4 ways to practice Nonviolent Communication on your job

10-15-2014 by Sebastian Schürmann

I get asked a lot about practical applications of Nonviolent Communication and this post covers 4 applications of NVC that you can use in your daily work.

First a short recap what Nonviolent Communication is from wikipedia.

Nonviolent Communication (abbreviated NVC, also called Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication) is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s.It focuses on three aspects of communication: self-empathy (defined as a deep and compassionate awareness of one’s own inner experience), empathy (defined as listening to another with deep compassion), and honest self-expression (defined as expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others).

Sounds not very specific. But when we look at the model it gets a little more ‘practical’

  • Observation: the facts (what we are seeing, hearing, or touching) as distinct from our evaluation of meaning and significance. NVC discourages static generalizations. It is said that “When we combine observation with evaluation others are apt to hear criticism and resist what we are saying.” Instead, a focus on observations specific to time and context is recommended.
  • Feelings: emotions or sensations, free of thought and story. These are to be distinguished from thoughts (e.g., “I feel I didn’t get a fair deal”) and from words colloquially used as feelings but which convey what we think we are (e.g., “inadequate”), how we think others are evaluating us (e.g., “unimportant”), or what we think others are doing to us (e.g., “misunderstood”, “ignored”). Feelings are said to reflect whether we are experiencing our needs as met or unmet. Identifying feelings is said to allow us to more easily connect with one another, and “Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts.”
  • Needs: universal human needs, as distinct from particular strategies for meeting needs. It is posited that “Everything we do is in service of our needs.”
  • Request: request for a specific action, free of demand. Requests are distinguished from demands in that one is open to hearing a response of “no” without this triggering an attempt to force the matter. If one makes a request and receives a “no” it is recommended not that one give up, but that one empathize with what is preventing the other person from saying “yes,” before deciding how to continue the conversation. It is recommended that requests use clear, positive, concrete action language.

Nonviolent Communication on Wikipedia

So how can you use this in your daily work as Scrum Master, Agile Coach or Teamlead?

NVC Canvas

I think the business canvas is there to stick and Ari-Pekka Lappi created a NVC-Canvas that you can use as a tool for moderation. If you already know the basics I urge you to try it. It is a awesome tool. His intentions on how this canvas is useful and to be used:

  • It’s a learning and teaching tool.
  • It’s a tool for reflection. Use it before you discuss a difficult topic, or use it to reflect an incident.
  • It can be coaching tool. However: Don’t use it in coaching situation if it makes it harder for you to listen and be present.

You want to read his blog

NVC Retrospective

Retrospectives have a very “Nonviolent” approach already and knowledge of NVC helps a lot. But why not change the retrospective phases in the following way

  • Opening the retrospective: 20 minutes explanation and discussion of NVC
  • What did you observe in the sprint? (Basically we have that as the “timeline” activity)
  • How do you feel about it? Choose some of the observations and add some feelings to it. It is very much alike to mad, sad and glad. Provide index cards and the feelings inventory
  • Add the needs that were addressed or need to be fulfilled. Again there is a needs inventory
  • Finally work out a list of requests that everyone makes. You can use the generated data of the sprint to see where people align and have requests that are alike. These are very concrete, actionable items.
  • Close the retrospective.

When ever someone is “wrong”

As a trainer, coach or team lead you are often expected to be “right” on a matter or have the last word on something. And often the thought occurs: “This person is wrong”. Examples I heard very often are project managers asking time, budget ad scope to be fixed, a manager having a top down approach in how teams are organized or an architect to expect everyone to do as he decides. Why not invest a little extra effort in such a situation and think of these situations the nvc way? Start with you r self (observations, feelings, need, request) and then do the same for the other person. There is a good chance that this will create a lot of information that you did not have beforehand or that just was there implicitly.

Warning: You might come to a point where you find out that you were not as “right” as you initially thought and the other person is not as “wrong” as you anticipated. Welcome to the power of empathy :)

Training exercise: De-trolling

There are tons of forums, commentary sections and facebook discussions out there that are full of aggressive trolling and these pose a opportunity for a learning exercise. Take one of these “out of control” conversations a day, make up your mind and try to use a little NVC as conflict resolution. It will give you the exercise that you need and help sharpen your skills in terms of understand the feelings and needs of yourself and other persons.

Tmorrow I will be giving a talk about NVC - Nonviolent communication on the XP Days Conference in Hamburg these 4 practical tips are part of it.

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