Nonviolent Communication

As a coach, I am often struck by the critical role of language and our use/abuse of words in everyday exchanges. While we may not consider the way we talk to be “violent,” words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or ourselves. I also think that the clearer we are about what we want, the more likely it is that we’ll get it.

After reading Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication- A Language of Life, I was inspired to take a course in Compassionate Communication, (NVC) offered by the Open Center.

The four components of the NVC model are: Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests.

1. Observations:
What I’m hearing you ask me is…
I see that…

First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we hearing others say or do? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation- to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like.

2. Feelings:
I am feeling…

Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated? I found that checking in with my body is key for this step. By being aware of the place where the sensations reside, I am able to increase my vocabulary on what is happening for me in the moment. When my needs are unmet, I sometimes feel confused, irritable, vulnerable and disappointed.

I came to learn that some words in English mix two kinds of expression: feelings and evaluation. Using these “mixed” words, such as: overlooked, unheard, devalued or pressured can be stimulating for others to hear but may not foster understanding and connection. So, choosing your words carefully in this step is key.

3. Needs:

I’m wanting…
Because I value…

Thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified. During the class we were presented with a “needs inventory” which I’ve found to be quite helpful. Am I wanting space, appreciation, balance, cooperation, support, acceptance? Or do I have a need for security, humor, clarity, expression, belonging? Three needs that resonated with me during the exercises were the need for authenticity, joy and freedom.

Every living organism has needs. I often find when I am mediating arguments between two clients, it is likely more heated when the parties have the same unmet needs on the table.

4. Requests:
I am wondering if…
Would you be willing to…

The fourth component is to make a specific request. This step addresses what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives.

For example, a co-worker might express these four NVC steps through a conversation with his colleague by saying, “Susan, when I see dirty tissues and papers all over the floor and under your work desk, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the space that we share in common.” He would follow up immediately with the fourth component- a very specific request: “Would you be willing to put your papers in the cabinet or your garbage in the trash bin?”

NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. It replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. It might sound odd or different at first, to speak in these terms, but who can argue with patience and understanding?

I have two sessions to complete at The Open Center but I’ve already identified that this specific approach to communicating- both speaking and listening- connects me with others in a way that allows my natural compassion to grow.

Want to try practicing NVC? Here are some suggestions to get you started:
– During the day, check in with yourself and do a scan of your body. What are you feeling at that moment?
– Carry a list of needs with you in your wallet, and look at it during the day to support awareness and recognition.
– Practice empathy with yourself. Go through the model, either silently, on paper or out loud. What are you observing/hearing yourself say in terms of what are you feeling? Is there an action you could take that would meet your needs?
– While others speak, try empathetically listening to understand what they are feeling. Ask the other person to pause if you’re confused, lost or overwhelmed.