The NVC model: step 1, Observation

What happened on the outside

‘Observations’ have a specific meaning within NVCTM and NbC. An observation is essentially a memory of something that has been perceived, which sounds simple enough. Except that our brains are not blank slates or all-spectrum cameras. Perception takes place against a background of pre-existing filters; memories are not stored in some neutral space, but in a context of previous experiences and interpretations. We are so used to making immediate interpretations of our observations that it can be hard to separate them out and remember what actually happened – free of any judgments or assumptions at all. Yet, the raw data is often still there underneath. One way to check is to ask yourself whether what you are saying happened would have been recorded by a security camera. Another, especially if you are in conflict with the other person in your story, is to find an observation that s/he can agree with.

For example, in everyday language, “You turned up late for the meeting as usual, looking like you just got out of bed!” is a good way to start an argument about what is ‘late’ and whether the other person had really just got out of bed etc. The speaker may think it’s a factual observation, but if our aim is to connect and communicate, it’s a good plan to establish some common ground. If we really want to mention it all, it might be more successful to rephrase this as, “I noticed you came into the meeting room at 5 past 9“, and, if you must, and it’s any of your business, “I thought that your hair didn’t look like it was brushed today“. You’re more likely to get agreement if you mention a specific time, rather than judging the other person to be ‘late’, and if you really find it hard to avoid an assumption, as in the second part, at least make it clear that this is an observation of your own thoughts, not an observation of a testable fact! Already this more objective account of events should help to avoid some of the tension that otherwise builds up around our reactive judgments, and it may help to set the context for the next step in your self-expression.

Go on to the next step in the model: Feelings

Go to NVC model overview