Did you know giraffes have one of the largest hearts in the mammal kingdom? It’s true. Their hearts weigh in at 20-25 lbs. and measure up to two feet in length. I discovered this interesting fact by happenstance.
Years ago, while enrolled in a communication course, Nonviolent Communication Training Course, I encountered many unusual, at least unusual to me at the time, and life changing chunks of information.
This course took me by surprise. One minute my facilitator was speaking to the attendees directly, the next minute she was like a ventriloquist. Her once empty hand was suddenly an animated giraffe’s puppet head. And, was that giraffe smart! Every time the giraffe spoke, wisdom and compassion effortlessly rolled off its tongue. Silently, I thought, I wish I could be more like that giraffe. Suddenly, I found myself with giraffe envy.
In the next moment, she popped on a jackal’s puppet head. The jackal executed conversation like a man in combat. His words were like bullets, taking down, any and all, people in his way. Alienation, anger, and blame were his weapons of choice. Uh oh, I thought. This jackal talk sure sounds familiar to me. Oh no! I am a jackal-head. Help!
Apparently the founder of Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC), a brilliant man, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, determined that using puppets was an effective and fun way to facilitate understanding, listening, and connection, while participants retrained their brains to communicate from a place of connection and empathy rather than judgment, blame, and needing to be right.
Rosenberg’s four-step communication methodology is one well worth studying. He has helped successfully mitigate tribal warfare, rehabilitate prison inmates, and taught everyday individuals how to create mutual respect and cooperation through communication.
How many times have you stood opposite a friend, lover, or family member who rolled their eyes, crossed their arms, and huffed and puffed while you tried to muddle your way through a disagreement? How often have you been that person? I know it’s been me, many a time.
All of these unconscious gestures block effective communication, generate defensiveness, and invoke arguments. Wouldn’t you like to know a better way?
Nonviolent Communication’s (NVC) teachings extend beyond merely being a wordsmith. It is a technology that invokes a healthy interplay, simultaneously, of unspoken and spoken dialogues. Facial expressions, body gestures, silence and tone of voice are all a part of getting our message out in a way that it can be heard.
I will now highlight the most basic principles that make up NVC. For real results and comprehensive understanding you will need to attend a live workshop, watch training videos, and/or read the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Step One: Observation
Learn to speak in terms of observation rather than evaluation. Observation is the ability to look at something and report it exactly as it is.
Observation #1: Betty arrived an hour later than the meeting was scheduled.
Observation #2: George parked the car outside the designated lines.
Observation #3: Sally told me on the phone she was a tall blond. When we met in person I saw she was a short brunette.
Evaluation is embellished talk peppered with moral, personal, and social judgments leading the listener to feel as though he or she is being criticized. The moment the listener feels criticized defenses are invoked immediately decreasing the possibility of mutual cooperation.
Evaluation #1: Betty is a slacker.
Evaluation #2: George is a moron.
Evaluation #3: Sally is a liar and a fake.
Notice the difference between evaluation and observation?
Learning to speak through observation, I found, at first, nearly impossible. Speaking in terms of evaluation is socially ingrained in every aspect of our culture including education, politics, religion, entertainment, and business.
This step, alone, is a lifetime practice.
Step Two: Feelings
After communicating through observation, the next step would be to identify and express your feelings.
What are you feeling? This step requires the cultivation of emotional literacy. Knowing what you are feeling when you are feeling it.
I feel happy…
I feel sad…
I feel grateful…
I feel judged…
Rosenberg asserts that emotions are a compass, which points to our underlying needs being met or unmet.
When our basic needs are met we are happy. When our basic needs are not met we are unhappy. There are, of course, thousands of variations on this one theme.
Unmet needs can lead to jealousy, anger, hate, sadness, disappointment, fatigue, depression, etc. Needs that have been met lead to feelings of happiness, joy, affection, inspiration, fascination, enthusiasm, and contentment, etc.
Expressing feelings builds bridges. By nature, humans are feeling creatures. It is a powerful way to build connection.
If you are somebody who has been taught to disregard your feelings or suppress your emotions, this step requires extra work.
As well, distinguishing thoughts from feelings is another crucial part of effectively implementing this step. (Please refer to NVC materials for further clarification.)
Step Three: Needs
A need is something you have to have. It is the driving force behind all that you do, whether you are aware of it or not. A man exercises because of his need for health; a woman eats because of her need for food; a child sleeps because of his/her need for rest.
Needs (beyond food, water, and shelter) are different for each person. Needs include a wide range of things: acceptance, belonging, community, friendship, intimacy, acknowledgment, recognition, respect, etc. When your needs are met you are at your best.
Since needs are at the root of our emotions, Rosenberg asserts that one of the biggest breakdowns in our communication stems from judging others for our needs being met or unmet. Connecting to our personal needs and taking responsibility for our own feelings is fundamental to successful communication. Not only does this personal responsibility lead to good communication, it also leads to a better chance of your needs being met.
1) “You made me sad by ignoring me the other day at the concert.”
2) “I felt sad the other day at the concert, because I really wanted time to connect with you. Spending time with you is valuable to me.”
In the first statement above, the speaker attributes responsibility for his/her sadness to the other person. The speaker doesn’t take responsibility for his/her feelings. In the second statement, the speaker’s feelings of sadness are traced to his/her own personal desire for connection and intimacy while taking personal responsibility for his/her feelings.
Make sense? I needed Dr. Rosenberg’s book to really learn this one!
Step Four: Requests
The fourth step in the NVC model is to make requests. Now that you have identified how you are feeling and what you need, you are ready to make a request. The request can be of yourself or another. A request is not to be confused with a demand, which implies somebody must do what you say to make you happy.
1) “You better show up and talk to me at the concert.”
2) “I feel really inspired when we talk and connect. Will you make 30 minutes of time for me when we see each other at the concert this weekend?”
The first statement implies there will be a consequence if the person does not show up to talk. Whereas, the second statement is a question, clearly asking for what the person wants, and leaves room for the other person to respond from his/her truth.
Whether you are looking to improve your personal or professional communication, NVC can help you understand a new way to approach your communication. Give these four steps a try and see what happens for you.
Do you have a form of communication that works successfully for you or are you an NVC practitioner? Share your thoughts below…