Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Heeding the Call: A Program on Justicemaking for Junior High School Youth

Activity 4: Nonviolent Communication

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers and tape

Preparation for Activity

  • Write this list on a sheet of newsprint: Observation, Feelings, Needs, Request
  • Write these two sentences on a separate sheet of newsprint: 1. My sister is such a pig. 2. My sister leaves her dirty socks on the bathroom floor.
  • Write "Needs" on a separate sheet of newsprint: Air, Food, Water, Rest, Shelter, Acceptance, Appreciation, Love, Respect, Trust, Warmth, Beauty, Harmony, Fulfillment, Movement/Exercise, Meaning, Self-Worth

Description of Activity

Youth explore the power of communication in creating justice. Explain that one of the most often-overlooked ways of creating justice is taking time to listen to each other, to establish a connection with others. Being aware of your own emotions and needs as well as the emotions and needs of others can go a long way toward justice. After all, conflict arises when we cannot voice our needs or we think our needs are not being taken into consideration. Instead of saying: "I am sad; I need your consideration," we may say, "All you think about is yourself! You're so mean!"

One way of focusing on feelings and needs when we communicate is to remember the giraffe. The giraffe is most commonly known for having one of the longest necks on the planet, but it also has the biggest heart of any animal that walks on land. The giraffe reminds us to speak from our hearts.

Invite youth to say aloud feelings they have when their needs are being met. You could prompt with this example, "When you have been nervous about a piano recital and you end up playing really well, you feel... ." Examples are: amazed, appreciative, grateful, confident, energetic, glad, inspired, joyous, optimistic, relieved, surprised, touched, comfortable, eager, fulfilled, hopeful, intrigued, moved, proud, stimulated, thankful and trustful. Invite a youth to record on newsprint feelings that are shared by the group.

On a separate sheet of newsprint, invite youth to create a list of feelings when needs are not being met. Examples are: angry, anxious, confused, disappointed, distressed, frustrated, hopeless, irritated, nervous, puzzled, sad, annoyed, concerned, discouraged, depressed, embarrassed, helpless, impatient, lonely, overwhelmed, reluctant, and uncomfortable

Post the newsprint with the list of "Needs" and ask if anyone has others to add. Refer to Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Post the newsprint with the words Observation, Feelings, Needs, Request. Tell the group, "Giraffe language is another way of saying 'non-violent communication.' Non-violent communication can help you both understand others and be understood by others. On the newsprint are four steps that you can take to express yourself in a non-violent, less threatening manner."

Explain that observations are not judgments or evaluations. As an example, post the newsprint with the two sentences: 1. My sister is such a pig. 2. My sister leaves her dirty socks on the bathroom floor. Invite youth to guess which sentence is an observation and which one is a judgment. Explain that it is important to be aware of the role we play in creating conflicts. If we judge others, they are likely to get defensive and be unwilling to hear our needs. If we are judged, we are unlikely to really listen to others.

So instead of saying, "My sister is a pig," one could say to one's sister, "I feel frustrated when you leave your dirty socks on the bathroom floor because I need to be able to move about more freely. I'd like you to start putting your socks in the dirty clothes basket." Write this on the newsprint. Ask for volunteers to identify "observation," "feelings," "needs" and the "request."

Invite participants to think of a judgment or evaluation someone has directed at them recently, which made them feel angry or disappointed. Then ask them to form groups of three and discuss ways that judgment could have been replaced with a statement using Observation, Feelings, Needs, Request. Acknowledge that it may sound awkward at first, and that's fine. It will get easier with practice. Tell the group that a reminder of this non-violent way of speaking will be posted on a future page of the Justicemakers Guide.

After sharing in the large group, ask, "What do you think non-violent communication has to do with understanding? What does it have to do with justice work?"