Building better relationships.
You may not be familiar with what the first two sentences really mean. But if you want to start building better relationships that are based on empathy and honesty, those two mysterious sentences can be the golden ticket to achieving this important goal.
Research has shown that the quality of our relationships is largely responsible for the quality of our life. And if you’ve been suffering because you’ve experienced conflict between you and someone you love and don’t want to lose, you already have a strong reason to keep reading.
What is Nonviolent Communication (NVC)?
NVC, also known as Compassionate Communication, is a “Language of life”. It is a process that supports partnership and resolves conflict within people, in our relationships, and even in society. It was created by an American psychologist, mediator, author, and teacher, Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.
NVC helps us create relationships that are based on empathy and honesty, on compassion and a desire to give to others from the heart. It aids us in stepping out of the destructive, vicious circles of “victim” and “perpetrator”, of “reward” and “punishment”, and of “right” and “wrong”.
It equips us to step into an empowering, life-affirming circle of compassion, peace and mutual understanding where everyone’s needs can be met. Where relationships can flourish, including our relationship with ourselves.
NVC has been used successfully to mediate between Palestinians and Israelis in conflict areas. It is powerful enough to create peace in virtually any situation.
Why the name, “Nonviolent”? Because NVC considers communication that is based on the ideas of “right” and “wrong”, violent. On the other hand, it calls honest and empathetic communication that is based on a desire to meet everyone’s needs, non-violent.
Labeling each other and each other’s actions along the ideas of “right” and “wrong”, will lead to defensiveness, aggressiveness, and a lack of trust and compassion. We can do this indirectly too, by using closed body language, a disgusted facial expression, or words that imply judgment and evaluation.
Yet, we do this all the time, impulsively, automatically, usually without even noticing. Then we and our partner both lash out at each other or put up walls, and the trust and connection between us are lost.
People, who are passionate about practicing NVC and non-violence often complain about the increasing amount of violence in the world. They judge their own anger, don’t accept it as something that’s natural, necessary and even beneficial.
Like Marshall did, they might have been grown up in a violent family or neighborhood. At some point, they decided to eliminate violence from their lives because of the traumatic events they’ve experienced, or for spiritual, or for other reasons.
With such an emphasis on expressing a part of ourselves that we label as acceptable, at the expense of expressing others, those denied parts of us will become our shadows. They will rob us of our wholeness, our natural, wild, primal side, adaptability, and full personal power.
I’ve chosen to embrace, love and express all aspects of my personality that I might be feeling resistance against in the moment. If I need to set boundaries and cut cords with people who are disrespectful or abusive, I’ll often choose to do that instead of attempting to use NVC. I’ll still do this, even though I’ve been practicing Nonviolent Communication since 2006, I understand NVC inside-out, and I was even teaching it at some point.
I don’t react to people anymore with negative emotions like I used to do. I’m more accepting and neutral towards people’s unconscious attempts to trigger negative emotions in me and I don’t take advantage of any mistakes they make or weakness they show. I can just confidently make requests to others often without having to express my underlying feelings and needs. For these reasons, I haven’t had to use NVC more than a few times in recent years. I haven’t been in a relationship for a while, but if you are, or have children and a family, NVC is going to make a tremendous difference in your life.
Expressing my anger and setting boundaries is something I’ve had to work harder on than most people do, because of difficult childhood experiences. I am grateful for my anger and wouldn’t judge or resist it if expressing it can truly serve me.
But if we deny them, these parts will become our subconscious shadows and we’ll have a distorted view about them. We can easily start projecting our own denied anger and violence into the world and begin seeing it everywhere in the world around us.
“But violence is obviously at an all-time high in the world, isn’t it?” – you are probably saying now. “Just turn on the news. Violence is flowing from everywhere!”
If you’re addicted to watching the news on the television and believing everything that they are saying there, this could be a huge shock for you.
Professor Steven Pinker has documented how the amount of violence and terrorism in the world has reached an all-time low in human history. The newspapers and news channels will do their best to try and convince you of the contrary. If they can’t come up with enough horrible incidents that grab the reader’s attention, they’ll go out of business. They speak with authority and we tend to believe them without questioning the false reality they are pulling over our eyes.
It’s a fact that our external world is more peaceful than ever. But the amount of subtle violence we express towards ourselves and others has hardly changed throughout history.
When we make mistakes we beat ourselves up and give the same treatment to others too. We judge and label our unacceptable desires. We criticize other people too, if we consider them, or what they do, wrong.
We might only do it in our heads as we want to remain polite, but there is a war going on within our minds. And this inner conflict is reflected in our relationships and our society too.
The cause of this lack of love towards ourselves and others is limiting beliefs. Beliefs, like “I’m not good enough”, “Mistakes and failure are bad”, I’m not important, worthy or competent, and others. These limiting beliefs can prevent us from expressing empathy and honesty in our relationships and they prevent us from finding fulfillment there. I’m going to address this in an upcoming article that will introduce you to how you can use Nonviolent Communication and interact with people at a whole new, conscious level.
Nonviolent Communication’s 4 Steps
NVC is composed of 4 simple steps. These are:
- Observing. We learn how to observe others’ behavior that contributed to our feelings, without judgments and evaluations. (Observation=You haven’t washed up after yourself 4 times this week. Evaluation/judgment=You always leave a mess behind in the kitchen.)
- Feeling. We get in touch with what we are really feeling in the moment, making sure we avoid talking about what we think. (Feeling=I’m feeling annoyed. Thinking=I feel that you are disrespectful.)
- Needs. We identify our unmet needs and values that are contributing to our feeling. (e.g.: I need respect, or I need orderliness.) To learn what universal human needs are and how they work, read this article. I’ve created a comprehensive cheat sheet for you about human needs. You can access it here.
- Request. After successfully completing the first 3 steps our partner is able to hear how we feel and what we need, we then make a request to them to help us meet our needs. Talking about what we do want instead of what we don’t want is important. Just like mentioning concrete actions that our partner can do in the present moment, using clear language. (e.g. instead of making the vague request, “Could you please stop ignoring me when you get back home from work?”, we can ask, “Could we keep the TV turned off when you come back home and spend half an hour together to talk about how we are feeling and what would help us be more fulfilled in this relationship?” We do this without expecting them to comply with our request, and without applying pressure or threatening them with consequences. If we do any of those, it’s a demand, not a request, and we risk breaking the trust and empathy in the relationship.
- Empathize. As an ever-present bonus step, we can always choose to empathize with the feelings and needs of our partner if they resist anything we say to them. When they start to feel that we genuinely care about them, they’ll find it easier to begin to reciprocate.
NVC In Action
Imagine that you’re a parent and you’ve just arrived home from work, tired. Your teenage child has left the dirty dishes in the sink again, for the third time this week. You want to prepare some dinner and use the sink, but you can’t, because the dirty dishes are in the way.
You’re feeling annoyed and are about to say with a raised voice, “You always leave the dirty dishes in the sink! I work so hard and you can’t even do the washing up! Do you expect me to do it? Come here and wash them up right now or I swear to God, you won’t eat anything tonight!”
But then you remember these four steps and your desire to end the constant arguments with your child.
So you take a deep breath and notice how you’re feeling. There’s a great deal of annoyance in you.
You wonder what unmet needs are behind you feeling annoyed. You realize you want to receive support with providing for the family, a fair share of housework, respect towards each other using the same space, and cleanliness and orderliness as well.
What’s a clear, concrete request you can make to your child that he can do right now? You decide to improvise on that part later and instead empathize with your child first.
“He’s probably feeling bored and maybe even disgusted by the idea of washing up after himself,” you think. He needs to feel both being rewarded for and having fun doing the dishes. “Maybe if he listened to his favorite music while doing them, he’d find it more bearable,” you think. “And if he got to choose what the dessert should be next time every time he washed up the dishes, he’d be more motivated to do it.”
It’s taken you months of practice to be able to identify all of these. You tap yourself on the shoulder for choosing to commit to learning how to identify your feelings and needs. In the beginning, you made a lot of mistakes and you couldn’t resolve conflicts straight away. But you always learned something and kept improving with the help of those inevitable mistakes.
You know it’s been worth it because you now have another option instead of impulsively starting to communicate in the old, hurtful way. You can become mindful, connect with your purest intent and apply what you’ve been practicing day, after day.
There are more trust and mutual understanding between you and your child. And you know that this is just the beginning of something much deeper and more wonderful between the two of you that is yet to unfold.
You’re now feeling confident to talk to him.
“Darling, you’ve promised to wash the dishes after yourself. This is the third time this week you haven’t done the dishes. I’m feeling very tired and annoyed, because I want us to respect that we both need to use the same place and keep it tidy, I want a fair share of the housework, and I need you to help me. You’ve said that you don’t like doing the washing up. Would you be willing to do it now if you could bring your favorite music with you to the kitchen and could decide what dessert we will have tomorrow?“
Can you see that your chances of meeting your needs and your son’s needs are much higher by using NVC?
For good measure, the example above gives you extra value by also adding techniques of conscious parenting to it.
How To Overcome Obstacles In Applying Nonviolent Communication?
First of all, you’ll need to have a good understanding of the theory behind NVC and its process. I’ve given you an introduction to Nonviolent Communication so you can get inspired to create happier relationships. For further study, I recommend reading Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life and Lucy Liu’s Companion Workbook. You can also learn about NVC by watching this comprehensive YouTube video about NVC with Marshall Rosenberg, here:
After you’ve got the knowledge you need to get started, fears can still be blocking your way. Fears of failure, of making a mistake, a fear of rejection. These fears are caused by our limiting beliefs, such as “If I make a mistake or fail, I’ll be rejected”, “I’m not capable”, “What makes me good enough is having people think well of me or doing things perfectly”. In an upcoming video/article, I’ll address how limiting beliefs can prevent you from using Nonviolent Communication. The video will help you to understand and overcome these limiting beliefs that are crippling us in every area of our lives, not just in practicing NVC. In future articles I’ll show you how to make NVC more conscious, naturally flowing, empowering and growth-centered; how to overcome its innate limitations.
If you’d like to hear what Marshall Rosenberg says about his early days, months and years of struggling to master NVC, jump to 1:25:09 in his video above. He didn’t start out as a master, and neither will you. The funny story he’ll share will help you to commit to years of practicing NVC within your family.
You cannot improve your skills without making mistakes. Mistakes are your natural stepping stones to success, your opportunities to learn and do things even better. Because being willing and happy to make mistakes is not a sign of weakness, but of a determination to grow, succeed, and enjoy the process.
Again, if you’ve been suffering because you’ve experienced conflict between you and someone you love and who you don’t want to lose, you now have a strong reason to begin practicing NVC every day. Starting now, until you master it and you can keep building better relationships with it. Within months, you’ll gain the confidence to gracefully navigate the conflicts that used to frighten you and leave you isolated, neglected and rejected.
Remember in the video above, how Marshall overcame the initial learning period until he became a master? You can do this too. You can create the fulfilling relationships you’re longing for.
And remember: knowledge is not power. We need to apply what we’ve learned. What concrete steps are you going to take right now, to begin practicing Nonviolent Communication and start building better relationships? Share it below in the comments!
Thank you for the time you’ve taken to read this article. I appreciate you being here. If you’ve found this article valuable, please share it with someone who can benefit from it!