I mentioned several weeks back that I had been reading, and really benefiting from the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language for Life. At this point, I would still call it the most valuable book I have ever read. It has been so useful for me that I asked around my network to see if anyone was interested in going through the accompanying workbook with me week by week, to take our practice of the book’s concepts a bit deeper. I didn’t want this to become another beautiful idea that I brush against in a fleeting moment. I really want these concepts to transform my default methods for communication, so I’m keeping at it.
Each week, as I have time, I’m going to try to write a bit here about a chapter, section, or concept related NVC in hopes that by sharing it with you, I’ll gain a deeper understanding myself. To start with, I’ll share a bit of an introduction, focusing on some of the important concepts from the first chapter of the book.
My husband asked a question that I imagine a lot of people who hear about NVC would like to know: “I don’t think that my communication is violent. What would constitute “violent” communication?” Rosenberg would tell us that, even if we don’t feel we’re speaking violently, the words we use can be hurtful to others. To quote:
“I call this approach nonviolent communication, using the term nonviolence as Gandhi used it-to refer to our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart. While we may not consider the way we talk to be “violent,” words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or ourselves.”
Once we have observed what is going on in a situation, we can focus on the feelings we have about what we observe, or the feelings the person we’re listening to is having. This is the second component. When I see that my husband has gone to bed without helping clean up the kitchen, I feel frustrated, even angry. This step is important, but its virtually useless without the next component: recognizing the needs behind our feelings.
When I see that my husband has gone to bed without helping clean up the kitchen, I feel frustrated and angry because I need to know that I can count on his help, and that we’re working in partnership with one another. Beyond our own feelings, we can listen empathically to others, focusing on and attempting to recognize what they seem to be needing.
The key here is remembering that the things we observe are the stimulus for feelings in ourselves or others, but they are not the cause. The cause is our own, or the other person’s, needs related to the situation. If I’m needing help in the kitchen, I might feel frustrated when I don’t get it. If I’m looking forward to quietly working in the kitchen by myself after dinner, I certainly won’t feel frustrated when no one comes in to help. My feelings arise from what is going on in me, not what others are doing. Similarly, its helpful when identifying what is going on in others to learn to hear and understand what they’re feeling and needing without allowing that to cause us blame or shame.
Have you studied NVC? Is it something that appeals to you? Are there parts of the process that resonate with you more than others? Are there other tools you have used to aid you in communicating clearly and compassionately? I would love to hear from you!
- To my husband’s credit, he is typically pretty good about this. Not only did he help clean up tonight, but he made dinner, too. ↩