Advocating for Yourself and Others: Nonviolent Communication Practices

Especially this year, you may have had the urge to scream. Your partner, a barista, a radio host – any one of them could have said something that for whatever reason set your stomach to boil.

You may take it personally: how could they say something like that to you? Maybe you want them to know how stupid they are: you f&*^%ing moron! Perhaps you’re too disgusted for words: contemptful silence.

Such reactions are associated with ego and adrenalin. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, all of these reactions serve to express disappointment… but not in a very productive manner.

Instead, such reactions put the onus on the other party to resolve the issue using guilt, humiliation, shame, blame, coercion, or even threats.

The term “nonviolent communication” (NVC) refers to a method of connection that relies on empathy.

Practicing NVC is just that… a practice. Nonviolent communication doesn’t just require that we communicate calmly with others – it asks that we look inside ourselves and understand what we are really asking.

Here, we’ve broken down the four steps to effective, nonviolent communication…

1. Observation

An important facet of NVC is understanding the difference between a factual observation, and an evaluation.

  • “I just got a text from Johnny asking me to pick him up, even though we had agreed that it was your turn to get him from karate,” is an observation
  • “I can’t believe you let your son and me down again,” is an evaluation

The observation lays plain the facts of the matter at hand without judging a person’s reasons for making their decision. Instead of attacking what might be a good, fair, or necessary reason, outlining the facts at hand demonstrates the way in which their decision making may not have considered you or your feelings.

2. Feeling

Once you’ve established the reason, or “observed” what has brought up negative emotions in you, name the feeling to the other person.

For example, “You were very late to our family dinner tonight (observation). That made me really sad (feeling).”

Alternatively, you can guess what the other person may be feeling, and ask. Naming the emotion without judgement for having felt it connects you to the other person. In naming a person’s emotion, you aim to accurately identify what you or that other person is experiencing – not to shame or prevent them from feeling as they do.

Naming emotions can be very difficult, and takes a great deal of work to feel comfortable with and good at.

For example, “You’ve been very quiet since I was so late for our family dinner (observation). Did my being late upset you?”

3. Meeting Needs

This part takes some practice. If you are the upset party, your job now is to identify the need that is responsible for your feeling of malcontent. Tuning into your feelings can be difficult, as they ask that you hold yourself responsible for addressing your emotions instead of putting the onus onto the other person.

By stating your need, you illuminate a clear path to resolution, and understand more of your own desires around connection, irritation, and love.

For example. “I see you looking at Instagram a lot when we’re together (observation). That makes me feel like you’re not really here (feeling). I want to feel connected when we’re together (need).”

It’s important to acknowledge that needs are universal, and not tied to any specific strategy for fulfillment. Your need may be “connection,” but Instagram is not the universal blocker to your fulfilling that need. You can connect with many people in many ways, or be blocked in many ways.

The important skill to develop is the ability to name the underlying need and illuminate a path toward fulfillment.

4. Take Action

You’ve identified your need, now it’s time to act. Capitalize on all the difficult work you’ve done by identifying what you need in the moment aloud.

An example: “I don’t want to see that movie (observation), the violence makes me uncomfortable (feeling). I’d actually like to spend some time reading my book (need), but let’s meetup for drinks after the movie has ended (action).

Asking doesn’t mean automatically receiving. The long-term benefit of NVC is the ability to capitalize on your self-knowledge, using it to make better decisions and communicate your position clearly, not to influence the actions of others.

Nonviolent communication is an important tool that can be used in many interpersonal settings including parenting, at work, in school, healthcare, and social relationships.

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