Nonviolent Meetings

Nonviolent Meetings

Two outstretched hands meet

Around a month ago I wrote a post on Nonviolent Conferencing. Central to that idea – well, more of an appeal, really – was the use of the four steps of Nonviolent Communication as a framework for the conference and the delegates’ participation:

  1. Say what you saw, or heard (a simple evaluation-free statement)
  2. Say what you felt (it can help, initially, to pick from a list)
    “I feel…”
  3. Say what you need (again here’s a handy list)
    “…because I need/value…”
  4. Make a request (the concrete actions you would like taken)
    “Would you be willing to…?”

Having set through a number of meetings this week, I’m minded of much the same dysfunctions in meetings as I see in the more traditional formats for conferences:

  • Speakers not in tune with their own needs nor the needs of their audience.
  • “Push” of more-or-less random information – often of little interest or relevance to the audience.
  • Tendency to talk about things that work well, rather than air problems that need fixing. Whereas a Solutions Focus is nice, often things that could benefit from others’ positive solutions do not get mentioned.
  • Failure to engage with the emotions of the audience (cf Emotioneering).
  • Little or no fellowship – limited sense of collaboration and mutual learning.
  • Fear, obligation, guilt and shame preventing anyone leaving the room, or even saying anything about their frustrations with the meeting.
  • The prospect of future meetings following just the same format, with just the same frustrations.

And in the same vein as Nonviolent Conferencing., I can see nonviolence bringing much improvement to the standard meeting experience.

How would this work?

Basically, the Nonviolent Meeting would bring together

  • folks with specific (topic-related) needs, and
  • folks who might be able and willing to help meet those needs.

Each participant would:

  1. Share with the meeting one or more observations (things seen, heard or otherwise observed at their places of work, and related to the topic at hand – free from judgements or evaluations).
  2. Share what they felt about the thing(s) observed.
  3. State what they was needing, needs which caused them to feel that way.
  4. Make one or more specific requests (non-demanding, positive, actionable) of the other folks in the meeting), in the hope that someone (or some number of those folks, together) might be able to meet their request(s).

Following a request (or requests), the folks in the meeting can then, together, consider how they might contribute, singly or in fellowship, to the satisfying of each request.

Aside: This approach might also serve to encourage some focussed thought in preparing for the meeting. I know from my own experience with Nonviolent Communication how difficult it can be sometimes to go from an observation, to a well-identified feeling, to an underlying need, to a specific request, particularly on-the-hoof. Having some preparation time beforehand to follow through the four steps of NVC might be helpful, especially if one could have some colleague or coach to help in the preparation.

Seems to me this could cut out a whole passle of la-la yadda-yadda talk, and get to the crux of the issues on the table – needs that folks have, that they need help with, help from the other folks around the table.

I’d be interested to hear if you’d be willing to give it a go in your next meeting? And to hear your feedback on the idea.

– Bob

Further Reading

Nonviolent Communication ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
Speak Peace in a World of Conflict ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

  1. Another awesome resource for preparing to facilitate meetings is ‘The Art of Focused Conversation’, 2000,created by The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs. The bibliography includes many great authors that readers of Bob’s blog will already be familiar with.

    The Focussed Conversation is a method of Meeting Facilitation that builds on 4 stages of facilitated questions that bear a striking resemblance to NVC.
    The types of questions revolve around ‘objective’, ‘reflective’, ‘interpretive’, and ‘decisional’ aspects of the topic at hand. I see the resemblance in that

    ‘objective’ maps to observation in NVC (what was seen, heard, recorded, noted about the topic)

    ‘reflective’ maps to feelings in NVC (what was your response, reaction, feeling to those observations)

    ‘interpretive’ maps (not as neatly) to needs in NVC (what significance does this have for you)

    ‘decisional’ maps to requests in NVC (what action would we (I) like to come out of this).

    The book has 100 templates for a huge variety of topics that people in organizations might need – with sample questions for each of the 4 stages of the Focused Conversation.

    For someone new to NVC, and not sure how to use it in a meeting setting, this book could be considered a stepping stone ( or perhaps even a final destination).

  2. Bob, I like the direction of this post: It states clearly why you would like changes, what you would like changed, and how it might be done. Nice job!

    I like the idea of participants being able to say what they think and feel. That won’t happen, in my experience, unless participants feel safe to speak their truth. So if it’s a newly constituted group, I suggest starting the meeting with an exercise to create safety guidelines for the meeting. This action may build a portion of the foundation necessary for people to feel safe enough to say what they think and feel. For groups that have experience working together, I suggest some kind of centering exercise that reminds participants of safety agreements.

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