Phases of the Moon, the newsletter of the Maine NVC Network
Issue Eight: The Power of Observation

Our newsletter appears once a month around the time of the new moon. Our purpose is to contribute to the NVC learning of people who have taken at least an NVC Level 1 workshop, and help us stay connected as we endeavor to deepen a culture of peace within ourselves, our families and the world. We believe a Level 1 offers so many new ways of thinking that additional support for learning and integration could be helpful.

We endeavor to make each edition informative, connecting, inspiring and fun. Please let us know how the newsletter might contribute to your NVC well-being.

The theme for this issue is THE POWER OF OBSERVATION. The quality of our Observation influences the common ground we can establish at the onset of a conversation - it also has the potential of alleviating some of our suffering.


Creating Common Ground

by Peggy Smith, CNVC certified NVC trainer

"Don’t confuse me with the facts!" This was a favorite saying of someone I worked with many years ago.  His somewhat joking approach to details runs counter to what we practice in Nonviolent Communication (NVC).  What we experience when following the NVC model is that the facts can be the beginning of the road to connection.

Actually, we find that carefully discerning facts and separating them from opinions or evaluations is a valuable first step in developing compassionate consciousness.  This discernment has two invaluable consequences:  (1) freeing us from the suffering caused by our own interpretations about what happened; and (2) opening a conversation with clarity and mutual trust.

clear calm day looking across a rock breakwater into a salt marshThe first life-affirming consequence of making observations is getting clear about what actually happened and letting go of our interpretations or stories arising from what happened. This practice can sometimes end the suffering arising from an event.

Here is an example from one of my workshops.  One participant, let’s call him Bob, chose as the focus of his weekend’s work framing a conversation with a friend "who doesn’t like me anymore."  Several times Bob talked with a deep sense of sadness and bewilderment about this change in his friend’s attitude.

Bob shared that at a reception following an art opening (at which Bob had been a  featured artist), his friend didn’t speak to him.  From this event Bob had created in his mind a story about losing this very treasured friendship – Bob told himself that his friend had not enjoyed his artwork – he told himself that his friend was angry at him about something – he told himself that his friend didn’t want to be his friend any longer.

At the workshop Bob learned how to discern an observation.  When we make an observation, we consider ONLY what a camcorder with sound capability could capture – recordable facts.

We avoid words that have a variety of shades of meaning (bully, weird, passive-aggressive, yelling, whispering, angry, shy, etc).  Instead, we describe the behavior that is leading us to use ‘short-cut’ words that different people might interpret differently. It is also important to avoid words that denote continuous behavior (always, never, repeatedly, etc.)

After a variety of exercises to practice the four components of an NVC conversation, Bob began to compose a dialogue he wanted to have with his friend.  He began with the observation.  After several minutes Bob became quite excited.  When I asked him what was up, he replied with a huge smile on his face.  "It’s simple.  The observation has changed everything."

Bob went on to explain that he found the observation amidst all his mind stories about his friend, and could clearly state to himself: "At the reception my friend didn’t speak to me."

Once the observation was clear to Bob, he could see his suffering had arisen from all the stories he created around his friend not speaking.  "It’s possible," Bob continued, "that he was just having a bad time at the moment.  It might have had nothing to do with me."  With that inner freedom Bob was ready to check in with his friend with a sense of ease.  Getting to the observation was key to Bob’s relief from inner suffering and opened up the inner space to make outer connection with this friend.

The second life-affirming consequence of making observations is that, because they are free of opinions & evaluations, observations can help begin conversations in a way that allows others to keep their protective shields down, thereby making it more likely that connecting conversations will follow.

When I want to talk with someone about something that could be "sticky," I want to be clear and at the same time focus the conversation in a way that encourages the hearer to stay open to communicating with me.  When the observation is clear, it is likely that the listener will agree that it is accurate.  This gets the conversation started with some level of agreement.

Remember, our opinions and evaluations are important information for OURSELVES.  They give us valuable information about what we value and where we are in our nonviolent consciousness journey.  However, they are not likely to contribute to mutual connection when expressed to the other person.  In the Further Practice activity below you will find a process to shift evaluations into observations.

When we first encounter the Observation step at the beginning of an NVC dialogue, the power of observations is often underestimated.  Taking time to hone our observation skills is an important part of our NVC development.  If you have stories about how making a clear observation shifted your perceptions, as it did for Bob, please send them to me.  Receiving your stories would contribute to the needs of connection, learning and community.

Author's gratitude: I want to express my appreciation to NVC certified trainers: Lynd Morris - whose empathy nourishes my life and whose editing enriches my writings and Bonnie Fraser - whose talents have contributed greatly to the practice section.

Peggy Smith is co-founder of the Maine NVC Network and founder/principle trainer with Open Communication
Contact Open Communication for a presentation on NVC or Restorative Circles for your organization or business.

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looking through a small round gap in tree foliage at a pond and the trees on the far shore with a partly cloudy sky above

Suggestion for Practice:
Getting Juice from My Opinions and Evaluations

Taken from: "Delving Deeper: Evaluations & Observations,"  in Connection: A Self-Care Approach To Conflict Management by Bonnie Fraser

  1. Stretch toward accepting all parts of your thinking.
    Sit and listen to yourself, without judging or trying to change your thinking.  This will sometimes include thoughts that you might be embarrassed to speak in public, such as sexist or racist comments, prejudiced insults, self-doubts, and other ranting and raving.  Thank yourself on hearing this hard to hear stuff.  Judging ourselves for having any of these thoughts will shut down and freeze the process.
    The more accepting you are of your many inner voices, the more accurately you will hear your thoughts.  Learning to see yourself with honesty and with compassionate eyes is a solid start on your journey toward more accuracy in your observations, and more compassion for both yourself and others.  This is a paradox.  We are trained to push ourselves and others to change, but this is a fairly ineffective way of getting lasting change to occur.
  2. Insert the words "I am telling myself" before every evaluation.
    This will loosen your assumptions that the content of your evaluations is true.
    • "I always mess up." - - - "I am telling myself that I always mess up."
    • "That person is a total dip." - - - "I am telling myself that that person is a total dip."
    • "That supervisor is unfair." - - - "I am telling myself that supervisor is unfair."
  3. After you have gotten a clear hold on any evaluations you are thinking, change them to observations.
    Don’t forget to do this step, but don’t rush into it as your first step if you want to improve your ability to spontaneously make observations more often.
    • Evaluation: "I always mess up."  Observation: "I ordered chocolate cake instead of lemon cake last night.
    • Evaluation: "That person is a total dip."  Observation: "He forgot to tell Sandy the time change for the committee meeting."
    • Evaluation: "That supervisor is unfair."  Observation: "That supervisor changed my days for next week without talking to me about it first."

Using the above process:

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~ Poetry Corner ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Knock Knock

Daniel Beatty

You tube link for those who did not get the embedded video in this email.

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Upcoming Trainings

Sept. 10–12, Alfred, ME
Embodying Needs Consciousness:
Intermediate NVC workshop

with Gina Cenciose, Peggy Smith and Norman Pasewalk
In these three full days we will connect to the space within that holds the qualities we call needs. We use dynamic, interactive exercises to take responsibility for embodying our needs. This third session of the Maine NVC Integration Program is open to a few others with NVC experience.
pdf icon FMI & registration

Sept. 24–26, Unity, ME
Maine NVC Network booth in the Social Action Area of the Common Ground Fair

If you are at the fair, please stop by and connect at the booth.

Sept. 28, Camden, ME
2 hour presentation on Empathy and NVC

by Gina Cenciose & Norman Pasewalk
1:30–3:30 pm, Camden Public Library
pdf icon details

Oct. 1–3 Portsmouth, NH:
Radiant Relationships: a Level 1 NVC workshop

with Peggy Smith details

Oct. 2, Camden, ME
Introduction to NVC-based Restorative Circles (RC)

This is a method of community response to conflict that combines NVC principles and Restorative Justice principles. 9:30–3:30; by donation. Facilitated by Gina Cenciose & Norman Pasewalk Pre-registration is required: please contact Norman.
Maine NVC Network Newsletter Issue 3 had RC as its theme: read

Oct. 3, Camden, ME
FREE 1-day seminar on Empathic Relating

with Gina Cenciose & Norman Pasewalk
ALL are welcome. No prior NVC experience necessary
to enjoy this day of nourishing ourselves through empathy.
To register, please contact Norman.
Maine NVC Network Newsletter Issue 1 had Empathy as its theme: read

Oct. 8 – 10, Alfred, ME The Art of Dialogue: an Intermediate NVC workshop

with Gina Cenciose, Peggy Smith and Norman Pasewalk
In these three full days we focus on using the NVC dialogue process to deeply connect to our inner selves while having a living dialogue with others. This fourth session of the Maine NVC Integration Program is open to a few others with NVC experience.
pdf icon details


Crossword Puzzle

This is a fully interactive online puzzle; we aim to have a new one each month, relating to the issue's theme.

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Celebration Corner

I am writing to celebrate an awareness I have gained since practicing NVC. Considering the possibility that chronic complaining might be a "tragic expression of unmet needs" caused me to look more deeply at my experience of my stepmother. My pattern has been to "endure" her monologues, thinking this was the "nice" thing to do.

When I began to consider there might be a problem with my response, I became curious about what was going on inside of me. My new strategy for interacting with my step-mother was to focus my awareness inside myself, as soon as I noticed I was feeling uncomfortable "listening" to her.

That's when I began to catch glimpses of my own internal reaction. I was surprised to recognize how quickly my own thoughts would rush in and fuel the flame of my own discomfort. It was difficult to accept that my inner commentary was causing me more pain than what my step-mother actually said!

The most shocking insight involved what I was doing while I was dutifully "listening":  I was constructing my own inner monologue of judgments about my stepmother! This in not what I was hoping to find. I did not want to believe that we shared anything in common, especially not this!

But, my painful insight is also a precious realization. I see that whenever I recognize I am "triggered" (by my step-mother or anything else) I have a choice. I can focus my attention inside. I can breathe. I can notice my judgments arising. I can stop the momentum of my own inner monologue. I can experience a little more space inside, which I can then bring it to the situation at hand.

And, the funny thing is that when I have done these simple little things while in the presence of my stepmother, my experience has become more pleasant! I am actually beginning to cultivate some curiosity (about what is happening inside her) and even some compassion.

The difficult part is to remember. . .

-With gratitude, A 10-month NVC beginner anew! Studying with Open Communication's Peggy Smith

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Oct. 1–3, Portsmouth, NH
Radiant Relationships: a Level 1 NVC workshop with Peggy Smith

Would you like to deal with conflict more skillfully? Be sensitive to others without giving up your own needs? Deepen intimacy and have more ease within relationships? You will leave this workshop with practical concepts and skills you can put to immediate use. Whether you want to improve your relationship with yourself, your family, co-workers or community, your participation in this workshop will open new doors and expand your options. You will gain concrete skills for using daily conflicts to relate more authentically and compassionately – building trust in a multi-sensory learning environment that fosters safety, depth and fun.

Seacoast Wellness Center, 135 McDonough Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801

details and registration

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