As humans, we were designed to connect. We all need personal relationships as much as we need air, water, and food to eat. Considering how vital it is that we have strong connections with others, it is shocking how little most of us are taught about creating and maintaining these connections through good communication.
Anyone who has been in a tense relationship (hum, everyone) understand how aggravating it can be to try your hardest to explain your sentiments and yet be misunderstood. You rephrase, you cool off, and you return, but you still wind up in a fight. Repeated failures drive us to suppress our emotions because discussing them just makes us more upset. So how do we break this pattern?
Non-violent Communication (NVC)
NVC is an instrument to understand what triggers us, take responsibility for our reactions, and transform our habitual ways of responding. The non-violent name comes from the focus on compassion for others and one’s self.
How to Practice NVC
There are two fundamental parts to the dance of communication; expressing yourself and listening. While using NVC, focus on four components and practice becoming aware of them whether we are speaking or listening. Learning how to use NVC is a practice – it requires your shift in awareness. Although it may require you to speak differently.
Below is a breakdown of four moves that can radically transform your relationships. Sit back and relax.
Four Components of NVC
Practising NVC requires that you learn to separate what you observe from your judgments of the observation. By setting aside these judgments, you can avoid raising defences and open up the discussion in a way that leads to better understanding. Partner A, for example, notices her partner on his phone or otherwise preoccupied while she is speaking. She says “You don’t listen to me.” That leads partner B to become defensive, leading to conflict and disconnection. Rather, “Hey, I keep seeing that you are staring at your phone and looking away from me,” person A would say in NVC, without making a judgment.
Taking responsibility for your feelings is central to NVC. To see what others say or do as a response to your feelings rather than the cause is a significant adjustment. Because we don’t all react to stimulus in the same manner, the stimulus isn’t the source of our emotions, rather it is our response that is the cause. Example: Partner A informs Partner B that she noticed him staring at his phone during their conversation. He could respond in four ways:
- Take it personally: “I can’t do anything else right, can I?”
- Fight back: “Just because I am not looking directly at you doesn’t mean I am not listening.”
- Consider his feelings and needs: “When I hear you say that I feel bad because I am listening to you and I don’t want to be thought of as a person who is rude.”
- Consider the emotions and wants of the other person: “Are you upset because you believe I don’t care about what you have to say?”
Practising NVC means making a connection between the feelings and the unmet needs that a person is experiencing. Any form of outward expression of emotion shows an unsatisfied need. Focusing on language that conveys common human experience rather than detailing how you desire a need met is the key to discovering, expressing, and connecting with needs.
Example: Assume partner B says both responses 3 and 4 from the list above, emphasizing feelings and needs. Partner A then responds, “Yes, I’m hurting because I need to be appreciated by you, and when you don’t seem to be paying attention, I get the impression that you don’t value what I’m saying.” Is it possible for partner B to argue with the need to be valued? Probably not! We all want to feel appreciated by the people we care for.
“If A had merely stated, “Please put your phone down while we are chatting, “instead of focusing on the need itself, she might have gotten her needs to be met.” which could have come across as bossy or dominating to B. Our relationship with others impacts their willingness to comply with our wishes at any particular time. B may not have been willing to comply with A’s request to put down the phone if there was no connection, or he may have done so out of humiliation or fear of more dispute.
We can recognize and communicate an activity that we believe will meet our requirements, and then request it from our partner to meet our needs. It’s crucial to distinguish between a request and a demand in this situation. A was actually making a demand when she stated, “Please put your phone down while we talk.” We know this because things would have quickly escalated if B had not put down the phone!
“Imagine if A put all of these parts together and said, “Hey, I’m a little wounded because I want to feel like you regard me” and what I have to say, I don’t feel respected when you glance at your phone while we’re chatting. “Could you perhaps put it on hold while we talk?”
I am guessing you can probably think of a whole lot of examples right? How conversations in your life have gone awry, that could have benefited from using these four components.