Open Thinkering


Tag: workshop

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!

How to plan a workshop in 10 steps

I was helping someone plan a workshop today. While I was no expert in the content, it made me realise there’s a common structure I’ve come to use.

1. Briefly introduce the workshop leaders. You’ll demonstrate your expertise later, and presumably the attendees were impressed enough by your credentials to book a place.

2. Allow participants to say something. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but you could ask them to rank how they’re feeling out of 10, or finish the sentence, “if you really knew me, your know that…”

3. Get participants to do something. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but if you’re using a new tool later, this is a good, low-stakes opportunity to ensure everyone can access it. You could ask people to add a stick note to a physical wall or a Google Jamboard indicating what they’re hoping to get out of the workshop.

4. Go through the structure of the workshop. Explain what you’ll be covering, when the breaks are, etc. Ideally, link this back to the previous activity, outlining how the workshop will meet the participants’ requirements.

5. Provide some input. If you need to explain a concept, go through some theory, or otherwise lecture participants, do it now! Try to keep it to 15 mins, then stop for questions. If you’ve got two workshop leaders (always a good idea!) switch it you need to provide more input.

6. Stop for a 15 min break. Tailor the length of your breaks to the needs of your participants (accessibility, age, etc.) but give them at least 15 mins.

7. Practice. After asking for any further questions after the break* give participants a chance to practice what they’ve been taught. If there’s no immediately-obvious way to do this, break into pairs or small groups to discuss how they could apply what they’ve learned in their job/life.

8. Provide a space to park ideas and people. Deal with latecomers, off-topic ideas, and other miscellaneous things by having a ‘clinic’ breakout room and ‘Parking lot’ board.**

9. Check in after lunch. Ask people what they had to eat. Food is an easy way for a group to bond.

10. Ask participants to commit to next steps. If there’s a follow-up workshop, set homework. If there’s not, ask participants to commit to an action, and then follow up with them via email / social media / pigeon after a specified amount of time.

There’s plenty more workshop advice I could give, but I’ll stop there for now. Perhaps one more bit: although you should have dedicated Q&A time, there should never be a time when it’s not OK for participants to ask a question.

* always pause for longer than you think you need to (e.g. drink from a water bottle or coffee cup to prolong the pause)

** my friend Laura Hilliger calls this a ‘zombie garden’!

This post is Day 53 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at Posted in 100DaysToOffload

Weeknote 03/2020

I confess to almost forgetting to writing a weeknote this week. Thanks to Mike Cooke for the reminder! It’s funny how, when we’re nudged out of a routine, things can go sideways.

The main thing I did this week was go to Kuwait City to run a workshop for the AMICAL consortium on the strategic development of digital literacies. For a variety of reasons, I flew there on Tuesday, led the workshop on Wednesday, and flew back on Thursday.

Regular readers will know that, despite my efforts to eat well and keep fit, such stresses on my body don’t always end well. And so it was that on Thursday I succumbed to a cold, and then on Friday lunchtime, after a number of meetings for Moodle, I suffered from a migraine that knocked me sideways.

It’s my fault, of course. I should know better than to put myself through these things. It was the lack of sleep that got me, I think, but had I stuck around an extra day, my only option would have been to fly back at 3am local time. That wouldn’t have been ideal either.

The workshop went really well, and I was so pleased to meet such lovely people who were so receptive to the ideas I was sharing. I received some great feedback on everything from ambiguity to managing a workshop of around 25 people.

Kuwait City isn’t a place I’d hurry back to as a tourist, but I will say that the Lebanese food I had on Wednesday night was almost worth the trip in and of itself. Delightful.

I recorded a microcast for Thought Shrapnel about the workshop, as well as publishing an article about hierarchy, context, and ways we approach the question of how we should live. To this week’s roundup of links I added some comments, which I’ll continue to do if I can prioritise it.

Things are looking up for MoodleNet as the feeds (e.g. ‘My MoodleNet’) are now working. There’s still plenty to do, but I’ve worked closely with Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and CEO, on the roadmap and resourcing.

We’ve always had the code on GitLab, but now we’ve moved the issues there too. You can view the issue board for the current milestone here. As Product Manager, it’s my job to walk a fine line between idealism and pragmatism when it comes to choosing tools. Everyone seems happier so far.

I’ve responded to a couple of requests for work through We Are Open Co-op this week, both of which sound really interesting. I’m going to start getting stuck into some existing work that my colleagues are doing this next week.

Other than that, it’s ensuring everyone has what they need for MoodleNet, and starting to scope out a new e-book. I was going to revise and expand The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies but, instead, I’m considering one with a similar title as my AMICAL workshop using Leanpub.

The week after next I’m in Barcelona for Moodle meetings and then off to London for a co-op meetup. And no, I won’t be at BETT.

Photo taken by Dimitris Tzouris and shared on Twitter