agsLetterhead Seminar Summary.jpg

Sunday 18 April 2010


"Nonviolent communication (NVC)"


NVC techniques help people to communicate with greater compassion

and clarity and avoid naming, blaming, and shaming.
NVC can also help "teach" people how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

This seminar was based on the talk on an "E-Prime and EMA and NVC" article by Lois Einhorn,

a Professor of Rhetoric at Binghamton University


Led by David Hewson




  1. Catching Up & Introductions

  2. GS Diary Reports - "Our GS Experiences"

  3. Nonviolent communication (NVC)

  4. AGS Business

  5. Close.


1. Catching-up

We “always” allow a little time for review of our lives and activities.


2. GS Diary Reports - "Our GS Experiences"

Some of us experienced events in the month past, which demonstrated the value, and perhaps some limitations, in the applications of GS principles.  Sharing of these is a valuable part of our time together.


3. Nonviolent communication (NVC)


Today’s discussions were based on a paper titled:  “E-Prime and EMA and NVC” by Lois Einhorn  (a Professor of Rhetoric at Binghamton University)


See Lois’ book at


To summarise:

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is a process developed by Marshall Rosenberg to communicate with greater compassion and clarity. It focuses on: empathy - listening with deep compassion, and honest self-expression.

Frequently, people name, blame, and shame themselves by saying things like "I'm a moron” or "I'm lazy" and labelling themselves as "ugly," or "foolish."  They seemed to take their labels as facts. Or others may do this to them.


To help change the ways people spoke about themselves, ideas from nonviolent communication (NVC) were used.  NVC follows a four step process:

1. Observations: "the concrete actions we are observing that are affecting our well-being."

2. Feelings about the observations: "how we feel in relation to what we are observing."

3. Needs related to the feelings: "the needs, values, desires, etc., that are creating our feelings." (i.e. by “needs” we mean those like the ones in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, e.g. the need for love, belonging or self acceptance, etc.)

4. Requests as a suggested solution to meeting our needs and stopping the unwanted feelings: "the concrete actions we request in order to enrich our life."


You can use this on yourself or with interaction with others.


Rosenberg teaches how to “speak to ourselves with empathy” by empathizing with both the "chooser" and the "educator" roles we play. Our "chooser" is the role in which we chose to act in the past (for reasons that we had), in ways we may now regret.  Our "educator" is a role that deals with present feelings and needs.  An example. You cleaned  your old house for sale until 11 pm. When you got home, your wife ridiculed you for being so slow at getting the job done.  You shouted at your wife.


The chooser might say, "I felt exhausted and overwhelmed because I needed rest and understanding about how big the job is.  I felt angry because I wanted acceptance." 


The educator might say, "I now feel angry at myself because I prefer to act with respect and cooperation toward my spouse."


Whenever we find these thoughts of judgment and criticism, we are in internal conflict.  Every moment we are making choices, we have a part of ourselves that makes those choices, which we can call our “chooser.” However, we also have a part of us that evaluates our choices, which we can call the “educator,”.  This sometimes tries to educate through judgment, blame, and criticism.  So part of NVC is to get our “educator” to use more non violent language to ourselves.


We also talked about the Golden Rule in reverse: “Treat ourselves as we would treat others.”  I.e. have our “educator” talk to ourselves as nicely as we talk to others.


Even with the NVC methods Professor Einhorn  found that students still fell into a major trap; their word structure implied a one-to-one, direct, factual relationship between the subject (themselves e.g. “I am”) and the predicate ("horrible",  "foolish" or "ugly").  Some methods from general semantics helped: E-Prime and English Minus Absolutisms (EMA).


E-Prime involves writing without using any form of the verb "to be."  E-Prime asserts that using the verb "to be" results in identification and a sense of permanent and complete, sameness, which can lead to rigidity and stagnation of thinking.  E.g. Note the difference between “I am a jerk” and “I feel like a jerk.”.  E-Prime, by eliminating "to be" verbs, forces the speaker to use active verbs, and changes what we say from a statement of "fact" to a description of a process or condition.  Some problems result when people identify themselves with their appearance (or any other quality like acting as a GS teacher for example).  These people then have problems dealing with the normal processes of ageing. 


English Minus Absolutisms (EMA) involves avoiding the use of absolutes like: "always," "all," "every," etc, and all-exclusive words  like:"never," "none," etc. [Also EMA avoids using words like “absolute”, “certainly” and “infallible”, etc.]   When students say, "I'm a jerk," they usually imply the "always."  I.e. compare. “I always act like a jerk.” versus "I acted like a jerk last night at the restaurant." Replacing the absolute language with the specific details orients the statement in time and place, providing context.


Finally, Professor Einhorn advocates deleting loaded words such as "idiot" or "stupid" that communicate judgment. So that gives a three-step model which helps us make observations of experience rather than leaping to abstractions not relating to the facts. Replacing loaded words with less emotional, more precise words forces us to distinguish between subjective opinions and verifiable facts and to think in gradations rather than in black-and-white terms.

For example:

 "I'm a pig" versus "I ate twice as much as I usually do at lunch today."

"I'm such an idiot" versus "I burnt my toast this morning."

"I'm tardy " versus "I arrived 20 minutes late at the GS meeting after stopping off for coffee and an apple pie."


She also recommends using Korzybski's "extensional devices": indexing and dating. Indexing helps us to notice, accept, and respect differences by indicating individuality, despite similarities. E.g. Student1 (Laurie) is not the same as Student2 (David). 


Dating helps us to orient language in space and time. E.g. Laurie 1990 differs from Laurie 2010



Then we applied the NVC to a paper called: “How to talk about "difficult issues" with your sweetie” by Janet Jacobsen


To summarise:

This article talked about complaints by you about your partner that you don't think they want to hear.

A complaint can range from something about little irritants from their behaviour through to things you will NOT tolerate!


By "complaints", she means things like: "You never ...!", "You always...!" I.e. a similar communication pattern to the “violent communication” mentioned in the NVC part of the talk. She suggests that these sort of complaints NEVER pass your lips.

There are ways to ask for change that get results through to ways that fail, and ways that actually hurt the relationship.  Complaining, nagging and whining generally don't get good results and frequently erode your relationship.  So in a relationship: no nagging, no complaining, no whining. Ever. No matter how justified you think you are.  If you want change, there are better ways. [Like the NVC four step method.]  On the other hand, if you want them to dump you, go ahead, nag, whine and complain.


One of the things we treasure in a relationship is the feeling that we can be ourselves with the other person, that they appreciate us for who we are. So every time we complain about them, we undermine their sense of acceptance in the relationship.


For small irritants she suggests that you think hard before you say anything.  Some things are just best left ignored.

She suggests that many changes can be made in a relationship by simply praising what you like. [And by inference avoid punishing your partner.  i.e. no tongue lashings!]


Some behaviour you find irritating you may want to address directly.  Often the best strategy is a simple mention of the behaviour, without blame or accusation.  [I suggest using the 4 step NVC model or just the first couple of steps.] Then, having made your point, let it go. [Or as Gavan says “Build a bridge and get over it!” ] 


[Some bigger ones you may use all four steps and ask for some change in their behaviour.]


Now the other person can decide what they want to do: change their behaviour as suggested, offer a compromise, suggest another solution or in the worst case they can agree that the relationship isn't workable. No hard feelings.


This means, though, that you have to actually listen when they give their point of view.  And you may need to negotiate a compromise or come up with some other type of solution.  Preferably a win-win outcome.



We also read something from customer service where they try to keep the customer happy by exceeding their expectations.  To do this many of us use the Golden Rule:  "Treat others like you would like to be treated.".  They suggest it’s better to follow the "Platinum Rule": "Treat others like they would like to be treated!" [I.e. apply the GS formulation of indexing!]


One can also apply this to your interpersonal relationships. 

They suggested that most likely others are usually not truly difficult (unless they are miserable, and then they’re just being difficult in an effort to get you to join them!), but more often than not, they simply have a different behavioural style.  So when you recognise their different behavioural style (for example, a GS group member who wants to go on and on with all the details, and you would really prefer to get to the point), think about how you can be flexible with your communication when dealing with them. Again, you can use the Platinum Rule to change your style to meet their needs.  [Of course following Korzybski’s advice and applying this in a conditional manner can be very useful].


4. ~ AGS Business ~


AGS National Conference 27-30 August 2010:

    Call for papers etc.

UN Conference 30 August - 1 September 2010: “Global Health”

    How will we participate?


5. ~ Close ~


Next Meeting:


Sun 16 May

at the AGS Sydney Headquarters, Bonnet Bay


“Enemies of Science”


A group discussion on how the program “Enemies of Science” attempts to present the lack of science in therapeutic medicine.


To be led by Dion


(Updated 21 April 2010)

<- Home