My History with Marshall Rosenberg

Allan Rholfs shares his memories about meeting Marshall Rosenberg in the 1970s – Workshop presentation giving in Darmstadt, Germany in 2015.

Among the insights you will find here are some of the first names Marshall Rosenberg found to name nonviolent communication, such as “Responsible thinking and communicating”.


Irmtraud Kauschat: Thank you for your willingness to be with us.

Allan Rholfs: It truly is my pleasure.

Irmtraud: Thank you for your willingness to be with us.

Allan: It truly is my pleasure.

I’ve begun to learn how important history is.

I learned empathic listening from Eugene Gentlin, who was a student of Carl Rogers, and Marshall was also a student of Carl Rogers, and I’ve always been interested when anybody teaches empathic listening, who their teachers were, and so far I’ve been able to trace everyone back to Carl Rogers, who was the developer of empathic listing in 1940.

I don’t know exactly why that’s important to me, but I do like to know the history and in some way it’s important for me for people also to know the history of nonviolent communication.

I’ve written about it a little bit here and there, not the history, but what I know about it.

So I’m delighted to have this opportunity to say to an audience what I know about the history.

So I’ll go directly to my history with with Marshall Rosenberg and nonviolent communication

The Personal Experience that Brought me to Nonviolent Communication

I find as I did in the workshop today and I’m sure we will tomorrow too, that everyone has an important personal experience that brings them to NVC.

And that was true for me too. So I do think that I want to tell you that story and then and then go into my association with Marshall. It probably isn’t that unusual.

I was studying to be a psychotherapist and as a part of the process I was in an all-day group therapy, with Eugene Gentlin as the leader.

We began the group and each person spoke going around the group, saying what they were there for. So each person, of course, given that it’s a group therapy, said something very revealing and very vulnerable.

And I found myself, as we went around the group, starting on the right and I was way around toward the left, I found myself getting very angry at one person in the group.

It was a woman.
To my knowledge, she did not remind me of my mother.
I had never met her before.
She was not the leader of the group.
She was one of the first people who spoke.

And as we went around, as each person said what they were there for, revealing something vulnerable, 100% of the time she commented on what each person said.

And her comments were like this:
Well, I don’t see why that’s such a big deal …“
After all, if you just looked at it like …“

In a way that I heard as very pejorative and a put-down for everyone there, very judgmental of what people were saying.

And I got angrier and angrier as we went around the group. So, when it came to me, I really didn’t know what to say. I was in a bind, a dilemma: „How do I say my discomfort to her, without doing to her what I thought she was doing to everyone else?“

There’s some humor in this: Not only was that unacceptable to me, but I can imagine, if I did say what my thinking was – “Well Lady, you’re about the most judgmental person I’ve ever met!” – The humor is, I can imagine, that Irmtraud sitting on my left, would say: „Well Allan, aren’t you judging her for judging you?“ And the person next, saying to Irmtraud: “But Irmtraud, that your judging Allan for judging her!”

How to speak about judgments without judgments?

Listen to this part of the story told by Allan Rohlfs (7 min)

Because judgments beget judgments … give birth to judgments.

And that sent me looking for who knew, what to do about this. And it was out of that, that I found my way to Marshall. He was and and still is among the very few practitioners and theoreticians, who know how to speak about discomfort without blame and without judgment.

First Meeting with Marshall at Christmas Time 1972

So, I met Marshall at Christmas time of 1972, when the woman I was dating at the time – we were both in San Diego, California and Marshall lived in St. Louis, Missouri – and I were traveling back to the Midwest, where each of us are from, for Christmas time. And the woman that I was dating – before she went to California – had been a client of Marshall, with a previous boyfriend.

So I had heard of Marshall, but it was because of her connection, that I actually met him. She called him up and he was much more interested in meeting with her, than he was in meeting with me.

He was not married at the time. So, that was my first meeting.+

First Workshop with Marshall in Spring 1973

And three months later I traveled from Chicago to St. Louis for my first workshop with him.

Now, you may know, Nonviolent Communication has gone through a lot of development.

The name of the workshop was: Responsible Thinking and Communicating.

That was the first name of nonviolent communication.

Another name, a little bit later, was: How to communicate to get what you want, for reasons you won’t be sorry about later.

And another name, a little bit later was: Nonviolent Persuasion

When people would organize workshops for Marshall, they would really make up a name for it, because there was really no set name at that time.

The first manual Responsible Thinking and Communicating has eight or ten or twelve steps.

It’s only a few years later, that it was reduced to four steps.

Changes Workshop – The Fifth Step

So, after that first workshop, I then invited Marshall to come to Chicago to a community group called Changes, an alternate therapeutic community, where anyone in distress was welcome to come and be listened to. Changes was the name of the organization.

And then I organized a workshop for him, that was just a private workshop, because Changes just met weekly for two hours. So we held the workshop. There were 20 people who came to the house, that I was living in at the time.

And at that time, there were still five steps.

The fifth step – assuming that you all know about Nonviolent Communication – was after making the request – which at that point was called Wants, the fifth step was:

What do you want the other person‘s reason to be, for doing, what you want them to do?

Which then collapsed into „Are you willing to?“ and eliminated as a fifth step.

Evolution of the Third Step

In a similar way the third step has gone through quite a transition, as far as the model of the four steps are concerned.

The third step – I remember some of them, I don’t remember the exact sequence over the years – the third step was called the ‚Because I‘-clause.

And then that transformed, so that that step was called ‚taking responsibility

And whatever it was, that followed the Because I, was what you’re taking responsibility for, which could also include your judgments.

And then that transformed into – at one point it was
because I value
because I thought
because I wanted

And this is about two years apart. He would get a brilliant insight, and when I would talk to him, whenever that was, he would say: „I’ve got it!“ and there would be a change of two words!

In some part of it, maybe the third clause, but in some part of it.

He would then say: This does it, this says exactly what it is!

But it wasn’t until about 1990, that he came upon the concept of needs.

So that’s just a little bit of the evolvement of Nonviolent Communication.

The purpose of it, which now is often time mostly said to be, to make connection with another person, was not a part of it at the beginning.

The emphasis was entirely upon addressing your own experience and speaking in this manner, as well as empathy, that really didn’t change.

So that’s just a little bit about the evolvement of the model itself.

My Friendship with Marshall 1973 – 1985

When I invited Marshall to come to Chicago and I became close to him over about 15 years time, partly because I was organizing workshops for him for about 12 years.

And he would stay with me during that time, and I value that, because when he would stay with me, he had this very personal connection with me, such that, later on when I would take vacations, I would go to his house.

Where he first lived in St. Louis, and then Brown something, Texas – I don‘t remember the name – and then Sherman, Texas – and that was before he divorced from his second wife and moved to Switzerland.

When I first met him, he lived in a very small apartment and office in a suburb of St. Louis, very modest. I learned a lot about his personal history through when I had contact with him.

Partner in a Private Practice in Clinical Psychology

And I found out that when he got out of graduate school, from the University of Wisconsin, he was offered a position with a partnership in St. Louis, with a company that did organizational consulting.

And Marshall was the clinical psychologist, who had a private practice in clinical psychology as a part of the organization, and Marshall said that at one point he had the largest clinical psychology practice of anyone in the United States.

So he had a lot of money.

And slowly he became aware of the limitations of a private practice and started to pull out of that practice.

Mediating in Desegregation in a Team with Al Chappelle

I think it coincided with – somehow and I don’t know exactly how – he got a contract with the federal government to mediate school desegregation disputes in the Southern United States, with other words: under a federal grant he mediated school desegregation disputes in the Southern United States.

Because in 1954 – for those of you who don’t know US history and I don’t expect that you would – the Supreme Court of the United States ordered schools to be desegregated, racially.

Prior to that African Americans, Blacks, Negroes – as they were called at that time – had one school and Whites at another school, this practice was most prevalent in the Southern United States. And the Supreme Court of the United States ordered that schools desegregate, that is, that they integrate.

So Marshall – and I don’t know how he got that contract – started mediating those disputes, which were very violent deadly disputes, to integrate. They were disputes about integrating, so there would no longer be separate schools.

Q: What years was that?

This work took place in the late 1960s, for two or three years, with one person who became his best friend, Al Chapelle. I never met Al Chapelle.

Al Chapelle was the Number-Two-Person in a gang in St. Louis.

And Marshall, at some point, made overtures to work in a community that the gang controlled, and met with one of the community organizers, to offer his services and Al Chapelle, who was part of the gang that controlled this area, came into the meeting and sat down and wanted to listen to who this outsider was, who was coming into their territory, and quickly said to Marshall: „Whitey, we don’t need you over here! We need your money. Give us your money. if you want to help us.“

And Marshall began arguing with Al Chapelle, defending himself. At some point he stopped arguing and empathized with what Al Chapelle was saying. Al Chapelle stopped talking and left.

And the meeting went on. Later Marshall left and out in the parking lot was Al Chapelle. Marshall was frightened and Al Chappelle said – I can’t remember the exact slang words – but it was something along the lines of: „Are these your wheels?“ – meaning: Is this your car? – „Give me a ride!“ And then he said to Marshall: „What did you do to me, in there?

And on that basis or on that first meeting a very deep friendship formed.

Al Chapelle asked Marshall to come to his gang, the name of the gang is The Zulus – and to teach whatever he knew to the Zulus. The Zulus were a gang that were trying to help the community by providing free breakfast for children and other services and funded it by selling drugs. It was a violent gang, but Al Chapelle saw, that they would be much more effective, if they knew the skills that Marshall was teaching.

So then Marshall formed a partnership with Al Chapelle to do the school desegregation.

Marshall was called to testify before some legislative committee in Washington and he brought Al Chapelle with him and Marshall said to Al „I’ll only go, if you come with me.“ The last thing I knew about Al Chapelle, he was now the executive director of the International Airport Charles Lindbergh in St. Louis.

So somewhere in there, working with gangs and also with desegregation, mediation, these skills that Marshall was understanding started to develop.

So I say to everyone when I do workshops that Nonviolent Communication was born out of bitter and deadly conflict – and still Nonviolent Communication is taught, as you all know, in deadly situations – but almost everyone who comes to workshops that I do, have never been in violent situations.

So that’s part of the history of Nonviolent Communication.

Poverty and Commitment in the 70s and 80s

At some point Marshall decided he didn’t want to do a private practice anymore, he wanted to teach this thing, that he was developing full-time. This was around 1970, but it wasn‘t lucrative.

In the divorce with from his first wife, he gave all of his money to his wife, to take care of the children. He had three children, who were still young.

So, although he would offer workshops out of his office, it wasn’t enough to support him. People who would come to workshops then, would do like I did, which was begin calling him, asking him to come to their city and to do a workshop there. And that was insufficient money to support himself. It was all among social activists and people who didn’t have money.

To my knowledge – I may be wrong about this – the organization has never had any funding other than workshops. No federal money or no grants, no foundation money, which is how organizations get funded, at least in the United States.

So Marshall would go, wherever he was asked to go, and hope that he got enough money from it to pay his expenses, and always sleep on people’s couches or on their floors, as he did in my house – we joked all the time, because I had inherited my couch from my parents, so he always wondered what was dirtier – my couch or his sleeping bag – because he would put his sleeping bag on top of my couch – and he literally drove around the country.

He bought a new car, which was the cheapest car he could find, and would drive around the country from hundreds of miles apart where he was going, to be there for whoever organized a workshop. I remember his saying that once that he drove two three four five hundred miles, a long distance to go to a workshop, that somebody had organized and one person showed up, and that person didn’t have enough money to pay whatever was asked for the workshop. And that was not uncommon.

At one point Marshall was so in need of money that – he had written his first book, no it wasn’t his first book, it was his first book on Nonviolent Communication called From Now On – to get money, he decided to see if he could sell his book and went around from door to door in his neighborhood, asking people, if they’d like to buy a book.

But it only lasted about a half a day, because he saw the fear on people’s faces, when they came to the door, wondering who was knocking on their door as the neighborhood wasn’t the safest of neighborhoods. And he became so discouraged, that he gave up upon a half a day.

And then for a while he drove cab. So here is a PhD in clinical psychology, driving cab. And he actually enjoyed doing that, because he would practice and teach Nonviolent Communication to the people, who were hiring him to drive them.

But I also remember him telling me one story that, after he had driven for twelve hours on one day, driving home he was speeding and was stopped and ticketed, and the fine was the entire amount that he had earned that day.

So it was years and years and years before there was sufficient money in the organization – and I haven’t even said how the organization got formed yet – before there was any sufficient amount of money for the organization, or for Marshall.

I remember him saying that for three or four or five or six years, he was earning about five thousand dollars a year, which is very much below the poverty level.

He went wherever he was asked and then groups would slowly develop in different places, that would then ask him to come to come back.

But then there would be burnout too. I organized twice a year, for about 12 years. And, I did it alone – I organized his workshop by myself. What he wanted was for groups to form in each community – like DACH – that would be a community that would both practice and have him come to teach.

That didn’t happen in Chicago, where I was living, because I didn’t want it to happen, because I was so protective of the personal relationship that I had with him, because he would come and then spend two or three days at my house. And I didn’t want to share that … and it was a mistake. After I stopped organizing workshops, nothing more happened in Chicago for about five or six years.

Forming an Organization around the mid-1980s

So in 1984, I was vacationing with Marshall in Sherman, Texas. That’s where he lived and it was always a vacation for me to go down and spend three or four days with him. And during that time slowly an organization was beginning, but nothing formal yet.

I remember as well going with Marshall, once when I was in Sherman, Texas, to a computer store, where he was wondering, whether to buy a computer, if that could help him keep all the names straight, of the people who were in the classes that he taught around the country.

And we – myself and his wife at that time, Gloria, and a friend of hers – went to Dallas, Texas to a lawyer’s office and incorporated into the Center for Nonviolent Communication. I was one of the signers of the organization, the Charter. And Gloria is no longer involved. And her friend, who was the other signer, never was involved. But that was the beginning of the formal organization.

I remember as well going with Marshall, once when I was in Sherman, Texas, to a computer store, were he was wondering, whether to buy a computer, if that could help him keep all the names straight, of the people who were in the classes that he taught around the country.

That’s how poorly, how haphazard, the organization was at that time, how chaotic.

Then, after it formally organized, three years later, I got letter asking me to please sign the notes of the three last annual meetings of the board, meetings which had never happened, but were required by law. So I signed the minutes for each of these three years.

And then, after that, Rita Herzog – and I don’t know the whole history of this – but at some point after those three years, she took it upon herself to make the board a real board.

And this was after I had stopped organizing and really taking a long break out of fatigue.

And Rita then formed the board and actually sent me a letter, asking me, if I would resign, because apparently she had gotten other people to actually work on the board.

And I had no relationship – I knew who she was – but I had no relationship with Rita.

Along the way, there were attempts by Marshall to form an organization. I remember some meetings in which he asked people from around the country to come to see, if he could form an organization.

What happened in Oak Park, Illinois, in about 1980. We would meet for a couple of days, but it’s like any NVC workshop, that decision-making is so difficult … about an agenda … we were trying to take up decisions about decision-making and membership … and Marshall insisted, that all decisions be made unanimously, which of course in two days time is just impossible to do … and nothing then would happen for quite some time

Until it incorporated and then until three years later, Rita began the act of board.

Certification

Certification was like that too.

At the beginning Marshall wanted everyone to give away the process. So anyone who came to a workshop, who got excited, as you all know, would then start teaching, whatever they knew, whatever level of personal development they had.

This raised all kinds of issues, of course, about who was doing what, was anybody authorized, what quality of training was being presented, etc. … but that’s what Marshall wanted to begin with, that this whole thing be given away, and he resisted for years certification.

And only in approximately 1990 – I don’t remember the exact date – I suspected 89, 90, 91 – one of those days – at one meeting that we had among trainers of people, who were training in San Diego – did he say: „You’re certified.“ And that’s how certification went for quite some time.

Marshall said, it’s even a trouble understanding what certification was. Because certification has a public meaning, but what Marshall said, what it meant for him, was: These are people I‘m comfortable with.

But it was haphazard of who got certified and who didn’t. It was irregular, random.

So sometimes a person would come to an IIT and, at the end of the IIT, for reasons that weren’t obvious to anyone else, a person might be certified.

Susan Skye, whom many of you may know, came to one early IIT and one of the trainers got sick and it was her first experience with Nonviolent Communication and Marshall immediately promoted her to be one of the trainers.

So there was quite a bit of discomfort among the trainers about how one became a trainer then and there was pain regarding that too, if one is a favorite of Marshall, and particularly women were subject to a lot of talk as to whether they got certified, because of their relationship with Marshall, which was very painful, particularly to the women who were certified.

So at some point it was a combination of the organization slowly being developed and trainers requests and strong suggestion that the certification process be taken away from Marshall. And at some point he agreed.

That’s just a little bit of that history of the evolvement.

What is Nonviolent Communication ?

Now with that I want to pause and see if you have questions. It’s very satisfying for me to talk about all of this, but I have no idea what your level of interest is.

Question: I actually have a question. You said, in the beginning it was not about connection, but about adressing your own experience and in speaking from there.

Yes.

Why would that be a good thing, if not for connection?

Well, the thought was, of course, that if one one would make good connection by doing this, but that’s very different than having the principle of connection being the orientation for the practice.
At least that’s my understanding.

Person, who asked the question: I still don‘t understand it completely but maybe somebody else can explain it more to me later.

Other person adding: I understood that for Marshall in the beginning it was important to take responsibility for one’s own actions.

Right.

And another person adding: And to express what is going on inside without assigning blame.

It really evolved, in the same way, that the concept of needs was not there for the first twenty years. His whole understanding of what Nonviolent Communication was, or what he was trying to say, evolved.

I knew his second wife Gloria for the 18 years that they were married and she would jokingly say, that Marshall, every once in a while, would come out of his office and explain: „Here I’ve got it!“ and it would be a change of two words.

So his understanding of Nonviolent Communication has been evolving.

I remember that every time that I was in a national meeting with Marshall among trainers, even before certification, Marshall would begin the training by saying: „I really don’t know what this is.“

And then he would invite people to say what it is. So that there was always a trying to understand what this magical thing was, that happened between people, that was the aim of whatever he was trying to teach.

Even in the last meeting that I had with him in 2008, the same question was there: „I really don’t understand, what this thing is. What do you think it is ?“

Marshall and the Scientific Psychological Community

Question: Can you explain a bit how the lists of feelings and needs developed and how they might be connected to the psychological community?

First about the psychological committee and that community and then about the list.

When Marshall began his clinical practice, he was interested in connecting with the formal psychological community.

So he did the things that was necessary to become a diplomate with the American Psychological Association, which was their highest level of membership. But he was never interested in participating in that community and he never had a faculty position except for an occasional course that he was hired to teach at a local university.

So, beyond the first few years he he was not connected to the professional community and still isn’t known to the professional community in the United States. For instance, if you look at any book on psychotherapy practices, schools of psychotherapy, there’s no mention of Nonviolent Communication. Even in one, that I know about is … In 1992 Raymond Corsini had a book called Current Psychotherapies, in which chapters would be devoted to different schools, but he named in the introduction all the schools of psychotherapy, that he knew about that were published.

And there was an article that I wrote, in which I then wanted to refer to this, so I counted them all.

There were 241 schools that he identified; the book was only about 12 of those, but Marshall wasn’t mentioned in there. Rogers was. Gentlin was. Those are major figures, but they’re major primarily because they came out of academic institutions, where people write and then get students and do research and get grants to do research for the students‘ dissertation. And that’s how information is spread in the professional community. Is that a fair description, Jim?

I met Jim at Changes in about 1972. Jim is a clinical psychologist, graduating from the University of Chicago. His dissertation research had to do with both Focusing and Nonviolent Communication. I’m not a clinical psychologist, that’s why I’m referring for some of this information to Jim.

But when the first organizing happened, it inspires me to say, when the first organizing happened is I organize a workshop and – it’s the way workshops get organized – and then somebody from that workshop organizes another … and then Jim’s wife, who was the director of a social organization, a social agency, organizes a workshop for her staff … and then somebody from that tells a friend, who organizes something …

List of Feelings and Needs

Question: What about about the list?

Oh, the list! Thank you.

Well, there’s always been a list of feelings, from Marshall. He’s the only one that I know, who has
developed that list.

But the list of needs – of course that didn’t come about until somewhere in the 1990s, because the concept hadn’t developed yet. And I still use Marshalls list, but it’s very sparse. I would guess there are only about twenty needs that are listed. And then other trainers would expand the list or develop their own. I mean this entire thing has been a grassroots development, with people taking on areas of their interest, just because it needed to be done and Marshall hadn’t attended to it, which created a lot of problems, as well as a lot of development.

One thing that I was interested in is, after the website was developed, I got together with one other trainer and we both had the idea: How come all of our trainings aren’t listed on the website? Only Marshall was listed. So I contacted the website developer and I contacted all the senior trainers at that time and asked them if they would volunteer to give X amount of money, so that we could hire somebody to develop that that part of the website. And we didn’t have any endorsement from Marshall for that, we just did it. And the lists that are on the web site, of needs and of feelings, some trainers put that on there. The feeling list is from Marshall – no that’s not even correct – the feeling list was put on by someone, I don’t know who. The need list was put on there by someone, I don’t know who.

When I use needs list, which I don’t always use, I like Susan Sky‘s list and so I hand that out.

I refer people to the website and I always give out Marshall‘s list too, and then I say of course none of these are comprehensive.

Does that respond to your question about the list?

Overwhelm and Leadership Frustration in CNVC

I mean a lot of the organization has developed like that, where people would become frustrated because there wasn’t any leadership from Marshall regarding that.

But I also know Marshall was incredibly swamped, all the time, with training which was his principal interest and also developing an organization, that had never been developed before, consistent with the understanding of Nonviolent Communication.

So people would take different aspects and push them forward, and there would be some organization that developed then for that task or that area of interest, and maybe it got it continued because of inertia – it just stayed in place, because nothing else happened, it wasn’t with any endorsement from Marshall, but it continued to exist, because there was no effort to take it back or to correct it either.

So Marshall never approved, to my knowledge, of the trainer’s listing all the trainings on the network. But clearly a need was there for that.

The Task Force on education, which Sarah Hart was the principal developer of, she called together at some point a meeting of all the trainers, who were interested in education, and Marshall came and then he would direct it as much as possible, but that’s where there is some momentum to have the thing take place, whether Marshall endorsed it or not.

So in the beginning – well, it might still be that – a lot of organization came about without Marshall‘s specific endorsement.

An example of how Marshall was overwhelmed – I hadn’t seen him for two or three or four years – and he was giving a workshop about three hours away from Chicago. So I drove up there for the introductory evening and then I went to his room afterwards, so that we could talk and reconnect. Then we talked for a couple of hours. It was about midnight and I said: „All right here, you’re tired and I am too and I’m going to drive home.“ And only then did he say: „Yes … and I’ve got about two hours of emails to go through.“

As an example of how much he was attempting to carry.

So, when we got together at this one meeting in Albuquerque in 2008, I remember that I expressed – because complaints always came out of meetings too – and frustrations and pain – about the lack of communication and the lack of organization – and I remember, I expresssed some sadness and pain about not knowing, what was going on with the board and I remember that Rita at that time just resigned from the head of the assessor’s group – she told me and the group I think, that it had been two years since she had seen Marshall, and I think about that amount of time, in which she had had any communication back from him – and Marshall, to my surprise, when I said how sad I was about so little contact with the organization or with the board – I don’t remember what it was – Marshall immediately responded – not with empathy – and said: „I feel the same way!“ That he felt he didn’t have any connection with what was going on in the organization.

Workshop for One Participant

I‘d like to add a piece to a story. Marshall told me too the story where he drove a long way to find only one participant there. He told me this, when I complained to him how difficult it is to get enough participants for a workshop. He only said: No matter how few sign up, make the workshop.

Because this one person, that showed up and stayed in it, Marshall told me, that this person arranged another workshop next year, with 300 participants. I don‘t know if he told the story more nicely decorated for me or it it is the same story. I like this commitment.

This has been a long time.

Focus on Social Change

Question: I have a question. I remember that in the late 1990s cI ame back from a workshop with Marshall very excited: Now it is about social change! And I wondered, if you are you aware how this developed, because I can imagine that this was something that was important for him for a long time. And it was only late in the development, that he came up with it.

I have my worksheets from the very first workshop that I was in. And some of them show a development, that I’ve never seen since. But very early, the first couple of years, he developed, he was thinking in terms of social change. And I vaguely remember something like three levels, three stages of development, the last of which was for social change. But I would guess that it’s about twenty years later, that he actually had a workshop on social change, because there’s so much interest in personal development.

I heard another trainer who asked Marshall about the name nonviolent communication and he said he chose nonviolent communication, because he wanted to be invited to places with actual physical violence, such as prisons. What‘s your perspective, hearing about that?

I don’t remember. I do know he got so much negative feedback to Nonviolent Persuasion, that that negative feedback was an impetus to make a change.

I always thought that Nonviolent Communication evolved from Nonviolent Persuasion. But I don’t remember hearing that story.

Wasn‘t it also Compassionate Communication at some time?

People would refer to it as Compassionate Communication, sometimes he would too.

And still it is so, I mean that’s the name of many groups instead of Nonviolent Communication, in the attempt to make it a positive word as opposed to a negative one.

Pain in the Organization

I have a question concerning the very beginnings. I‘d like to have your personal view, how you experienced this situation. On on hand you related Marshhall‘s wish for the organization to reflect what is so important to nonviolent communication, how to contribute to life – and on the other hand to experience that already in early years, there was a lot of pain, for example with regard to the choice of the trainers. I guess today we still have this systemic entanglement, this pain and at the same time the wish to contribute to life. I would like to hear from you, how did you personally experience Marshall in the contradiction of these two elements.

He said that he was spending half of his time putting out fires, wherever he would be going, because people with the lack of an organization would go ahead and do something, and then there would be discomfort among that group of people, about who was doing what … or who knew NVC and who didn’t know NVC … who was promoting and who wasn’t … who got the credit for organizing and who didn’t … and that he was always putting out fires.

That is Marshall‘s view to the outside that I also heard from him.

Yes.

Valuing Alignment with the Spirit of Nonviolence

My perception was, that Marshall himself was torn inside and that it was part of his person expressed in this. This is where my question was aimed: What is your perception of Marshall in this?

I don‘t know. I didn’t have a speculation, as to what was happening in him then. I primarily thought he was always overwhelmed. He did not want things to be organized, if they weren’t consistent with Nonviolent Communication. So he would resist for endorsing anything, and then people would go ahead and do it, and then he‘d have to try to figure out, what to do regarding that.

So he didn’t certify for years, because certification means publicly that people surrender their judgment of what they are receiving, because the person is certified. They’re surrendering their own evaluation of what they are receiving, because the person has the title Certified. And he wanted everyone to have their own evaluation, to trust their own experience. So he wouldn’t certify. And then finally when he did certify, he said, these are just the people I’m comfortable with.

This has been a long time and I’ve been very appreciative of your being willing to sit here and listen.

Allan’s wife adding: I want to add something. I am Allan‘s wife. And it‘s been interesting to listen to him presents this, because I lived with these things as he would talk about them at home and experience them. But obviously I‘m not a trainer and I have not lived through some of these difficulties myself. But I wanted you to know, the impact that Marshall‘s perspective had on people in the United States.

The example I have for you is: I graduated from college in 1973 and stayed in touch with my college friends. One college friend has a daughter in Hawaii and another daughter who lives in a small state on the East coast of the United States. And we discovered that they were both reading Marshall‘s book, the book. And found it helpful. That is all.

Marshall Receiving Empathy from Allan

Allan: I do one little more short story. It is a short story about my personal relationship with Marshall and how much I enjoyed it.

So Marshall would come to town and I would say immediately: „Karen and I, can we have a session with you?“ So, as a joke, when I would go to visit Marshall and Gloria in Sherman, Texas, I would walk in and I would say: „So, when do you want to have a session with me?“

And they would immediately talk and figure out a time – to my complete surprise. And then we would have a session at some point – which I was honored to be present for.

Thank you all.

Irmtraud: Thank you, Alan, for for giving us so much of your time today. even after the workshop. For me it was very enriching to learn and to hear it.

And I thank you for inspiring this and agreeing to have this additional part of the program recorded. Many people asked if we could record it, because they were so interested in it.

And, I forgot to mention this earlier, today is a special day also in respect to Marshall, as a live stream from his Memorial service will start approximately two hours from now. So, this is a very special moment indeed, that you shared these memories with us today.

[Applause]

And thank you Janne, for doing overtime in translating today!

[Applause]


Click here for a full recording of this workshop by Allan Rholfs.

Recording shared by Irmtraud Kauschat;
translation from English to German during the workshop by Janne Hanoun Ellenberger;
transcript of the English portion of the session by John Gather, 2019.