Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nonviolent Communication

In my last post (Seek to Understand, 11/11/10) I talked about the connection that I saw between Stephen Covey's ideas about 'Empathic Communication' and Marshall Rosenberg's 'Nonviolent Communication' (also known as 'Compassionate Communication' and 'NVC'). In some ways, Rosenberg's writings seem an expansion of Covey's 'habit' of Seek First to Understand.

There are two parts to NVC: expressing what we want honestly and 'receiving empathically'. In the book Nonviolent Communication, Rosenberg seems to reverse the order that Covey set up in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as 'Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood'. Marshall Rosenberg begins his book by first teaching people how to communicate requests effectively. There is a chapter each on how to give clear observations, how to express feelings, how to clarify the needs, values, and desires behind the feelings, and how to make clear and reasonable requests. Only after all of this has been described does the book go on to listening. Yet Rosenberg writes, "I would recommend allowing others to fully express themselves before turning our attention to solutions or requests for relief."

I think the reason that the lessons on expressing ourselves come before paying attention to others in the book is because Rosenberg believes that it is essential that we can differentiate observations from evaluations and judgements, that we can tell what is really a feeling from an interpretation disguised as a feeling (he points out that terms like 'misunderstood', 'ignored', and 'abused' are all interpretations, whereas 'hurt', 'sad', 'irritated', and 'discouraged' are real feelings), and that we can identify the needs and beliefs behind feelings rather than putting the responsibility for our feelings on others. The need for this becomes clear as Rosenberg trains us to then listen for feelings and needs as others speak. Similar to Covey, Rosenberg suggests that we should reflect back to others by paraphrasing as well as asking questions that try to clarify the observations, feelings, needs, or requests that we hear in the communication of others.

Not that this is easy to do. I mentioned in my last post that I have become part of a group focusing on learning NVC. One of the members of our small group is a housemate of mine. Unfortunately, at our last house meeting I lost it about some trivial request another housemate was making. She was very attached to doing it one way and we started yelling at each other before I realized that it really wasn't that big a deal and I backed down. Afterwards, the housemate that I am in the group with said to me, "Don't worry, I won't report you to the NVC police." It was pretty funny, but I was also wishing that I had been able to listen to my other housemate's needs and feelings rather than get so caught up in my own stuff. Understanding all this is one thing, actually being able to do it is another.

In another real life example, I was also part of a group that fell apart rather dramatically one evening (with four group members walking out on us). I felt helpless and even think that some of what I did may have made things worse. But one woman in the group was marvelous--she stayed calm and compassionate and really seemed to be listening and being right with each person.

I asked to get together with her in the wake of the group's demise, so we could try to figure out what happened. When I pointed out to her how helpful she had been that evening she said, "I've been studying Nonviolent Communication..." When it works, it's powerful.

Quote of the Day: "I continue to be amazed by the healing power of empathy. ... What is essential is our ability to be present to what's really going on within--to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment." - Marshall Rosenberg


Turil said...

It's useful to understand ourselves first because others are going to be extremely similar to us. :-) Knowing very clearly what we want will help us recognize what others want, even when their communication isn't clear at all.

MoonRaven said...

Good observation, Turil. Looking at what we feel, need, and want is an important step in improving our communication with others.

Thanks for sharing this. It gives me much to think about.