The Transformational Power of Nonviolent Communication

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Several years ago, a therapist recommended a book to me that would completely change my life. It changed the way that I approach difficult conversations, changed how I relate to myself and to others and has totally transformed my relationships along the way.   That book is called “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. and I can honestly say that it is one of the most important books I have ever read and one of the most useful practices that I have incorporated into my life.

Nonviolent Communication is a style of communication that is designed to focus on connection versus being right. It is designed to produce positive outcomes and harmonious compromise versus conflict and alienation.   Communicating in this way helps foster positive and nurturing relationships, both personally and professionally.   It creates more trust and intimacy and helps to diminish anger, resentment and defensiveness.

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Nonviolent Communication involves 4 specific steps that help you formulate what you are going to say and how you are going to say it in a way that will be well received by the person you are speaking with and will allow for much greater success in your conversations, especially the difficult ones. One of the things that I find so fascinating about this method and these steps is that not only will it transform your relationship to others; it will also give you deep insight into yourself.

When you are faced with a difficult conversation, take some time to figure out what is going on for you, how that is manifesting and what it is that you want. Depending on the level of difficulty of the conversation and how high the stakes are, I can take anywhere from a few minutes, to even a week or longer to figure this out. Taking the time to do this can be incredibly transformative.

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The 4 steps of Nonviolent Communication are:

  1. Observation:  Observe what happened without judgment then state the facts versus your opinion about the facts. For example, “we agreed to meet at 12 and you arrived at 12:30” is a fact. “You are inconsiderate and rude for being late” is an opinion. When you state the facts, the receiver of the communication will not feel attacked or get defensive. When you make a judgment, the person is very likely to get defensive, will probably shut down as soon as they hear this opinion and then will not be open to communicating effectively.   Getting this first step right is crucial and actually sounds a lot easier than it is. I also find it helpful if the facts don’t point to anyone specifically (when possible). Not using the word “you” here can be really helpful. In the above example, it may be even better to say something along the lines of “we agreed to meet at noon and I waited 30 minutes past that time”. When you start practicing this step, you will find how often you let your opinions color what actually happened and many times, the meaning that someone ascribes to what happened, is more important than what actually happened, so become aware of what meanings you are ascribing to events and start practicing stating just the facts without the assumptions behind them.

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  1. Feeling: Notice how what happened made you feel.   It’s important to actually discern feelings versus thoughts here and the two can get quite confusing. I find this step is a really great practice to get you in touch with your emotions.   Discerning emotions from thoughts can be tricky.   For example, saying “I felt that was inconsiderate” is a thought. You thought that was inconsiderate. Inconsiderate is not a feeling. “I felt sad or frustrated” is a feeling. One good guideline to distinguish thoughts from feelings is, a feeling is a word that you can place right after the clause “I feel” and it makes sense. I feel happy, I feel sad, I feel angry. If you need to insert another word after I feel, and before the feeling you are trying to convey, it is probably a thought. Examples of words that indicate a thought instead of a feeling would be like, as if, that, pronouns such as, I, you, we or another persons name. For example, I feel like I should be treated better, I feel like you should treat me better, or I feel she should treat me better, are all thoughts and not feelings. I found this step particularly difficult and also very eye opening. It made me realize how often I used thoughts as feelings versus identifying what was actually going on inside me emotionally.

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  1. Need: Identifying your needs or values around what happened can be pivotal in your own self understanding as well as the understanding of the person you are communicating with. We all have needs in life and that is not to be confused with being needy.   We all need safety, shelter, food, love and connection. Some needs are universal and some are very personal. When our needs are being met, we usually feel good. When our needs aren’t being met, we tend to experience feelings that we think of as negative, such as fear, sadness, anger etc. Taking some time to figure out exactly what your unmet needs are can be challenging and rewarding. It will give you more insight into yourself and your own process and will help the person you are communicating with understand you better. An example relating to our punctuality conversation would be “Time is a limited resource and I need my time to be valued”.

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  1. Request: The last step involves making a request of the other person in a non- demanding way. For example, “next time, would you be willing to leave 30 minutes earlier to get to our appointment so we can start on time?” Stating it as a question can be really useful as it doesn’t sound like an order which can make the other person feel controlled or defensive. This also gives the other person an opportunity to suggest other options if your initial request doesn’t work for them. I have found that the request can be optional, sometimes just the conversation has an inherent request in it. In this example the request is punctuality and doesn’t necessarily need to be stated.

Nonviolent Communication is definitely a practice. The more you do it, the better you get. You will see results very quickly when communicating like this, especially in difficult relationships. You will also get to know yourself on much deeper levels and build communication skills that will serve you for years to come.

You can find out more about Nonviolent Communication here.

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I’m curious how this practice works for you.  Try it out and let me know by commenting below.

© Copyright 2015 Vanessa Naja/Holistic Moving

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