Changing our Learned Programming to Master The Art of Non-Violent Communication
Living in a non-violent communication way shows us how we are totally screwing it all up.
I discovered non-violent communication many, many years ago while stumbling on a video of Marshall Rosenburg discussing his theory of non-violent communication on YouTube. At the time, I was researching methods of conflict resolution and how to incorporate new ways of communicating with my peers. I was intrigued by Marshall Rosenburg’s history of mediation, resolving conflict in volatile nations, and his methods for diffusing anger coming from a place of hate. His emphasis on non-violent language helps to create a better understanding of how people can meet each other’s needs.
Non Violent Communication videos are available on YouTube and I started my online research to find as much information as I could to try and figure out this method of communicating. I read his books and I quickly learned that living a NVC life where interrelating with others in a respectful, non-judgemental way would prove much more difficult than I thought. I have proven to myself countless times that I am inexperienced and unsuccessful at NVC. I diagnose before communicating, passing judgments upon myself and others before hearing another person. Then after hearing their words I try to assume, explain what I thought they are saying before I tell them what I heard. This is a total failure. And these are behavioral habits that we all have learned and grown up with. Non-violent communication requires a constant censorship of our trained, habitual use of destructive language. This destructive language has been ingrained in all of us in schools and our families. We are taught to express ourselves wrong. Communicating with others creates more conflict than resolution as we struggle to understand where judgements come from and are preoccupied with diagnosing another human being.
I personally have come across someone who was very successful in this form of communicating simply because they can’t speak. My small dog Cricket, although very vocal at protecting our mailbox she is excellent at practicing principles of NVC. Consistently non-judgemental — she has a keen sense of knowing my need for distraction from stress or a much needed moment of comfort during times of despair. She observes without judging, blaming, and doesn’t have a problem with expressing her feelings immediately. Especially when she smashes her stainless steel dog dish across the kitchen with her little paw. She does have some issues with expressing why she has a distaste for white rice. Her unmet needs are communicated daily with doggie voracity and a good amount of a whiney or angry growl like expression. She has proven time and time again why her name is Cricket in her 14 years of living with me. She also expresses gratitude freely as she steadily licks my hands or arms to say thank you when I pet her. Our dogs seem to naturally exemplify a certain aspect of this way of communicating as they communicate without language. We cannot fully understand their feelings and they can’t use language to tell us how to resolve any of their angst. I suppose Cricket has never really paid attention to Marshall’s YouTube videos so she doesn’t even realize that she has this natural talent towards NVC. She was clicker-trained in her puppy days so she does respond well to positive feedback and “doggie delicious” treats. We never yelled or cruelly punished an animal for perceived bad behavior that the animal did not know was wrong. Instead, I attempted to mold them into desirable behaviors and guided them by reenforcing wanted behaviors. Still, it is easier because dogs do not understand human words. Therefore calling any one of them stinky booger balls never hurts any feelings. If I called a coworker a stinky booger ball I don’t think that it would come across as an invitation to play fetch.
Communicating non-violently doesn’t mean that you are too nice or a pushover. In fact, it is a philosophy where all humans set aside egos, judgments, prejudices, blame, hearing criticisms, as well as criticizing, diminishing bullying so that we can request and understand another person’s request during communication. Win-win, even-steven, a state of loving by understanding another human’s emotions behind their actions. This is where everyone has an equal place at the table where words can be used as helpful mechanisms to gain a better understanding of the other and ourselves. Then all of us can live in a state of connection. Connection to ourselves leads to connection with others and creates formidable relationships where both parties can reach an understanding of each other.
Negative emotions such as anger, hate, divisive acts all come from a place of unmet human needs. Humans can live in a state of choice, they have the freedom to give and the freedom to decline to give. A nonjudgmental reality with no hate, bias, judgments, criticisms can exist when we change how we hear what another person is saying. When we no longer hear the criticism, hate, anger we transform feelings to reflect unmet needs and we reframe the conversation to create a connection with another human being.
Marshall Rosenburg has some great examples of this in his books but one real-life situation could be resolving a disagreement with a colleague at work:
- First define what the issue is that is not meeting your need and do this without using judgmental, critical, angry language that deflects from the realness of the situation and how it impacts your need.
- Second, find a way to communicate your need and request of the other person if they would be able to meet that need. Discuss without using words that criticize, blame, or place sole responsibility on the other person. Ask for permission for room to discuss any solutions.
- Finally, understand the other person’s need for space to think about and decide how they can meet your needs and how you can meet their needs to help resolve this situation.
Request space and the time to have an open dialog before making any need requests with another person. Prepare the other person without blaming, criticizing, but focusing on what is going on inside you. An angry approach is not a productive environment for a favorable outcome and will further alienate and create a disconnect. If you are communicating with true honesty and your focus is to express anger inside; it may take several attempts before the other person has developed any empathy towards you in order to accurately hear what you are trying to communicate. Until they can open their own hearts towards understanding and allow themselves to express their needs it may be difficult to come to a resolution immediately. The more heard another person is, where they feel as though you can understand where they are coming from, the more it can open lines of communication where that person can discuss with you and find a resolution or agree to your request.
I agree that approaching situations with peace can bring about important social change. Conflict resolution and communication needs to be taught in schools to our youth. We really need to take a look at how our institutions are training and teaching language. Our society is so ingrained in punishment and blame and this escalates and creates fear, hurt, bullying amongst peers, bullying with children, we do not communicate in order to connect with other humans. We don’t care about another person’s needs. We should.
What I find most interesting in the methods of NVC is how it allows people to be individuals who feel safe expressing themselves. This is valuable in working with creatives and in helping children to feel that they are allowed to be creative, weird, free, unique. It gives space to allow them to figure it out and not feel judged. Moving forward it is important to establish safe institutions where creativity and new thought can flourish without judgment but guidance. Instead of recycling old ideas and repackaging them, we can nourish a whole new era of uniqueness and fresh thought. Space where no one hears criticism, anger, or hate. Instead they hear what is behind that. The words that are resonating from other human mouths may not truly be hate or anger. And that is where we need to help our future young adults to look past the words and find the true meanings behind them. There is always something that is not communicated. It’s solely dependent on the person who is hearing it to reinterpret what the words are hiding and to get the other person to explain the needs behind the words.
Contributing to another person’s well-being and growth is the key to living a compassionate, meaningful life and this can produce social change. There is suffering in life — anger in people. We all have the same needs as human beings, we just do not always have those needs met and that is why we are angry. We need to create more understanding and a better way of living. We need to educate ourselves to reverse our own programming and to show compassion towards ourselves and our own misgivings. We need to choose to help others see that they deserve compassion without any moralistic judgments just as is taught in NVC. Non-violent communication is a way to unlearn the verbal habits of criticism, hate, blame, and pervasive judgments that we are all accustomed to in this society.
Instead, we can create a world of connection through communication with a consciousness towards everyone’s needs and provide them a little happiness.