"Do I know enough to run a practice group?" "How do I keep NVC alive in me?" So many people leave NVC trainings with enthusiasm and strong desire to keep deepening NVC within them. When we think of building new neural pathways that will react as easily as the ones we have, well-grooved from a lifetime of practicing blame & judgment, we can see that having regular supported practice could be a big help. When my friend, Olive Pierce, and I came back from our first weekend with Marshall Rosenberg, we decided to start a practice group. She invited thirteen people to her cozy living room and we met twice a month. By the end of four months there were seven of us left, and we continued to work together for several years. Over the years I have come to distinguish two types of groups. A study group meets to read a basic NVC text and do some practice to support that learning. My first group read Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, and worked through Lucy Leu’s NVC Companion Workbook. We thought we would do one chapter & exercises each meeting. What we found was that it took us three meetings to cover a chapter and its accompanying exercises in a way that felt complete to us. A practice group came to mean a group of people who had either gone to enough workshops or read the text enough times that they had the basics and wanted to keep practicing together for support. Often this involves some combination of empathy time and working through core practices to harvest the learnings of past interactions or preparing for future ones from an NVC perspective. Whether your intention is to set up a study group or a practice group, let’s explore some ways of starting and maintaining the group. Each group is unique. Here are some questions to consider.
- How often shall the group meet? Some options include weekly, bi-weekly, once a month or twice a month. How long each session will be? I find one hour too short. Many people will not commit to more than 2 hours. So somewhere between 1.5 and 2 hours seems to work well.
- Where shall we meet? What would suit our community – someone’s home or office, or a more public space? How many people can the space accommodate comfortably?
- How much NVC experience do the interested people have? This will determine if the focus is primarily studying to learn more or practicing.
- How will we organize leadership & facilitation? Some groups have a core leader/facilitator and some groups rotate. There is no "right way." Lucy Leu’s NVC Companion Workbook offers ideas for rotating facilitators.
- Shall we be an open or closed group? Are people welcome to drop in whenever they want or do you want people to make a certain time commitment to join? I have worked both sorts of groups. What feels good to you? Try it one way and then re-evaluate after several months to see if it’s working the way you enjoy.
- Who can join? Some groups are open to anyone who is interested in NVC. Some groups have a pre-requisite that someone has taken at least a Level 1 workshop. The first strategy can nurture inclusion and learning. The second can nurture ease and learning. Which works for you?
- Marshall Rosenberg's basic book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and the companion practice book, NVC Companion Workbook, by Lucy Leu. (available here)
- Connection: A self-care approach to conflict management, by Bonnie R. Fraser, is an interactive workbook set up for college students, filled with practical exercises that are appropriate for older teens through adults. (available here)
- Another book written for college students that includes exercises appropriate for older teens through adults is Connecting Across Differences, by Dian Killan & Jane Connor (available here)
- There is also an archive of previous issues of this newsletter, each one containing an educational feature article. There is a wealth of material here for you to harvest. Several groups have let me know that they use these as their practice focus each month.
I recommend you begin each session with a check in, giving each person a certain amount of time (e.g. 5 minutes) to let the group know what is up in their lives. An addition is to have the next person begin by reflecting what they heard. This helps everyone experience the need "to be heard" at the beginning of every session. Then the facilitator for that session will present the focus of that day. It may be an exercise from one of the listed resources or it may be an empathy session. If you choose an empathy session it is important to review the blocks to empathy (listed here in pdf format for easy printing). I suggest you divide the available time equally among the people present. Each person in turn receives everyone else’s presence for the entire allotted time, whether they choose to speak or not. In the last few minutes of a person’s time one or two other participants can reflect back a feeling & need that they heard. This is not a time for dialogue back and forth. It is a time for an empathic offering for the speaker to consider. (You can read more about empathy circles here.) I find it helpful to end a practice or study group session with a round in which people express one thing they are taking from that session. This helps solidify learning.
Practice groups are a wonderful strategy for building community and support for building NVC skills. If you don’t have one now, please create one. It is a precious gift to yourself and the community.