the two in the workshop on “social change.” All were white. All were probably at least in their mid to upper thirties. A lot of them seemed to be professors, although I guess that’s inevitable since it was at a university. That university is also pretty white. The attendance was pretty white.
Not sure yet what to make of these facts—just putting them out there because they seem interesting.
I felt comfortable not trying to attend the last session by going late to work. Not worth it. I would definitely attend this conference again, but I wouldn’t miss work for it. I would recommend it to my friends, but I wouldn’t highly recommend it. And I’d probably caution them about what to expect, too, if they weren’t already well-versed in NVC.
Although I’m disappointed that the certified trainers did not impress me half as much as Marshall Rosenberg in their NVC skills, I’m also seeing a void. A need. I believe I have a lot to contribute on this subject, even with what background I have now. So I’m feeling both discouraged and encouraged, strangely enough. I want to learn more about NVC, so it’s important that I find facilitators I really learn from and like.
I am most looking forward to: hanging out with that professor who gave me his card, and using some of these activities in my own workshops. I’m also looking forward to practicing listening empathetically more and better. These reflect the three main reasons I attended: making great connections, getting ideas for my workshops, and improving my NVC skills. So all-in-all, it was a success. With a lot of room for improvement.
What I really want to know is what the NVC Bazaar was like for those who were new to NVC. There were some intro workshops that I, of course, did not attend. I just imagine that if I had been totally new to NVC, I would have had some discouraging ideas about the whole thing from attending this event.