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Nonviolent Communication

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Purpose: to enrich live. Not to just get what we want, but to create the quality of connection necessary for everyone’s needs to be met with compassion.

Ways in which we communicate in an uproductive way, not conducive to peaceful resolution:

  1. We communicate in moralistic terms. When something we like or don’t like happens, we judge people as good or bad. We should be thinking in terms of human needs, not moral judgements. But if someone cuts us off in trafic, he’s an idiot; if a partner places more value than me in details, she’s too picky, and when the opposite is true, we say she’s sloppy.
  2. We make comparisons between us and other people, inevitably making us miserable
  3. We reject personal responsibility. We say we “have to” do something (a teacher that “has to” grade papers because that’s the district rules — when, in fact, they choose to grade papers because they don’t want to lose their jobs). We say someone “made us” angry or sad, refusing to take responbility for our own feelings and actions. Or we justify things in terms of our history, circumstance, etc.
  4. We communicate our desires in terms of demands. This is by definition hostile.

Motivating people by threat of punishment is concerning. But just as concerning is motivating by the possibility of reward. (Extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation – see Punished by Rewards)

We fail to separate our observation from the assessment. We tend to express our interpretation of events (he has a big mouth, I feel like I’m living with a wall), instead of observing our feelings (I feel alone/anxious/frustrated when you…).

Our vocabulary for calling names is larger than our vocabulary for expressing feelings. Many people just don’t have experience in expressing their feelings. Our culture teaches us to hide them. Men aren’t supposed to have feelings. People in professional settings aren’t supposed to express feelings. But in practice, making yourself vulnerable by expressing your feelings (and not your interpretation of events) tends to resolve tension.

Language can be problematic. In English, you can say “I feel it’s not right to…”, that’s not an expression of emotions but an opinion (more accurately you’d say “I think…”). Or you can say “I feel I’m being ignored”, but again, it’s an interpretation, not an expression of your feelings – being ignored might make you feel anxious or sad or actually relieved.

We also go into trouble by using words like “always”, “never” when making observation about someone else’s behavior.

In almost any conflict, both sides will erupt with judgement of the others, seeing enemy images. We’ve not been trained to think in terms of our needs not being met, we’ve been trained to judge what’s wrong with others. No. Express your feelings, what’s alive in you, and what your needs are, not what the other side is like.

Don’t confuse needs with requests. Needs are not connected to a specific person doing a specific action. Needs are universal, they’re live within us. For example: need for human connection, for empathy, for love, for security, for autonomy. Also, we don’t have a need for status, or for that big car – those are things we learn from culture, but there are real needs behind it.

How to make requests.

You want requests to be gifts, an opportunity for someone to contribute to live. Not a demand that threatens their autonomy.

Sometimes we need to hear a confirmation that others understand our feelings. We might get frustrated or angry if we don’t. When in doubt, ask the other person to confirm what they heard. And if it’s not to our satisfaction, clarify – but by saying you didn’t express yourself clearly enough, not that the other person misunderstood or did something wrong.

When making a request, you can say, “would you be willing to X?” instead of “I would like you to do X” to indicate that you’re not making a demand. However, what really determines whether your request is genuine is your response when the request is denied. Non-violent communication doesn’t mean you should give up. You can try again, but only after expressing empathy for the other person and their needs.

If there are words like “should”, “supposed to”, “need”, “deserve”, your request will probably be heard as a demand

Empthy is a powerful tool in non-violent communication. Sometimes people don’t want solutions, they just want to be heard and understood. Not in an intellectual way, but in an emphatic way. Often, they don’t even realize empathy is what they actually need.

It can disarm violence to acknowledge the other person’s feelings and needs.

We also communicate violently with ourselves. We self-perpetuate self-hatred and guilt in an unproductive way.

Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. If you expect perfection out of yourself, you won’t try, because any mistake is a disaster.

Don’t judge yourself in moralistic terms. Have compassion to yourself. (“Should” is a toxic word.) When you see something you think you did wrong, it’s not that you are stupid, you acted in an attempt to satisfy your needs – even if your needs weren’t met and you now regret your actions. But consider with empathy what led you to that situation and how you can help yourself fulfill your needs in a better way.

Play is important. Do things purely out of a desire to enrich life, not just out of fear, duty, necessity.

Use language that acknowledges your choice. Do so explicitly: list things you dislike doing and instead of saying “I have to”, say “I choose to do X because I want Y”. Take responsibility. And either acknowledge that you’re doing it for a higher purpose or realize you dont have to do it at all.

Dealing with anger.

When we’re angry, we’re not fully connected to our needs.

We’re angry because our needs are not met in some way, but anger diverts our energy away from a peaceful resolution of our needs.

When we’re angry, we need to stop, and uncover what’s really alive in us. And when we’re angry with someone, we might have to empathize with them first, understand their needs first, and communicate our needs second.

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