donderdag, december 6, 2018

In the beginning of November, I travelled to Kyiv to follow a training on nonviolent communication (NVC) organized by my colleague Lena Kashkarova from Foundations for Freedom, the IofC-based NGO in Ukraine. It was the perfect opportunity to get to know my colleagues and the work in Ukraine better, learn about the history of the country first-hand and follow an NVC course by trainer Yoram Mosenzon. In total 30 people (see group photo below) participated in the training and almost all participants had a Ukrainian and/ or Russian background. Given the recent developments in this region, it was very special to be a part of a safe space where participants from these different backgrounds had the opportunity to connect.


Group photo of the NVC training by Olga Shevchuck


What is nonviolent communication?

The NVC 4 step model | Source: connecting2life.netNonviolent communication (NVC) is a simple, effective and practical tool you can use to improve your communication skills and your relationships. It helps you to understand what triggers you, take responsibility for your reactions, and deepen your connection with yourself and others. The NVC approach was developed by American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. He believed that compassion is the natural state of human beings: we enjoy giving and receiving from the heart. While studying compassion, he saw that language played a vital role. Judgements, evaluations, labelling and stereotyping caused a disconnect both within and outside of oneself. Consequently, he developed NVC as a tool to foster the language of compassion and to stimulate positive social change.

Needs driven communication

Needs are at the core of the approach. NVC assumes needs are the core qualities and values all human beings share; needs (safety, belonging, autonomy, being heard, etc.) drive our actions and behavior. When you understand and acknowledge your need(s) and the needs of others, a shared base for connection, collaboration and harmonious relationships arises. By honestly expressing yourself and empathically listening to the other, you can create this space for connection. These are expressed through the four components of NVC: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. When there is no space for (self-)connection, tensions and conflict might arise. For me one of the eye-openers in this training was that every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.

Requests: ask for the moon

The training in Kyiv was focused around the fourth component of NVC: requests. Making a request means that you dare to say what you really want and dream of. You could even ask for the moon! Although it sounds pretty straightforward, it can be actually quite scary to say this out loud. First and foremost, because the spirit of requests in NVC relies on our willingness to hear a ‘no’. For instance, I invite a friend to go to dinner in a fancy restaurant to celebrate the end of an important project. Am I open to receive a ‘no’ to this request? In NVC the spirit of requests lies on the willingness to hear a ‘no’ and to continue the conversation to meet everyone’s needs.

Looking for yes behind the ‘no’

‘No’ is the start of a meaningful dialogue. ‘No’ often means a yes to a need of yourself, a need that wants to be taken care of,’ says trainer Yoram Mosenzon. In everyday life hearing ‘no’ is often associated as the end of a conversation, but in NVC it is seen as the beginning. By taking the time to explore everyone’s needs, it can bring a relationship to a new level and enhance trust.

The jackal and the giraffe

Yoram Mosenzon with the jackal and the giraffeThe challenge is to stay in contact after saying or hearing a ‘no’ as it leaves an open space to the reason behind it. This space is mostly filled with worst case scenarios in which rejection often reigns. In NVC terms, this is where the inner jackals come out. To elaborate on the example above: ‘If she says ‘no’ to the dinner, she probably doesn’t like me.’

Rosenberg uses the jackal and the giraffe as symbols for two types of communication. NVC is also known as the language of the heart, or giraffe language, because giraffes have the largest hearts of any land animal. Jackals can be described as giraffes with communication problems as they express themselves in a language of criticism, blame and demands that triggers counterattack and defensiveness. ‘We are living in a jackal society, so instead of getting rid of judgment, say ”come here” and invite it. Accept and caress your inner jackal, because behind it is a sweet heart’, Yoram articulates By accepting your inner jackal, you open up a space where you can go beyond your judgements or criticism and get in touch with the feelings and needs that lie underneath it all.

Understanding guilt

Judging comes in two forms: judging the other and judging oneself. In the training self-judgment examples are plenty. The last day of the training we focus on the specific feeling that can arise from self-judgment: guilt. ‘Guilt arises when there is a moment of tornness and confusion, because I have two needs and I don’t know how to care for both,’ says Yoram. He elaborates with the example that he wants to work but he feels guilty to do so because his girlfriend is crying. But whenever you act out of guilt, it will not be sustainable in the long run. So, the invitation is to share your dilemma with the other person, take the time to be honest with the other while you keep connected to yourself. This is a painful process, because being honest requires vulnerability and hurt from past experiences might surface.

However, I would experience that sharing your dilemmas openly creates a space for healing. One of the Russian participants found the courage to share her dilemmas and fears from the last two days: ‘I’m Russian and if you hate me I understand, please let me know.’ This opens the space for sharing and a deep collective mourning. Other participants share as well: ‘Many people have lost their homes, their loved ones. Why do we need to live through this pain again and again? The feeling of hurt is killing me and these are tears of helplessness because there is no opportunity to influence the situation and make it better. I don’t want this reality, I want everything to be normal.’ We closed the last day with stating there is a clear need within this community to create a space where all the pain and tears can be shared. After the workshop all participants have connected via social media. So, the journey of healing will continue.

Laura Reijnders


If you want to hear more about nonviolent communication, you can watch this TEDx Talk of Yoram Mosenzon.