Nonviolent communication

Words are powerful.

We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we want to be heard. And we’ve all been in situations where we could have done a better job of listening.

I worked with someone with whom communication was challenging, to say the least. I tried all sorts of strategies, I took courses, read books to try to over come those challenges…all to no avail.  It left me feeling pretty hopeless, actually.  I am typically a person who oozes positivity and enthusiasm. This took me for a loop and left me feeling frustrated, ashamed at my own shortcomings, and dejected, frankly.

I didn’t want to let the relationship end without learning something or trying to improve upon my own communication skills.  I decided to read this book and take a  course with the Center for Nonviolent Communication in the foundations of compassionate communication or non-violent communication (NVC).

The practice of NVC has it’s roots in the civil rights movements of the 1960s.  Many of the social justice movements I’ve been involved with have been founded in theories of non-violence. NVC is a tool that can be used towards the social justice end.  The rationale and sentiment behind it seemed like it would naturally jive with my sensibilities.   

As a basic premise, NVC supposes that all human have a set of basic needs that go way beyond just the physical needs to include needs such as love, understanding, compassion, purpose, and so on.  If we can identify our own needs that motivate our behaviors, which might not be evident at first blush, then we may be able to recognize how to fulfill that need or identify how it is currently being filled.  The trick is to do so in a way that carries no judgement or evaluation but that is based on a series of observations and feelings associated with those observations.

Likewise, if we can communicate in such a way as to discover the needs that motivate behaviors in others, we can connect more deeply and in ways that satisfy both parties.  Typically, it is the strategy to fulfill our needs that conflicts with other people, but not the need itself.  By unpacking what the needs may be, with empathy and non-judgement, there is hope for a mutually agreeable strategy to appear and unfold.

That’s it in a nutshell.

Except that it is much harder to do in practice than it may sound.  It takes commitment, time, and a vulnerability that I am not accustomed to, especially in the workplace, even my social-justice-minded workplaces.   I struggled a bit with this method not being based in research and there are several suggested ways of communicating that seem clunky or unnatural.  That aside…I am eager to learn more and use some of what I learned to improve my skills.

What tools do you bring to the workplace to ensure clear and honest communication?

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