Author’s Dialogue with the Reader



What’s this book about?


Connection:  A Self-Care Approach to Conflict Management is about building connections with ourselves and with others—whether they have read this book or not.  It teaches the reader, one step at a time, how to effectively resolve problems between people.


Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication:  A Language of Life inspired this book, which is based on his four steps for life-affirming communication.  Actually, there is nothing new in either book.  These skills have been around for centuries and are common in books on improving communication.  Often we are only reminding you to apply skills you may already know.



Explain nonviolent communication.  That is a weird combination of words. 


We tend to define violence as a hurtful physical act, in which most of us seldom engage.  Like Gandhi, Rosenberg reflects that outward violence always begins with a way of thinking and talking that alienates us from our inherent awareness of our connection with all beings.  We often assign to others—or ourselves—criticism, blame, insults, and judgments that imply wrongness or badness or non-person-ness whenever we see actions that do not go along with our value system.  This is the point where violence begins.  Both Rosenberg’s book and Connection explore ways to honor our values, notice our judgments, find more realistic ways to think and speak, and then to connect with others to resolve conflicts.


The common paradigm for conflict offers two options:  we fight or we take flight; we win or we lose; we take power-over or we accept power-under.  Many times we do not like either option, so we freeze and take no action.  Connection invites us to construct a vibrant third option for thinking, acting, and communicating.  It is to find solid footing in a place where we pay attention to both our needs and those of the other person.  From that standpoint, we will likely be able to develop strategies that meet everyone’s needs.  As we gain in understanding of this viewpoint and in diligence in using it, we will find fewer conflicts emerging and will have more powerful skills in resolving them when they do arise.



Why is self-care so important?


One of the important features of this book is the emphasis on increasing our active self-care and our self-awareness as a starting point for communication and conflict management.  If we are seriously committed to becoming familiar with our own needs and meeting them, we will clarify our values.  Psychologists suggest that when we develop an internal frame of reference, we will have greater self-efficacy, self-confidence, and resilience.  Because we are social beings, we cannot fully meet our needs until we take into consideration the needs of others.  As we become more aware of the satisfaction of creating situations wherein everyone's needs are met, we are on the road to conflict management.  Some call this enlightened self-interest.



You say Marshall Rosenberg’s work inspired this book.  Who is he?


If you are a college student, I especially hope you are asking, “Who is this Rosenberg guy?  Does he have a degree?  What life experience does he have to back up what he says?  Who recommends him?”  When you sit at your computer to check on all the authors of all your textbooks, go to www.cnvc.org to find out about the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC).


Here are a few answers.  Rosenberg earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin in 1961, and he studied for a while with Carl Rogers, a noted humanist psychologist.  Rosenberg developed a program to teach Nonviolent Communication.  Some people call this NVC.  Others prefer the term Compassionate Communication.  NVC offers steps for moving into closer, more respectful relationships with others wherein we both are more likely to get our needs met and our conflicts resolved.  He founded a center in 1984 to train people in these communication skills and conflict mediation.  This center is currently located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Training in NVC is currently offered in 59 countries worldwide, by several hundred certified trainers who have learned this way of conflict resolution and by many others who have studied the NVC approach.  Teams from CNVC have gone to trouble spots around the globe to build peaceful communication between previously warring parties.  NVC is also taught in many schools, prisons, and businesses.  Marshall Rosenberg lives in New Mexico, with his wife, Valentina. 



How did this book come to be written?


Connection came out of my experience teaching Conflict Management at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont.  I saw the practical value of Nonviolent Communication and set out with my students to discover how this could be applied to our daily lives.  I wanted to notice and celebrate the little steps one takes in learning any process.  The students wrote weekly papers on their experiments.  I found the questions, thoughts, and stories of my students so inspiring that I started collecting their quotes and getting their permission to share them with the class.  Then I realized that other classes would find them inspiring too.  With each semester, I collected more quotes, got more permissions, added more explanations and exercises, and repeatedly discussed the content with counseling and NVC friends.  My retirement brought time to edit and produce this book. 


As earlier versions of Connection were passed from person to person in ever-wider circles, I was gratified to hear how many had found it useful.  Individuals and couples, wanting to work independently on their communication skills, reported finding this book easy to use and worth their time.  Some people who are studying Nonviolent Communication have given Connection to a spouse or friend as a gentle introduction to ideas they themselves have found meaningful.  Two NVC leaders took this book into their college classrooms.  I frequently return to Connection myself to remind myself of how I am aspiring to relate to others.


Nonviolent Communication practice groups have chosen to read and do the exercises in this book weekly before coming together to discuss and work on their improved ways of communicating.  Some of these groups have used it in conjunction with Rosenberg’s book, others as a follow-up book to study. Several church groups have formed study groups around this book—to strengthen both their internal communication and their efforts to bring more peace in the world.  The authentic voices of the students have been a gift to many.  I am eager to share them with you, too.



Why did the students you’ve quoted take this class?  Who were they?


My Conflict Management classes (Fall 2004 through Fall 2007) consisted of students majoring in Criminal Justice, Business, Social Work, Applied Psychology, and a smattering of other fields.  A majority of the students were juniors and seniors and, for most, this was a required class.  The students came from the U.S., France, Japan, Jordan, Nepal, Norway, and Sweden.  Most were of traditional college age, but you will also notice the voices of older students.  Some have chosen to use their real names; others have preferred a fictitious name.  In a few instances different students have used the same name. 


This book reflects thoughts of students at all levels of the process.  Some arrived having already learned and incorporated many of these skills.  Others have never noticed or thought about them.  Here are some of the starting points for taking the class on conflict management:


Nicholas:  I hate feeling bad after the conflict.  I find myself feeling bad about the things I said or the tone I used to defend myself.  My problem with speaking before thinking has gotten me into a lot of trouble throughout my life.  I have lost friendships, jobs and respect from many people.  I want to learn to deal with conflict in a more mature manner. 


Abby:  I am so bad at settling fights, especially with my boyfriend.  I need help with this. 


Tom:  Whenever I am subject to negative comments or criticism, I tend to get defensive almost automatically.  I used to be a music major at my old college.  My studies involved performing in front of various faculty members in order to be judged and criticized into the right direction.  I wish I had learned to not take comments so personally, so I could have used the critiques of my performances in more positive ways.  Instead of being caught up in inner anger at the teachers, I could have considered that maybe the teachers truly wanted me to improve my skills.  Then I could have learned from their knowledge. 


Tiphaine:  I know I criticize people too much.  I can be very aggressive against others to defend my opinions. 


Jay:  I can fly off the handle easily.  It is hard for me to say, “Everything will be okay” when it isn’t at the beginning.  If I change the way I deal with conflict, my life will improve in that I will be a happier person.  I will be able to have more free time with my mind to think about better ideas than how to escape the conflict at hand. 


Suzanne:  I am the biggest coward there is about conflict.  I will do anything not to have to confront someone.  My friends and family often get tired of hearing me complain about a person or a situation.  They’ll say, “Oh, my God, just say something about it or it will never change.”  I know they are right.  I hope this class will help me find the courage to take better care of myself.


Daphne:  I didn’t want to take Public Speaking and I needed a replacement class.  There is always conflict at hand, so it’s good to know the correct way to deal with conflicts.


Stevie:  I have lost relationships in my life due to the way I speak and deal with situations, and that is why I signed up for this class.



Who are you and why did this project interest you?


Me?  I have taught in high school and then college for many years.  In 1983, I completed a Masters in Counseling from Arizona State University, and worked for twelve years as a family counselor. When I moved to Vermont in 1996, I gave my attention to teaching with Champlain College until I retired at the end of 2007.  In 2003 someone gave me a copy of Rosenberg’s book.  It was electric to me, exactly what I was hungry for at the time.  Learning NVC through books, trainings, and practice groups has been the most exciting, rewarding project I have undertaken for years.



Do you now do all this stuff yourself?


Absolutely not!  One teaches what one needs to learn and I am definitely on the journey with you.  I use many of these skills fairly consistently, but others only on good days.  I like the outcome when I do remember to use them.


Professional colleagues, friends, and students who had me before and after I started working with NVC have all observed my significant movement toward more authenticity and more patience with others.  I still have many moments of sheer klutziness, as well as the regular joy of little successes which inspire my renewed commitment to keep working on getting better grounded in my own needs and developing stronger skills to share what is alive in me and to seek what is alive in others.


Students who complained about my assignment, a book, or a lesson, used to elicit from me a veneer of polite response covering an irritated attitude.  Now I see the honorable need under their complaint—usually a need for respect and a desire that their time be used in ways they see as helpful.  It is easy for me to celebrate their hunger and respond in ways more likely to increase the learning that happens in our classroom.  The students are becoming more beautiful in my eyes and simultaneously more serious dialogue seems to be happening in the classroom.  ¡Qué milagro!


A note on pronoun usage:  In old English, the pronouns you and they were used to refer to both singular and plural numbers of people.  If you think about it, you will notice that you is still used in that manner.  I am reclaiming that usage for they to avoid the clunky use of he or she.  I hope this works for you (you singular and you plural!)


A note on the NVC-ness of this book:  Some Nonviolent Communication friends would like this book to be more “pure NVC.”  Other friends are grateful that I have included some additional info from my years of counseling and teaching.  To all readers, I urge you to get Marshall Rosenberg’s books for more depth in understanding of NVC.  (See www.cnvc.org for more information.)


I am glad you are joining my students and me on this communication exploration.  I am confident that you will experience improved relationships—personal and professional—by using these skills.  I trust this will lead us, one person at a time, to a world where more people resolve conflict in a win-win manner.  The need for connection between people has never been greater. 


Bonnie R. Fraser, M.C.

See www.connectionselfcare.com for additional resources for teachers and students. 

July 2010