Diversity Leadership Project provides a guide to learning life-enriching skills that facilitate a more humane, vibrant educational experience for high schools students across the country.
The need for diversity training in our schools has never been greater, particularly in terms of what competitive colleges are looking for from applicants. We designed Diversity Leadership Project programming and objectives based on the attributes and activities Ivy League universities look for most in applicants, according to a recent Harvard study.
There is no political or religious orientation or affiliation with Diversity Leadership Project. This is a transformative project that teaches communication and conflict resolution skills and includes:
• A language and consciousness of compassion that improves relationships at school and at home
• Practice in honest expression and empathic listening
• Skills to support dialogue and reduce conflicts in the face of judgment, criticism, and anger
• “Power with” strategies rather than “power over” strategies to manage student behavior
• A no-blame approach to the issue often labeled as bullying
The project was conceived to help students get into competitive colleges by exposing them to immersive training in nonviolent communication. The proposed curriculum borrows heavily from college diversity training courses that many incoming freshmen at top universities are required to take.
What is Nonviolent Communication and what role does it play in conflict resolution?
When we discuss conflict resolution skills, what we are talking about is a series of tactics and best practices that allow you to voice your opinion, express your interests, listen to others and find a mutually acceptable solution that defuses the dispute at hand. Conflicts are necessary and normal, but there are always nonviolent ways to deal with these disagreements.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC), sometimes called Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication, was developed in the 1960s by Marshall Rosenberg. Rosenberg sought to develop a way of talking, listening and discussing that encouraged peace instead of conflict.
Nonviolent Communication works because this type of conversation learns of and addresses the needs of both parties. It offers an empathetic, compassionate, and nonviolent way of understanding one another and reaching common ground. It is a powerful tool, defusing potentially violent situations and fostering effective dialogues.
When we listen with compassion, seek understanding and communicate our authentic needs, we can bridge gaps between combating peers, help unite communities and even prevent international conflicts. With the right communications skills, we can engender healing between diverse groups.
There are four components of Nonviolent Communication you need to understand:
1. Observation. Observing the situation without judgement or evaluation
Articulate what you see and how it affects others without evaluating or applying your opinion. Simply state the facts. “The room is loud.”
2. Feelings. Determine how you feel about what you see
Consider your personal feelings about what you see, and put a name to the emotions you feel. “It is difficult for me to study.”
3. Needs. Link your emotions to the need, value or desire that causes them
All emotions are driven by a need, value or desire. You cannot work toward a mutually agreeable solution unless you can identify this underlying cause of your emotions. “I am afraid I will not do well on the Spanish test.”
4. Requests. Requesting a concrete action that will address your need, value or desire
“Would you mind speaking a little more softly?”
As you practice the communications techniques in this book more and more, you will learn to express these four key components in a clear and concise manner. You will also learn to listen actively and get these same four things from others. When you listen for feeling and need behind each statement instead of spending your time trying to determine if you agree or disagree, there is a much better chance you can reach common ground.
Practice these skills with a partner, and use the lines for journaling to reflect on what you’ve learned.
Feelings Differ from Thoughts
Often, our judgments and negative feelings toward others masquerade a feelings. Nonviolent Communication teaches us that words like attacked, disappointed, rejected, and betrayed are our interpretations of what WE thinks others are doing to us and not true authentic feelings. ADD MORE
Needs Differ from Strategies
Expressing needs in a respectful way is essential to communicating effectively. If we are unable to effectively express our needs, the more effective we are at conveying our message and reaching a peaceful resolution.
Requests Differ from Demands
When we make a request, it is important to make sure it is not interpreted as a demand. If there is a repercussion or consequence when a course of action is rejected or not followed, then it was a demand and not request.
Write a blog or make a video blog about a time you defused a tense situation or when communication solved a conflict. Your local newspaper and international news websites are good sources, if you need more inspiration.
What do I need to know about stereotype, diversity and bias?
Even before you were born, your parents probably picked pink things if you are a girl and blue items for boys. You probably grew up with “girl’s toys” or “boy’s toys.” These are stereotypes. While these are fairly harmless – and you may have even played with toys designed for the opposite gender – some stereotypes are detrimental.
Take a few minutes to brainstorming and make a list of “-isms.” Think of all the ways people categorize others in order to stereotype them or discriminate against them. Consider not only race and sex, but all the things that could make a person feel like an outcast. Compare your list with others, and see how many you can name.
All of us have, at some point, experienced discrimination or otherwise been outcast. Remember how this made you feel, and reflect on it in the journaling section of this lesson.
As early as age two or three, we begin to develop our racial identity and our attitudes toward those different from us. By preschool, children can identify boys and girls based on clothing and hairstyles, notice obvious physical disabilities, and are curious about skin color and differences in hair texture. By kindergarten, we are well-aware of ethnic and/or religious identity. We understand how we fit into our own groups, and compare and contrast our identity with that of others from other groups.
As teens, you’ve probably had discussions about bias, diversity, discrimination, and social equity in class or with your friends. Sometimes, though, it is hard to recognize our own bias. Take a minute or two to reflect and make a list of your personal biases. You do not have to share this with anyone, so be as honest as you can with yourself.
Bias can lead to bullying and other conflicts. The good news is, as we become aware of our bias and learn more about diversity, we can unlearn or reverse these assumptions made about others.
Williamson County, Nashville and Middle Tennessee offer a wealth of diverse cultures, ethnicities and religions. By exposing yourself to other cultures, you can help break down your biases and expand your base of friends.
Some of the ways you can experience diversity in your community include:
• Visit informative multi-cultural websites
• Read international news sources. Learn many points of view as possible on the same story
• Attend cultural events
• Read books based in other cultures and about others who are not like you
• Talk to the owners of ethnic restaurants when you visit. Many are immigrants, and can share a lot about their culture and their traditions. Many will even offer you a more traditional dish or serving style.
The key to learning about and experiencing diversity lies in learning to observe without evaluating, judging or comparing in a negative light. Other cultures are not better or worse than yours, simply different.
Find a few news stories that have themes about diversity, stereotypes and bias. Especially focus on stories that highlight bias, and when someone is able to overcome these hurdles. Write a blog or make a video about someone affected by bias, or who stood up to bias. Alternatively, consider how understanding diversity and bias can help teens address bullying both individually and institutionally.
How do inequities contribute to conflict?
Inequities and bias contribute to many of the major social issues we face in our community today, as well as to the conflicts that occur both locally and internationally. By applying our understanding of other cultures, our conflict resolution skills and using Nonviolent Communications techniques, we may be able to brainstorm and develop effective actions to address the inequities.
As an example, imagine you are a part of a service project that delivers food to a homeless camp. When you think about this population from a social equity perspective, you will notice there are several major “-isms” in place that create a major stigma and bias.
This stigma and bias can lead to unfair housing practices, difficulty getting a job and many other problems that perpetuate their situation. Can you think of any solutions that might help eliminate this stigma and help this population overcome the bias that keeps them living on the streets? Reflect on this in the journaling section of your book.
Write a blog or make a video about a social equity issue that interests you. Look into what is currently being done to address the issue, and perhaps begin brainstorming additional solutions.
How can I build effective communication skills?
Being polite is not always enough to defuse anger. While “being nice” is important, being an effective communicator is key for conflict resolution.
Communication should facilitate information-sharing, help you see things from another perspective, and foster genuine understanding. Effective communication allows you to resolve conflicts in a collaborative fashion, rather than escalating to anger or violence.
In addition to the components of Nonviolence Communication you learned in Lesson One, three of the keys to effective communication include:
Active listening is an important part of showing others you respect them and care about their point of view. Without active listening you cannot fully engage the other party. There is no Nonviolent Communication or conflict resolution without active listening.
• Encourage the speaker to continue and let them know you hear them using with nonverbal cues, such as shaking your head yes, smiling and making positive gestures.
• Check for understanding by restating what they said in your own words.
• Acknowledge their emotions and fears by reflecting them back.
iMessaging probably means something different to you, but there is another type of I-message you need to know about. I-messages allow you to state your point of view without blaming. You can use them to de-escalate tense situations and facilitate mutually beneficial solutions.
There are four parts to an I-message:
• State the situation without judgement
• Say how you feel
• Explain the fear behind your emotion
• Ask for what you need
As you can see, the parts of an I-message are exactly the same as the four components of Nonviolent Communication. The key here is to remember to focus on your emotions and your fears instead of blaming or pointing fingers.
Search for Win-Win Solutions
Win-win resolutions of conflicts leave all parties feeling satisfied with the outcome. They are the best possible solution in a tense situation, and are the ultimate goal of Nonviolent Communication and conflict resolution. When one person wins and another loses, the disparity continues. To arrive at a win-win solution, you will need to use effective communication, active listing and sometimes collaborative negotiation.
Take a few minutes to act our poor listening and active listening with a partner. While you are the one talking, practice your Nonviolent Communication techniques. Chose a current event and discuss your feelings using I-messages. Then, break into groups and use your skills in a role-playing situation to resolve a conflict.
• Relationship issues
• Sibling disputes
• Fights with friends
• Arguments with parents
Write a blog or make a video about how you
What about negative messages?
It is a common tenant of modern communication that we try to analyze fault and assign blame when faced with strong emotions. We point fingers instead of expressing our emotions, fears and needs. When we state our needs, it opens up the possibility of finding a middle ground.
It is also important to recognize that others do not cause your feelings. Instead, your feelings stem from how you choose to receive what they say or do. We make this decision based on our own fears, values and desires, as well as our expectations in the moment.
This means our feelings are our responsibility. We must acknowledge our own needs, desires, expectations and values that drive them. Every time we face a negative message, we have four options:
1. Choose to take it personally, and accept the other person’s judgment
2. Blame the speaker and increase the tension
3. Bring our own feelings and needs to the forefront
4. Listen to the other person’s feelings and needs as they express them
How can I change my habit of aggressive responses?
Many of us react with aggression when confronted, fearing embarrassment, loss of standing among our peers or any number of other possible negative outcomes. By learning Nonviolent Communications techniques and conflict resolution skills, you are taking steps toward developing new options for how you respond to disagreements or other tense situations.
The more you exercise your new skills – even in practice – the more self-discipline you will develop. You can break your habit of aggressive responses, and feel confident even in situation where you previously felt helpless.
When you find yourself in a highly volatile situation:
1. Keep a cool head. Remember the skills you have learned, and take a deep breath. You are in control.
2. Observe the situation without judgement. Determine what your problem is, and consider possible solutions.
3. Consider your own point of view. How your current state of mind may affect it? Are you hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? What are you feeling? What is driving that emotion? What do you need? Use Nonviolent Communication and I-Messages to ask for what you need.
4. Listen actively. Consider the other person’s point of view, and try to find a win-win situation that pleases you both.
Break up into pairs and take a few minutes to develop a short skit that demonstrates this process. Any practice you get will help you in a real-life situation.
Make a video or write a blog about a time when approaching a situation with a calm head defused the situation. Consider historical events, news items and even times in your own life.
What are some good techniques for reducing interpersonal conflict?
To reduce conflict, you need create an environment that is collaborative rather than competitive. This turns you and the opposing party from enemies into mutual benefactors. It also lets you see a difference of opinion as an opportunity for growth and seeing someone from another person’s point of view, in the same way learning about diverse cultures does.
There are four keys to creating this type of environment:
1. Wait to talk until you can think clearly and tempers cool, if possible. Choose a neutral place to sit down, and make it as comfortable as possible for both of you.
2. Talk it out using the skills you’ve learned. Each party states their viewpoint and needs. Use active listening, and ask questions that help the other party reframe the conflict as a problem you can solve together.
3. Make a list of possible solutions. Do not judge any ideas, simply write them down. Keep brainstorming until you reach a few solutions you could both agree on.
4. Choose one of the solution. Agree to try one of the solutions. If it does not work, you can always return to the table and consider another idea.
It is important to note that Nonviolent Communication suggests all requests should use positive language when making a request. You always want to request a positive action from the other party, as opposed to what you don’t want them to do. For example, you would ask that students being loud in the library “speak in lower voices” instead of “stop talking.”
How can I get involved?
Service learning projects are a great way to learn more about your community and explore how you can use your new skills to impact the lives of others and help the greater good.
The Alliance for Service Learning in Educational Reform (ASLER) characterizes service learning experiences as those that:
• Meet community needs
• Involve collaboration with school and community
• Are integrated into the student’s academic curriculum
• Provide structured time for students to think, talk, and write about what they did and observed during the service activity
• Provide young people with opportunities to use academic skills and knowledge in real life
• Extend students’ learning beyond the classroom
• Foster the development of a sense of caring for other
Some ways to learn about local projects you can help with include:
• Ask about programs and clubs in your school that do service projects.
• Get together with a group of friends and brainstorm your own service project
• Read your local newspaper and look for information on projects that need volunteers
• Contact leaders of community and civic groups and charitable organizations to discuss ways you can help with service projects
Aren’t sure what you might be interested in doing? Try these on for size:
Work with children. Consider clubs and groups that serve elementary or middle school classes. You can act as a mentor or tutor. The local library, churches and other community groups may offer options.
Work with peers. Peer counseling and support projects … Teen suicide hotline, topical stuff
Work with senior citizens. There are a lot of stereotypes of both teens and senior citizens, however, these stereotypes are often easily overcome once you meet and work together one-on-one.
Consider a health-related project. Health fairs, YMCA’s ABC program, AIDS charities, drug education,
Get involved in a social action project. Consider getting involved and using your skills for social justice. Volunteer for a voter registration drive, help with solutions for homelessness more topical here
Take part in a service learning project, and write a blog or make a video about your experience.
Putting it into Practice
A very important part of Nonviolent Communication is the recognition that you have a choice at every moment during a conflict. Even if you choose not to intervene, you are making a choice. Whether you chose to act or not to act, you make a choice.
When you are fighting or encounter a conflict, choose to have empathy. Choose to listen actively. Choose to use the techniques you’ve learned.
When you engage the skills you’ve learned through the Diversity Leadership Project, the other person feels like their voice is being heard. You are listening without passing judgment on you, without offering advice or giving reassurance. And they recognize you respect them, and feel good because of your acknowledgement.
This is a much better approach than a combative situation where you try to force a “fix” on another person. By focusing our attention and truly listening to others needs and requests, we can forge a connection and defuse the situation.