Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life Paperback – September 1, 2003
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Seeking to de-colonize our mental processes of violent attitudes, he illustrates that the language we use has been en-culturated in us, and shows us how we can change our dialogue. By doing so, he demonstrates how we can connect with others and ourselves empathetically. His methods are easy to learn yet hard to master because the difficulty is breaking through the chains that condition us.
Most of us have been taught to place blame and feel shame. These are the feelings that Mr. Rosenberg seeks to bypass to provide us with more constructive ways of dealing with interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict.
Summarizing the communication model he advocates, in dialogue during tense situations first we must state our observations in a non-rebuking manner, with an awareness of the words we use and their potential impact on others. Next we state our feelings, again without placing blame on others. He emphasizes that although others may be a stimulus for how we are feeling only we are in control of our actual feelings. Therefore the words we use cannot assign fault of any kind to others. Then, we state the need that is causing our feeling. Finally, we make a request for action to meet the need we have identified.
Throughout his exposition on method he provides examples and case studies of its use, including times when he had to use the method himself. Then he goes on to illustrate how the method can be used in internal dialogue with ourselves to identify feeling states such as shame. His approach can be be used in both domestic relations and with our professional relationships, promoting better home environments as well as more pleasant work atmospheres.
Obviously, in order to use the method effectively, self reflection is key, and we need to work through our feelings before attempting to initiate dialogue so that we are on guard and are able to choose our words wisely when confronting others. With one minor mis-step we are back in the blame shame game and instead of reaching empathetic connection, interactions will escalate into the angry confrontations that we are used to.
By stepping back, and self reflecting before we confront, we can analyze the particular need that is spurring our anger in a given situation. By stating this need in a non accusatory manner we can relate more empathetically when we do relate to those who are provoking our anger. The same approach works in conflict in which both parties are angry. By recognizing each others needs the parties can begin to work out their conflict more empathetically.
The merit of this model is that it teaches us to become more aware of how we react, provides us skills in self reflection, as well as providing us with a means of getting in touch with our feelings. We react according to how we have been taught. Re-teaching ourselves a new method of interacting and being is the challenge. However, by attempting the model we can begin to understand how much conditioning we have had even if we fail at first.
I like how Mr. Rosenberg puts his main points in bullets making it easy for a reader to take notes. I also like the case studies he included showing the method in action. I doubt the book is as effective as a workshop with Mr. Rosenberg because of all the conditioning we have had that a workshop would increase our awareness of. Still, there is a lot in this book worth reflecting on and this general summary cannot adequately convey how to use this particular approach to dialogue. Readers are encouraged to read what Mr. Rosenberg has to say before attempting the method that he advocates. For anyone seeking alternative methods to interpersonal relations this book is worth checking out.
The book starts off by explaining the process of Nonviolent Communication which boils down to four steps:
1. Observe what's happening - what's really going on? What is happening or being said that you either like or dislike?
2. Identify your feelings about it - anger, joy, hopeful, inspired, lonely?
3. Figure out what need you have that is driving that feeling
4. Ask for what you need (explicitly)
When you feel an emotional response to a situation, Rosenberg contends that it's always based on some unmet need. So figure out what that need is and then request (don't demand) for the other person to fulfill it. Use phrases like:
"Would you be willing to set the table?" rather than "Set the table."
So, that's the process of non-violent communication in a nutshell. He then goes on to talk about "communication that blocks compassion," such as moralistic judgements, making comparisons, communication that implies that we do not have responsibility for our own "thoughts, feels and actions," and communicating desires in the form of demands.
The next several chapters delve further into each step of the process. Using great examples from his own workshops and personal experiences, Rosenberg presents each step in a thoughtful and straightforward way with exercises at the end of each chapter to test your understanding of the subject matter.
The book then goes on to explain how to receive communication in an empathic way, which is based on those same principals, but now, your honestly trying to get to the bottom of the other person's needs to find out how you might be able to help fulfill them. He describes different ways that we prevent ourselves from being fully present for someone including: advising, one-upping, educating consoling, story-telling, shutting down, sympathizing, interrogating, explaining and correcting. And, the many benefits of empathy.
Rosenberg refers to all of this compassion and need-filling as finding ways to "enrich our lives or the lives of others." I love that. When you approach every communication with that question, "how can I enrich my life or theirs?" it's amazing how differently you think about approaching a situation!
He says that "NVC's most important use may be in developing self-compassion." One way in which we do this is to recognize that we always have choice. Even if it feels like we don't - we do. There might be ramifications for not doing something that you feel you have no choice in, but you still choose to do it. And, once you realize that there's a choice and WHY you are choosing to do what you are doing, you may actually be able to find a better way - one that makes you happier.
One of the most important chapters in the book has to do with expressing anger. Rosenberg says that NVC doesn't suggest that you can't be angry about anything. Quite the opposite. If you're experiencing anger, you need to fully express it. However, you need to accurately identify the cause of your anger, which is always your own thinking - not someone else's actions. Their actions might have been the catalyst, but the emotion is your own. Then, you basically use the same four steps to work through your anger and attempt to get your needs met.
For me, an HR Lady, one of the most interesting chapters was "Expressing Appreciation in Nonviolent Communication." I've always felt like reward and recognition programs including praise and compliments in most workplaces don't usually provide the intended behavior changes. Now, I think I understand why - the intention behind these practices. Rosenberg states, "recipients of such praise do work harder, but only initially. Once they sense the manipulation behind the appreciation, their productivity drops. What is most disturbing for me, however, is that the beauty of appreciation is spoiled when people begin to notice the lurking entent to get something out of them." From my experience, I believe this is true. So, how do we provide meaningful appreciation? Rosenberg lays out three components:
1. "the actions that have contributed to our well-being."
2. "the particular needs of ours that have been fulfilled."
3. "the pleasureful feelings engendered by the fulfillment of those needs."
If the appreciation is delivered succinctly with all 3 of these components, then the receiver will be much more likely to realize that the appreciation is genuine.
Like I said in the beginning, I wish I had read this book a long time ago. I gained a lot of insight from this book and will definitely be doing more research and reading on nonviolent communication. I think I might order the workbook next.
I started this book yesterday morning and finished the last chapter of it this morning, so it's also a quick and easy read. I give it four stars out of five, only because some of the ways that he states certain questions when trying to take regular communication to the NVC process just do not sound real. I can't imagine someone saying some of the statements that he says we should use in real life and some of the things that he claims to have said to people actually sound pretty harsh to me. Perhaps they did get at the heart of an issue or reveal a "truth" but I'm not sure about the exact means used to get there. Overall a GREAT book!
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Having said that the book is a wonderful tool to get to grips with the theory and practice.There are youtube videos of the creator of this system, and the writer of this amazing book, Marshall Rosenberg. Truly, if this system was used by politicians (unlikely as there's too much vested interests), there would be no wars, as this system helps to melt the warring type of language.
For me Nonviolent Communication offers a way to transform pain and suffering which I've found nowhere else.