Tag Archives: Non-Violent Communication (NVC)

A Sociocratic Movement?

I sat in on a conference call with the SociocraticConsultingGroup-en last week on forming an organization for sociocracy. I found the discussion to be about the same issues we had several years ago, when Socionet tried to form. It’s the same problem that the NVC organization has had, and that the Austin Belly dance group discussed on the [email protected] list many years ago. The problem of conflicting aims and energies between professionals and enthusiasts.

The problem appears when trying to build an organization that can’t decide if it is promoting sociocracy for all or promoting professional consultants. The energy now is largely in the consultants. This is because the people who most see the need and opportunity often are consultants already or become consultants. That’s good because they can train people who will be most likely to apply the method in their organizations.

A Peer-to-Peer Sociocratic Movement

I’ve never seen mixing of professionals and enthusiasts work in one organization to serve everyone’s needs. It can’t be built around classes, mostly because enthusiasts and sociocrats don’t want to join an organization in order to be marketed to. But it is also because professionals have different needs. They need to ask questions at a more complex level than people who are just learning about sociocracy. They need to discuss professional issues relating to the implementation in situations that they may need to discuss confidentially. They need to ask questions related to building their practices as sociocratic professionals.

The general population may want classes but they also want peer-to-peer interactions and information in a different form. Written materials and tapes. DVDs. Ideas and experiences to discuss with each other, not in teacher-student interactions. Enthusiasts will pull away from professionals and professionals pull away from them.

Ironically, the sociocratic organization has not managed to produce equality in sociocracy.

Discouraging a Sociocratic Movement

The global organization has been supremely afraid of letting the method go viral and still has not released its norms. The fear is that the method will be badly applied by anyone except certified experts and thus reflect negatively on sociocracy.

Professionals have also not encouraged a movement of enthusiasts to form. One negative reaction from professionals to people seeking information and association as other than clients is that such people are asking them to work free. That kind of attitude will dampen any movement. A movement needs the support of experts, but enthusiasts want to join an organization of equals who share information and experiences freely.

What Associations Do

Associations are usually non-profit, dedicated to charitable and public service purposes. They form around a purpose and draw members in to help them accomplish their purpose. They may maintain a speakers bureau that will speak anywhere for low or now cost. They distribute flyers to the public at no cost. Generate books and other materials that can be purchased. Members receive benefits to encourage them to further the purpose, usually a discount on publications, invitations to meetings of various kinds, and a newsletter.

Public Dissemination of Ideas

Business people and government officials have informal groups that meet for lunch and have a speaker. Sometimes the speakers receive an honorarium and sometimes only a free lunch. If the roundtable is for business people, sometimes a gift or gift certificate donated by one of the members. These are networking lunches of highly committed and ambitious people.

How many people have been prepared to speak at such a gathering about sociocracy? What resources are available to help them do so? Outlines and public speaking guides.

When Tony Robbins was beginning his career, he spoke anywhere. Other speakers would only speak to certain groups or if they were paid. Because Robbins accepted any request he spoke several times a week. He was able to hone his message and understand his audience. This is one thing that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in The Tipping Point: that success depends on the frequency of performing, speaking, running, etc., usually from a young age.

Bill Gates had access as a teenager to computers and programming. Access others didn’t have. The Beatles were performing on a circuit for years before they became famous. When Tony Robbins developed his motivational speaking skills, he was working as a janitor and , if I remember correctly, took the opportunity to discuss ideas with the executives whose office he cleaned.

Leadership

Movements also need leaders. Extroverts who love talking to people and being out front. The skills that make good politicians. I don’t think such a person has surfaced in the sociocratic community. Possibly because such a person doesn’t fit in with the global organization which is fairly rigid and closed. The new website is a huge step forward but has been years in the making. The current version has been under consideration for over a  year.

While a leader needs to understand the method, the requirement that they be certified is counter-productive and anti-movement unless the purpose is to organize certified people.

A sociocratic movement will not be successful until the needs of professionals as consultants are separated from those of enthusiasts and practitioners, and a leader emerges.

Addressing Emotions: Laird Schaub on Sociocracy

Laird Schaub’s blog is Community and Consensus. In his Monday 18 August 2014 post, “Critique of Sociocracy,” he presents his “reservations” which are deep and well-stated. Some are quite justified and others misunderstandings. Just like anything else, it’s easy to get the wrong information. This is the second of several posts addressing the points I think are valid and those that are at least partly in error.

Emotional Input

EmoticonsOne of Laird Schaub’s criticisms of sociocracy is that it  “does not address emotional input.” I think this depends partly, at least, on what one defines as “emotional input.” One person’s input can be considered personal and overwrought and another’s perfectly logical depending on who is doing the interpreting and labeling. But let’s assume we are talking about objections that seem temperamental, idiosyncratic, heated, etc., with no logical foundation or argument.

Any topic one cares about is likely to raise emotions whether it is a budget issue, loud music at 3:00 am, having a television accessible to children 24/7, or  eating meat. People care about things. That’s at least one point of living, right?

I’m not sure any governance system has a method of addressing emotions any more than it has a method for addressing global warming. Governance methods address how an organization will do the work of the organization. They are designed to steer a group of people toward an aim. It is quite likely that many people will have strong emotions about how to do that.

Addressing Emotions

Is addressing emotional input any different from addressing any other input?

The process in sociocracy and many other collaborative groups is to clarify concerns or objections and look for ways to resolve them. The input that most would label emotional might take more time during the clarification process than addressing a perceived budget problem. The budget problem might take more time and research in the resolving objections process.

Sociocracy has developed a happy handshake relationship with Non-Violent Communication (NVC) for the identification and resolution of feelings. Many sociocracy trainers are also teaching NVC. The technique is helpful in addressing the feelings attached to issues.

When emotions are felt to be overwhelming in any group, they are often handled personally by friends and facilitators, or by calling in a process consultant, like Laird. In part, the expertise of process consultants is sorting out emotions, the emotions about the emotions, and the underlying causes of emotions. One instance in which consultants are called in almost everywhere is a crisis.

The focus in a crisis is on restoring order when people are devastated by events. While the ultimate aim might be to get back to accomplishing their work, the immediate aim is emotional support. A sociocratic trainer might  come in to organize delivering supplies, making decisions about housing, etc.  Psychologists, grief workers, and Laird would come in to process emotional reactions and shock.

That Said…

Like Laird, I have also heard people say, “If you use sociocracy all the emotional stuff ends or never arises.” Right. That’s a hopeful person.

I agree that sociocracy is too trusting in saying that all will go well when the process is understood. The process provides a place for everyone to speak and raise objections. The problem is that many people do not know how or are afraid to express objections which are often full of feeling. There is the tired criticism that some people dominate discussions. Well, they can only do that if other people are silent. Sometimes they are just filling a void.

Rounds give people a time to speak and more people do raise concerns using that process. Some people need more than an opportunity.  They don’t have experience speaking in groups and have probably spent most of their lives being discouraged from disagreeing with anything. It takes time to adjust to the fact that they can, should, and are expected to speak up. Even to have an opinion.

Though many people are more insecure in groups than I think has been addressed in the sociocracy, it is also true that many sociocracy trainers have extensive experience facilitating and working with emotions in groups.  The fact that emotional processing isn’t addressed as a separate topic doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

In the same way as choosing a  mediator, matching a consultant’s experience and interests to the needs of the situation can be important. Some trainers are more experienced in implementing sociocracy in corporate and institutional settings and some are more familiar with community groups and small organizations.  There is the method which may be standard, but then there is application to the problem at hand which is practice and is formed by experience.

Emotional Reactions Fade with Success

People bring their fears and anxieties and personal preferences to sociocratic circles and the workplace just as they bring them to any other context. When the number of group members who have learned to focus on the aim, listen to each other, and resolve objections reaches a tipping point, friction will be reduced. But certain personalities and differing aims will clash sooner or later.

The research by Richard Hackman at Harvard shows that teams work better together when they focus on and achieve success. All the other problems blamed for team dysfunction fade—personality clashes, inequality of effort, lack of expertise, etc., suddenly have no meaning. The identified problems are still there; they  don’t go anywhere. They just no longer impede productivity.

Hackman found  that addressing emotions, personalities, and contributions is less effective than focusing on an aim and accomplishing it. Since that is a prime purpose in sociocracy, it leads not only to effectiveness but to harmony—which sociocracy was originally designed to accomplish. A harmonious workplace was Gerard Endenburg’s first aim.

Hackman’s “Six Common Misconceptions about Teamwork” addresses in part the issue of what does and doesn’t  make a successful team.

Conflict Resolution: Strategies vs Trust

Drop Cap Letter QWith connecting over needs and empathizing with feelings going on, people don’t get hung up on strategies. Why not table discussion of strategies until there is universal agreement that all parties fully and deeply understand and appreciate each other’s feelings and needs, then strategies need not be points of conflict— but of creativity to find solutions that work for all.

The reason Gerard was unable to use Kees Boeke’s style of consensus decision-making is that in the workplace, people are not interested in or expected to connect over [emotional] needs or empathize with feelings. A business generally can’t wait until everyone, in Boeke’s words “loves and trusts” each other, or stop the work for personal conflict resolution. An organization might require this and it might be necessary when a problem is clearly about emotional reactions between two people or a group of people and it is seriously affecting productivity in a small business or a work unit. But normally tensions unrelated to the aim/role/job probably need other resolutions. But this is not properly the role of the circle or the operations leader to resolve, though they may. The work can usually not be set aside until this is resolved.

Clear Aims and Conflict Resolution

Not expecting people to make connections at an emotional level allows more people and more diverse people to work together in a job situation. Clear aims and roles prevent many conflicts from occurring. Many if not most conflicts are not the result of interpersonal misunderstandings but lack of clarity in the organization, the environment.

A difference in aim affects the approach to conflict used. In a community, the emotional needs/reactions of members (except in case of pathology) often is the aim of the community.  In this case it would be the work of the community and part of the governance of the community. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) could easily be the method of choice for addressing this kind of situation. Some cohousing professionals, for example, are recommending that all members of a new community have such training. A designated person, external or internal, might be identified to fill this role. 

NVC and Sociocracy

We’ve had a lot of discussion on the [email protected] list about NVC and sociocracy. A few years ago some people were equating them. They are not the same class of things. They are not inter-changeable. Sociocracy is a method of designing and managing organizations effectively. NVC is a technique for sorting out needs and identifying means of addressing them. They are complimentary but have different aims.

Personal trust and empathy won’t address all conflicts and expectations that may be present. And it isn’t always possible or necessary for effective action. 

Family HEART Camp

Family HEART CampFamily HEART Camp is a sociocratically governed summer camp for families with children of all ages. Camps are conducted in West Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Ohio, and Hawaii. The Executive Director is Circle Sigma System founder Gregory Rouillard.

HEART stands for Harmony, Ease, Authenticity, Respect, and Trust, important family values that Compassionate Communication supports us in living, both at camp and in the wider world.

More on HEART Camp’s vision and values.

Circle Sigma System

Sigma Circle Solution LogoThe circle is a universal symbol for wholeness and inclusion, while the Greek letter sigma denotes the sum of all parts of a whole. The Circle Sigma System provides a framework for groups to work together in connection toward wholeness as expressed by their common aim or goal. The organization and its members work in the context of shared core values and are guided by common central tenets. The system was developed by Gregory Rouillard of Storm Integrated Solutions.

Core Values

  • Connection: the members of the organization value the quality of their working relationships with each other.
  • Equivalence: each member of the organization has an equal voice in deciding the conditions for working together.
  • Effectiveness: members of the organization value getting things done to achieve their shared vision.

Central Tenets

  • Vision: a view or dream of the world the organization is working toward.
  • Mission: how the organization operates in order to realize the vision (internal view).
  • Aim: a product or service that is the focus of work for the organization (external view).

Component Elements and Constituent Models

The component elements of the Circle Sigma System, the “pieces of the pie” in the diagram shown above, include Organizational Structure, Aim Realization, and Relational Development. The Circle Sigma System integrates three constituent models: Sociocratic Circle-Organization, Compassionate Communication, and Restorative Circles.

Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, Massachusetts, US

Jerry Koch GonzalezJerry Koch-Gonzalez is a certified sociocracy consultant  and  partner in the Sociocracy Consulting Group. His focus is individual and organizational development in governance, decision-making, communication skills, and conflict resolution. His career has been in  organizing, educating, and consulting for social justice.

The approaches he uses are sociocracy/dynamic governance, Non-Violent Communication and Mediation, Restorative Circles, and Transformational Mediation. The organizations with which he has worked include Movement for a New Society, the National Coalition Building Institute, DiversityWorks, Cambridge Youth Peace & Justice Corps, Lesley College Center for Peaceable Schools, Boston College Center for Social Justice, Spirit in Action, United for a Fair Economy and Class Action.

Pioneer Valley CohousingTeaching and implementing sociocracy in intentional community is one of Jerry’s areas of focus. The cohousing communities and community leaders with whom he has worked include Pioneer Valley Cohousing Community (where he has lived since its founding in 1994), Green Haven (CT), Champlain Valley (VT), Burlington (VT), Pathways (MA), Jamaica Plain (MA), Cambridge (MA), and Cornerstone (MA). He is also active in New England Non-Violent Communication.

Jerry is a partner in the Sociocracy Consulting Group and publishes a blog, Both-And Consulting.

Equating Consensus and Non-Violent Communication (NVC) with Governance

Often heard: “We don’t use sociocracy or dynamic governance; we use consensus.” Or, “We don’t use dynamic governance; we use non-violent communication (NVC).

The simple problem with these oppositions is that neither consensus nor NVC are governance methods. They don’t come with a set of principles or practices for structuring an organization, managing operations, and ensuring that the appropriate people are making the necessary decisions.

Consensus is a method for making decisions, just like majority vote is used to make decisions.

NVC is a technique for clarifying one’s feelings and needs, and can be very helpful when making decisions.

To say that you govern or organize yourselves using either of these is to say you have no governance structure. In the case of consensus, you have a decision-making method, which is usually used by the whole group participating. In the case of NVC, you have is a method for each member to clarify their needs and attempt to have them met.

So What Is Governance?

A governance method determines:  Who are the decision-makers and what decisions can they can make. How decisions are made. How resources—money and people—will be allocated. How policies be established and changed. How the work of the organization will be done. Who will determine what that work is. Most of our organizations, of course, don’t do this very clearly. Or they do it from time to time but then things change and the policies and practices aren’t updated.

Organizations, like systems, need a coherent structure of relationships between parts and a clear flow of information and resources. A governance method is necessary to establish and maintain that structure. Neither consensus nor NVC provide this.

The Fixer

Many communities—cohousing, religious, etc.—believe that conflict resolution is based on loving and understanding. That if we just care more and understand each other’s needs, conflict will go away. They emphasize how hard this is. “This is the hard work we all need to do.”

Peace workers, in particular, are big on love and understanding and couple attempts to acquire it not only with hard work but with courage. “It takes a lot of courage to sit down one-on-one and have a hard conversation about our common needs.” Conflict is war, peace is understanding. Both require courage, however, so even though we are avoiding war, we are still courageous. Even more courageous.

And how do we acquire love and understanding? Face-to-face. Contact.

The perfect process is face-to-face conversations focused on understanding needs and love is the only solution. Now, in day-to-day living, this is a non-starter in the worst conflicts, and will ensure that many minor but festering conflicts will never be mentioned in public, or not until they are the size of neutron bombs. Some people thrive on face-to-face conversations. Others are drained beyond belief. Plus when living in a community, how many face-to-face conversations can one have in a week and still keep your home and family functioning?

Those who do not thrive on or do not have time for more personal contact will certainly avoid even admitting a conflict. The fear that they would be coaxed into such a conversation, even by trickery from those who are convinced that this is just what you need (as if it were a laxative), be blamed of triangulating because they might express their conflict to someone other than the object of their frustration, or be called out in public as requiring salvation, like a Baptist in a prayer meeting, would ensure that they suffer in silence or leave the community.

You notice that the emphasis amongst the hard-work and courage advocates has been deftly moved from the content of the conflict to the need for love and understanding. Accept the hard work, sit down for the face-to-face, and the wonderous joy will come out. We will be one. Harmony will hold us in its arms. All else will fade away.

Without going into all the research demonstrating that love is not enough, and not even necessary, I’ll say that the method I would like see developed is The Fix. Something like NVC’s 4 steps and more manageable than the 12-step programs. The method used in the Vernon Jordan School of Getting Things Done. It would go something like this:

1. Find a savvy insider who knows what is possible and what is probably not.
2. Talk to Bill.
3. Talk to Monica.
4. Repeat as necessary until everyone is satisfied.

Forget the hard work. Forget the courage. Forget the love and understanding. Focus on the conflict and the people involved. Look around and see if this is systemic. Does it need a limited solution or policy change?

Someone please go for it.

Conflict Resolution: The Fixer

Many communities—cohousing, religious, etc.—believe that conflict resolution is based on loving and understanding. That if we just care more and understand each other’s needs, conflict will go away. They emphasize how hard this is. “This is the hard work we all need to do.”

Peace workers, in particular, are big on love and understanding and couple attempts to acquire it not only with hard work but with courage. “It takes a lot of courage to sit down one-on-one and have a hard conversation about our common needs.” Conflict is war, peace is understanding. Both require courage, however, so even though we are avoiding war, we are still courageous. Even more courageous.

And how do we acquire love and understanding? Face-to-face. Contact.

The perfect process is face-to-face conversations focused on understanding needs and love is the only solution. Now, in day-to-day living, this is a non-starter in the worst conflicts, and will ensure that many minor but festering conflicts will never be mentioned in public, or not until they are the size of neutron bombs. Some people thrive on face-to-face conversations. Others are drained beyond belief. Plus when living in a community, how many face-to-face conversations can one have in a week and still keep your home and family functioning?

Those who do not thrive on or do not have time for more personal contact will certainly avoid even admitting a conflict. The fear that they would be coaxed into such a conversation, even by trickery from those who are convinced that this is just what you need (as if it were a laxative), be blamed of triangulating because they might express their conflict to someone other than the object of their frustration, or be called out in public as requiring salvation, like a Baptist in a prayer meeting, would ensure that they suffer in silence or leave the community.

You notice that the emphasis amongst the hard-work and courage advocates has been deftly moved from the content of the conflict to the need for love and understanding. Accept the hard work, sit down for the face-to-face, and the wonderous joy will come out. We will be one. Harmony will hold us in its arms. All else will fade away.

Without going into all the research demonstrating that love is not enough, and not even necessary, I’ll say that the method I would like see developed is The Fixer. Something like NVC’s 4 steps and more manageable than the 12-step programs. The method used in the Vernon Jordan School of Getting Things Done. It would go something like this:

1. Find a savvy insider who knows what is possible and what is probably not.
2. Talk to Bill.
3. Talk to Monica.
4. Repeat as necessary until everyone is satisfied.

Forget the hard work. Forget the courage. Forget the love and understanding. Focus on the conflict and the people involved. Look around and see if this is systemic. Does it need a limited solution or policy change?

Someone please go for it.