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Nonviolent Communication: built like any habit

Language choices have a huge impact on what you can get done. Nonviolent communication lets us reframe how we express ourselves and hear others, allowing us to speak in terms of what we observe, how we’re feeling, what our needs are, and how we respond to others’ requests.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a process of communication created by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, it is “an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking” (Rosenberg & Chopra, 2015).

All human beings have an innate capacity for compassion, but it is easy to become detached from this capacity in our pursuit to get our way. But when we get our way through fear, guilt, shame, or coercion, we are just as likely to suffer as those who give in to our will.

At the core of NVC is a straightforward communication pattern:

When ____[observation], I feel ____[emotion] because I’m needing some ____[universal needs]. Would you be able to ____[request]?

There are four ingredients to pay attention to:

1. Observation: Take a mental step back and just watch what's happening in the current situation. What are you hearing others say? What do they physically do? Record these observations in your mind without assigning value to them. Hold back from judgment or evaluation. Say what you see, but not what you think of it. Examples: “What I’m hearing you ask me is…” or “I see that you want this…”

2. Emotional Audit: Check in with your body and identify adjectives that describe the sensations you’re feeling. Are you hurt? Scared? Joyful? Irritated? Choose words that are specific to your experience — not words that insinuate what another is doing. Describing your feelings as being overlooked, devalued, unheard or pressured all suggest that someone else is doing something to you and won’t foster mutual understanding. Choose these words very carefully. Examples: “I am feeling tired because…” “When this happens, it makes me feel like…”

3. Needs: List the needs that are connected to the feelings you’ve identified. What is lacking that would make you feel better? Is it space? Appreciation? Balance? Support? Acceptance? Security? Belonging? Articulate what it is you need to move forward. Example: “Because I value my happiness, I need…”

4. Requests: Needs and requests are actually different. Needs are the missing pieces. Requests are what you use to get them. Usually, you are looking for something from another person that will enrich your life, your work or your experience. Accordingly, you want to take their feelings and needs into account. The best way to do this is to build flexibility and freedom into your ask. Examples: “I am wondering if…” “Would you be willing to?”

You’ve said your piece and made a request. In a perfect world, the other person would say, ‘Yes, of course.’ However, even the most careful feedback can be met with defensiveness and hostility. How should you respond?

Just as you figured out your feelings and needs before the difficult conversation, hearing a ‘no’ is your chance to empathise with the other person. How is the other person feeling? And what unmet needs are stopping them from saying ‘yes’?

This is the hardest part of all: to see past their evaluations, thoughts and strategies, and stay focused on clarifying their underlying needs. In conflict, empathy is more effective than insisting or convincing.

Nonviolent communication wagers on the concise, precise, and accurate expression of a message. Its goal is to improve understanding. That kind of expression leaves less room for criticism and more space for an effective exchange of messages.

If you share your concerns in an assertive way, you are giving the other person the chance to understand and share them. Marshall Rosenberg insists on the importance of making the other person a participant in the “shared hope that has been able to fail.”

What do you think? Can we built NVC like an habit?

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