By Sunny Goddard
This article is in addition to Sunny’s presentation at the 2019 Wise Women Gathering, regarding using Non-Violent Communication.
(a.k.a. Compassionate or Conscious Communication)
There are many different aspects of the model that is Non-Violent Communication (NVC). In this article I would like to outline one of the foundational pieces of NVC we can practise within ourselves.
If we are to have clearer, kinder and more effective communications with those around us, we need to begin with noticing how we think about (and judge) ourselves, as well as observing the kinds of conversations we have inside our own heads.
When trying anything new, it’s likely we will stumble and fall a few times. New ways of thinking and speaking can feel quite clunky at first, and we may feel confused and discouraged while we stretch and learn into a new way of thinking, being and doing.
In my experience, it can be most effective to begin by implementing these practices, which I will share below, within ourselves first. We can do this by observing our own inner dialogue, thoughts and judgements, and thereby clock up some learning and experience before practising on others.
Many of us have a fairly narrow vocabulary when it comes to feelings and needs. This is even more difficult when we are emotionally triggered, as our capacity to access the higher functioning parts of our brains is compromised when we are stressed.
So it can be really useful to refer to the feelings and needs lists that accompany this article (ref: cnvc.org). They are a helpful resource in more accurately identifying our feelings and our specific needs. You might want to stick them up on your pantry or wardrobe door!
If we can’t be clear about how we are really feeling, what is really driving our upset and what our deeper needs are, how can we possibly expect somebody else to understand how we are feeling and what we are needing?
So enough preamble, let’s get into it!
“NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. NVC trains us to observe carefully…we learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in any given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.” 1
We focus the light of our consciousness on four areas:
1. Observations (not evaluations).
Firstly, we observe what is actually happening in a situation. What are we observing that others are saying or doing? (Or what are we saying or doing?) Here we want to articulate this observation without introducing any judgement or evaluation or story.
For example… ‘When I see your wet towel on the bathroom floor…’
2. Feelings (not judgements)
Next, it is time to go within. Do your best to be quiet and connect with yourself. Ask, what am I feeling right now? We’re looking for single words of a feeling nature, such as sad, amused, alone, angry, joyful, scared, uneasy, etc. (It’s a long list!)
For example… ‘When I see your wet towel on the bathroom floor, I feel annoyed and exasperated…’
3. Needs (not strategies)
Thirdly, we say what needs we have (a.k.a. values and desires) that are connected to the feelings we have named. We are talking about universal human needs here – those that show up consistently in humans across the world, regardless of culture or country. These are qualities such as respect, freedom, self-expression, consideration, rest, sleep, safety, to be heard, to belong – to name just a few.
For example… ‘When I see your wet towel on the bathroom floor, I feel annoyed and exasperated, because I need consideration and order in the rooms we share in common.’
4. Requests vs demands
The last step in this process is to form a request. The request may be to another person or it may be to yourself.
For example… ‘When I see your wet towel on the bathroom floor, I feel annoyed and exasperated, because I need consideration and order in the rooms we share in common. Would you be willing to hang up your wet towel or put it in the laundry basket?’
The other part of this communication is receiving the same four pieces of information from others. Even if the language is not in the same format, we can take a good guess at what the other person might be observing, feeling and needing and, finally, requesting.
These four areas also correlate with these four gestures:
- Hand on head – connecting with what you are observing. What are your thoughts? What is the story you’re telling yourself?
- Hand on heart – what are you feeling? What are the sensations? What is the emotional content as a result of what you have observed or the story you were telling yourself?
- Hand on solar plexus area – what are your needs at this time? Usually if there is some kind of upset the needs referred to here are out and met needs. More on our universal human needs later.
- Hands extended out – palms facing up in an open gesture representing a request that you may make to yourself or to another.
Here’s another example, combined with the gestures, to help you to embody the four-step process and remember it when you need it most!
This example we practise inside our own minds…
- Hand on head – what am I observing? ‘When he raises his voice loudly…’
- Hand on heart – ‘I feel a bit uneasy/scared/nervous…’
- Hand on solar plexus area – ‘because I need safety/calm/to be heard/trust.’
- Hands extended out, palms facing up in an open gesture representing a request – ‘Would I be willing to take a break/walk away, and finish this talk in half an hour/when I have /he has calmed down/broach it in another way?
It’s fairly similar when we then share it with the other person…
- Hand on head – what am I observing? ‘When you raise your voice loudly…’
- Hand on heart – ‘I feel a bit uneasy/scared/nervous…’
- Hand on solar plexus area – because I need safety/calm/to be heard/trust.’
- Hands extended out, palms facing up in an open gesture representing a request – Would you be willing to take a break, and finish this talk in half an hour/when we have both calmed down?
One more to practise…
- Hand on head – what am I observing? ‘I’m really stressed out and shouting at the kids a lot this morning…’
- Hand on heart – ‘I feel … overwhelmed/nervous/exhausted/angry…’
- Hand on solar plexus area – because I need… peace/support/rest/order.’
- Hands extended out, palms facing up in an open gesture representing a request –
Would I be willing to…
- a. take a break/walk away, ask partner/friend/family/neighbour for help?
Would I be willing to…
- b. find a way to lighten my load/get some extra childcare/let it go/calm down and breathe/say sorry/know I will get through this/offer myself some compassion and understanding?
NVC gives us a language to connect with ourselves and begin to understand what is going on inside us, and also to be compassionate about that, with ourselves and with others.
It gives us a model for self-responsibility and accountability by providing a framework to express our truth in ways that others are more likely to be able to hear (because there is self-accountability without blame).
Good luck in trying this out. Keep practising. Be gentle in your learning as you grow.
1 – Nonviolent Communication. A Language of Life. Marshall Rosenberg PhD. USA 2003. PuddleDancer Press
2 – Feelings Inventory and Needs Inventory lists are available at the Centre for Nonviolent Communication; https://www.cnvc.org
Since 2011, Sunny has lived on an intentional eco-community, where she holds the role of the mediator, offering safe and effective strategies during times of disagreement and conflict. She also has a consultancy business that implements restorative approaches, in the areas of communications, social change and conflict transformation, and she works with local community organisations who want to transform the way they relate and work together. Sunny’s tools include: Nonviolent Communication, Restorative Circles practice, and the skills and experience of 30 years work in complementary medicine, counselling, mindfulness and stress management.