Parenting with Nonviolent Communication

Message from Leslie

Dear Friends,

When my son and daughter were about 10 and 13 years respectively, they had a large dispute in our bathroom about who was going to take a shower first. The debate escalated in tone and loudness and I arrived at the scene wanting to bring my Nonviolent Communication, NVC, consciousness to support my children in this dispute.

I said “I’d like for this dispute to be resolved with respect and care, and for everyone’s needs to be considered.” My children both agreed that they didn’t want my assistance and could handle this on their own, and so, with some sadness that my support was not wanted, and curiosity about whether they could get to a resolution on their own, I waited in the hallway. After a minute of loud voices, my son stepped out into the hallway to address me and . . . slam, the door was shut and locked. My daughter ‘won’.

Son: “See how stupid and mean she is! I could just punch her.”
Me: “This is what makes me most scared, that disputes can so easily move to physical violence. I really want our disputes to be resolved with words, and for everyone to be heard.”
Son: “I don’t get why everything has to go her way.”
Me: “I’m guessing you’d like some fairness in deciding who takes showers first.”

My son went to his room and I spent a few more minutes in the hall feeling frustrated and mourning that this NVC was not as effective as I had hoped. On his way to bed about an hour later, my son said, “Mom, I’m really glad you remembered your NVC, it really helped tonight.”

I was absolutely shocked by his words and then I realized it was both what I did and didn’t do that helped. On other occasions I would have insisted that I become the mediator and in some way force a solution. What I had chosen that night was different than other times of conflict:
a) I had decided I was not going to use force unless there was imminent physical danger to them.
b) I heard and respected their desire for independence in solving their own disputes
c) When they told me they didn’t want my support, I decided to connect to my feelings of sadness and discouragement and to what I was valuing, wanting to contribute to my children’s ability to resolve conflict, peace in our home, and to peace in the world.

While the argument didn’t get resolved in the way I first hoped, the conflict didn’t escalate. I think taking time to connect with what I valued most, expressing it to my son and empathizing with his unmet need for fairness all helped de-escalate. A few days later I was able to remember the conflict and with my children addressed making some agreements about using the bathroom in the evening.

When I first began trying to use NVC skills and consciousness, I may have only brought the consciousness to situations one out of eight times, but even in those few times I began noticing a shift toward more trust and respect in our relationships. If you are interested in some NVC parenting resources, many resources focused on children’s well being can be found at the Center for NVC Book Store Please visit us at the Institute for Empowering Communication.



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I Stink at Empathy

Message from Leslie

Dear Friends,

I had an awakening on Friday; I was able to get in touch with one of my
self-judgments that is very painful to me.It is ‘I stink at empathy’. I
will tell you about that in a minute.

My awakening didn’t happen without a stimulus. The stimulus came in the form of the Bay Area NVC Newsletter. The newsletter highlighted a U-tube video of a television program Bay Area NVC produces called “Conflict Hotline”. I was curious and tuned in. In the course of watching a video of NVC trainer Miki Kashtan role-playing, she said, “Empathic connection is rare in our culture”. I’ve heard this before, but somehow this observation lodged in my heart. I thought, “empathic connection is not infrequent, it is not unusual or occasional, it is rare. ”

I began thinking about the people who regularly make my life wonderful.
I wanted to celebrate and to appreciate they are rare. I thought about
two people in particular because they ‘get the quality and process of
empathic connection’ but they have never studied Nonviolent
Communication. In one case I marveled at this person’s parenting, how
she contributes to committees, and even how this person contributes to
me in ten-second parking lot conversations. In the other case the person
who has enriched my life has ability to teach and support children and
also their parents. I also want to celebrate that even though most of us
don’t learn empathic presence in our culture we can learn how to
cultivate the empathy that is ours naturally. Not only can we learn, it
is so savory a treat, we are attracted to this nutrient again and again.

A little later on Friday I was mulling over this observation ’empathic
presence is rare’. It struck me, the reason empathy is so hard to master
is that I came to it after many, many years of not knowing it. The two
people I know who have not studied NVC are indeed lucky, so lucky to
have been nurtured with empathy thatthey can give it with ease. Long
pause to savor this along with a dissipation of what had been a
lingering jealousy for these two people. Then I had my moment of
awakening, I realized the need behind “you stink at empathy” was not
only competence, but also self-acceptance. I felt at peace simply having
arrived at this precious need of self-acceptance.

What I’ve learned in NVC is to embrace self-judgment and let it speak,
let the judgment live so that it can awaken us to our unmet
needs.Hearing our self-judgment is the first of the five steps of
self-empathy.It is the most freeing for me because it functions as
sunshine to see precious needs that give us life.What a relief that
self-judgment’s job is not to produce more self-judgment!

Miki’s observation evolved into self-empathy. I came to a place of
acceptance and gratitude for my continuing journey to become more and
more fluent in empathy, a journey that is not over and gratitude for all
who support me along the way.

If you are moved to hear about what Bay Area NVC is doing you can
google Bay Area NVC. For workshop information and resources please visit us at the Institute for Empowering Communication.


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Appreciation: Fuel for Life – Part I (NVC in Relationships)

Message from Myra

Dear Friends,

Today I’d like to talk about appreciation. I believe that human beings long for appreciation. We long to learn if and how we contribute to the well being of others. When we receive appreciation we feel happy and our energy increases. Yet, in my perception, this important need can often go unmet. Expressing appreciation makes us vulnerable. We run the risk of offering a gift that the other person may not receive. For instance, I thank someone for listening to me and he or she may say: “No problem” (I know this was not a problem, I wanted to express my gratitude). Or the answer might be, in Spanish, “De nada” meaning “It was nothing.” (It sure was something, this was important to me).

Similarly, it seems difficult to receive appreciation. One day, during a clinical visit, I was moved by how a doctor interacted with me. When he left the room, I wrote a note thanking him for his medical care and his caring. He came back, read the note and asked, “What’s wrong?” I ponder the reasons why I may have difficulty receiving appreciation. Here are some possibilities: Am I afraid to set up an expectation? Do I have difficulty trusting the person’s sincerity? Am I fearful of pride?

Nonviolent Communication teaches us a process to give appreciation in ways that make it more likely that the other person will receive our gift. Rather than judging the person’s character, albeit positively, as in “You are so kind” or evaluating his or her actions as in “You did a great job,” we express three things: (1) What the person did, (2) How we feel in this moment, and (3) The need or needs of ours that were met. To illustrate the process I’d like to express an appreciation that is very alive in my heart:

Michael and Yolanda, thank you for coming in early on Saturday to help me set up the room before the workshop. Thank you for staying an hour and a half after the workshop to debrief and help me break down the room. I am touched and grateful for your help and support. I rejoice in our collaboration. Together, we are making the dream of bringing NVC to our community come true. With love and gratitude. Myra

So here’s my suggestion to spread joy: What if we make it a point to express appreciation to our loved ones, friends, coworkers and other people in our lives? The wonderful effect it can have is to remind them that their lives are meaningful and what they do does make a difference to us. What a gift! I see all of us walking around with a magic wand spreading streams of light and little stars.

I say good-bye today with appreciation to all of you for your interest in Nonviolent Communication. Thank you for increasing peace in your circles and in our world.


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Living Life from Within

Message from Myra

“[P]ain engendered by damaging cultural conditioning is such an integral part of our lives that we can no longer distinguish its presence. It takes tremendous energy and awareness to recognize this destructive learning and to transform it into thoughts and behaviors that are of value and of service to life. This requires a literacy of needs and the ability to get in touch with ourselves, both of which are difficult for people in our culture.” ~ Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, p. 171

Dear Friends,

Last weekend I did a most wonderful retreat where I took long walks by the Fox River. I enjoyed the natural scene, the laughter of people, the songs of birds and the smell of water and summer blossoms. Oh, what joy! I met with a guide who helped me listen to myself, and I worked on continuing to heal my heart and soul — a life-long journey.

I continue to recover from brain exhaustion gradually. It’s been a long road but I see improvement week by week. I have asked myself, “How did I get here?” The answer is, “By not listening to my needs.” You see, for a long time, I worked very hard at my job. I didn’t listen to my body when it implored me to rest. My response to shallow breath, sweating and fatigue was “I’ve got to finish this report.” I thought I was meeting my need for self-respect and job security by working as hard as I did. Tension built up over several years and the dam broke at last. My brain could no longer take the relentless stress.

In retrospect, I realize I was trying to gain approval from management by working so hard. Gaining approval was an unfortunate strategy I chose in order to meet my need for respect from others, self-respect and job security. It was unfortunate because I hurt myself in the process. Now I’m more aware of the blind internal forces that may feel like human needs but that are, in fact, parts of me in need of healing and awareness. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) alerts us about such forces which I will call “faux needs.” Examples of these include money, prestige and power over others. NVC teaches us to connect with our real needs and take actions to meet them.

I used to think that living one’s life based on human needs was a wonderful concept but I couldn’t do that at work. “I can’t rest! There’s so much to do!” Now, I realize that I can, in fact, live in harmony with my needs even at work. These days, I work very hard based on my need for contribution, integrity and peace of mind. At the same time, I am mindful of my need for rest and vitality. So I take a break when I need it even if I’m not caught up with the paperwork. I end the week less tired and calmer than before. As a result of this approach, I have more paperwork to do at home, but protecting my health is worth it. I am confident that as long as I continue to work with integrity and dedication, I will still have as much job security as I had before I started taking care of myself. I believe people still respect me. And I have more self-respect because I am inner directed now. I’ve discovered first hand that approval is a faux need, after all.

Warm regards to all,


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Our Power: To Speak Truth to Power

Message from Myra

[W]e are often afraid to let ourselves be vulnerable fearing this may render us weak, not in control, …taken advantage of, ridiculed or made fun of, etc. …There’s something about a display of emotional authenticity, or “unarmed truth,” that, by and large, inherently commands respect, elicits compassion, connects, and disarms. In fact, such open vulnerability is the primary emotional state in which deep-rooted healing can occur, within an individual, between people, or between members of groups in conflict; thus, it is actually a state of great power. ~ Julie Oxenberg, Tikkun

Dear Friends:

In a recent exchange I had with someone in power, emotional authenticity and Nonviolent Communication (NVC) resulted in connection and trust. I work in community mental health, a demanding field that has become even more demanding in light of funding cuts and increased requirements from the State. For a long time, I have tried to meet the job expectations without paying much attention to my need for breaks during the workday. This has resulted in burnout. I took some time off in February which was helpful but did not fully restore my health. Three weeks ago, I requested a two-week, paid leave of absence for healing and renewal. I spoke to someone very high in the organizational hierarchy. At the beginning of the meeting I was anxious and even tearful. More than anything, I feared that I would not be believed. I care deeply about being seen for my intentions. The meeting was quite tense for the first 40 minutes. Understandably, the corporate officer expressed his concern for the clients and the program in clear and forceful terms, particularly given that I had taken time off not long ago. He asked incisive questions which I answered candidly. Towards the end of the meeting, still forcefully, he asked two questions and the dialog ended as follows:

Me: “You said a lot.” “Do you mind if I take a couple minutes to take it all in?”
(NVC teaching: Take your time before speaking)

Him: “No, that’s fine.”
(NVC students often comment that they can’t take time out in work situations. I have not found this to be true.)

Me: “I hear two themes. You want reassurance that if the job demands have become impossible for me, I will say so honestly. That people need to understand their limits and adjust accordingly. Did I get the first point?”
(NVC teaching: See the humanity of people in power and remember that they are trying to meet their needs, just like you. Do not take things personally. Seek to understand and connect with them.)

Him: “Yes, you got it.”

Me: “And I hear that you need integrity from your employees. You wonder if burnout has also affected my NVC project.” I proceeded to recount the ways in which my health has prevented me from doing workshops recently. In all honesty, I said that I did make a trip to Guadalajara to keep a long-standing commitment. I also said I highly value integrity and I gave him examples of this.
(NVC teaching: Radical honesty).

Him: “Why were you tearful before?”

Me: “Because I was anxious. It’s difficult for me to talk to someone in upper management, someone who has power, about my situation. I feel vulnerable.”
(NVC teaching: Show your heart, fearlessly.)

Him: “Myra, I like your integrity. It’s inspiring. If you need to reduce your hours we will support you. You are a very good clinician. You are on solid ground.”

I was elated. The corporate officer and I saw each other’s humanity and we connected!
(NVC PROMISE FULFILLED ONCE AGAIN: Meeting at the heart, you can find solutions that meet everyone’s needs.)

Restored and renewed after two restful weeks,


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What Are Children Like?

Message from Myra

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well. I regret not writing in several weeks because I value dependability. My health has not been good and that’s why I haven’t written in so long. From now on, I will write when I feel moved to do so, so that this activity remains fun. Today, I’d like to write about children.

Marshall Rosenberg talks about an experiment he conducted once while teaching a workshop. He divided the group in two. Both groups were to write instructions to a fictitious guy asking him to tidy up a room. He secretly told the members of the first group that they were addressing an adult and the second group that they were addressing a child. When they got together and read the instructions they noticed a difference. The ones given to the child lacked respect. I have noticed this dynamic myself. When I hear people in stores, I can often guess without looking if it’s an adult speaking to a child. The tone of voice and the words give it away. I understand that parents care about their children and that they want to teach them respect, consideration and other values that will serve them well in life. I don’t doubt their loving intention. I also get that children can try a saint’s patience, at times. Yet, I believe that contributing to the development of children becomes a lot easier when children’s needs are met. I’d like to tell you about one such child.

Recently, while teaching Nonviolent Communication in Guadalajara, Mexico, I met Daniela, an 8 year old girl full of life. Witnessing the interactions between Daniela and her parents it seems to me that her Needs for acceptance, freedom, respect, connection and affection are largely met. On a typical weekday, Daniela has two meals with her parents in a breakfast nook overlooking a garden full of azaleas, poinsettias and other flowers. She tells stories, sings and dances while her mother looks at her with adoring eyes and a smile on her face and her father listens. On Saturdays, she bikes with her Dad to the local farmers market where they pick up organic berries, carrots, cucumbers and other goods. On Sundays she swims with her grandmother in the morning and they go out to eat as a family in the afternoon. Since there is no television in the house, at night she may watch a movie (projected on a white wall) cuddling with her Mom in a gently rocking hammock. Her mother tells me that there are moments of tension in the morning when Daniela wants to dance and her mother wants her to get dressed for school instead. I had the joy of living with this family for several days.

One morning, I came out of my bedroom and I found Daniela in the living room. Her cat was resting on her lap, belly up, while she tenderly sang to the cat Over the Rainbow. “She is Toto and I am Dorothy,” she said. Another time, the adults were talking about the treatment of indigenous people in a certain distant land. Looking down with eyes filled with compassion, she said, “how sad.” The day before I left, Daniela was in my bedroom telling stories of her vacation. We were connecting and having a pleasant time. At some point, I said that perhaps we could talk for 10 more minutes because I wanted to rest. I was not surprised that she agreed to my request and when I pointed out that our time was up, she left easily. She came back to give me a flower and said good-bye.

I am touched as I write because, in my experience, this is how children are when their needs are met. I have children in my life and I witness their natural compassion, cooperation and innocence over and over again. I am very grateful to parents, teachers, and others who care for children and contribute to their well being. Someday, may all the children in the world have adults in their lives who nurture them abundantly and help meet their Needs.



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The Magic of Clarity

*Workshop information below

Message from Myra

Dear Friends,

I’d like to tell you about something magical that happened this week. Or at least, that’s how I experienced it.

As you may recall, if you read my post on Life Enhancing goals, my current goal is to increase time for rest and renewal. I have clarity about what I want to do, and yet, I have not been able to break the habit of working more than is healthy for me. I used to be able to get away with it. However, at age 58, I can’t do this any longer. When I am fatigued I don’t enjoy life as much as I normally do, and I’m prone to contracting colds.

So this week, during my monthly retreat, I asked myself “How can Nonviolent Communication (NVC) help me at this time?” I talked to Leslie and told her about my dilemma. I said that I was having difficulty accepting the new limits imposed on me by aging. In what I experienced as full empathic presence, Leslie said, “If I understand you, you want to accept your need for rest so that you can have wholeness.”

Stars and sparkles. I was touched by the magic wand of clarity. I understood that my ultimate need is not vitality, as I had thought. It is WHOLENESS! With this amazing clarity, I have a newfound strength and determination to accomplish my goal. Today I pledge myself to turn off the computer every night early enough to have time to do yoga, listen to music and meditate before bedtime.

NVC came through for me again. According to my understanding of NVC, clarity about one’s needs is crucial in creating a fulfilling life. “Need” is the word we use to name the energy within every human being that guides him or her towards a rich and gratifying life. Needs are the conditions necessary for humans to thrive such as autonomy, integrity, authenticity, creativity and interdependence to name a few. Identifying a need is the first step towards meeting it.

I think it very helpful to have people in our lives who can help clarify our needs. One way of doing this is to have an empathy circle. Below are some guidelines I developed to create empathy circles. If you decide to do this, I hope they are useful.

Warm regards,




1. Ask two or three people you trust if they would join you in an Empathy Circle. Explain the purpose.

2. Together, determine the number of weeks you would like to meet. Eight-week cycles allow for trust to develop. More than 12 weeks may be too long a commitment for some people.

3. Before the first session, discuss empathic listening. You may want to read the chapter on empathy in “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg.

4. Develop guidelines for the group based on needs. e.g., Need: Safety. Strategy: What is said in the circle stays in the circle. Need: Respect. Strategy: Refrain from giving advice unless requested. Need: Consideration. Strategy: Arrive on time. Let someone know when you’re not attending.

5. Find a private, pleasant place to meet. Meeting at the same place the entire cycle promotes predictability, and thus a sense of safety. Sitting in a circle enhances closeness. Although less rich, empathy circles can also be done by phone, for ease. Following is a suggested format for a 2-hour gathering:
•Ritual (poem, brief inspirational reading, silence, music…) – 10 min.
•Check-in -10 min.
•Empathy – 90 min.
•Check-out – 5 min.
•Announcements – 5 min.

6. At the end of the cycle, celebrate life. For example: go out to eat or take a walk in the woods. Renew the agreement with those who wish. Invite new people if desired.

Upcoming workshops for mental health professionals in Warrenville, Illinois

3/05/11 —Empowering Communication: Increasing Efficacy in the Helping Professions
3/25/11—The Dance of Empowering Communication: Deepen your Understanding and Practice

For further information:

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