The NVC model: step 1, Observation

What happened on the outside

“We don’t respond to what happens, we respond to our perception of what happens”. (Gabor Maté)

‘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 the context of previous experiences and interpretations. We are so used to making immediate evaluations of our perceptions 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 if you search for it. 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, 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 it’s unlikely to be well received by the other person. If our aim is to connect and communicate (and if it’s even necessary to say anything!),  it might be more successful to rephrase this as, “I noticed you came into the meeting room at 5 past 9″ and “I believe you were wearing jogging pants, which is not how you normally come to work”. Firstly, make it about your own perceptions, not about the other person. Maybe your watch was stopped, maybe there was a confusion about what time the meeting was going to start, maybe they weren’t really jogging pants but the latest fashion statement! Then, you’re more likely to get agreement if you mention a specific time, rather than judging the other person to be ‘late’, and avoid mistakes or interpretations about why the person looked like she did. Already this more neutral 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