Do you feel misunderstood by friends, family or co-workers? Do you carefully plan how to broach a difficult subject only to find yourself in a bigger mess than when you started? Ever feel as if you are perceived as a jerk even though you have good intentions?
I get it … and I also have an answer for you – it’s based on Non Violent Communication (NVC) which was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. NVC is a structured process for communicating that really works. Here’s what it looks like. The premise is not about being right or wrong, it’s about coming to mutual understanding.
Step 1: Deep Mutual Respect
Step 2: Timing
Step 3: State feelings using “I” statement
Step 4: Create context regarding the difficult feeling
Step 5: Make a request
Step 6: Negotiate
NVC can be used with partners, family members, work mates, or just about anybody. Its really good at helping people move through conflict in a positive way. Let’s look closer at the process.
Step One: Deep Mutual Respect. Spend a moment (or perhaps longer if this is new to you) focusing on loving and deeply respecting yourself. Come to a place where you feel peaceful with who you are and what you stand for. Then, try to extend this feeling of unconditional respect for the person you are in conflict with – even if your values differ or you don’t like how they behave. Just try to have compassion. This may be harder or easier depending on the emotional patterns you have established throughout your life. For some of us, this process may take just a moment, for others it may take a lot longer and may require the assistance of a therapist or a friend.
Step Two: Timing. Ask the other person if they have time for a conversation. If they are distracted and need to plan for a time in the future, try to get specific on when they would be able to talk freely.
Step Three: “I” statements and feelings. Once you are both ready to talk, you can begin by stating your feelings as they relate to the interaction that is causing you concern. Use “I” statements such as “I feel nervous when I am in new places” or “I get overwhelmed and then I shut down when I have too much to do” or “I get sad and then really angry when I feel people don’t care about me”.
Step Four: Context. Create context as it relates to the other person. This could sound something like “when you didn’t answer my texts for two days” or “when you left the house without telling me this morning” or “when you gave me that big project two days ago” etc.
For this part it is especially important to connect with the feelings of deep mutual respect so that the other person does not feel defensive. We often don’t know the other person’s reason for doing the things that may cause us pain or frustration (even if we think we do because they seem obvious) we need to make sure not to judge the action and just stay with the facts.
At this stage things might get resolved. Your boss might say “I gave you the project because I believe in you and it never occurred to me you might be overwhelmed with other work”, or your boy/girlfriend might state “I was in such a rush to get to a meeting and you were busy so I didn’t want to bother you by saying goodbye.” By coming into the conversation with unconditional respect, it’s likely that the other person will not feel challenged or defensive, but maybe even relieved to be able to clarify their behavior or words.
Step Five: Make a request. This part can be absolutely terrifying for people, because many of us are raised to think making a request is aggressive or selfish. Requests can seem presumptuous, bossy or rude especially if we are not used to making them. If we make the request with the intention of allowing the other person to say Yes or No, we allow the other person to feel like they can engage with us rather than feel threatened. This shift can make all the difference to getting what you both want and to maintaining harmony.
The request could be something like “I’d like to request that when you receive a text from me you reply within 4 hours, is this something you think you could do?” or “Next time you give me a project, could we take a few minutes to see how it will fit into the rest of my workload and establish timelines based on my total workload” or “would you feel comfortable making sure I know when you leave the house in the morning even if you are in a rush”.
Step Six: Negotiate. This is another area where people can feel uncomfortable. However, our goal is to get to a mutually beneficial solution. Sometimes negotiations can yield unexpected results. For example, the boss could say “Actually, I’m so busy I can’t promise to do that, but I’ve been thinking we can hire someone to assist you with your workload. How does that sound?” or your friend could say “I can’t always get back to you during the day because my training schedule keeps me out of cell phone range, but I can make sure to get back to you by the end of the day. Would that work?” Or your boy/girlfriend could say, “Absolutely, I had no idea that leaving without letting you know bothered you. I’ll make sure to come give you a kiss before I leave to go to work in the morning”. By creating a non-threatening set-up to the conversation, you now have an opening to co-create situations that can work for both of you.
NVC is a process we can continually practice and refine. I find that when I slow down and move through the steps, the results can be profound and I’ve witnessed positive results over and over again with clients.
The NVC process is even more powerful when it’s shared with partners, family members and co-workers. Many workplaces conduct trainings in NVC and there are often workshops for individuals and couples. If you think NVC can help a situation you are currently in, I provide consultations over the phone and can meet with couples or individuals for a couple sessions to simply work through one particular issue, or I can refer you to workshops and other therapists who do this work.