Tag Archives: observation

Nonviolent Communication: Observing Without Evaluating

Not too long ago I heard of a new three-session workshop, Difficult Conversations: Using Nonviolent Communication in Our Relationships, hosted by a yoga teacher whom I have studied with multiple times online. The required reading is the book What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication, authored by the teacher and her former husband. Ultimately, I decided to pass on the workshop to conserve funds that have been too readily spent during the pandemic!

In the meantime, during a conversation with our younger son and his girlfriend, I mentioned the workshop, and immediately Katryna responded that it reminded her of the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which she had on a bookshelf, having read portions of the book but not a cover-to-cover read. I then blurted “that is who trained the leader of the workshop!”

All this by way of explaining how, thanks to our local library, I have come to read Rosenberg’s book.

In general, I tend not to have patience for reading self-help books, which is what this book initially felt like. However, I was determined to give it a try and so pushed on to chapter two and then chapter three, by which point I was hooked.

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is grounded in four essential precepts, the first being observation without evaluation. Immediately this idea hit home. As a teacher and a parent, I can recall too many instances where adults made value judgments based on what they saw rather than simply stating what they noticed. A typical example: This child is lazy because she does not turn in her homework on time. The observation would be: This child does not turn in her homework on time. The judgement is: This child is lazy.

This type of thinking is not unusual for us humans, as assumptions about the reasons behind what is seen or heard helps to give meaning to actions. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for those assumptions to be made without benefit of knowledge or understanding of the actual conditions behind the action. The result is inaccurate evaluation; evaluation that is incorrect.

Our older son and his wife are both trained Montessori Guides and as such had to studiously learn how to observe children without evaluating them. After one of her training days, Sandra returned home and described spending hours at the Central Park Zoo diligently recording regularly paced observations in a journal. Each observation was of the same animal throughout the day. Even while it was sleeping she remained attuned to how it positioned itself, whether it moved, if it made noise, and anything else it did.

This may sound tedious, and at times she said it was, but it brought home to her the importance of simply observing. The exercise helped to fine-tune her sense of looking, watching, noting, heightening her awareness that observation takes focus. And, as I learned in a nature journaling class this past fall, only by truly focusing on an object can you begin to see it. Often, this focus leads to questions, which should be duly noted for future research, yet the questions are not the actual observation; they are two distinct entities.

Liz, the nature journaling instructor, shared the Curiosity Cycle. As this is a cycle, the Further Questions would lead to additional Observations, and so on. Drawing is from my Nature Journal.

While this is not a one-to-one equivalency with NVC, the observation component meshes them together. Simply put, an observation can only ever be a neutral statement of what is seen. The way to know the meaning behind what we see is to then ask questions to find out the “why”.

…I noticed close to one hundred ducks swimming in the Mill Pond, almost all of them moving in the same direction. Gradually, a bunch would turn 180 degrees and ascend in flight. Maybe they were swimming with the tide, or preparing for flight by swimming in one direction to give themselves enough of a runway for taking off in the other direction. And that had me wondering if there is any intentional synchronicity to floating en masse? Knowing that they do not ride the currents as other water fowl do, does wind direction impact how ducks prepare for flight? What is the relationship of this large group of ducks to one another? What is the deal with duck families?

From my Fall 2019 Nature Journal

Book Review – Blink

Yesterday I finished reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. This post, with a minor change, is from my Goodreads review.


When this book first came out I had the sense that it was a popular psychology type of book – one that utilized contrived studies to try and explain human behavior. I have always raised an eyebrow at such studies because I think human behavior is more complex and “in the moment.” Thus, manufacturing a “false” set of circumstances to test for a specific behavior seems destined to provide a false set of results that do not hold up in “real” life.

If that is the case, why did I read this book almost 15 years after its first publication?

This summer I was a student of Experiential Anatomy in an anatomy class offered by three amazing teachers – Lizzie Lasater, Mary Richards, and Judith Hanson Lasater. Not only did I enjoy their interactions and teaching styles immensely, my understanding of human anatomy and how it plays out during yoga increased manifold and led me to do a bit of research on the teachers. That research led me to Judith Hanson Laster’s December workshop at Kripalu: Relax and Renew, Learning to Teach Restorative Yoga.

It is the syllabus for the training that caused me to read Blink, it being required reading for the workshop. (I am not taking the workshop, but as a restorative yoga teacher am eager to soak up as much guidance from Judith as possible.) Just a few pages into my reading of the book the connection that immediately came to mind was that during a restorative yoga session the yoga teacher often has to make snap calls about what might be going on in a student’s body. Do they look comfortable? What is the expression on their face saying? How are they holding their hands? Is there tension within that is manifesting on the exterior body?

I am nowhere near an expert at guiding restorative yoga or of reading the bodies of the people who practice yoga with me. However, I can appreciate that the skill to do so in the blink of an eye, particularly when it is a class rather than a private one-on-one practice, is a skill that is worth developing and will grow over time the more I practice it.

On further reflection, another message of Blink as it relates to leading yoga is that making snap judgements based on visual perception may likely lead to incorrect conclusions. Unless a person tells you what is going on in their body, there is no way for a novice (like me) to ascertain someone’s physical history – any medical or structural conditions that might be impacting their practice. My role as a yoga teacher is to get to know the people who practice with me, offer suggestions based on what I know and what I observe. That ability, for me, is an ongoing practice, just like yoga. 🙂