Non-Violent Communication

Nonviolent Communication cover page
  • Poor communication contributes to  dysfunctional relationships, misunderstandings and frustrations
  • Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication is built on interpersonal connection “from the heart”
  • To practice NVC, learn to observe without judgement or evaluation
  • NVC has 4 components, observation, feelings, needs and requests
  • Apply Non-violent communication practices to deal with your emotions
  • Use NVC to help others resolve conflicts. Replace “I have to” with “I choose to”

How many times did it happen that you have a bad fight with your parents or spouse or cousins?  How many times the fights happened on WhatsApp? How many times did it happen on Facebook? These fights or disagreements would have certainly ruined the relationships without helping you to achieve your objectives. The result is, you carry the baggage of a ruined relationship and unfulfilled needs.

I have seen people blaming WhatsApp or Facebook or even telephone as the root cause of their fights. I wonder why do people do this when they have fought even in face to face interactions. Blaming communication mediums such as WhatsApp, Facebook, etc is useless because the fights happen not because of the communication medium, they happen because of the “communication” itself.

Yes, it has never been about the medium, it’s always about how we communicate. Many of our established communication patterns contribute to dysfunctional relationships, misunderstanding, and frustration.  Unconsciously we make moralistic judgments about people that alienate them from us.  We think we are being straight or honest when we tell our spouse “You always keep the house in a mess” or “You are a liar”, but Marshall Rossenberg says we are doing violence.

Violent communication is communication that limits liberty, denies recognition of needs, diminishes the worth of a person, and/or blocks compassion. Violent communication is often the result of using manipulative or coercive language that induces fear, guilt, shame, praise, blame, duty, obligation, punishment, and/or reward. Violent communication happens in speaking and listening (and in thinking, through self-talk or imagined self-conversations).

We may think that we are not yelling at someone means we are non-violent. But that’s not the case always. Some of the mechanisms of violent communication are:

  • judgments, categorization
  • habitual thinking like beliefs, prejudices..
  • binary thoughts which include either…or..
  • using a blaming language or removing responsibilities (assimilating a person to its act, accusing message “You”…

Common ways that violent communication occurs are:

  • Moralistic judgments and evaluation of others
  • Denial of responsibility for our own feelings thoughts, and actions
  • Demands
  • Blocking compassion

If we speak violently to others, they may do what we want by inducing fear, guilt shame, praise, blame, duty, obligation, punishment, or reward. Although we can control others this way, some important questions to ask for are:

  • What are the costs in terms of the relationship between you and others if you communicate this way? (How good is your goodwill?)
  • What will the person do if the punishment or reward is not there or you are not around to observe their behavior? What is the cost to your well-being by acting violently?
  • Is controlling others using violent communication effective?
When I sit back and think about all my fights with my relatives and peers in office, I realize that they all happened because of violent communication. We keep trying to figure out who was right, who was wrong, what is good, what is bad, moral or immoral, etc. but what I didn’t realize I was being violent. Non-Violent Communication addresses this critical aspect of us and gives us tools and insights on how can we reduce the violence in our communication and strengthen our relationships.
 

What is Non-Violent Communication

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., and is sometimes referred to as “compassionate communication.”

 

Nonviolent communication is communication that maximizes liberty, enhances understanding of the relationship between feelings and needs, promotes equality, and creates compassion.

NVC involves understanding that our feelings are a result of our basic human needs being met or unmet. When our needs are met, we feel “positive” emotions, such as joy, delight, confidence, inspiration, etc. When our needs are unmet, we feel “negative” emotions, such as annoyance, tension, fatigue, yearning, etc.

The basic human need is to contribute to our own and other’s well-being.  We can do this by observing others’ needs, what emotions the other person can have when the needs are not met and how can I request the other person so that my own needs are met. Because it’s not about one person’s emotions that matter. Both party’s emotions have to be satisfied. Roosenberg gives us 4 steps for Non-violent communication:

Separate observation from evaluation

Focus your energy on being aware of the present moment. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying and ask yourself, how is this affecting my well-being? Engage your senses – touch, sight, and sound, to connect as much as possible with the situation. The next would be to avoid generalizing your arguments which can be done by relating observations to specific situations. Instead of saying  “you always..”, refer to a particular moment when something upset you. 
This happened, I am very much into text messaging and I prefer written mode of communication more than verbal. So my first instinct is always to send a text message. I was discussing a project with my colleague over text chat. During the course of the conversation, my friend sent me a message which I found irritating. I was upfront to tell him that his message was irritating (a perfect example of violent communication). He obviously got defensive and this caused harm to our relationship.  Next time my friend stopped messaging me because he formed this preconceived notion that I find all his text messages irritating.
Another way of improving observation is to be aware of labeling. If you are distracted by labels, you will struggle to relate to a specific situation or person. For instance, having the preconception that someone is “irritating” or “egoistic” or “arrogant” may impede your judgment when discussing a certain issue; you have already assumed what this person is thinking. All your actions after your assumptions are only going to justify that you assumptions are correct.

Learn to express how you feel

After observation, the next step in NVC is to explicitly express how we are feeling.  To achieve this, we can begin by articulating our feelings accurately. We do this by removing vagueness from our communication. Instead of saying “I am feeling down” .. you can be a bit more specific by saying “I am depressed or regretful, or feeling betrayed etc”. In addition to awareness, expressing what you feel requires a good vocabulary. 

This problem of vagueness also applies to pronouns.  Making a statement like “I feel like everyone is ignoring me” is ambiguous and does not address specifics. I have many fights with my friends who tell me “I don’t need anybody”. They include me as well when they say, anybody.  And if they don’t need me, then why the hell I should invest my emotions, time and energy with them.

Lastly, we will need to learn how to express our vulnerability.  Vulnerability is the quality of being easily hurt. We all have vulnerabilities due to various reasons and in different forms. The clearly we express them, the easier will be the communication.

At this point, it’s also important to understand that we need to take responsibility for our feelings as well. If someone says anything negative to you, you have 4 ways to respond: 

First, you can have a negative reaction to their words and think, “It’s all my fault”. By blaming yourself, you fail to analyze the root of the message and address the other person’s grievance. This might make you feel guilty, low or even depressed.

Second, you can become defensive or angry, Your response might be “That’s a lie!”. I have always considered your needs” Here you are blaming the speaker, and are once again failing to address the underlying issue. 

Third, a better reaction would be to vocalize your own feelings. “I feel dejected when you say I am selfish because I have been constantly trying to accommodate your demands. Through this process, you can identify your own emotional response and address the reasons behind the conflict. 

Finally and ideally, you can observe the feelings and needs of the speaker. You might ask “Do you think I am selfish because of a specific action that I have taken?” How can I show more consideration for your needs?”

Learn to identify your own needs:

People don’t have enough practice of identifying their own need and they eventually fall in to blame games. We usually not  express our needs and then blame others for not fulfilling them.
This happened with me sometime back. I was ecstatic because of recent success. I desperately wanted to share that with my sister. So I called her. But like always she was busy and didn’t answer my call.  Of course, there was disappointment and anger. That disappointment and anger were not because she didn’t answer my call or she might be busy. I was disappointed because my need of sharing my happiness wasn’t fulfilled. This then definitely became quite visible in my communication with her.

If we don’t communicate our needs directly, we will cause a lot of unnecessary pain in the long run.  It’s very important that we pay attention to our needs as soon as possible. 

Learn to express what you would like from others to help meet your own needs

The final stage of NVC is –  Request: How can we express our requests in a way that will help others respond to us compassionately?

A request should be made clear to express what you really want. And the clearer we are about what we want from others, the more likely we are to get it.  This means formulating requests in a positive language. Positive language is when you ask for something to be done, while negative language is when you ask somebody to stop doing something.
I have seen this working for me even with my 5-year-old son. Instead of requesting him “Can you stop watching cartoons on TV?” I change it to “Can I watch the news for some time?” This has made a lot of difference and I have seen him more receptive to what I am saying. 

It’s also important to formulate requests into concrete actions, so others can know what they need to do. 

Non-violent communication takes the art of communication to the next level. Mostly we have heard about the importance of good language skills, presentations skills, grammar or vocabulary. After reading this book, I realize all these aspects do matter but how you use them to actually communicate is all that we need to practice. We need to observe and express our feelings, identify our needs and know how to ask for the fulfillment of our needs when we communicate with others irrespective of whom we are communicating with and what’s the communication medium.  I have decided I am going to practice this consciously and will share my experience after two weeks.  I will urge you to reflect on your dysfunctional relationships, see what went wrong, apply NVC method and share your experience with me.

4 comments

  1. People with patterns of problematic or unhelpful communication shouldn’t forever receive a free pass nor should one put up with behaviour, or be the only one to ever adapt. Context is important and these acts depend on the commitment to the relationship and the power dynamics involved.

    There should not be too much emphasis and pressure on one individual to say the right thing. There are so many instances and reasons why someone who is upset might not be able to muster up the perfect explanation or be able to tell the difference between a feeling and not a feeling. Looking for what people are not saying is just as important. Sensing and feeling for what’s in the silence is just as important.

  2. If you see there is no emphasis on anything. It’s all about what you are getting at the end of the day. You be whatever you want, communicate the way you want. There is no compulsion or law to define how you want to communicate.

    Just that in an attempt to communicate the way you want, you may or may not get what you want.

    1. I must appreciate your blog. It’s a very good effort to read, understand and practice such good advice from the masters in the subject. It does takes persistent practise to evolve as a person.

      We must be grateful to the people in our lives who put us in difficult situations, because those are the opportunities for our own self-improvement!

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