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Feel a Fight Coming On? Transform Your Partner's Anger into an Opportunity for Connection and Growth
By Wayland Myers, Ph.D.
 
The most common emotion I've seen couples struggle with is anger. This is what often happens: Someone gets angry (usually because they are hurting or afraid). The couple comes together to try to resolve the anger. So far, so good. But then the trouble starts. Keep reading this article below >>
 
Group Agreements that Work:
The Key to Classroom Management

By Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson

In recent months we’ve worked with teachers from California to Michigan to the Caribbean island of Bonaire. And by far the most exciting and provocative practice that we’ve shared with them is Group Agreements. Exciting because Group Agreements provide the key to “classroom discipline.”
Keep reading this article below >>

 
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Inspiration
 

"The more we use words that imply criticism, the more difficult it is for people to stay connected to the beauty within themselves."

- Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.,
Teaching Children Compassionately

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Go to the video now and select the "Share This" link in the right corner to post to your social media profile and share with others.

World-renowned author, peacemaker, and conflict resolution expert, Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. talks about the keys to prevent all forms of conflict and violence in this 10-minute video.

 
     
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Feel a Fight Coming On? continued

Their dialogue is filled with ways of speaking and thinking that tend to make matters worse, like blaming, shaming, accusation, criticism, name-calling, defensiveness, and even silence. The new pain is added to the initial pain, and an ever-mushrooming spiral of pain is born. What a lovely outcome. But, gratefully, there’s hope.

Stop the Cycle

When caught in that spiral of pain, some couples break off all communication, leaving the initial issue unresolved. Remaining unresolved, the issue can become an irritant that continues to show up in future conversations. As unresolved issues pile up, it becomes even harder to resolve new ones. Nonviolent Communication can help us stop this cycle from beginning in the first place.

Marshall Rosenberg has an insight into anger that I love. He believes that when we are angry, three things are true:

  1. We are experiencing a strong need and feel an urgent desire to have it met. (We may want to feel safe, valued, or connected to others; we may want to make our own choices, to believe we matter, to be heard, etc.)
  2. Because our need is so important, we don't want others to have a choice about meeting it, so when we talk about our need we apply moralistic rules that we hope will compel others to meet our need. (These rules sound like: "I deserve... You should... The right way is... That's not fair, You’re supposed to... ").
  3. Because we believe our rules are correct, we feel justified in treating others in unpleasant ways that will almost guarantee that they won't care about meeting our needs. Oops.

This is a sorry cycle, but it does reveal how we can convert anger into understanding and connection. First, we can recognize that the moralistic rules our partner has about how we should or shouldn’t act are just their attempt to compel others to meet their needs. The rules themselves don’t really matter. What does matter is to identify the unmet needs that are embedded within these rules.

How I do this? Look Beyond the Rules

The first thing I do, is set aside my reaction to what the person has said, if I can.  Then, I begin my search to identify their unmet needs by saying something like this, "When I hear that you are upset about this, it tells me there was a way you wanted to be treated that didn’t happen. Am I right?"

This usually brings an affirmation and another round of venting. Then, I deepen my search for their unmet needs by asking a question something like this, "If you could have been treated in a way that was perfect for you, what would that look like? What would have happened?”

Connect to the “Dream”

This gets them thinking about a positive, the dream they have for how they would like to be treated. I often have to help people develop the details of this dream because most people are more used to knowing what they don’t want, rather than what they do.

I then try this question, "If your dream happened, if you were treated exactly as you would like to be, how would that be better for you? What would make that way of being treated a lot more satisfying, valuable or comfortable for you?" These questions usually evoke responses like, "Then I would know that my feelings mattered," “I wouldn’t be yelled at,” "Then I would feel respected," "Then I wouldn't be so scared.” Now their needs are beginning to show.

Use the Clues to Find the Need

Luckily, their answers are really clues — I can use them to begin guessing what their unmet needs might be. Like presenting a person with different clothes to try on, I present my guesses and let them decide what fits. We keep trying different possibilities, narrowing the search, until we have a sense that, yeah, that’s it.

Here's an example: They say, "I want my feelings to matter too." I respond, "So it's important that you are listened to?" "Yeah, why does everybody else get to have their say and I don’t?" I respond, "I think you’re telling me that you too want to have a say in choosing what we do." "Yeah." "OK, I can understand you’d like the power to influence our decision just as much as anyone else" "Yeah, what am I, chopped liver?" "You certainly aren't, and I very much regret that you got that impression." "OK, thanks."

See the Potential Beyond the Fight

In this dialog, you can see that I start with what they say they want, and then burrow my way down until we are talking about some basic need – like the need to be heard, to be valued. I know when we've gotten to the heart of their anger when we both feel a deep sense of relief and relaxation. This is the deepest form of empathy I know and it transforms the alienation of anger into the joy of connection. While it took me a while to learn how to do this, I not only have less fear of anger, I have a sense of eagerness about what needs our search will reveal, and the sense of closeness that search will create.

Wayland Myers, Ph.D.Nonviolent Communication: The Basics As I Know and Use Them is Dr. Myers’ first book and has sold over 27,000 copies in English, French, German, and Spanish. It is available in our online store. Dr. Myers is a psychologist living in the Northern part of San Diego County who writes books and articles on Nonviolent Communication and other applications of compassion. He was introduced to the Nonviolent Communication process in 1986 by its creator Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, and has since used it extensively in his personal and professional lives with profound and deeply valued results. Submit your comments to Dr. Myers by email now. Visit his website, www.WaylandMyers.com.

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Group Agreements that Work, continued

Provocative because in every training there are teachers who argue that they’ve tried Group Agreements and they don’t work. However, when we inquire further, we find that what they have tried is significantly different from what we recommend.

With a new school year starting, we’re eager to share this dynamic process with you, too.

Group Agreements that work have the following characteristics:

1. Group Agreements serve a Classroom Vision created by students and teacher.
Rules imposed by adults often seem arbitrary to kids. Group Agreements, however, have a specific purpose: to support the kind of classroom everyone wants.

Before making Group Agreements, brainstorm with students what kind of a classroom they want: How do they want to be treated? How do they want the classroom to function? After your brainstorm, make a collage, poem or document that represents the classroom you want to co-create.

2. Group Agreements are made by the people who are affected by them.
Unlike school and teacher-created rules, Group Agreements are created by everyone who is affected by them. In a classroom this means the teacher and the students. It is a foundational practice for sharing power, giving young people the confidence that they matter, and their input is important.

3. Group Agreements take place in an ongoing conversation about things that matter to everyone.
The most common misunderstanding about Group Agreements is that they can be made in a few sessions at the beginning of the year, and they are to be obeyed after that. Think about it: we are talking about how we want to live together for an entire school year, and beyond -- how we want to live, period.

And, many young people don’t even have have models for how to live with others with care for all. Yet, teachers routinely expect kids to sign off early in the school year on global rules such as “Be Respectful” or “Be Honest.”

Discussing throughout the year what we mean by Honesty, Respect, Trust, Acceptance, Inclusion, Kindness, and what we can DO to fulfill needs for them can become the most exciting and meaningful core curriculum for the school year, and provide life-long skills for learning and living with others.

4. Group Agreements are a living document.
The Group Agreements we’re talking about are not static rules set in stone, made once and for all. They are open to questioning, evaluating, refining, and changing. The guiding question is: Are the Agreements we made helping us to live our values and fulfill the vision we have for our classroom? If not, what new strategy can we try?

5. Group Agreement conversations lead to specific, actions that students and teachers can DO to demonstrate and live their values.
When agreements and rules don’t work it’s often because they include things that are not do-able, such as: “Be” Respectful; “Be” Honest; and “Be” Trustworthy.

These statements sound good, but they set up a vague and unrealistic expectation that someone can BE a value. And they don’t give clear direction for what people can DO to live according to their values.

Group Agreements that work take the values held in common and translate them into do-able actions. See Step #5 below.

Making Group Agreements -- in 7 Steps

1. Briefly discuss the two kinds of Safety: 1) physical safety and 2) emotional safety. What is physical safety? Emotional safety?

Briefly discuss what happens when we feel unsafe physically or emotionally (including when we fear criticism, blame, or negative judgments). The frontal, learning lobes of the brain shut down and we prepare to protect ourselves by fighting, fleeing, or freezing in our tracks. See The No-Fault Classroom, p. 25.

2. Ask the Question, Who doesn’t want to feel physically safe at school? This question can initiate additional meaningful conversation about Physical Safety.

3. Make a “Physical Safety” chart. Every school has safety rules, and you may also have things you want people to do in your classroom for safety reasons, eg., Walk, don’t run. Start with these established “rules” and ask if anyone is not clear about their purpose. Then, ask if anyone has other suggestions for making the classroom physically safe.

4. Discuss the importance of Emotional Safety. Initiate this conversation with similar questions: Who does not want to feel emotionally safe? Emotional Safety is the #1 requirement for learning to take place. Do you agree? What does emotional safety look like? See The No-Fault Classroom, p. 25.

Write students’ responses on two charts: Chart 1: write what they say about actions that do not contribute to emotional safety (eg, name-calling, laughing at mistakes.) Chart 2, titled “Our Values”, write the positive values that emerge in conversation: Honesty, Respect, Acceptance.

5. Making Agreements Do-able: From BE to DO. On a new piece of chart paper, make two columns with the following headings: BE and DO.

List values under BE and actions under DO. For example, Honesty is in the “BE” column. Under the “DO” column, on the right, brainstorm do-able actions that demonstrate Honesty, e.g. Talk directly to the person instead of behind their back; Use “I” statements; Say what matters to you; Ask for what you want. Then write the next value in the BE column and do-able actions for it in the DO column, etc.

6. Start agreement at the beginning of the year, and add to it. When you take time to discuss do-able actions throughout the year you:

  • Communicate that student input is appreciated and contributes
  • Raise awareness about skills to develop to better live values
  • Support a group intention to find and practice useful skills

7. Check in with Group Agreements every day for the first weeks, then at least once a week. Ask, “How are these agreements working for us?” Celebrate what’s working. Take a look at what’s not and adjust: try new strategies.

As new skills develop, add them to the “DO” list. Some people say that conversations like this take too much time from the school curriculum. Yet teachers who do Group Agreements in this way say that they result in NOT having to take time later “managing” student disruptions.

Conclusion: If you’d like more support for Group Agreements, read The No-Fault Classroom (Hart & Kindle Hodson) or contact us for training, coaching or consulting at www.thenofaultzone.com. 1088 Note: These guidelines for Group Agreements work as well in homes, businesses, and other communities.

Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson are co-authors of The Compassionate Classroom, Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids, and The No-Fault Classroom, as well as creators of The No-Fault Game. They bring a combined 45 years of elementary teaching and parent education experience to their work. As co-founders of Kindle-Hart Communication, they’ve been developing and facilitating parent and teacher education workshops together for over 20 years.

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