February 23rd, 2007

Some comments on the word “trainer”

For as long as I’ve been actively involved with NVC organizations (particularly our local one), I’ve had confusion and deep discomfort around use of the word “trainer”. There’s a strong dissonance between what I understand people to mean and what I understand of NVC consciousness & theory. I have two objections to the uses I’ve been hearing.

  • The word “trainer” is a label. I’d rather practice what I believe and teach about labeling. And when I run into difficulty expressing myself clearly & succinctly without labels, I’d rather go through the effort of retraining myself into new habits than reinforcing old ones. I made this effort with the Emergence vision. It was hard for me and well worthwhile. (I don’t like compromise.) Not only did I get the practice (and it gets easier every time), but I believe the document came out more clearly and concisely as a result. The reason I care about other NVC folks’ use of labeling is that I long for community support in deepening, integrating, and strengthening the new consciousness and habits. It’s easier for me to speak Jackal because I grew up with it, but not because Jackal is a more fitting language for what I want to communicate. With practice, Giraffe is becoming easier & easier. Statements like “it’s easier to label” (or clearer, more succinct, etc), “compromise is necessary”, or “violence is inevitable to resolve conflicts”, are self-fulfilling prophecies. More precise and life-connected would be “I have a habit of labeling, so I can do it with little conscious effort”.
  • I hear some (not all) NVC folks (included both labeled-in and labeled-out) consistently use the word “trainer” not in the simple & direct sense of the word as “one who trains”, but rather in an indirect sense of someone who is approved by others to train. Despite what I said above, I’m relatively comfortable with the direct usage of the word, as I hear it to be simply shorthand for saying what what a person does. I strongly dislike the implicit approval usage, because (a) it eliminates a simple word for a meaning I care a lot about, namely one who trains, and (b) it disguises the fact that external approval is involved. I’m highly suspicious of unconscious habits in relation to external approval systems, so I want language use to be very explicit in such a case, as support for us to live in partnership consciousness rather than domination.

I understand the implicit-approval usage of “trainer” as being in direct conflict with a deep teaching of Marshall’s. He shifts labeling language to relationship language, such as reflecting “That’s a terrible picture” into “Oh, you don’t like the picture?” I’ve heard him call that principle “Never let somebody in authority tell you what you are”. (For instance, “you’re a trainer”.) Marshall’s reframe counteracts the basic Amtsprache trick of using language that obscures personal connection and responsibility. As I understand Marshall’s teaching, applying or withholding the label “trainer” but really meaning approved-by-someone trainer is telling them what they are. I’d rather hear an observation or a feeling or a need. A more life-connected alternative might be “I trust that person to present NVC in a way I agree with.” Do you feel a difference?

Even saying “certified trainer” is still Jackal-speak in my understanding, in that it (a) labels what someone is rather than what they do, and (b) replaces a conscious & visible labeler (an NVC organization or assessor) with a statement of what someone is, by virtue of unspoken authority. The label and doesn’t say certified by whom. (For example, I’m certainly certified by myself and my students.) A clear observation would be “I heard that CNVC certified Suzy”. Still — yuck; I’d rather just remove my personal energy from the whole external approval mindset and focus on support, learning, evolution, and community.

I’ve wanted to raise awareness and promote change about these issues around in our local NVC organization. My first attempt was to model different word choices, avoiding the word “trainer” altogether, even in its relatively direct meaning of one who trains. I’m discouraged about this approach. Now I wonder if a more effective strategy to get the language shift I’m wanting is to simply use the word the way I want to use it (the direct & conventional English meaning of one who trains, i.e., do rather than be) and allow cognitive dissonance in others to help from there.

I have a request and an offer. The request is to let me know whether any of the above resonates with and inspires you and if you would like to join me in community around using practicing label-free, clear & succinct communication. Given my experience and interest, my offer is to work with you to eliminate labeling from your own communications while improving clarity & conciseness. My needs-payoff includes community, play, learning, and integrity (living what I believe).


4 Responses to “Some comments on the word “trainer””

  1. Sandy Fox Says:

    Aloha Conal,

    I would love to here more about this statement:
    “Now I wonder if a more effective strategy to get the language shift I’m wanting is to simply use the word the way I want to use it (the direct & conventional English meaning of one who trains, i.e., do rather than be) and allow cognitive dissonance in others to help from there.”

    1) What would the language sound like specifically?
    2) And when you say “allow cognitive dissonance in others” what do you see unfolding there?

  2. conal Says:

    Some examples:

    Statement: “The meeting is for trainers only.” Reply: “Fine. When would you like me to arrive?”
    “Here is the list of local NVC trainers: …”
    Statement: “Only trainers are allowed to post their classes on the web site”. Reply: “Thanks for the welcome. I’ll get right on it.”

    One might accuse the responder of “playing with words”. I like Marshall’s encouragement “never to do anything that isn’t play”.
    Surprise, confusion, false expectations, frustration over unexpected effort to make themselves clear. Starting to realize that the old speech habits aren’t working as well as they used to.

  3. Angela Harms Says:

    I’m coming in late, so I’m not sure the request and offer are still alive in you, but in case they are, here’s a response.

    Yes! Resonates, yes. I am so excited about the work you’re doing in helping NVC to be fully and completely NVC… without compromise, and the way you lovingly seek out places where we might have habits that conflict with the world we hope for. I feel such a sense of joy about it. So yes, it resonates, and thank you for putting this out there!

    And if you find yourself in a place where you want to help me grow in these things, I would love to learn from you. :)


  4. Newt Bailey Says:

    Enjoying the reminder. As someone whose “employment” consists purely of devoting time to NVC-related activities (teaching/training, mediating, facilitating) I’m often aware of discomfort answering “What do you do?” with “I’m an NVC trainer and mediator.” Happy to remind myself to describe what I do not what I am, even though I expect it to take a few more words. I also expect it will lead to more connection and understanding than the labels. Peace, Newt

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