Annual NVC Convention Teaches Nonviolent Communication Techniques to Cope During the COVID Crisis

By Steven Libowitz   |   April 23, 2020

What do communication techniques have to do with spirituality?

Perhaps only everything we encounter on the human plane, as Nonviolent Communication, aka NVC, according to some, goes far beyond self-help communication skills to serve as a consciousness based on the intention to create positive connections. The core idea is that rather than be motivated by fear, guilt, or any coercion, people will give freely and happily when they feel good about each other and trust that their needs matter to the other person. Through NVC, people can learn to uncover their own deeper needs and those of others through its emphasis on deep listening – to ourselves as well as others – and thereby help us discover the depth of our own compassion. The concept comes from the awareness that all human beings are only trying to honor universal values and needs at all times, which is why NVC can be seen as both a spiritual practice that helps us see our common humanity, using our power in a way that honors everyone’s needs, and a concrete set of skills which help us create life-serving families and communities.

Santa Barbara – which used to host Marshall Rosenberg, who founded NVC back in the 1960s and taught the principles locally himself in several visits to Santa Barbara through SBCC’s Adult Ed program – has been fortunate to host the annual Nonviolent Communication Conference in town for most of the 13 years since its creation by Rodger Sorrow, an experienced practitioner who teaches regularly at SBCC’s School for Extended Learning, the latest version of Adult Ed. Of course, Sorrow was forced to cancel this year’s annual in-person gathering, slated for this weekend, April 24-26, due to stay-at-home orders in the wake of COVID-19. But moving the three-day event over to Zoom proved far less unwieldy than it might have been for other major events, who have found the translation tricky at best. That’s because the event will be hosted online this year by the NVC Academy, the online classroom for teaching and learning NVC concepts that has been around for more than a decade.

The Academy was co-founded by Mary Mackenzie in 2006, only half a dozen years after she first encountered NVC.

“That first class was profound,” Mackenzie recalled over the phone earlier this week. “The things I learned about myself helped me to better understand myself and my motivations for my words and actions, and to be able to shift my habits. Now it’s still enormous in my life. NVC has a huge major profound impact on everything I say or do. It’s an underlying theme throughout my entire life.”

Mackenzie said the practice of NVC actually enhances her own spiritual practices.

“It’s helped all of those beliefs and processes to be beautifully accentuated. It brings a needs connection to everything, and the minute you clarify what needs are met by the actions you are seeking, they become accentuated and brightened. So NVC runs through all parts of my life.”

It was the desire to broaden the reach of the practice that led her and co-founder Mark Schultz to create the NVC Academy to alleviate the financial and geographical barriers to learning the skills, which at the time were available only in person. The Academy has become one of the primary training grounds for both practitioners and other trainers of NVC, so migrating the annual Santa Barbara conference online to Zoom was little more than a no-brainer.

“We were able to pull it together very fast, and already have 290 people registered,” Mackenzie said.

Obviously the connections created by meeting in person at the annual convention will be missed, but the Zoom platform has some benefits, too, it turns out. The meat of the weekend’s activities are the five breakout sessions, each offering a choice of four different classes. Online, rather than having to run between rooms to sample the sessions, participants will be able to freely jump between them as desired without even having to get up out of their chairs.

Even better, lifetime access to recordings of every session will be made available after the conference so participants can let go of FOMO – the dreaded “fear of missing out.”

Meanwhile, due to the fact that no travel is necessary, all of the eight trainers for this year’s conference are fully NVC-certified, each with a vast amount of experience in the practices. “It’s a very senior group of trainers,” Mackenzie said.

Eight different trainers will be presenting and teaching courses over the weekend, each with their own unique take and approach to NVC and its applications. Sorrow will offer his “Surprising Purpose of Anger” course, as well as “Hearing and Saying No” and “Four Ways to Respond to Hard to Hear Messages.” Perennially popular presenters Jim and Jori Manske will bring back “The Zero Step” plus “9 Skills for Navigating Conflict” and the take-it-home course known as “From Now On: 3 Strategies to Integrate NVC identified by Marshall Rosenberg.”

Mackenzie herself will offer Friday night’s opening session, “The Heart of Compassion: An Introduction to NVC,” as well as the very topical class “Thriving in the Midst of Change,” geared toward coping with the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s a mini-version of a retreat my colleague and I offer all over the world on the concept of greeting change with grace and confidence,” she explained. “Any kind of change – from divorce or retirement, to moving, getting married or dealing with COVID has similar characteristics over the beginning, middle and end. Each brings up aspects of emotions. When we know and understand them we can navigate with more grace and ease. I’ll talk about the stages and how to navigate, specifically COVID. We’re in it, but we’re not sure it’s even the middle yet.”

Similarly, all three of Sarah Peyton’s offerings are geared toward handling what arises for people during the pandemic. “Clear Old Traumas That Make Quarantine Harder Than It Has To Be,” “Reactivity In Tight Quarters: 3 Tools For Transformation,” and “Hearing and Releasing Our Addictions and Compulsions” each take on different aspects of pressures that can come up as we’re cooped up for long periods. Lorraine Aguilar’s three classes, sequentially focusing on working with fear, resilience, and acting with kindness are also aimed at raising awareness and choice as the pandemic progresses.

In more general terms, Jared Finkelstein’s “Naturalizing NVC: Form and Essence” helps to translate the formal expression of NVC – which can sound static, formulaic, and even disconnecting into something more natural that brings only the necessary amount of form to connect compassionately with others.

Whichever courses one chooses, the information and experience is meant to be more rewarding and interactive than the typical one-way webinar.

“We’re trying to make it very much like what you would experience in the actual workshop,” Mackenzie said. “Almost all of the sessions will have their own breakout rooms so people can interact in smaller groups, twos or threes, to practice the principles and then come back and give feedback or discuss their experiences.”

In other words, the focus is on connection. Just like NVC itself.

(The 13th Annual NVC Conference takes place online April 24-26. Visit for information and registration.)


You might also be interested in...