The Art of Listening at TEDx Rainier

“Listening is at the core of everything I do. Relationships, work, social change, learning, peace, balance…..In this talk, I share some of the stories that have made my life so rich.”

Watch the video below of Kathleen’s Second TEDx talk, “The Art of Listening.” This took place November 22, 2014 at Seattle’s McCaw Hall as part of the TEDxRainier event.

Watch Kathleen’s first TEDx talk “Can prisons be houses of healing?” here.

Learn more about Kathleen’s services and upcoming offerings

Why Bother doing a TEDx Talk?

Kathleen speaking at TEDxRainierHere is Kathleen’s 2nd TEDx talk, The Power of Listening, as a part of the larger Livestream video of the entire event plus other TED video content. Her introduction begins at 1:12:46 and she begins speaking at 1:13:20. We will post the solo talk video when it becomes available.  Scott Karman was a part of the production team. Below is Scott’s post about why we do this in the first place, reposted with his permission. TEDx is an unpaid experience for the presenters.

 

Reflections on TEDxRainier
By Scott Karman

Along the way, in the eleven months of planning for TEDxRainier 2014, I experienced a particularly special moment during one of the speaker rehearsals. Kathleen Macfarren, a speaker with an elegant talk on deep listening, paused for a moment to ask us, “Why do you do this?” I chuckled as it was the very question that I had asked myself on my drive to the rehearsal. One by one, we all gave our answers. Bo Roth who was responsible for helping the speakers develop their talks said, “It’s all about the people.” Anna Boynton, a masterful speaker coach, said, “It’s all about the people.” Co-curators Phil Klein and Elizabeth Coppinger agreed. We all agreed. TEDxRainier is a unique labor of love where we get to meet, work with, and connect with amazing people doing amazing things. As a team, we have the pleasure of growing friendships through collaboration. There is a lot of laughter, some tears, and of course, some heated moments–all parts of creating something larger than ourselves.

Then, I think about the many teams that come together to make the event happen. The people that live behind the curtains of the stage that you will never see. “Why do we do this?” TEDxRainier is an opportunity for us to do our very best work without the constraints of timelines and budgets. It is a show where we get to decide what happens and how it is going to be accomplished. Kris Monro, of Milligan Events, was the glue that kept us all on track while providing her expertise on the attendee experience. The Tri-Digital team brought the live stream program to those who watched virtually. The camera work on the big screen or your screen at home was skillfully orchestrated by the Dapper crew. The presentations were the collective creations between the speakers and our Silver Fox designers. The entire auditorium experience was the result of the collaboration of all of these teams, including the amazing McCaw Hall staff. So why do we do it? This is what we love to do and we love putting on shows for our dear attendees.

And finally, during a particularly stressful event planning moment, I had posed the question to myself. “Why do I do this?” The answer came as a surprise to me.

It comes down to lifetime goals and dreams. You see, in college, my parents were not pleased with my decision to major in painting. One night, on the WSU campus, my mother asked me with concern, “What do you want to do with your life?” In my youthful and passionate naïveté, I responded that I either wanted to be an artist or the President of the United States. Well, as I grew up a bit, that evolved into wanting to be a teacher who leads and lets the creative process guide the way. Both ideas are applicable to anywhere my inspirations take me. And there I was, Saturday morning pacing my house at 3 AM, waiting for McCaw Hall to open so we could get the show started. I asked, “Why do I do this (to myself)?” A burst of adrenalin came over me and a huge smile stretched across my face. The answer is that I am doing exactly what I set out to do. This whole thing is a realization of lifetime goals and dreams.

 

The Dance of a Connected Conversation

If communication is a dance, have you ever had the sense that you were talking with someone but:

  • Your toes were getting squashed under their heels.
  • Their posture was stiff and inflexible.
  • They were getting scandalously close to your wobbly bits? (Gasp!).
  • You just weren’t connected.

Dancers of many styles - silhouettesMaybe it was like the tango where there was a strong leader in the dance, around whom the dance seemed to turn and whirl? Maybe that was even you, once or twice 😉 Perhaps you were trying to assert yourself but the rapid, complex movements of the lead partner left it tricky to share your expression? You found yourself a little dizzy, being swept around the dance floor, lifted and spun, tracking the next move of the lead partner. (Note: its just a metaphor here, folks – tango can be beautiful, amazing, and full of both people’s expression.). The video below shows a disconnected dance duo stepping on each others feet video (for comparison & contrast with the following video).

Now compare the tango with a lead partner to “contact improvisation” dance. In this style, the partners are fully playing off of each other and there usually is no “lead partner”, although the dancers will be guiding and supporting each other at different times. Movements are fluid and intimate as bodies pass over, under and around each other. This style of dance is more of a metaphor for what we call “the flow of connection” in compassionate communication. This video demonstrates that fluidity.

Back and Forth

“The flow of connection” in a conversation has a focus on keeping both people connected to a conversation. This goes back and forth, using “connecting requests” that ask, “Could you tell me what you just heard so I can know I got my message across?” or “What comes up for you when you hear that?” To stay with the metaphor, those questions keep the dancers synced up, in step on the same dance floor. Another thing to remember is that people can stay more connected with each other if the person speaking talks in “paragraphs” rather than “chapters.” By breaking up the conversation into smaller chunks, it is easier to reflect back what is being shared. If you are listening, it can also be helpful to “interrupt,” to reflect back what that other person is sharing, initiating the flow of connection from the perspective of the “ear.” So even if the speaker knows nothing about compassionate communication and nonviolence, you as a listener can model that flow and keep yourself connected to the conversation.

Trip, Stumble and Get Impatient

Sometimes you might want to have connected conversations and other times, you might not have the energy for it. It does require an openness and detachment from outcomes – a willingness to fully leap into the conversation… in the dance. Sometimes you might want to just be the lead partner or just to follow the lead of another. Sometimes a txt msg is all u have time 4. AND as you practice (and fail) and practice (and fail some more), you will find yourself dancing in conversations with others in ways that used to be battles. Even if you are a seasoned practitioner of compassionate communication, also known as Nonviolent Communication™, watch and enjoy as your skills continue to improve and you spin into deeper connection. Are you wanting to strengthen your Nonviolent Communication practice for 4 days and nights in a beautiful retreat setting, with highly skilled trainers, a supportive community, incredible organic food and rustic natural settings? Learn more about our Blackbelt Communication Skills Retreat at Whidbey Institute, Oct 1-5, 2014.

How To Tune Yourself Into Gratitude

I was thinking about how gratitude is a door we open to Life’s energies. We only need to open the door a little. Frankly, that’s all the energy I have most of the time. Thinking I’m responsible for creating and holding this huge dream of peace on the planet is overwhelming for me. I can, however, crawl to the doorknob and push the door open just a crack.

happy girl with deely bobbersThrough that crack comes a wide range of energies that ebb and flow. You could think of them as radio stations that we tune ourselves to. We can label those radio stations as universal needs. Examples of these needs could include the need for respect, safety, clarity, or understanding. They are energies of life moving through me and through all people. When I say a thankful yes to dancing with any and all of those energies, it allows me to live in the flow of life more directly and opens me to a spontaneous experience of gratitude and joy.

Sometimes we push one of those specific radio preset button voluntarily.
When you share a joke or funny story, you could be dialing yourself into Joy.  If you follow through on something you said you would do, you could dial yourself into integrity.

Other times, you seem to just land there. “Welcome! You’ve just tuned into Need for Belonging Radio, along with the rest of our listeners.”

It is different than focusing on what I might call “positive” and pushing away what I might consider “negative.” I embrace my experience in its wholeness, feeling the fullness of all feelings and present to the underlying needs When I am tuned into one of those radio stations that is uncomfortable, I match my dance to the music on that station. When I’m connected in that way, accepting what is present, I sense a vitality and authenticity that brings me to life. Just that presence is enough to lead me to gratitude.

This practice is so powerful and can have a great effect on your own daily living. It tends to be noticed by people around you, whether they are new faces in the line at the grocery store or your closest friends and family. Gratitude is one of the best ways I know to connect with our children. Sharing your gratefulness with them gives them a sense of really being seen for their beauty. It’s a splendid way for them to become aware of the power they have to make life wonderful for themselves and others while experiencing how good it feels to use that power.

Self Gratitude Exercise

  1. Pause 2X daily spontaneously or during planned times.
  2. Connect with Life reaching out through you now.
  3. Notice ways you are living, savoring, embodying, and sharing the things you most value.
  4. Give yourself gratitude for whatever is alive. This could be just stopping to notice and savor a way you are living out your values and your awareness of this process.
  5. Celebrate that you had the power to give to yourself or someone in a way that was nurturing whether or not it was acknowledged.

Notice what thoughts and feelings come up for you when you start to give yourself gratitude. Is it easy or hard? Are you nervous or relaxed?

 

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Learning This Stuff is Life or Death For Me

skeletonIn 2009,  my colleague, Sura Hart, and I were leading an Empathy workshop for men in a WA State prison. As I entered the workshop, I was surprised to see an inmate, Dan (not his real name), who had participated in a Freedom Project workshop I had co-led with another colleague, Doug Dolstad, four years ago at the same facility. I hadn’t seen him since.

Seeing Dan, I remembered a moment at that first workshop when he responded to some grumbling in the group about what he was doing by saying, “I know I’m taking up a lot of time here, but learning this stuff is life or death for me.” The whole room went silent as we soaked in the truth of those words for all of us. Dan was transferred out of state for three years and had recently returned. I was moved by what seemed to me a profound change in his energy and skills at the recent workshop. He set a tone of courageously looking at “skeletons in the closet,” inviting the whole group to participate in his learning and understanding. His example encouraged others to do the same. 

Encountering the enormity of the violence around me can be overwhelming, but I find renewed energy when I focus on creating safe corners, places of sanctuary in the midst of a larger backdrop. Science and history seem to support the idea that small changes in behavior have the power to affect living systems and organizations in profound ways. Be the change you wish to see and savor new life unfolding.

To experience the kind of presence these men gave to one another is to walk on sacred ground. If we can create that sacred space inside prisons, we can create it anywhere. What corner of your life do you want to turn into a place of hope and healing? What support would you like to make that happen?

How To Break Down Your Needs Around Money

money rabbitholeOne of my first “ah-ha” experiences while learning Nonviolent Communication was when I understood the differentiation between universal needs and strategies to meet needs. There are multiple strategies to meet any particular need. Desperation tends to emerge when we confuse strategies and needs, when only one strategy is seen or attachment to one strategy is very strong. Freedom and flexibility bring relief when I’m clear there are many strategies to meet needs. I can then continue searching for new strategies when a chosen strategy doesn’t work out.

Conflicts don’t occur at the level of needs. We all share them, thrive on them, and value them. Conflicts happen over the strategies we choose to meet needs. I may want a very different strategy than you want to get needs met, or I may be telling myself there is only one strategy even if it meets some needs at the expense of others.

Money Isn’t Your Need

Money is a strategy, not a need. It can be a very useful and convenient strategy to meet needs for food, shelter, comfort, relaxation, learning, support, ease, fun, contribution, self-expression, beauty and community. Sometimes money is an effective strategy to meet needs; sometimes it is not. To gain more awareness around the role money plays in your life, write down 10 things you regularly spend money on. Then go back and list what needs are being met by the things you buy or invest in. Are there needs that could be met by strategies other than money? List all the strategies you can think of. Are there any strategies that would work better than money? For example, are there needs for comfort, mutuality, community, and connection that might be better met by a different strategy? Do you have needs you are currently not spending money on to meet that could be met more effectively by investing money there? Notice how you feel as you are going through this process. Is there some relief around having more options and choice to meet needs than you were aware of before? Keep working the exercise, peeling back the layers on more of your purchases. You just might be amazed at what shows itself behind your strategies with money.

Notice Your Thoughts and Translate The Needs Behind Them

Another exercise to increase your awareness around money is to notice what thoughts you have in relation to it. How we think about money determines how much power we give to it. Do you have a set of “shoulds” around how to use money (I shouldn’t buy this, I should give more of it away, I should save more, I can’t afford that, I can’t survive on this low of a paycheck, etc.)?

  1. Write down your thoughts and translate them into the needs behind those thoughts. For example, “I should save more” might be an expression of your value/need for self-care, protecting your resources, or integrity. “I can’t survive on this low of a paycheck” might be an expression of needs for support, mutuality, empathy or to be valued.
  2. Look at the list of needs and think of creative strategies to meet those needs in ways that don’t only involve money.

When I think of the national debates around how we use our collective money, I yearn for a different conversation than what I often hear. I yearn to hear discussion on how we can meet our needs for safety, health, education, community, caring for life on the planet, and meaning, in ways that tap into the immense creativity we hold as humans. Yes, let our collective money be part of that strategy, but let the wisdom of our head and hearts guide us to all the other resources to which we currently have access.

I don’t “buy” the idea that we can’t have health care for all because there is not enough money. I don’t “buy” the idea that we must limit education because of too little money. I would like us to take back the power we’ve handed over to the concept of money, and get reacquainted with the power we all have to serve Life at every moment through our words, touch, skills, knowledge and actions. I’m confident we would find abundant resources to carry us into a new era where the needs of all are treasured and met through natural giving.

An Easy Way to Focus on Gratitude

gratitude on the beach at sunsetI believe we need as much empathy for our joy as we do for our pain. There are few things as nourishing to me as the celebration that comes when I’ve been able to participate in Life in ways that contribute to others or when others have contributed to me. Nature lets us know when our needs have been met by flooding us with feelings such as joy, hope, inspiration, calm or peace. Taking time to savor the power we all have to serve Life every moment can be rejuvenating.

An easy way to focus on gratitude is:

  1. Think of something specific you or someone else said or did that was meaningful to you.
  2. Notice how you feel in relation to that action or statement.
  3. Then savor the reason why it was meaningful to you, in other words, notice the value or need that was met.
  4. Spend a few moments cherishing the beauty of that value and how good it feels to have it manifest in some tangible way.

Here’s an example:  “As I remember the handshakes and smiles of the Spokane NVC team as people were arriving for last weekend’s workshop, I feel grateful and inspired, because I value inclusion of all people. When I think of the tears and laughter in the workshop, I’m touched by the kindness and heart to heart connection we are capable of sharing with each other.” Find some way to celebrate something you value as part of each and every day.

3 Steps To Free Ourselves From Our Inner Prisons

bird-flying-from-cageThough I frequently walk in and out of WA State prisons, I find myself trapped in my internal prison much more often than I enjoy. It’s one I carry around with me and enter easily. Getting out can be an arduous process. The prison is my mind, specifically the part that spins stories about what other people are thinking, doing, intending or reacting to. I am amazed how frequently my brain can come up with a story and how often a story when checked out, can be way off base.

I find I am not alone. Conversations I hear daily are couched in language that implies wrongness or diagnosis of others. When our stories are about others, we usually feel anger. When our stories are about ourselves, the feelings of shame, guilt and depression arise.

The last time I was in the women’s prison I found myself on the receiving end of the stories. It was a very stressful weekend for the inmates. Mother’s Day events were being held. Try to imagine the stress of parenting from prison or the pain of not having contact with your children anymore. A higher number of fights than normal were breaking out, and most of the women who were trying to focus in the Freedom Project workshop I was co-leading were bundles of nerves.

At one point on the second day, one of the women told me I was disrespectful, then another said I was being condescending, yet another one agreed and added I was just like one of “them” (the officers). They were sure their stories about me were true. Their evaluations were clearly facts in their eyes. I listened with empathy and was trying to find out what they had seen or heard from me that they interpreted as disrespect or lack of caring.

I had asked two women to join me out into the hall first thing in the morning, to create safety, when I thought a fight was about to break out. I mediated between them for 45 minutes and the two women involved were thankful for the reconnection and learning. Some of the women who remained in the room, however, assumed I was somehow punishing the women I had asked out into the hall. It took empathy from my colleague and individual empathy from me with the angry participants during the following break to finally have my intentions for support, caring and learning seen by the women. We ended in a place of connection. The remaining hours of the workshop were spent giving empathy to the women for their pain and talking about the self-empathy that allowed me to stay present to myself in a way that let me hear their pain and not take their judgments personally. Judgments are simply tragic expressions of needs. 

I spent the next couple of weeks noticing when I didn’t stop to pause between something that triggered me (what someone said or did) and my story about it. Some of my stories are well rehearsed as I’ve practiced them for years. My belief in my stories can be as strong as the inmates’ belief in their stories about what they thought was going on in me. The freedom from the internal prison happens in that pause between observation and evaluation. I work through 3 steps that spring me loose.

  1. I find a way to notice what I’m reacting to the specific observation of what someone actually said or did.
  2. I pause long enough to look under my story (the evaluation) to my feelings and needs.
  3. I let a request naturally arise in relation to the needs I’m aware of.

That pause is a place of choice and power. Separating observation from evaluation is a crucial first step to freedom. I find myself making that inner journey time and time again from my prison to liberation. It’s starting to get easier the more I do it. It requires compassion for myself along the way and trust that continuing on that path will lead to greater joy, clarity and connection.

How Did a Revolution Happen in 2 Hours?

broken chain photoIn October of 2007, I was scheduled to go into the men’s prison in Monroe, WA to lead a Nonviolent Communication basics workshop with a Freedom Project team. I was bringing a guest, and after 4 hours of traveling there, the guest was not allowed to enter the prison because the paperwork could not be found. I sent the rest of the training team inside and I drove the guest back to the ferry.

Two hours later, I returned to the prison and walked into the most amazing scene. There were 25 inmates sitting in groups of five offering each other the gift of presence and deep listening. How had that happened when only a few of the men had any idea what NVC was two hours before and they had spent months or years avoiding each other on the prison grounds? They were playing “NVC poker,” a game where one person tells a story about a time in his life, the rest listen while holding a handful of cards with a need written on each. After the story is told, each player lays down the need cards they think apply and ask, “Were you feeling_____ because you were needing_____? (Ex: Were you feeling discouraged because you were needing support?)  The storyteller just listens until all cards are down then picks up the ones that resonate the most.

What was amazing to me was the level of presence these men were giving each other, the sincerity of their guesses about needs and the profound look on the faces of those who were having their stories heard in this way for the first time ever. A sense of hope rushed through me that within two hours such change could occur. I was flooded with gratitude to know a practical, useable process that has the power to awaken our natural sense of compassion. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that in my work I get to experience so much beauty over and over in places few people think beauty resides.  This was one of those times.

Kathleen’s TEDx Talk released!

Houses of Healing: Kathleen Macferran at TEDx Monroe Correctional Complex

Kathleen Macferran on stage at TEDx - Monroe State Prison

This TEDx event was full of heart and inspiration for me. In this talk I’ve shared some of the experiences that make prison work so meaningful for me. I hope you find the stories relevant and inspirational in the video below.

YouTube Preview Image
Kathleen Macferran, Certified Trainer
Strength of Connection Center for Nonviolent Communication
Office: 472 Grow Ave NW | Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
206.780.1021. Tel / Fax
Mail: PO Box 10009 | Bainbridge Island, WA 98110-0009