In March, members of the team in Bangladesh (Community Mobilisers and Lead Community Mobilisers) participated in a training course in non-violent communication (NVC). NVC is a communication technique that prioritises listening over speaking. It aims to improve communication by achieving a deeper understanding of our emotions and values and what we observe in the behaviour of others.
The training was facilitated by Paul Kahawatte, a UK-based mediator, facilitator and trainer, Roufun Naher, a lecturer at the University of Dhaka and NVC practitioner in Bangladesh, Neil Howard, co-lead of Social Protection for CLARISSA and Jiniya Afroze, CLARISSA Country Coordinator in Bangladesh.
The aim of the training was to support the community mobilisers to explore and practice different ways of communicating and facilitating. This will help them support communities to come together and build their collective power for the social protection ‘cash plus’ pilot.
Lemon Roy, a community mobiliser was grateful for the experience; “I had little knowledge about Non-Violent Communication before participating in the training. I didn’t know that passive listening and the communication gap between two people could lead to conflict. I have learned about tools and techniques in conflict mediation and the importance of understanding the feelings and needs of other people.”.
What have we learned?
This training has been a life-changing and transformational experience for many of us. NVC has changed the ways in which we communicate, not just in our roles for CLARISSA but in our lives generally.
Understanding needs and feelings
Understanding underlying needs in any conflict is at the core of NVC. It is the role of the mediator to address the needs of both parties to a conflict. When conflict occurs, therefore, we should never ‘shut down’ or repress it but try to dig out the underlying needs that are not being met. To facilitate greater understanding and collaboration, we have been provided with a list of needs and feelings that may guide us to better connect with others.
Self-awareness and empathetic listening
We have learnt the importance of listening to our deeper needs, as well as those of others. Self-awareness is a core element of NVC. Often when people are in conflict they express judgments, about others and themselves, before quickly reacting. What is often missing is the moment of ‘pause’.
Learning when to interrupt and when not to interrupt was an important lesson for us as facilitators. Md. Rasel, community mobiliser, said, “I used to interrupt others without listening to them properly, jumping in with my suggestions before they got a chance to finish. NVC-based strategies have changed my perspective, the way I communicate and the style of my thoughts. I now understand when someone reacts, there must be a reason or a need behind it. NVC transformed me into an empathetic listener”.
Empathetic listening will be vital for the Community Mobilisers in the ‘cash plus’ intervention, helping to build connections and trust within the community. The technique promotes healing and will encourage people to open up to CLARISSA colleagues.
Raj Debnath, community mobiliser, said, “As human beings, we prefer to talk more than to listen. Through the NVC training, I’ve learned that many problems can be resolved with empathetic listening, managing emotions, and respectful communication”.
Conflict is inevitable and very real – it cannot be avoided. What we can do is work to understand what breeds conflict and apply strategies to facilitate conflict in a more meaningful way. NVC teaches several conflict facilitation techniques which can be applied to support colleagues in a situation of conflict.
Understanding the needs of the other person is central to conflict facilitation and restorative justice. Multi-partiality, where the mediator takes all sides, rather than impartiality should be the goal. All parties should listen to each other; creating an environment where everyone is heard is the key to successful mediation. Conflict tells us about the unmet needs of the conflicting parties. It is the mediator’s role to address the needs of all parties, through mutual care and connection.
Asif Zabed, community mobiliser, said, “The training boosted my power of mediating conflicts between individuals, and amongst family and friends. I have always been the ‘go-to person’ where everyone comes and spills out what they have on their minds. Through this training, I have gained the strength of taking in things and filtering them out in a positive manner. Humans are what their needs are, now I can organically understand the need of a person through the way they are explaining their situation. It has hugely benefitted me in my personal and professional life”.
Conflict can arise when a decision needs to be made. Convergent facilitation is a unique decision-making process that supports groups when they struggle to make decisions or collaborate effectively. The technique takes the group’s shared purpose into consideration, leading to a decision that fulfils everyone’s need. This promotes ownership of the overall decision amongst all parties. It was eye-opening for us to learn that using such techniques, it is possible to bring a group to a decision that is supported wholeheartedly by all individuals.
As facilitators, we are generally more accustomed to the idea of neutrality, where the facilitator attempts to reassure participants that they do not take sides. An NVC-based approach has introduced us to the idea of multi-partiality, where the facilitator is on everyone’s side. This approach puts all parties on an equal footing and encourages collaboration, care and respect.
Mediation in everyday life
Mahamuda Akter Shimul, community mobiliser, described practising NVC techniques with her three-year-old daughter, “It was a very proud mummy moment for me. One day when I was a bit frustrated my daughter asked me to take a deep breath. This is something new that I started practising since attending the training and taught my child to do. I didn’t realise she would pick it up so quickly and our communication would be that effective”.
Asif Zabed said, “I have been able to get out of conflicting situations just by using the need analysing methods and bringing out the positive essence from the process. Surprisingly when I implemented this, I wasn’t even thinking about it. It was just like riding a bicycle; when you learn you have to command your brain to keep peddling but once you have mastered it, you peddle automatically.”
The team in Bangladesh is thrilled to start our community-wide relational work for the social protection pilot, drawing on the lessons taken from this training.
The NVC approach has huge potential to offer in empowering communities and supporting them to organise and harness their collective power through collaboration. This will help them to co-create things that would support children and their families to address the worst forms of child labour.