Nonviolent Communication

Lately there have been a lot of heated… hmmm… I really wanted to use the word “discussions” but since most haven’t remotely resembled a discussion (an act or instance of discussing; consideration or examination by argument, comment, etc., especially to explore solutions) I suppose rants, diatribes, lectures would be more appropriate. Which is all fine and dandy if you don’t want anyone to listen but most people want to be heard when they open their mouths. So if your end goal is truly to be understood then prepare yourself to learn to speak and listen (because listening is equally important as how you speak) in a way that will accomplish that. And if you just want to rant maybe do that at home alone because no one’s listening anyway.

Why This is Sooooooo Hard

Our egos. Those darn things have been getting in the way since well before Freud. We have a compulsive desire to be right. That’s what feeds the ego. The problem with that is there are actually very few facts in this world so we’re frequently trying to be right with opinions, which if you go back to elementary school is technically impossible. So we spin our wheels and get nowhere.

But I'm Right

We can argue all kinds of philosophies and universal truths until we’re blue in the face but there are always exceptions to every rule. Think death penalty, war, abortion, veganism. All involve perceived death in some form and yet there is no universal consensus as to when it’s okay to kill and when it isn’t. Even when most agree with a universal truth those who disagree typically are the ones not listening when we'd like them to.

Nonviolent Communication

This is where the concept of nonviolent communication (NVC) comes into play. It was honed by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Phd who asserts that this communication technique contains nothing new. However, the simplistic way in which he lays it out makes it very user friendly. He and many others have used NVC to teach people to resolve smaller disputes as well as promote peaceful resolutions in war torn countries all over the world. If leaders in countries that have been at war for decades find some use in this technique then there’s no reason we can’t all give it a go.

How to Do It

There are four parts to this that are used both in speaking and listening and reflecting/validating (Examples all relate to the same situation):

Observations: These are the indisputable facts (things we can see, hear, touch, taste, smell), not our judgements or evaluations.

Speaking: What I observe (see, hear, remember, imagine, free from my evaluations) that does or does not contribute to my well-being: "When I hear you tell me that you will pick me up at 6:00pm and don't show up until 7:00pm..." 

Listening: What you observe (see, hear, remember, imagine, free from your evaluations) that does or does not contribute to your well-being: "When you are an hour late to pick me up due to being stuck in a traffic accident..." 

Feelings: These are emotions or sensations, free of thoughts and stories. "I feel like this isn’t fair" isn’t an actual feeling. Neither are words typically used as feelings but instead convey what we think we are (e.g., "inadequate"), how we think we’re being evaluated (e.g., "unimportant"), or what we think others are doing to us (e.g., "misunderstood", "ignored"). Actual feelings reflect whether we are experiencing our needs as met or unmet and are expressed with words such as happy, sad, angry, confused, hot, cold, etc.

Speaking: How I feel (emotion or sensation rather than thought) in relation to what I observe: "I feel scared and angry..."

Listening: How you feel (emotion or sensation rather than thought) in relation to what you observe: "you feel anxious..." 

Needs: These are universal human needs, distinct from specific strategies for meeting needs. Some examples include connection, honesty, peace, meaning, play, well-being.

Speaking: What I need or value (rather than a preference, or specific action) that causes my feelings: "because I need/value respect and communication." 

Listening: What you need or value (rather than a preference, or specific action)  that causes your feelings: "because you need/value peace and ease." 

Requests: This is not a demand but rather a request for a specific action using clear, positive, and concrete language. With a request you are open to hearing a “no” response. If you make a request and receive a "no" you don’t have to give up but rather empathize with and ask questions to better understand what’s keeping the other person from saying "yes," before deciding how to continue the discussion.

Speaking: The concrete actions I would like taken: "Would you be willing to call me when you're going to be late?" 

Listening: The concrete actionsyou would like taken: "Would you like me to contact you when you're later than you expected to make sure things are all right?" 

It's Not That Easy

Sure, for the sake of time and comprehension I chose a fairly basic and common example to illustrate how NVC works. It may seem that other misunderstandings are far more complex but that’s an illusion. We all have the same basic needs and no matter how complicated an issue may seem it always comes down to one or more of these basic needs. Yet usually when we communicate we don’t mention needs, which leaves little room for true understanding. This is why this part is so important in combination with the usual “I statement” communication tip we’ve all heard.

They Won't Listen to Me

I guarantee that if you listen first nearly everyone you communicate with will then listen in return. Sure, sometimes that sucks. You want to be heard first. You don’t always want to be the person doing all the work. But this is about really evaluating your end goal and if it’s true connection and understanding then it’s worth being the bigger person. Of course you may encounter someone who is wholly incapable of hearing you, who is seriously disrespectful or threatening. In that case you can make the mindful decision to cease the conversation, temporarily or forever. However, those individuals will be the tiny minority.

I Can't Agree With Them

You don’t have to. However, if you want to be heard you have to listen as much as you talk (or more). You must listen with the intention to understand where others are coming from based on their experience and validate that which is actually valid. This requires practice and A LOT of patience at times but it’s doable. Of course, when it’s a more intense conversation with little common ground your exchange will often be much longer than the one illustrated above because it's important to ask genuinely curious questions to clarify what you don’t understand or agree with.  But if you can maintain this format (to the best of your ability) with curiosity I guarantee you that you’ll see your interactions with others improve greatly.