Allan Rohlfs — My history with Marshall Rosenberg

Workshop given in 2015 by Allan Rholfs — Darmstadt, Germany

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

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!”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

From Private Practice in Clinical Psychology to Mediating in Desegragation

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.

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.

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 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.


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.


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 ?“

List of Feelings and Needs

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 …

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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


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.