The First Building Block – Observation

(Time to read & do: ~ 3 minutes)

Definition: Observations are external sensory data, information we take in through our senses – things we see, hear, touch, smell or taste.

They are emotionally neutral and contain no value judgements.
They have an objective quality – like a videocamera.









What is the importance or value of observations?

Observations provide a shared context or starting point for talking about our experiences or the experiences of others.

What is challenging about observations?

Of the 4 building blocks, observation is the most challenging skill to apply. (The good news is that it gets easier after this step! 🙂 )

This is because our brains respond so quickly to external sensory data with evaluations and interpretations about what this data means for our well-being that it is often difficult for us to separate out the original “raw” sensory data.

Some examples:

  1. Someone speaks to me in a particular tone of voice, and I think to myself “He is patronizing me.”
    The observation would be the specific words I heard, such as
    “I heard you say ‘That’s a ridiculous idea.'”
  2. I make a request to the president of a company, she doesn’t reply, and I think “She’s ignoring me” or “They’re giving me a run-around”.
    The observation would be what actually did happen. For example,
    “I received a letter signed by a Customer Service representative that read ‘…'”
  3. The door makes a loud sound as someone leaves the room, and I think “He slammed the door.”
    An observation would be “I heard the door shut as you left the room.” or
    “I saw you go out and shut the door behind you.”

I sometimes say that observations are “boring” – there’s no drama.

Concerns about Observations

People sometimes feel quite concerned when they hear that – they are afraid that something important is being left out along with the drama.

If observation was our only building block, then I would very much agree – observations are not the whole story – it is just one of our 4 building blocks of connection.

A gift of NVC is that it helps us separate out the different aspects of our experience – in ways that make them clearer and more accessible, both to ourselves and to other people.

More on the Value of Observations

I have found that observations offer two or more people the best possible chance of all connecting to a particular moment in time, which can be the starting point for fuller connection and understanding between us.

Which, in my experience, is the most solid foundation for constructive change.

“Test drive” an Observation

Think of a situation with another person that is not resolved and is still bothering you.

This step is really important, because this situation will serve as a guide to help you understand the other 3 building blocks.

Since I am not there with you in person to support you, it generally best supports your learning (and peace of mind) if the situation is relatively low in negative intensity – e.g., 1-3 on a scale from 0 (doesn’t bother you at all) to 10 (most distressing).

Next… The Second Building Block of Connection

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