Nonviolent communication can improve all of your relationships!
Discover how to use this method to foster more powerful and authentic relationships.
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I was recently reading a hilarious article about relationships. The title was something like “What He Says, What She Hears”. Some examples included:
Him: “Your friend is nice”
What she hears: “Your friend is very attractive and I wonder if I can get her to sleep with me”
Him: “I’m so busy”
What she hears: “I’m too busy with important things to bother with your trivial nonsense”
The article went on and on giving about 20 examples of how women tend to misread their men’s verbal statements.
While these examples are intended to come off as very funny, it’s something that occurs often in not just male-female romantic relationships but in all human relationships.
And we are all culprits of misinterpreting the meaning of what others say. It’s not just women who read too much or too little into what has been said.
It is this conflict between what is said, what is really meant, and what message the listener gets that gave birth to the concept of nonviolent communication.
What Is Nonviolent Communication?
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is an effective communication approach that was first advanced by Marshall Rosenberg in the early 1960s. Rosenberg grew up in the racially divided city of Detroit. He was born in Ohio but the family moved to Detroit when he was only 9 years old and his first memory of his new city was the race riots of 1943.
Marshall Rosenberg grew up to help in fighting segregation in Detroit and other American cities. He later became a global peacemaker, running peace interventions in countries plagued by war and conflict.
NVC works on the premise of people identifying common needs and collaborating to develop strategies to satisfy those common needs. NVC is most commonly used in personal development, interpersonal relationships, and driving social change. It is driven by the 4 components:
Observation requires that as the listener, you only focus on what is said, when it is said, and the context within which it is said. Avoid doing any evaluations and generalizations or attributing any significance because this may lead others to only hear criticism and resist what we say.
NVC proposes that we focus on feelings rather than expressed thoughts. Feelings are the emotions and sensations held separate from the story. These feelings convey whether needs are met or unmet. When we identify feelings during interpersonal communication, we connect more easily with each other.
All humans have the same needs. We want food, security, affection, freedom, and identity among other needs. We are only different in how we meet these needs. How I get food is different from how you get food.
In NVC, always strive to make clear requests which are free from demands. When you make a request, you are open to receiving a NO answer without repercussion. However, when you make a demand, the other party feels that if they say NO they will be punished.
What do you need help with?
(Choose between the 2 options)
The 3 Modes of Non Violent Communication
NVC involves 3 fundamental modes:
This involves a self-analysis of what we are going through within us. What do you feel in your heart? What judgments are you making about the situation at hand? How do your thoughts and feelings connect with your needs?
This requires an empathetic connection rather than intellectual reasoning. You want to connect with the other person’s feelings. It is not sympathy but rather a deep connection with how others are affected by their environment. This involves focusing on their needs, observations, feelings, and requests.
In NVC, you need to remove yourself from any speculations as this may cause others to misinterpret your requests as demands. Identify the underlying needs and express them clearly. For instance, if your husband expresses that he doesn’t like your male colleague, he may be expressing insecurity in your absences rather than a genuine dislike of that colleague. Address the insecurity rather than the persona of the colleague.
How Can Nonviolent Communication Improve Your Relationships?
Now that we have an understanding of what NVC is and how it works, we can take a look at how it can be effectively used to strengthen different types of relationships.
The 3 Modes of Non Violent Communication
Communication with Our Partner
Intimate relationships can be ruined by blame games, judgment, power struggles, and misinterpretation. Compassionate communication can be restored using the 4 components of nonviolent communication.
For instance, imagine John and Jane, a married couple who both have corporate careers. Consider a typical day where Jane arrives home after work, does some house chores, cooks dinner, and is setting the dinner table when John walks in.
John puts down his small briefcase, takes off his coat and lays it on the sofa, says a quick hi to Jane as he grabs the remote and switches on the TV. The scene is a little cliche but will work for our example. Here’s the conversation as it would go:
Jane: I feel like you don’t care about me and just take me for granted
John: No I don’t. What did I do?
Observation: Jane’s statement puts John on the defensive. She has expressed a judgment. However, if she had said, “When you came in, you didn’t help out with the daily house chores”. This is an observation which anyone watching would agree to.
Feelings: When Jane says, “I feel like…” she’s not really expressing a feeling but a thought. What she’s really feeling is anger and hurt. Instead, she could have said, “When you don’t do house chores I feel hurt”. This expresses her need to have John involved in the care of their home.
Needs: Needs are an expression of our deep longings and core values. In Jane’s case, she needs to feel acknowledged, valued, supported and respected. She could have expressed this by saying, “When you came in you didn’t do any chores or kiss me. I feel hurt because my need for support and acknowledgment wasn’t met.”
Request: It’s important to state your request to your partner in a way that isn’t accusatory. The request needs to be positive, achievable, and specific to help you meet your needs. Jane could say, “When you came in you didn’t do any chores or kiss me. I feel hurt because my need for support and acknowledgment wasn’t met. Next time could you at least ask about my day and help out with chores so we can settle down and watch TV together?”
When you follow these 4 components of nonviolent communication, you set a positive environment for your needs to be met! 🙂
Communication with Our Kids
As adults, we are culturally wired to exercise authority over our offspring. We feel it is our duty to dictate how our kids will behave. This usually leads to adults seeing kids as less human than their adult counterparts. We forget that they have the exact same fundamental human needs as adults.
According to Marshall Rosenberg, when you label someone as a child, you risk dehumanizing them. You don’t treat them as you would an adult, and you may end up not showing respect for their thoughts and feelings.
It is quite okay to refer to someone as a child when trying to express that it’s a person of a certain age. However, do not use that label to see them as a lesser human being. The danger in labeling them as children lies in the fact that as an adult you will think it’s your responsibility to make them behave a certain way. This takes away their choices and they will resist all your efforts even when you threaten them with punishment.
In the long run, you can’t make your kid clean his room, put her dolls away, stop hitting their siblings or eat their vegetables. Adversarial communication will meet resistance. Nonviolent communication, on the other hand, shows respect for the kids’ choices and feelings. This breeds common understanding and compliance.
Marshall suggests that the next time you want your kids to behave a certain way, you need to ask yourself two questions:
Question 1: What do you want the kids to do differently? This is easy. And sometimes the threat or application of punishment may get them to comply. But this approach is not sustainable.
Question 2: What reasons to do you want the kids to have for doing things your way? Is it the fear of punishment? Is it a promised reward? Reward and punishment are both coercive approaches.
Nonviolent communication with kids seeks to develop mutual respect and concern. The kids need to feel that their needs and yours are interdependent. For example, instead of telling your kid, “it is wrong to hit your sister”, it would be better if you said, “It scares me when you hit your sister. Because I have a need for both of you to be safe”.
This shift in language demonstrates to the kids that their needs are important and interdependent with yours. It steps away from shaming them, guilt-tripping, and classifying behavior as right or wrong. Instead, it creates a partnership free of moralistic judgments.
Communication with Our Family
Nowadays everyone is busy. We are all on tight schedules with our work, studies, and other activities within and outside the home. Plus, there are lots of distractions including the internet, TV, social media, and video games. While we have already discussed how to improve relationships with spouses and kids, how do we improve communication within the whole family unit? There are 4 main activities families can engage in to build trust, open communication channels, increase cooperation, and avoid conflict. These are:
I encourage families to have strict family mealtimes. Dinner is an especially good time to discuss the day’s events, plan out the next day together, and simply bond over a meal. Breakfast is usually rush hour as everyone is rushing to their daily activities. Lunch finds most of the household members out of the home. Whether it’s a home-cooked meal, takeout, or even leftovers, the dinner setting lets the family build cohesiveness and strengthen bonds.
The family should strive to create family traditions. Simple gestures such as reading bedtime stories, going for worship together for the religious families, or going for a family camping trip every summer. Holidays are great for forming traditions that everyone will enjoy. Visiting grandma or having a yearly vacation away from home will create fond memories that bring everyone together.
Parents should arrange events outside the home where they take only one child. Each child can have a date that reflects their personality and interests. Such dates help the child feel special and helps them grow in their areas of interest. When doing this, parents should keep in mind that their kids’ interests evolve as they grow. There are even periods when what’s interesting this week is no longer of interest next week.
Cut Back Activities
Family members should consider cutting down out of home activities if they are interfering with time spent with loved ones. Having hobbies and personal projects out of home is healthy for growth and independence. And can be so much fun too. But don’t let it come to the point where you’re only seeing your kids, parents, or siblings when you pass each other along the corridor. Cut down on these activities if they’re not giving you any time to be at home.
Communication at Work
The 4 components of nonviolent communication training are as important in the workplace as they are in personal relationships and family settings. Take for instance this statement made by someone holding a superior position in the workplace:
Boss: “You are very irresponsible and you’ll lose us business and profits”
This statement can easily lead to resentment and confrontation. With the 4 components of NVC, this could be handled quite differently.
The boss could have made a non-judgmental observation of the facts without evaluation. This removes the aspects of accusation, blame, and attack. NVC works to motivate cooperation rather than putting colleagues on the defensive. An observation-based statement would be:
Boss: You didn’t complete your assignments.
NVC encourages us to identify and express our own feelings and colleague’s feelings with clarity. When I say:
Me: “I feel unimportant to my colleagues because they never consult me”
Here, I’m expressing my thoughts, not my feelings. Thoughts are my interpretations of what’s going on. In this context, my actual feelings would be “I am disappointed that my colleagues don’t ask for my opinion”.
NVC equips you to discover the needs that are at the root of your feelings. These tie in specifically to the 9 fundamental human needs. In the example about colleagues not asking for my opinion, it shows my need for participation and identity.
In our first example, instead of the boss saying:
Boss: “You are very irresponsible and you’ll lose us business and profits”
He could say:
Boss: “When you don’t complete your tasks on time, I feel disappointed because I need to be able to rely on your timely submissions.”
In the workplace, it is common to hear others make demands. Especially higher-ranking officials making demands of subordinates. However, to enrich our working lives it is better to make requests. The requests should be specific, lack ambiguity, not be vague, and not be abstract. The requests need to be in positive language and should be free of coercion. For instance:
“You don’t respect my privacy”
“I need you to agree to knock on the door before you come into my office”
The former sounds confrontational while the latter is a request that breeds mutual understanding.
Communication with Friends
Of all our relationships, friendship is unique in that we choose who to befriend and we can usually let go of friendships without adverse repercussions. We don’t get to choose our parents, siblings, relatives, and children. We also rarely get to choose who our work colleagues should be. While we make a choice on who our spouse is, breaking up may cause adverse repercussions on our kids, joint ventures, finances, and even impact on who we can retain as friends.
Given this special relationship with friends, nonviolent communication skills apply to protect the friendship and keep it healthy.
NVC works to create friendships that are free of negative competitiveness, jealousy, and dominance. It works to foster collaboration and promote dignity. With NVC, you can cultivate friendships that empower each other and avoids conflict before they occur.
In friendship, use the four components of nonviolent communication. Also, avoid being too passive to advocate for your needs, or too aggressive running roughshod over your friends, or having a passive-aggressive demeanor that leads you to sabotage others with a smile on your face. You need to be assertive in how you communicate. This means you need to be respectful, direct, and unambiguous.
Assertive communicators have the following impact on their friendships:
- They feel deeply connected to their friends
- Are in control of their lives
- Create respectful environments for their colleagues to mature and grow
- Show a high level of maturity as they address problems and issues as they arise
- Promotes equal and mutual understanding
To sum up!
As you can see, at any time of your life and with anyone you know, Non-Violent Communication is really THE solution for better communication.
I’m convinced that the more we will use this method, the less misunderstood we will have with each other and the more real connections we’ll be able to create!!