NVC Chapter 4: Identifying and Expressing Feelings

Measureless the starry heights
Measureless the depths of earth,
And about us everywhere
Light receiving, warmed by wonder,
Spirits weave man’s destiny.
May the shelter of this place
be a place of wakening
Peace within us, peace among us.
— Adam Bittleston

Wednesday we held our first “new” NVC meeting after a rather dramatic change to the format of the previous three meetings.  The previous meetings were facilitated, in the sense that a facilitator came to the workshop with a specific plan and exercises for each week.  After three meetings in this format, we realized that this format was not working for the group, and decided to change the format to a peer led direct study of Marshall Rosenberg’s book.  We picked up with the “homework” from our previous, facilitated, meeting, which was to read Chapter 4, Identifying and Expressing Feelings.  Because we had not yet covered observations in the first three facilitated meetings, we rather organically moved back to chapter 3, Observing Without Evaluating.  We quickly moved through the exercises at the end of chapter 3.

Driving back from Maine, my friend and I had put together a rough plan for yesterday’s meeting:

In alignment with the idea of Table Fellowship, I created a space in which we sat around a coffee table with various munchies: goat cheese, sliced apples and oranges, and of course, dark chocolate!

We opened with the lighting of a candle in the center of the table, the reading of the verse at the beginning of this post, and a brief check in by every person.  During this, it organically evolved to state that there is no particular “leader” or “facilitator” of the group, that we are all here to guide each other, and that anyone can suggest changes to the format of the meeting.  In individual discussions with the group, I also restated that we all felt that we wanted the group to be dynamic and organic—we would openly welcome new people if, in subsequent weeks, other people wanted to join the group for the chapter study.  Unlike the facilitated meetings of the past, the chapter study could easily accommodate people’s schedules, interests, and needs.

Borrowing from facilitated conversation techniques, my loose plan was to start with a discussion of what we objectively observed Marshal to be communicating in this chapter.  The second round of discussions would dive into our subjective response to what Marshal wrote, and we could bring up questions.  The third round was intended to work with some exercises regarding identifying and stating feelings.

This would be followed by a check out and a re-reading of the verse for closing.  Amusingly, I forgot to mention that we should plan on studying Chapter 5 for next week!

The meeting quite naturally ended up following this form, without explicitly having to “keep everyone on track.”  This was a wonderful indication that the process was really flowing for everyone.  In fact, near the end, it became natural to also start exploring needs and requests.

For my part, I came out of the meeting with a couple insights.  For the exercise portion, my friend suggested that we take an event (or events) from the day, state them as observations, and then state how we felt about them.  She requested that after a person made their observation and feeling about an event in the day, each person in the group mirrored the observation and feeling and then added their own feeling “response”.  This created a space where each person was heard with empathy.

The first insight I had was the importance of stating the observation before the feeling.  We played with both forms: observation followed by feeling and feeling followed by the observation.  I experienced much more openness when hearing an observation first, and then the person’s feeling.  Conversely, I experienced a closing down, especially when the feeling expressed was “negative”, when I heard the feeling first and then the observation that led to the feeling.  This is partly because I realized a common ground with another person when they describe an observation.  If the feeling is put first, I find myself concerned with “how am I responsible” and I’m much more closed to finding the common ground in the observation itself.

The second insight I had was in the importance of an empathy statement that stays in the “reflective space” rather than changing the focus to “I”.  This was jumping forward ahead of what we were focusing on, but it was an interesting to be really sensitive to stay just with a format like “when I hear you talking about…, I feel…”, rather than adding something to the effect of “and it reminds me of when I…”.  It actually takes effort to come to a hard stop at the end of “I feel”, and to get comfortable with the silence that ensues when I person feels heard, is contemplating that hearing, and may or may not say something further.

So, a very successful first peer-led NVC meeting!

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