This is an exercise I use a lot in my workshops. It’s not only a great workshop exercise but also excellent as a regular practice for deepening any relationship. It takes 20 to 30 minutes and is set up to allow each person time to express themselves and be really heard. The beauty of the process is that a safe space is created for the speaker because the listener is not allowed to respond and must remain listening in silent empathy.
First time you do it you may find it hard to keep complete attention (when listening) or to find things to express (when speaking). Second time, you will probably find both easier. Third time, you’ll may start to experience the incredible transformative power of complete, non-judgemental attention with another human being.
Used as regular relationship practice, the process builds deeper and deeper layers of connection, trust and mutual understanding. If you choose to build it into your life as a regular practice with, for example, your intimate partner, then I would recommend at least weekly, though you could even make it a daily practice. My personal preference is to do this 2 or 3 times a week with my intimate partner. It can also be very effective as ‘one-off’ to help resolve a conflict with someone because it allows both sides to express freely.
All it requires is a quiet place, a person with whom you have a relationship (partner, friend, family member, colleague), a mutual willingness to do it and … a timer (one that makes a sound when the time is over). I’d like to take credit for the exercise but I couldn’t do so and keep my integrity intact. I’ve seen it used by several trainers and believe it’s been adapted by NVC trainers from a standard marriage counselling process. I don’t really know where it first came from but I’m grateful nevertheless.
Find a quiet time and place and remove all possible disturbances such as phones etc.. Sit facing each other at a comfortable distance and in a relaxed position.
Decide who will start (Person A) and set the timer for 10 minutes.
- Person A talk for 10 minutes – share whatever is alive and comes up for you. Whatever comes is ok – there is no right or wrong. These could be random thoughts, current situation between you and B, hopes, dreams, fears. Do NOT cut the time if you run out of things to say. If nothing comes – then hold the silence until something does.
- Person B listen in complete silence and attention. Listen for what is alive in A, the observations, feelings and needs.There is nothing to give except complete attention and this is a great gift. Notice if your attention drifts to your own thoughts or judgements .. and gently bring it back to A. It is most important that you say nothing .. including non-verbals.
When the timer sounds … set it for another 10 minutes and repeat with person B now speaking and A listening.
Here a few adaptations you might try:
- Increase the time to 15 minutes each
- Add a 5 minute space after the two parts to give a chance to share and exchange how it was
- Do the exercise outside in nature
- Do the exercise while walking side by side.
Why does it work?
I find this a deceptively simple exercise that works because of the silent space and attention we are offered by our partner.
It is hard for most of us to fully express ourselves when we know we will hear a reaction.
Requiring the listener to stay silent gives more freedom to say what is really going on for us. In ‘normal’ conversation, when we speak there is a part of us wondering how the other person is reacting and how we will deal with it. This is especially true when what we express is painful to us or we imagine it might be painful for the other to hear. We may be faced with a defensive reaction or an aggressive response. We may be faced with sympathy (’Oh, how terrible!’) or advice or an attempt to ‘fix-the-problem’. All this guess work interferes with our self connection and self expression.
Welcome! I'm Ian Peatey and this site is one way I share Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by writing articles and sharing information about NVC materials, news and people. I hope you'll be a frequent visitor.
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