I finished the book Nonviolent communication (the 3rd edition) by Marshall B. Rosenberg this week. Here are my learning notes.
- The principles of nonviolent communication
- The role of empathy
- Expressing anger
- Solving conflicts
- Appraisal and appreciation
The principles of nonviolent communication
The author introduces the nonviolent communication (NVC) as a four-step process:
- We observe and describe the concrete actions that affect our well-being.
- We name and share our feeling we have in relation to what we observe.
- We identify and communicate the needs, values, desires, etc. that create our feelings.
- We decide and request concrete actions in order to enrich our lives.
The process roots in empathy, respect, and tenderness with others and with ourselves. It rejects moralistic judgements, comparisons, or evaluation.
When we observe and describe to others our observations, it is necessary to separate them from evaluations. If we mix observations with evaluations, others tend to hear criticism. Instead of static generalizations, describe specific observations specific to time and context. For instance, instead of saying “Tony is a good team player”, we can say “Tony helped other members of the team by sharing his experience.”
The second component is to express our feelings clearly and specifically. It is important to distinguish between expression of feeling and thoughts, assessments, and interpretations. For instance, instead of saying “I am not a good piano player”, we can say “I am annoyed/impatient/frustrated with myself that I cannot play piano well”.
A simple way to check whether we have expressed our feelings is to use a sentence of the form “I feel this because I …”, and to refrain from using “I feel this because you …”. While the first sentence expresses my feelings, the second sentence expresses rather my judgement and is almost certainly interpreted as criticism.
As a foreign-language speaker, I find it challenging to build a vocabulary of feelings that express nuisances. I searched around for tools and found the two pictures particularly helpful for me.
The first one lists words expressing feelings and emotions with emojis. There are several versions of it. The one that I include here was (apparently) proposed by the National Institute of Corrections of the United States. I discovered it on Pinterest.
The other one was based on data derived from psychology research, projecting words expression feelings and emotions by dimension reduction. Source: Scherer, Klaus R. “What Are Emotions? And How Can They Be Measured?” Social Science Information 44, no. 4 (December 2005): 695–729, Figure 1.
A more recent publication even maps words in higher six dimensions by using among others principal component analysis. Nevertheless, for my purpose of finding an appropriate word to express myself, the 2D plot above suffices.
Stoic philosophers like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius remind us that what others say and do may be the stimulus for, but never the cause of, our feelings. Our own needs, desires, and values cause our feelings.
When we communicate with others and hear negative comments, we have four options: (1) blame ourselves, (2) blame others, (3) sense our own feelings and needs, and (4) sense the feelings and needs hidden in other person’s negative comments. Try to avoid (1) and (2) and exercise and get more muscle in (3) and (4).
Judgements, criticisms, diagnoses, and interpretations of others can be seen as alienated expression of our own needs and values. When others hear criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-dense and counter-attack. It helps others to communicate compassionately if we connect our feelings to our needs.
Finally, keep in mind that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others.
The fourth component of NVC is to communicate what we would to request of each other to enrich each of our lives. Generalized, vague or ambiguous words should be replaced by actionable, concrete words. For instance, instead of saying “Mary please take care of your sister”, we may say “Mary, will please help your sister wear her shoes?” The clearer we are about what we want back, the more likely that we will get it.
We have to make sure that the audience of our requests perceive them indeed as requests, not as demands or blames. And we must make sure that get the request accurately, for instance by asking them paraphrase or rephrase it.
The role of empathy
Empathy is an understanding of what others are experiencing. When we hear others, we tend to give advices or reassurance or to rush to own position or our feelings. Empathy, on the other hand, calls us to empty our mind and listen to others with the whole being.
No matter what words others may use to express themselves, we should try to simply listen for their observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Then we may reflect, paraphrasing what we have understood in the same four-step process described above and using a positive language. We stay in this empathy state and allow others the opportunity to fully express them before turning our attention to requests or solutions.
An important lesson I learned many times by hard lessons is that I need empathy in order to give it. When I am in a bad physical condition, when I am irritated, or when I am in a hurry, I cannot give sufficient empathy others need.
I am now learning to sense the ‘empathy battery’ in myself, and check whether I am defensive or unable to empathize, In case the battery is nearly empty, I can take time out, breath deeply and give myself empathy, or scream non-violently b strictly following the observations-feeling-needs-and-requests rule. The ‘RAIN principle’ (recognize, accept, investigate, and nourish) may also help here.
In that aspect, we can use the NVC techniques to keep empathy for ourselves. When we fail or make mistakes, we can use the process of NVC to mourn and forgive ourselves, and to show ourselves where we can grow. By assessing my unmet needs and making specific requests to make them met, we can contribute to the life of our own and of others.
In the same line, self-compassion means that I choose in daily life consciously to act only to meet my own needs and values rather than out of duty, for extrinsic rewards, or to avoid punishment. Put in an extreme, do only things that means playing for me.
I experienced the relief several times before when I realised that things that I thought I have to do in fact can be done by others, who enjoy doing them (at least more than I do) and do them probably better. Instead of following these have-to-dos, I can focus on what I choose to do. I resonate the author when he found out, for instance, that he can live much better without writing clinical report that he thought he had to write - with fewer income, but higher life satisfaction in general.
I believe that once we weight the investment (previous time and life for instance) and the return (money, power, etc.) of things that we do, often we can make better, informed decisions that enrich our life.
We can follow five steps to express anger:
- Stop and breathe,
- Identify my judgemental thoughts,
- Connect with my needs,
- Empathize with the other person so that he or she will hear me, and
- Express my feelings and unmet needs
As a parent of two children, I have to solve conflicts from time to time. What I learned from the NYC technique is that I can concentrate on identifying the needs of both parties at the first place, instead of paying attention to the details of the conflict first. Only when I am sure that I understand all needs well, I should start looking for strategies to fulfil these needs.
During the process, I should not judge or analyse the conflict, however tempting that is. Instead, I remain focused on needs. And I do not hear “no” as a rejection, but rather as an expression of needs that keep the person from saying “yes”.
Appraisal and appreciation
NYC encourages the expression of appreciation solely for celebration, instead of influencing or manipulating the behaviour of others.
We state three things if we want to appraise someone: the action, the need, and the feelings. For instance, instead of saying “Markus you are such a helpful boy!”, we can say “Markus you brought the tools to me when I needed it urgently. That makes me proud.”
I enjoyed the book. I am trying to implement some techniques into my daily life. In some cases, it indeed helped me and others by exposing mutual emotions and feelings to each other. In more cases, I still fail living up to all the requirements and principles of NYC. The bottom line, however, is that now I realize that I have a choice to do it better next time.
When I think of the many great friends, colleagues, and mentors that I have and appreciate, almost all of them master one or the other aspect of nonviolent communication. The people I cherish observe carefully, articulate their feelings and needs without making moralistic judgement or being negative or pessimistic, and make clear and specific requests that help both them and me. They are living examples that I can learn from.
The book complements the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. While this book of NYC does not focuses on parenting only, the techniques are actually well embodied in the other book. After all, the needs of children are in many ways identical to those of adults. Therefore, both books are worth reading, especially for parents.
The many poems and lyrics by the author and Ruth Bebermeyer, a colleague of him, added human touch and rhythmic beauty to the book. The language was clear, concise, and humorous. The message of empathy, collaboration, authenticity and freedom, which are printed on the cover of the 3rd edition that I read, is well received.