Last month we started our NVC Year Training with the theme of Building Community. On the first module, for various reasons we encountered intense conflict. Once we had introduced the idea of transforming conflict one participant found the courage to propose that if someone had an issue with another participant, they could speak to that person directly, one-to-one, rather than in front of the group. This would give them a sense of safety. Nearly everyone agreed to this proposal. However, one participant said that they couldn’t promise to do it, and explained why it might be difficult. To my surprise, a heated discussion quickly arose between them. Shantigarbha started facilitating it as a Restorative Circle, inviting each person to say what they heard, and checking with the speaker before each of them responded. It was not easy for both of them to slow down and repeat what they heard. It took a while until the energy of tension and frustration was less intense and there was more willingness to hear each other’s meaning.
Two weeks afterwards I had a phone call with each of them to hear what was left over from this incident. One of them shared how difficult it was for them to say what they heard. However it was only by repeating what they’d heard that suddenly they could hear what was alive in the other person. From this moment onwards, they said, the conflict was resolved for them.
As a society, my impression is that we underestimate the importance of listening. Conflict becomes damaging to our well-being when we lose the capacity to hear each other. When this happens, Restorative Circles can support us to hear and understand the experience of the other. I have experienced this in different contexts, for example in couples mediation, in training situations or even in my personal life, when I get triggered and lose the capacity to listen to those around me. The intensity of a discussion or conflict increases when the ability to listen to each other decreases.
In my understanding if we lose the capacity to listen, there is no way to repair the connection. Instead, we stay in the pain of disconnection – maybe feeling hurt and frustrated.
In this case I found it helpful to have a pause, it could be a moment or even longer where I check in how I feel, what I need and what is my request to myself or others, to meet my need for example for connection, to be valued, to be understood, to be heard. One step to meet these needs could be to get support from outside, for example mediation.
Coming back to the Year Training participant, by saying what they’d heard, suddenly they could hear and understand what was alive for the other person. This meant that they stopped hearing blame, and were able to reach out to the other person again.