There is no doubt that we all have a desire to feel understood, be seen and accepted for who we are, and to feel connection and intimacy. And one of the most important ways to achieve this is through open, honest and authentic communication.
That sounds nice doesn’t it? But how many of us have actually been taught anything much about effective communication that builds connection, especially during conflict? I’m guessing very few.
This is where nonviolent communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg PhD, comes in.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC): An overview
The sole aim of nonviolent communication is connection.
This is achieved by respectfully & honestly expressing ourselves and also compassionately giving what we can to the other person out of a genuine act of giving – rather than doing it out of a sense of responsibility, guilt or fear.
‘Nonviolent Communication’ is a 4-step process that gives you time to think and choose your words mindfully, with a genuine desire to give to the other person and create quality connections.
Every word spoken and action done under nonviolent communication serves the purpose of contributing to both the wellbeing of ourselves and to others.
- As a guide, nonviolent communication can help us improve the way we express ourselves and the way we listen to others.
- The words we use become conscious responses, as opposed to automatic reactions, which can often be emotive, thoughtless and insensitive.
- These conscious responses are based firmly on what we perceive, what we feel, recognising and acknowledging our needs, and politely making requests.
- This creates a safe and loving setting for communication, which allows us to express ourselves more fully and also be more empathetic to the other person.
The Nonviolent Communication process
There are four components of the Nonviolent Communication model: 1) observation, 2) feelings, 3) needs and 4) requests.
These interconnected steps allow us to identify and articulate our needs and feelings in a way that is free of judgment, blame, criticism or other negative connotations.
Step 1 – Observing
First, we observe what is going on around the situation. We only focus on what we can objectively perceive, i.e. the facts. We ignore any feelings we might have at this stage.
Generally it is difficult for us to make an observation without also making an evaluation, which often involves judgement and assumptions. So when we raise an issue, we then tend to express an implication based on our evaluation rather than being objective and sticking to the facts.
When this happens, the receiver of our message may focus more on the implied message brought about by the evaluation, and not just the objective observation itself.
Of course, the implied message can also come from the context of the comments and how many times an issue has already been discussed.
- As an example, your observation may be: “On your last evaluation, you scored 95%,” instead of “You scored a lot higher on your last evaluation.”
- Another example would be saying: “On our last grocery shop, we spent $257,” instead of “Do you realise we spent over $250 on groceries again?”
The first statements are objective observations with no point of comparison. They’re concrete and specific. The second statements, on the other hand, include an evaluation of what constitutes “a lot higher” with a possible implied message of disappointing or not good enough. And “over $250 … again” with a possible implied message of failing or unacceptable.
Step 2 – Feelings
There may be times when we think we’re feeling something, when in fact, we’re filtering the actions of others through our belief system and our feelings are often really thoughts and judgements.
For example, you may say something like:
- “I feel rejected” – I am probably feeling broken-hearted
- “I’m feeling unsupported” – I’m probably feeling overwhelmed, panicky or depleted
- “I feel attacked” – I am probably feeling scared or vulnerable
For nonviolent communication it is important to focus on your feeling state – happy, sad, confused, worried, agitated, lonely, exasperated, etc – because you are more likely to create connection with the other person and elicit an empathetic response.
For the examples from Step 1, you might say:
- “I feel concerned about your latest review.”
- “I feel worried about our expenses.”
Step 3 – Needs
In relation to what we have observed and what we feel about the situation, we must then recognise and acknowledge our needs that are not being met.
This is actually quite tricky for many people as we’re often not clear about our own needs. This can be due to growing up fulfilling other people’s needs, such as parents, teachers and friends. And then as an adult fulfilling the needs of your boss, partner or children.
This applies equally for men and women, especially if you have a strong sense of responsibility or obligation to your family, employer and friends.
Just ask yourself for a moment: Do I feel like my needs matter? Can I express my needs? Do I really know what my needs are?
When you’re making a statement that expresses your needs, it’s important to remove any blame towards others.
- For instance, in our second example, you may be inclined to say: “You make it hard for me by spending so much money. I need you to stop.” This is a blaming statement, and will likely cause more conflict.
- Instead, try saying something like: “I have a need for financial security and stability.”
To help identify your needs, read this article on the 7 universal needs
Step 4 – Requests
The final step of the nonviolent communication process is about making a request to have your needs met, and accepting that the person has the right to refuse.
Most of the time in relationships we expect our partners to change to meet our needs without respecting their needs or acknowledging that they may have different values from us around certain issues.
Ultimately, it is your responsibility to meet your needs, whether you change something yourself, ask your partner for support or ask a family member or friend for support.
- So, in our example, you might be tempted to say: “You really need to change your spending habits.”
- However, I wonder what response you might get if you were to say: “Would you be willing to discuss our expenses and create a budget together that meets both our needs?”
Of course there is going to need to be a negotiation of sorts, but aim to be specific in your request – the time, place, topic for discussion, length of discussion etc.
There may be times when you can’t find any middle ground and appear to go round and round the same topic. This is when it’s important to go back to sharing your feelings. You’ll need to gauge if it’s time to stop the conversation and then agree to discuss it again one or two days later.
Nonviolent communication is very helpful for conflict situations, however it’s wonderful to practise and use in your everyday life.
The next time you’re in a conversation with someone, keep in mind the four steps of nonviolent communication:
- Observe and state the facts
- Acknowledge and express your emotions
- Recognise your unmet needs
- Make a request to help fulfil those needs (understanding that the other person has a right to refuse)
These days, with the influence of smart phones and social media, our communication is often abbreviated to the point that we leave much to the interpretation of the receiver.
This is the root of miscommunication, and it has the potential to disrupt all of our relationships. This is especially true if you desire to create meaningful, intimate connections.
I encourage you to take the time to express yourself through nonviolent communication and, better still, do a NVC course with your partner or friends.
Learn to express yourself more fully to really enrich your relationships – especially your intimate relationships. Life is too short for miscommunications due to clipped sentences that express less than half of what we want to convey.
Wishing you wonderful and truly connected & intimate relationships!
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