Recently, I gave a lecture on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) at a democratic school in Israel, the attendees (or at least the active ones), were mostly 11-12 year old girls, and a teacher.

The first thing i found was a potentially good lecture structure (which I'll talk about a little), and the second was about miscommunication.

I had an hour and a half, so i experimented with an unusual nvc-teaching structure (at least to me). I've had past experience teaching nvc, and two key principles i learned are (1) Without some sort of practice, the lecture isn't worth much. and (2) that practice isn't that easy; imaginary cases usually don't work, and getting people to be willing to open and be vulnerable is hard. up to now i tried different methods each time.

in this lecture, since it was only a hour-and-half, i decided to just give them a taste. and thought maybe the best way to do that is to start from the easiest and most fun, to the harder and more sensitive.

so the first thing i got them to try was actually to express appreciation (which is talked about last in the book), using the nvc model - observation (The thing you did I'm referring to), emotion (how i felt following it), and need (what need was fulfilled). It worked wonderfully better than other times when i tried teaching the 4 steps in other ways.

after each one of them picked another person and expressed their appreciation toward them, i explained about miscommunication and the techniques NVC has to handle it - paraphrasing, and asking for a "reflection" from someone on what they heard you say. i asked half of the pairs to initiate paraphrasing, and the other to ask for reflection. they then protested that they don't see how it's useful, so i professed "yeah, it's true, it better suites situations of negative messages, but i want you to practice it even though you're probably right that you totally understood".

so they played along, and i worried that it'll actually feel like a waste of time. but by the first pair to try, this is (in short) what happened:

Girl A "Can you please say what you heard me say?"
Girl B "you said you like that when you share things with me, i give my opinion"
Me, to Girl A "was this what you meant?"
Girl A "not exactly"
Me, quite excited it worked "Great! so now you're able to clarify what you meant!"
Girl A "what i meant is, that when i share something with you, i like that you listen, not when you express an opinion"

And this happened with all pairs (maybe except one). I thought that much of the miscommunication in negative messages come from defense mechanisms that distort the message. but even here, where it was a really good thing being expressed (and relatively quite clearly), the message was still distorted.

On top of that, not even one percipient thought there would be any misunderstanding. heck! even i thought it might turn out super obvious. we were all wrong.

What i took from it is that people might be even worse than i thought at understanding what people mean, and we should probably ask for more clarification more often, and on more sorts of things, than we do.


1. yes, these were girls, but i believe their age was a minor influence on the miscommunication, and thus mostly applies to adults too.

2. since they weren't familiar with the model, they didn't express their appreciation concisely, I'm curious how a concise expression following the model would work.

So - in the spirit of the post - can you write what you "heard" me say? :)

(And also feedback is appreciated)

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2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:40 AM

Thanks for the post. I have been mulling over how best to explain nvc to people. I like your idea of starting with appreciation.

Happy it helps!