Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Out Beyond Ideas of NVC And Not-NVC, There Is A Field, I Will Meet You There

A few months ago I stopped considering myself to be an "NVC trainer". However, if I were asked to facilitate an NVC training, I would probably still do it. I no longer consider myself to be an "NVC person" in general. However, I still associate with other folks in that scene, and I usually enjoy those interactions. I have given up on trying to get people interested and involved with NVC. At the same time, I still personally find great value and meaning in the practices, processes, principles, assumptions, and intentions that are all associated with the term "Nonviolent Communication".

This situation of no longer being something while still being something is not new to me. This same thing has recently come about for me regarding the term "anarchist" as well. In common with both of these I am hoping to take something out of it's label, out of it's terminological container, and still keep and use the good stuff inside.

This is all based on a belief that I have now that the term "Nonviolent Communication" more often than not serves more as a hindrance to the actual practice and proliferation of what is referred to with that term. There are eight points that I have regarding this which fall into three separate categories: "organizational", "social" and what I call "evolutionary":


1) The request regarding the term.

The term “Nonviolent Communication” is a Service Mark belonging to the Center for Nonviolent Communication. This organization has requested that those who are not officially certified by them refrain from using the term "Nonviolent Communication" in what they do. The process for becoming a certified trainer with this organization has been closed to new people entering for a number of years now with no indication on when it will re-open. If everyone who has affinity with what is called "Nonviolent Communication" were to follow this request then most of the people who are promoting it would not be using that term.

2) The originator of the term

The term "Nonviolent Communication" is strongly associated with the Center for Nonviolent Communication and its creator, founder and main leader, Marshall Rosenberg. I no longer have trust in that organization or that individual doing the job that they have set out to do within integrity of the values that they proclaim. I am no longer interested in being associated with that particular organization or individual. Using the term "Nonviolent Communication" when promoting this kind of work regularly brings a conversation to the topic of Marshall Rosenberg and I am no longer interested in introducing, explaining, or defending the actions of this man. This topic has been discussed at great length elsewhere, and others share the views that I have as well. I consider my time and energy to be more effectively and enjoyably placed elsewhere.


3) Turning off and misleading

The term "Nonviolent Communication" turns off a lot of people and it is often misleading. I have personally come across a lot of people who have negative associations with the words "nonviolence" or "nonviolent". People also often see these words as not relating to them and their lives. Also, a lot of what "Nonviolent Communication" refers to is not directly about "communication" per se, so using that word is not entirely accurate in describing what is being talked about.

4) Disembodied robot-speak

There is a very pervasive and recurring phenomena of people becoming very excited about and involved in NVC and as a result speaking to others when "using it" in ways that are described as being very robotic, formulaic, stilted and unoriginal. A lot of folks find these ways of speaking to be very disconnecting, whereas the whole intention behind it all is to increase connection! Additionally, an emphasis on the words used and the way that things are phrased often encourages people to loose touch with their bodily-felt understanding, to be "stuck in their head" so to speak. Abandoning the term "Nonviolent Communication", and these particular associations and habits that go along with it, could help with emphasizing other approaches based on more fully felt authenticity.

5) Priceless connection

What is called "Nonviolent Communication" is usually publicly presented in the social context of a commodity exchange relationship – the buying and selling of a product. Usually one person or a group of people are selling something, a training, a workshop, a retreat, a private session, a recording, a book or some other kind of written material, and everybody else is either buying it or are expected to buy it. I do not want to judge this kind of relationship as being "bad" or "wrong", but I do want to ask: Are there any other ways that we can be together where we are learning, growing, and deeply connecting with each other and are not expected to purchase something? I have known a number of people who when they saw the asking-price for an NVC event they immediately lost interest in it. I am convinced that there are other ways that we can organize these kinds of experiences without folks having to play the roles of entrepreneur and consumer.

6) Like-attracts-like

What is called "Nonviolent Communication" is popular among one particular demographic of people, namely, white women who are middle-aged, from a middle class background in a first-world country, and who hold views that are considered to be "liberal" or "progressive". There is nothing "bad" or "wrong" with this particular demographic of people, some of my best friends come from that demographic! However, I want to point out that there are many many many other different kinds of people in the human race besides that one particular demographic. I am concerned that the NVC scene, like every other social scene out there, has a like-attracts-like dynamic taking place. I am convinced that people are subconsciously drawn towards being around other people who are similar to them. In order to open up all that goes under the label of "NVC" to the rest of humanity I see it as being essential to go beyond residing with this one particular label and this one particular social scene of people that goes along with it.


7) Evolving into something else

As more and more different people use what is called "Nonviolent Communication" the practices, processes, understandings, etc. associated with it will naturally over time change. Things will be tweaked and adjusted, other practices, modalities and traditions will be synthesized with it, developments will be made, in short, what is called "NVC" will evolve. As NVC evolves in different directions according to the contributions made by different people eventually what some people are calling "NVC" will look very different from what was originally called "NVC". Some people may no longer wish to call their developed version "NVC", while others may wish to keep that label. Some people may not recognize what other people are calling "NVC" as being at all similar to what they are calling "NVC". What I wonder is: At what point does the term "Nonviolent Communication" lose it's descriptive value in fostering common understanding between people?

8) People learning together

The learning-context in which "Nonviolent Communication" is usually presented is that of the teacher/student model. If the students persist in not having a sense of their own power, this eventually becomes the demagogue/follower model. This approach overlooks the fact that everybody's knowledge is incomplete, that everybody's perceptions are limited, and that everybody makes mistakes. With this in mind I would like for us to discover and implement ways for people to come together to learn with each-other. We all have stuff to share, things to contribute, and areas where we can learn and further grow in, no one is above or below this. I'd like to see this done together cooperatively with everyone's contributions being valued.

What to say instead?

If the term "Nonviolent Communication" is no longer used, what do I suggest be used to refer to what it refers to? Personally, I do not recommend any one particular term to replace it. Any one term used could eventually develop the same kind of problems that the existing term has. What I would like to see is a new approach of openness and versatility: different terms and phrases used for different people and purposes. Some terms would appeal to and make more sense to some people than other terms that are more useful for other people. A diversity of words and labels can be used to connect with a diversity of people. The key thing is that we continually check in to make sure that we understand each-other and feel connected with each-other, regardless of the particular words used.


Duchesse said...

Ian, always great for me to catch up with you and read your thoughts. So many of your points echo my own beliefs, especially the organizational aspect.

When I feel fed up with some of these aspects, I reflect on what 15+ years of nvc has given me- too numerous to list here, but especially valuable is the ability to hear behind people's blame and anger, to their needs. I've been able to restore relationships I thought were blown.

Wish we could just sit and talk! -Kathleen

PS The white middle class middle aged woman thing? I have found that to be the population of all personal growth events I've attended for decades. Thank god I'm no longer middle aged :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on many points.
Lisa ;-)

Jeff Brown said...

Ian, I am thoroughly stimulated by your post and feel deep gratitude for it.

It's a rare event that someone posts something about NVC that energizes me so much!

What I enjoy most is your authentic sharing of your own personal experience with Nonviolent Communication.

In some ways, my experience matches yours, and in other ways, I have had different experiences.

What I resonate with:

> IAN: The term "Nonviolent Communication" turns off a lot of people and it is often misleading.

JEFF: Yes, most definitely! Long ago, I ceased using this term (unless someone referenced it themselves), because I don't find the term to be particularly useful.

For one, it says what we DON'T want, or what we want to get rid of... rather than what we are moving toward.

I usually call it Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication instead.

> IAN: ...speaking to others when "using it" in ways that are described as being very robotic, formulaic, stilted and unoriginal...

JEFF: This is one of the things that I feel the most sadness about, both in my personal journey with NVC, and the way I see others practicing it.

I see NVC as much more a "way of being" (to borrow a term from Carl Rogers), than "doing" anything.

In fact, it's the "doing" that takes us away from the "being" of NVC consciousness, in my view.

Rather than seeing this as an inherent limitation of Nonviolent Communication, I see it as a developmental stage that hopefully people will continue to grow through.

> IAN: "Nonviolent Communication" is usually publicly presented in the social context of a commodity exchange relationship – the buying and selling of a product.

JEFF: I imagine what is present for you, Ian, is a desire for inclusion and equality, and for everyone to have access to learning NVC regardless of their financial means... yes?

What you describe has not been my personal experience, specifically that NVC is "usually" presented in a commodity exchange format.

I have seen hundreds of free practice groups around the world, and have heard about hundreds of others, and today one can find endless resources on the internet for free.

I guess one needs the means to access the internet to use these things, and yet even that can be done at a library for free in most places that I have been (including in other countries).

> IAN: "Nonviolent Communication" is popular among one particular demographic of people, namely, white women who are middle-aged, from a middle class background in a first-world country, and who hold views that are considered to be "liberal" or "progressive"

JEFF: My experience has been similar, in that about 75% of the people who attend my workshops are women, most of them white women in their 40s and 50s... however, I celebrate that I have been working with a wider variety of people lately, including groups of all men, people of various races and economic backgrounds, etc.

In fact, just last week I led a daylong training in Gary, IN with a group of 20 people, 13 of whom were African American, 1 African, 2 latino and 4 Catholic sisters, and I would guess that their personal economic status was across the board.

... more soon...

Conal said...

Thank you, Ian. I got a kick out of your post. Several, even.

My own journey with NVC shares much in common with what you've written here. Especially the organization, the image of NVC as about how to communicate, and the determination to evolve past any static set of understandings.

I haven't worried about CNVC's request connected to using the term "nonviolent communication", as I've been confident they're able to be okay without that help from me.

Mercedes Frace said...

Ian, i feel sparked by your authenticity in your writing, meeting needs for comradare and shared values.

I resonnate with so much of what you share here, in particular the organization itself, the stilted language, the consumerism aspect and also the term "nonviolent" which, in my experience, supports people in running the other direction.

with deep appreciation,
Mercedes Frace

Anonymous said...

Good to read. Thank you.
an ex nvc candidate trainer lover ...

Anonymous said...

Right On Ian! Thanks for taking the time to articulate it all.
Nathaniel N-T
(the friend of Jeanell that you've know for the last 10 years, or perhaps it was during a couple of other lifetimes)

Craig CJG said...

Hi Ian, I am laughing and crying, mostly laughing, as I re-read your post and remember my frustration with the many aspects of it with which I identify. No time for a fuller response. Maybe later.

Ian Mayes said...

Heya Jeff,

To respond to a question that you asked me here:

"I imagine what is present for you, Ian, is a desire for inclusion and equality, and for everyone to have access to learning NVC regardless of their financial means... yes?"

That is indeed part of it, however there is also another aspect as well that I would also like to have acknowledged.

Commodity-exchange, that is buying & selling, is one particular kind of relationship. It has with it it's own particular assumptions, expectations, beliefs, etc. There are other kinds of relationships as well, other ways in which groups of people come together.

To name other kinds of ways that people gather together that is not a commodity-exchange relationship, three of the most well-known are playing games (sports or other kinds of games), having parties, and religious activities.

I am emphasizing this point of having non-commodity-exchange kinds of relationships for the sake of diversity, creativity, and a sense of possibility. I have a belief that when people can come together as a group for focused intentional interactions for the purpose of learning, growth and authentic connection, within a context other than buying-and-selling, that there is then greater potential for people to assume greater self-responsibility and as a result develop more unique innovations & contributions for the world.

Yes, I am aware of free resources online and free practice groups. I have helped to create a few of these myself. What I was thinking of more was day-long and multi-day events, for the sake of greater depth of learning & exploration.

Weston said...


A wonderful post. Particularly #4. Considering how long NVC has been around you would think that somebody would have "cracked the code" on providing a natural sounding formula for beginners to fall back on while still deepening the actual empathy being felt.

I've got to tell you that #2 has me very intrigued. I know that you indicated that you have no interest in getting into it and I would certainly respect any decision you might make to stand on that position. But as a newcomer to nvc I really would like to know more of what you are referring to. Can you point me to somewhere else on your blog or elsewhere where I can clarify what you're referring to?

gedding said...

Spot on!
All points.
I have been saying this for YEARS!

Many of the problems (if not all) step from one thing....

We have giraffe dialogue but that gets murdered as soon as we are playing jackal games that we have in our society.

CNVC wants to keep the copyright, sell their books, stop others from using their concepts and terms, and they will use legal violence to enforce their demands... what the hell?? Why??

Well buddy that's how the capitalist game is played. Even the most NVC people, even the CREATORS of NVC fall into jackal horse shit INSTANTLY when they have mortgages to pay and want to keep a monopoly on ideas.

Now don't get me wrong.
They will express their jackal wishes in giraffe language.
What you referred to as "mechanical language"... but that just adds salt in the wounds.

If you are gonna be a jackal, then have some damn balls and be honest about it!

(And im speaking from personal experience here)

So long as we keep using systems DESIGNED to be dominating, DESIGNED to be divisive, competitive, and sustaining of domination structures, then giraffe is dead in the water.

Or, if you do not believe in the design behind these systems, the gangs/illuminate/dark priests who created and thought out these systems, then these systems EVOLVED FROM 8000 years of jackal mentality.

Either way... we need a giraffe language for SYSTEMS or games or social structures.

Do you have thoughts on how to do this?

Ian Mayes said...

Heya Weston,

In response to your request... Most of those conversations have taken place privately - either between groups of people or one-on-one. This makes it so that I am unaware of anything publicly available online that I can direct you to.

I can, however, point you to this one article on Wikipedia that describes one of the phenomena that I believe is taking place within the CNVC organization in relation to Marshall Rosenberg:

Susanel said...

I'm struck by the connection between your points 5 and 8. It seems to me that the blurring of the distinction between trainer and participant would result in the dismantling of the exchange paradigm. I wonder if anyone has considered organizing a "giraffe convention" along Open Space Technology lines?

Nexus said...

Ian and I attended such an open space NVC-ish conference. It met a bunch of needs.

Sonya said...

Hi Ian,

Thank you for posting this. I read it and was like "yes, yes, yes,...." I felt a strong sense of connection.

Looking forward to talking with you soon!

tbean said...

Hi Ian,

This topic is still very alive for me.
One reason is the recent CNVC request of non-certified trainers to not use the term "compassionate communication". I'm puzzled and sad at this, as for years I had thought this was an "O.K." term to use.
Our local NVC group calls ourselves "Compassionate Communication of Greater Cincinnati". So, do we now have to come up with a new name? I'm quite frustrated and confused by all of this.
Because we want to help build and be part of a world that works for everyone's needs. Because I myself would love to spread this consciousness and make it a part of the work I do in the world.
The whole must be "certified" or "licensed" to apply thing is a cause for a lot of sadness in me. What about giving people a chance based on their experience and enthusiasm and what they can accomplish, rather than on a piece of paper?
O.K.; I will stop ranting now.
I just really wanted to connect with you about this and share my thoughts...
In solidarity,

Ariane said...

> I wonder if anyone has considered organizing a "giraffe convention" along Open Space Technology lines?

I have been to various of those (European Summerfestival, each year in a different country. NVC Open Space in vacation atmosphere, community-led, participants from various continents. 2011 will be in the UK).

Ariane said...

There was a group planning to organize one in the US in 2009, but I think it never happened.

Here is the address for the 2011 one in Lake District, UK:

davichon said...

robot speak, alas. Last night I attended a session with experts (so to speak) from the CDC about biodefense (so to not speak), organised by someone I respect. It's a VERY scary subject (we have a big installation locally) and everyone from leftists and anarchists to maverick engineers showed up -- really trying, in many cases. But the engaged engaged professionals (of whom Ian's whitemiddlewomen are a subset) seem trained work from a baseline of dispassionate fudgespeak. Very nonviolent, only sporadic communication.

Anonymous said...

Science Fiction author Neil Gaiman on IP
Gaiman on Copyright Piracy and the Web

February 11, 2011 by Stephan Kinsella

Fascinating short comments by science fiction author Neil Gaiman on how he came to realize that there was nothing wrong with people copying his books:

"Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free. What you're actually doing is advertising. You're reaching more people. You're raising awareness."

Cheers AtlasAikido