In our experience, a LOT of petty miscommunication that ends up being a drag on your small group communication, small group collaboration, and overall group morale aren’t really about core issues. Often, miscommunications are over the not-really-little-but-also-entirely-not-the-point kind of things- the way something is said, the way questions get steamrolled over, Y person’s seeming inability to listen without interrupting, the way X ALWAYS goes into defense mode when challenged, etc. All of these petty irritations derail efficient progress. And all of them have a lot to do with NOT having ironed out the group decision-making process or conflict management strategy in advance.
Chances are, the longer your small group has been together, the more likely these rote patterns of quirky dynamics are something everyone in the group is both familiar with, and also probably contributing to. And that’s ok! We’re creatures of habit and often the more deeply we care about something and the more comfortable we feel around people, the more unguarded and pointed our reactions to things can be come.
Communication (and decision-making) become more complex the more people are involved. Everyone in your small group is bringing their own needs and perceptions, whether stated or unstated. People’s preconceived notions, the way people remember events differently, their underlying values, and personal priorities all factor into why we hold the ideas and opinions we hold.
One way to prevent miscommunication mishaps is to adopt a small group communication strategy that acknowledges all of those differences and gives small group members a way to collaborate around them.
Why small groups need to address miscommunication ruts
The part where we show our work….
The process we believe works best for small group communication misfires is called Nonviolent Communication. The point of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is to introduce a logical and empathetic framework to your small group process so that people are able to hear and be heard, express their needs and meet the needs of others.
The underlying position of NVC is that shame, blame, judgment, and other alienating reactions are learned behaviors. The idea is that we fall back on these negative reactions when our needs are not being met. Violent communication, the implied opposite of NONviolent Communication, is language whose outcome is hurt, pain, estrangement, or anything destructive to the ongoing connection between participants.
NVC is not about changing other people or making them do what you want them to do. And it’s not about “being nice.” It’s a way to share honest feedback, to clarify ideas and needs, and to increase connection in the group. When people are given a strategy for sharing AND meeting needs, the group is able to come up with mutually satisfactory resolutions. NVC is a powerful negotiation process that can work well in really any kind of relationship. Our focus is on enduring small groups, be they fellowship groups, community action groups, or groups that share a common passion or hobby.
The goal of NVC in small groups: Deeper connection & better small group collaboration
Fundamentally, the assumption of NVC the goal for all human relationships is connection and understanding. In this model, there are two specific ways of moving toward deeper connection:
- Honestly expressing your own feelings & needs: This requires introspection, personal awareness, and a willingness to express your needs. That willingness and the courage it takes to share is what vulnerability is.
- And empathically listening to other’s feelings & needs: This is about reciprocity, give and take. Active listening requires presence, focus, and verbal reflection of what has been said to clarify understanding. Advising, fixing, story-telling, analyzing, etc… are NOT helpful here as they go beyond the pale of JUST listening.
For more on the background and history of NVC, check out this link. We want to use our time getting our hands dirty with the process of how to do the above two steps. Today we’ll only flesh out how to express needs and feelings (step one of deeper connection), and in future posts talk more concretely about how to listen well, and then how to actually bring this communication process to your small group!
NVC part 1: How to express your needs
NVC Step 1: Make a judgement-free observation
Observations are statements free of judgement, labels, diagnosis, or opinion. We all know what “staying in your own lane” means, right? Judgement-free observations requires radical staying-in-one’s-lane. That means no evaluating the other person either. Observations are critical to the process because “they move us out of our “reptilian” brain of reaction into our frontal cognitive lobes and into reason and analysis.” Instead of an evaluation based on what your stories and perceptions of this person are, observations free of judgment require you to literally and personally assess what you are seeing and feeling.
- Sounds like: “When I see/hear/notice X behavior/idea…..”
See: more on how judgment-free observations boost small group collaboration
NVC Step 2: Feelings
These statements are in relation to what you’re observing. They represent your emotional experience related to your unmet (or met) needs. “I feel” is different than “I feel like” because one communicates a personal emotion, and the other is a side door to diagnosis, which we’ve established is not the point. So no “I feel like…” This is the portion of the statement where you share from a personal standpoint why the issue at hand is something you need to weigh in on based on feelings and not thoughts.
- Sounds like: “…..I feel Y…”
See: List of feelings we all have
NVC Step 3: State a need
Use universal language without reference for specifics. Sharing a need is an opportunity to connect the dots on the humanity we all share. We all need security, safety, nourishment, and connection for example. Our needs also demonstrate what our values are. “Feelings arise when our needs are met or not met, which happens at every moment of life. Our feelings are related to the trigger, but they are not caused by the trigger: their source is our own experience of met or unmet needs. By connecting our feelings with our needs, therefore, we take full responsibility for our feelings, freeing us and others from fault and blame”
- Sounds like: “….because I need/value Z…”
See: List of needs we all have
NVC Step 4: Make a request
Requests are positive actions that you would like someone to take that would help to support your needs. Requests are not demands. They need to be specific, actionable in the moment, and STILL free of blame or manipulation. Requests are different than demands because you can say ‘no’ to a request without fear of retribution. The fourth component creates an opening to have your need met. This is the dance that allows the group to move forward toward a joyful resolution.
- Sounds like: “Would you be willing to…?”
NVC example: Putting it all together
Example: “When I see you guys scrolling through your phones while I’m talking, I feel frustrated because I’m wanting to be heard. Would be willing to put your phones down until the meeting is over?”
Next time: more on bringing nonviolent communication to your small group collaboration process
The Team at Groupeasy