Basics of NVC

I’m definitely a newbie with NonViolent Communication. But my last post sparked some conversation and I decided to share a little more backbone to the process as I currently understand it. This information is primarily coming from a couple of videos linked in my prior post, as well as this website and this book by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, the developer of the process.

Basic tenets:

There are universal feelings and needs that are common to all of us. By finding those things we share in common, we develop empathy toward ourselves and each other. Once that connection is made, solutions to problems are more easily found. The goal of the process is to come to the place of empathetic connection. Here are the basic steps:

Step 1: Describe the event

What happened? Stick to the facts. What are observable things that you noticed? “You are lazy” is not it. “Over the past two weeks, I never saw you do the dishes” is it. That’s something you could put on a tally sheet and quantify. And notice that it leaves room to be clarified by the other person. Perhaps they did do the dishes but you just didn’t see them. “You never listen to me” is not it. “You have been looking at your phone and not giving eye contact for the past 5 minutes while I’ve been talking” is it.

Step 2: Find the feelings

What are you feeling? This might be tougher than it sounds. “I feel like you…” is not a feeling. It’s an opinion or a thought. “I feel that…” also not a feeling.  “I feel abandoned” is a feeling-ish.  “Feelings” like that are often used in a way that insinuates blame and is likely to trigger defensiveness… such as an implied “You abandoned me”. That kind of statement is an opinion. Instead of “abandoned”, try one or some of these feelings- lonely, sad, afraid, perplexed, livid or resentful.

Step 3: Identify the needs

Take the feelings you found above and try to determine where they’re coming from. “I feel __________ because I need ____________.” These needs are universal. “I feel hungry because I need a French fry” is not universal and “hungry” isn’t a heart feeling.  “I feel edgy because I need food” is universal. “I feel angry because I need you to….” umm, no. Not it. You might have something you’d like someone else to do for you, but that’s actually a request. It doesn’t describe your need. “I feel lonely because I need intimacy” is an expression of a universal need that underlies the feeling. Notice that your feelings are a direct result of your need.

Step 4: Make a request

AFTER mutual connection (which means the above process is explored until both parties are understood), describe what action might meet your needs. Be specific. Be concrete. Be current. What tangible thing could the other person do in the present that would increase your joy factor? Be flexible with the other person and with yourself. The specific strategy used to meet your need can fluctuate without negating your need. What is the other person willing to do?


What it’s not:

A way to make a demand. If you actually intend to make a demand, you are not practicing NonViolent Communication even if every other step is completed. Sometimes we don’t even recognize a demand in ourselves or someone else until a “no” gets thrown in there. If someone loses their cool or things turn nasty after a “request” is turned down, it was never a request. You can and will have feelings about a “no”. But having feelings and trying to shame, blame or guilt the other person because they gave you a “no” are two different things. NVC is intended to provide a deeper level of connection. Any use of force, coercion or manipulation is opposed to the intent of NVC. Perhaps the other person will do something for you that you request of them, but that’s the icing on the cake if it happens.

A panacea. In my opinion, there will be those with whom you may desire to connect but who don’t have the capacity for empathy or who insist on making demands rather than requests. I would also speculate that a person whose reality is unstable/ substantially shifts – not their interpretation of  or thoughts about prior events but their recollection of actual prior events – will be unable to make it through the process given that the fist step involves agreeing on basic facts. I also struggle to see how NVC applies in legal matters. But, Marshall Rosenberg successfully used NVC as a tool to bring peace in the worst of circumstances, so maybe my mind will shift on this as I learn more.

A cancellation of boundaries. Having empathy for another person does not mean you will or must agree on their requested strategy to meet their need.  Or perhaps you have a competing need that makes it unfeasible for you to meet the other person’s need at all. No still means no.

What it is:

Difficult. It’s a new language for your brain. Learning a new language is difficult. We have been trained to tune out feelings, or react to our feelings without even identifying or owning them. And being in the USA, strength and independence are king. Identifying our feelings and admitting to our needs is tough going. Taking responsibility for our own feelings and needs is perhaps even more foreign. “I feel impatient because you are making us late” is a much more typical way of assigning responsibility as compared to “I feel impatient when you are running late because I need consistency.”

Uncomfortable. I went to a practice session last night. We did a very simple exercise working through the above steps for each one of us. Most of us gave a one sentence observation we had on our hearts and minds. Then we identified a handful of feelings we had in relation to the situation. During the next step we identified a few needs we had that provoked the feeling. Holy Moly! How often have you actually listened to and been with someone else as they shared their heart, their mutual humanity, their life bloodwithout trying to judge, analyze or fix a thing? Most of us have been trained to judge, analyze and fix all within 30 seconds. Simply being with the other person in their discomfort is… uncomfortable.

Powerful! One of the attendees at the practice session I attended expressed surprise by the personal revelation they found while going through the process. “By golly, this thing really does work!” I think we all felt that way to some extent.

I hope you take the opportunity to learn more about NonViolent Communication. I’d love to hear what you think of the process and how it has impacted your life. Many have found peace with this method. And Lord knows this world could use more peace.

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