nonviolent communication

The Bison in the Room


By Noor Alexander

My boyfriend, Bernie and I are just wrapping up a visit to Destin, Florida with one of his historical friends I’ve just been introduced to, who he warned me in advance was unusual and a character. I got to experience this side of him, and one way that happened was through my shock when we arrived at his friend’s house during our second evening together for our pre-arranged dinner plans (just him and us) – only to discover he had already eaten with other guests and left some bare bison leftovers for us. When we arrived at his home a little earlier than we said, Dick greeted us with (what appeared to me) a cold, aloof look on his face and suggested we could grill more bison if we wanted to. I really didn’t know how to take it all in; I was in disbelief; I felt like I was in a movie or unreal dream. As I was noticing all that was coming up for me – feeling shocked, confused, angry – I simultaneously felt pressure or expected to – given social rules – to put on an open, friendly mask and turn my social graces on. However, I wasn’t in that space. I was present with my anger and confusion because I needed clarity, communication, understanding. In exchanging eyes with Bernie, I could tell his face communicated, “WTF?” Allowing Bernie to speak with Dick and his guests, I excused myself to use the restroom and begin to take the whole spectacle in. At one point, I waved to my boyfriend to join me in the bathroom, where we briefly discussed our responses to the situation, and he shared that he was choosing not to react.

A little later, when I heard the guests getting up to leave, I felt this was a good time to enter back and ask Dick about the whole situation. So, I did. Granted, I didn’t know him well (having just met him the day before), but I do know myself and attuning to my own feelings and needs is a new practice of conscious self-care for me. I was aware I was feeling outraged, hurt, and disappointed because I needed respect, clarity, communication, understanding, and resolution.

Then, I put myself in his shoes to help me make sense of my confusion, and I speculated that he may have been feeling upset, disappointed, and let down because he may have been wanting more inclusion and connection time with us. I also guessed he may have felt disappointed because he expected to hang out with us the previous evening and that the dinner time we proposed was too late for him. As I’m writing this, I’m aware how much hurt and suffering can be caused when there is a discrepancy between one’s expectations and the reality of a situation, or when we don’t communicate our expectations or wants by expressing our feelings and needs clearly and in a way that advocates and truly stands up for ourselves. That was my experience of Dick, and that is also how I used to be. I am choosing differently now.

Subsequently, I chose to speak my truth and address the situation head-on rather than simply partake in the small talk because I needed authentic communication and wanted connection. Dick appeared uncomfortable and quickly steered the conversation in a different direction. Feeling unmet and resolute in my intention, I chose to nudge further and inquire whether he was maybe feeling upset or disappointed about the night before and our proposal to meet a little later for dinner; Dick then hesitantly and uncomfortably acknowledged that that had played a role, and admitted that he was being passive-aggressive.

Sometimes, it takes patience, resilience, and a commitment to connection.

We both hastily apologized for the impact and miscommunication, and though I wasn’t entirely satisfied, I was reminded that making space for unmet needs is important and an expression of compassion – and that, I can offer myself self-empathy to attend to some of my residual unresolved feelings and needs, which was self-supportive.

Overall, our expectations of a solo dinner with Dick on Saturday did not meet the reality of how things unfolded. Taking a bird’s eye view, I find the entire experience now somewhat amusing and a lesson in taking in information…


Experiencing Dick in this challenging way allowed me to eventually connect to our shared values of inclusion and connection and to appreciate his preference for eating early. Accepting the reality as it happened, while integrating my guesses of his feelings and needs, is what I am gathering and taking away to inform me how to better show up next time in a more mutually enriching and connecting way.

After addressing “the bison by the horns”, I noticed a shift in Dick –  he offered to grill us some meat, suddenly became more host-like, and the conversation that followed was pleasant. Together, Bernie, Dick, and I ended up really enjoying the bison burgers and hot dogs (my first ever!), after the “bison in the room” had finally been addressed.