Open Thinkering


Tag: Outlandish

FONT and Nonviolent Communication

It’s only Wednesday and I’ve had a couple of occasions this week to refer to Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the FONT framework that I learned in workshops run by Outlandish. I’d highly recommend that you also attend their Reframing Conflict sessions.

I’m publishing this post so that I’ve got something to point people towards during conversations in which I reference FONT and NVC.

Let’s begin by defining terms:

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is an approach to communication based on principles of nonviolence. It is not a technique to end disagreements, but rather a method designed to increase empathy and improve the quality of life of those who utilize the method and the people around them.


NVC is a communication tool with the goal of firstly creating empathy in the conversation. The idea is that once there is empathy between the parties in the conversation, it will be much easier to talk about a solution which satisfies all parties’ fundamental needs. The goal is interpersonal harmony and obtaining knowledge for future cooperation. Notable concepts include rejecting coercive forms of discourse, gathering facts through observing without evaluating, genuinely and concretely expressing feelings and needs, and formulating effective and empathetic requests.


I have to be honest, I thought this was some real hippy-dippy stuff when I first read it. But the FONT framework in particular changed my mind. As Pete Burden and Abi Handley explain:

“FONT” is not a single model – it is a bricolage; it draws on:

Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, Gervase Bushe’s Clear Language, Thomas Gordon’s work on I-statements and requests.

Ideas from several people (such as Bill Isaacs and Diana McLain Smith) at the MIT Dialogue and Harvard Negotiation projects ; David Grove’s Clean Language; Agazarian and Simon’s System for Analysing Verbal Interaction (SAVI™); Bill Torbert’s collaborative enquiry.

And work by Arnold Mindell, Bob Kegan, Carl Rogers, David Cooperrider, David Kantor, Douglas Stone, Lisa Lahey, Mary Follett, Reg Revans, Robert Plutchik, Stephen Hayes, Susan Wheelan, Richard Schwartz and many, many more.

So what is it? How does it work?

FONT framework: Feelings, Observations, Needs, and Thoughts

FONT is an easy way to remember the four constituent parts, but when you use this as an approach, you actually use it in this order:

  • Observations — what actually happened, without emotion
  • Thoughts — what you think about the situation
  • Feelings — how that made you feel
  • Needs — what you need or want from the situation

Since I attended the workshop, I’ve used this approach in both professional and personal conflict situations. Sometimes I’ve done it verbally, starting with “I noticed that…” whereas other times I’ve gone through the FONT process in written form to prepare me for a potentially-awkward conversation.

Step-by-step approach

Step 1: Observe the situation objectively — focus on the specific behaviour that’s causing the issue, rather than making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. For example, if a colleague is frequently interrupting you during meetings, observe that behaviour without making any assumptions about their intentions or motivations.

Step 2: State your thoughts — try and articulate what you are thinking or have noticed in an uncontroversial way. For example, you could say to your colleague, “I notice that you often have a lot that you want to communicate during meetings.”

Step 3: Identify your feelings — are you feeling frustrated, angry, or upset? By identifying your emotions, you can communicate more effectively and avoid becoming defensive or confrontational. For example, you might say “I feel frustrated when you interrupt me during meetings because I want to make sure my ideas are heard.”

Step 4: Articulate your needs — what do you need in order to feel more comfortable or productive in the situation? This is an opportunity to express your needs in a positive and constructive way. For example, you might say “I need to have uninterrupted speaking time during meetings so that I can share my ideas and feel heard.”

Step 5: Make a request — this is an opportunity to ask for what you need in a constructive and positive way. For example, you might say “can we agree that everyone will have an opportunity to speak uninterrupted during our meetings?”

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that “I noticed that…” is a bit of a magic phrase. For example, there are cars which travel too fast down the 20mph street next to my house. I tend to get annoyed at this and have a tendency to shout at the drivers, but my neighbour has a better approach. He smiles, asks them to wind down their window, and says something like, “I noticed that you seemed to be in a hurry?” His going on to explain that the road has a 20mph speed limit feels overall like a less confrontational approach.

In closing, one of the things I’ve learned during my career to date is that coercion and manipulation tends is a hallmark of hierarchical and paternalist organisations. We can do without it:

Nonviolent Communication holds that most conflicts between individuals or groups arise from miscommunication about their human needs, due to coercive or manipulative language that aims to induce fear, guilt, shame, etc. These “violent” modes of communication, when used during a conflict, divert the attention of the participants away from clarifying their needs, their feelings, their perceptions, and their requests, thus perpetuating the conflict.


People may bristle at the accusation that many of our ‘normal’ ways of communication tend to be violent but, it’s worth thinking about adding the FONT framework and nonviolent communication techniques to our toolboxes. I think my family, friends, and colleagues would still say I’m perhaps a little too quick to anger, but at least I now have tools to defuse situations that would previously feel out of my control!

Weeknote 01/2021

Whew. As someone, somewhere pointed out this week, we know doomscrolling is bad for us, but the doom has been top-notch recently, hasn’t it?

Welcome to 2021.

People standing behind a wall, tentatively pushing open a door marked '2021' using a large stick.

I’m back, well-rested, with plenty of energy and optimism for the new year. Taking three weeks off work at the end of 2020 was magnificent. If I can, I’m going to do it every year. And it would seem that I’m going to need that reservoir of energy and optimism. All of it.

This week, like most people who still have jobs or some form of paid income, I’ve been returning to work. I took things easy on Monday and Tuesday and then, because there’s a million projects and the world is on fire, dialled that up for the rest of the week.

My areas of focus have been:

  • Getting set up with a Catalyst-funded project I’ll be project managing. It’s a collaboration between Dynamic Skillset and Bay Digital to help three charities with a ‘sector challenge’ to help remove barriers to remote claiming of Universal Credit.
  • Re-establishing convivial relations with my We Are Open colleagues. Thankfully, the members who were the cause of the tension I’ve mentioned in passing over the last few months, resigned.
  • Getting back up-to-speed with Outlandish projects and people. I participated in a workshop about the (bright!) future for SPACE4 and helped with a lightning talk about Building OUT.
  • Helping with We Are Open and Outlandish bids to Catalyst for some more funding to help with a ‘Definition’ phase for various cohorts of charities.
  • Ensuring that my wife and kids have everything they need for successful remote learning.

In terms of the last point, I’m back on Twitter and noticed so many parents struggling with their technical setup. So I created a Twitter thread to help give some tips to alleviate wifi drop-outs and other problems. I hope it proves handy for people, as it was a useful distraction for me after waking up at 05:15 on Saturday morning…

With all of that energy and optimism I’ve written a bunch of things. Here, I published:

…and over at Thought Shrapnel (🔗 = link posts)

Team Belshaw is fine, thanks for asking. We put our house on the market on 19th December which was only a few days before lockdown here in the UK. So, although we have had a couple of live viewings, we’ve created a video tour to share via our estate agent. It might seem mad to want to move during a pandemic, and our house is lovely, but life goes on.

I’m continuing to exercise, despite not being able to get to the gym and it being very slippy out due to the inconvenience that is winter. I’m running when I can, despite some (suspected) tendonitis. I’d forgotten how useful Twitter is for asking people about stuff like this: it appears I probably tie the laces on my running shoes too tightly! Over and above that I’ve been on the exercise bike and going for walks with the family.

I’m not going to comment here too much on the self-coup / insurrection / whatever you want to call it in the US on Wednesday. Next time, as I mentioned on Mastodon, ‘protesters’ will be well-armed and actually have a plan. This is a mere foreshadowing of future events in the US and elsewhere.

We can (and should) wring out hands about digital literacies, about political education and civics, but the elephant in the room here is the role that social networks have played in enabling fascism. It’s the right thing to do to kick Trump off major social networks, but it’s too little, too late. Deplatforming is important, but we need more than that to stem the rising tide of disinformation and radicalisation.

Anyway, next week, the Catalyst project I mentioned above gets started, and will take ~3 days/week for the next 11 weeks. So I need to prioritise the most impactful work I can do through We Are Open and Outlandish, and use all of that energy and optimism to good effect!

Weeknote 43/2020

Eroded cliff face (Cresswell, Northumberland,)

This has been a good week. Among other things both at work and outside it, the highlight perhaps came on Friday morning when I went for a run.

Picture the scene: I get my running gear on, head downstairs, pick up my phone and open the Spotify app. It notifies me there’s a new album out by Faithless. I stretch, and start my run just as the sun is beginning to rise.

As I run the bypass route around Morpeth, the sky changes from purple to pink to orange to yellow, while a magnificent sonic landscape emerges, and my endorphins surge. Perfect.

In parenting news this week, we confiscated my son’s smartphone for a week due to his consistent, albeit reasonably low-level, flouting of family rules. When he persisted a bit, I banned him from the PlayStation for the weekend as well.

The above isn’t usually something I’d share here, but I watched The Social Dilemma this week, and thought it was so good that I watched it with my son at the weekend. Although the whole thing is a warning about the dystopian mess we’ve got ourselves into, it was nevertheless gratifying to see my own position vindicated.

Not only have I retreated from mainstream social media, but I’ve also insisted that our children go nowhere near it either. Their screen time is limited, especially compared to other kids their age. I wasn’t surprised to learn via The Social Dilemma that the those involved in Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. do likewise. I remember reading that Steve Jobs was particularly zealous in that regard.

I wrote a rare post on my blog about this after watching the film, which I entitled Notification literacy? Being very intentional and strict about notifications is, I think, the single most important thing you can do to improve your (and your children’s) relationship with their devices.

The funny thing is that, after a few days away from his phone, my son (as usual) finds other things to do, and is generally just a much nice teenager to be around. Funny, that.

On this blog I wrote:

Meanwhile, on Thought Shrapnel, I published:

On the work front, this was the final week collaborating with a cohort of nine charities as part of the Catalyst Discovery programme we’ve been funded to work with over the last month. It’s been great, and they’ve all really enjoyed it too, giving us fantastic feedback and all rating We Are Open Co-op as either a 9 or a 10 out of 10 in terms of an NPS score.

Other work has included a bit of work on a new Greenpeace project, mainly reading and suggesting ideas while Laura is away. She’s leading the project, but is currently away for a couple of weeks, sailing around the Mediterranean with her husband and scuba diving. Not that I’m in any way jealous.

The third bit of work I’ve been doing is to continue helping Outlandish with productisation and their new Building OUT programme. The sweet spot between the two is the playbook I’ve started helping them with, demonstrating how they add value to organisations by sharing the resources they use internally and with clients.

It’s half-term for our kids now, and we’ve booked a couple of nights away next weekend just over the border in Scotland. We’re on the verge of a Tier 3 lockdown in the North East of England due to the pandemic and numbers rising in certain areas. If those restrictions are introduced, we won’t be able to go, so fingers crossed!

If we do get to go, I’ll be taking Friday off, but either way I’ll be taking it a bit easier next week to hang out with my family and decompress after a reasonably-intense few weeks.

Image from the cliffs near Cresswell, Northumberland, where I took my laptop to work on Wednesday morning. There’s a lot of fossils around there!