The participants practice a short role play in a “ball-bearing” fashion and experience ways how to transfer violent into nonviolent and empathic communication.


  • to let students reflect on their way of behaviour in a conflict situation through role plays based on conflict situations the students have experienced or witnessed
  • to understand the key elements of nonviolent communication and empathy

Material needed

  • pens
  • paper


Make 2 concentric circles with chairs. Prepare pens and small papers.

Give students enough input on nonviolent communication and empathy for being ready to try out this constructive method, but not too much to paralyze them (tips: see further tips and resources at the bottom).

Step by step description

The activity is based on a short role-play in a “ball-bearing” fashion

Part 1:

There are 2 concentric circles, each chair in the inner circle face to face with another chair in the outer circle. Each participant writes down 2 – 3 sentences containing blame, reproach or criticism he/she has already used, experienced or witnessed in a real life situation.

The person in the inner circle (A) says one of the sentences written down beforehand and tells the person in the outer circle (B) in which role he/she should react to the statement (classmate, teacher, boss, wife, son or daughter etc.).

B has to react as he/she would presumably do in this role during a real life situation.

After 2 – 2,5 minutes the participants in the outer circle each take the seat to their left.

After 2 – 3 rotations – depending on the group size and timeframe – A and B swap seats so A becomes B and vice versa. Same procedure as before.

Part 2:

The exercise is repeated, but this time A and B both act and react in a way of non-violent communication and empathy. The problem issues however remain the same as in the previous circles.

Reflection with the students / questions for debriefing

  • What general feedback do the students have to this activity?
  • Which differences did the students realize between the session 1 (violent communication, absence of empathy) and session 2 (non-violent communication and empathy), both in their roles as “role-givers” and “role-takers”?
    • As “role-takers” (confronted with blame, reproach or criticism): What was the difference you noticed between circle 1 (violent communication, absence of empathy) and circle 2 (non-violent communication and empathy)?
    • As “role-givers” (expressing blame, reproach or criticism): What was the difference you noticed between circle 1 (violent communication, absence of empathy) and circle 2 (non-violent communication and empathy)?
  • What is non-violent communication? What is empathy? Let students collect and summarize key elements based on the previous experience made during the activity. Add further information if you feel it is useful to explain the characteristics of non-violent communication and empathy
  • Is there anything the students learned or realized from this activity?

Suggestions for adaptations and variations

Extension: Empathy exercise

In groups of 4 – 5 students each member of a group describes a situation in which he/she did something that was perceived by someone as motivated by bad intentions. By asking emphatically, the group tries to find out what the beneficial motive behind that action was. Each member has about 5 minutes, the exercise should not last longer than half an hour.

Reference / original source of the method

This activity was facilitated by Georg Tarne during his workshop „From Conflict to Cooperation – Nonviolent Communication in Practice“ at the aces Academy 2010 in Senec, Slovak Republic.

Further tips and resources

  • Principal work by the founder of the Nonviolent Communication Process (NVC): Rosenberg, Marshall: Nonviolent Communication. A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press, 2003.
  • Monthly TV show produced by a regional NVC association: (great for really getting a sense of what NVC in practice feels like and what difference it makes)
  • Website of the Center for Nonviolent Communication in America: