Tag Archives: nonviolent communication

Book Review – Nonviolent Communication

From my Goodreads Review

During a recent conversation with our younger son and his girlfriend, I mentioned a workshop about nonviolent communication, and immediately Katryna responded that it reminded her of the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which she had on a bookshelf, having read portions of the book but not a cover-to-cover read. I then blurted “that is who trained the leader of the workshop!” As a result, I borrowed the book from the library. (I hadn’t taken the workshop, just expressed interest in it.)

I wrote four blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4) about the process of NVC, and in the first mentioned my tendency to avoid self-help books, of which this appeared to be one.

However, I ultimately found it a thoughtful process and one that will lurk in the back of my mind as the approach jells. My reason for reading the book was an interest in figuring out how to have potentially unpleasant conversations with people around the myriad topics that have been pervading our lives for the past four years. In other words, how to engage with people when we do not see eye-to-eye.

I don’t have any expectation of changing mindsets, but I would like to be able to discuss rather than listen without comment when someone expresses a belief with which I do not agree. It has often felt to me like my silence was seen as complicit agreement, when actually my silence was either trying to better comprehend why someone would feel the way they expressed, or else my wanting to avoid conflict. Either way, engaging the person in dialog using the principles of NVC would have met my need to find out why they felt the way they did in a way that would likely engender positive discussion rather than conflict.

One other aspect of NVC that particularly resonated comes from the final chapter, Expressing Appreciation in Nonviolent Communication. It has always been difficult for me to accept compliments; I often want to reflect them back on the speaker. To quote Rosenberg:

NVC encourages us to receive appreciation with the same quality of empathy we express when listening to other messages. We hear what we have done that has contributed to others’ well-being; we hear their feelings and the needs that were fulfilled. We take into our hearts the joyous reality that we can each enhance the quality of others’ lives.

Nonviolent Communication: Requesting That Which Would Enrich Life

That is a lengthy title for the fourth precept of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as described by Marshall Rosenberg in the book of the same name. The first four precepts of NVC deal with self-expression, of which this is the final precept. The remaining four components (about which I am still reading) deal with how to receive other people’s self-expression.

Precept three deals with taking responsibility for our feelings, and that is what I focused on in my previous post. However, part of taking responsibility includes identifying what is needed. “By focusing attention on our own feelings and needs, we become conscious that our current feeling of hurt derives from a need…” (p. 50)

Precept four is all about how to make a request so that someone else will be able to assist with fulfilling a need. This is, perhaps, the most difficult part to the NVC process because inadvertently using inappropriate language could cause the request to backfire. For instance, a request should be asked for in a positive tone, using “clear, positive, concrete action language,” with care taken to avoid sounding like a demand is being made rather than a request. To accomplish this successfully, it is helpful for the person making the request to include not only their need but also the feelings they have that accompany the need.

One of the more useful tools of NVC was introduced in this chapter, that of the listener reflecting back to the speaker what the listener believes they heard. This is a way to make sure that the words and tone of the speaker are being correctly heard and understood. I have seen this approach used myriad times in school settings when a teacher asks a student to reflect back what has just been stated by the teacher. If the teacher is using this tool properly, it is a way to check both for understanding on the part of the student, and clarity of expression on the part of the teacher.

Rosenberg sums up NVC in nifty charts on pages 6-7 of the book. The four components inform the process, of which there are two parts. The first part is applying the components to oneself by “expressing honestly through the four components”; the second part is applying the components to others by “receiving empathically through the four components”. Ideally, this is a give-and-take conversation between two people, where each person is able to express themselves clearly and also take in what the other person has to share.

Four components of NVC:
1. observations
2. feelings
3. needs
4. requests

NVC Process
The concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being
How we feel in relation to what we observe
The needs, values, desires, etc. that create our feelings
The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives

Nonviolent Communication: Taking Responsibility for Our Feelings

My first yoga teacher once shared these words at the beginning of a practice.

Life is not the way it’s supposed to be – It’s the way it is –
The way you cope with it is what makes the difference

Deb Gorman

This third component of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), taking responsibility for your feelings, seems to me directly related to Deb’s comment.

As we go through life, each of us will hear words directed to us or about us. The words may not be what we think they should be, but nonetheless they are the words that are uttered.

How we react and respond to the words is what will make the difference. We will have control over how the words make us feel, and that, in turn, will impact how we cope and deal with the situation. This opportunity for taking responsibility for our feelings and actions is what makes all the difference.

On the face of it, this may seem logical and even manageable. However, I think that learning how to manage our emotions, how we feel, is a learned art. So how does NVC approach taking responsibility for one’s emotions.

NVC heightens our awareness that what others say and do may be the stimulus, but never the cause, of our feelings. We see that our feelings result from how we choose to receive what others say and do, as well as from our particular needs and expectations in that moment.

Nonviolent Communication, page 49

NVC suggests there are four approaches we could take in dealing with a negative message or action: blame ourselves, blame others, sense our own feelings and needs, sense others’ feelings and needs. At various times I have certainly laid claim to each of those, sometimes – especially when I was younger – employing more than one to deal with a negative situation.

Over time (which I often say is a benefit of aging) I have learned to parse my reactions and feelings before ascribing any blame. Indeed, except in extreme circumstances, I have worked successfully at trying to understand where the other person is coming from to better grasp the meaning behind the words or actions. Ultimately, this leads to reflecting on my needs and on their needs.

I have just finished reading chapter 7, and so far each chapter concludes with one of the more interesting and useful methods I have encountered for checking on understanding. Ten brief one- or two-sentence statements are presented.

To determine if the reader and author are in agreement about the precept that was discussed, the reader is asked to choose which statements reflect the precept. The author, Marshall Rosenberg, then discusses his choices and why. He never says “right” or “wrong;” rather, he simply explains why, if the two of you chose the same you are in agreement, and if you chose a different response, why you two are not in agreement. I found this a positive approach to garner understanding and promote additional thought.

Nonviolent Communication: Identifying & Expressing Feelings

This is a chapter in semantics. But I get ahead of myself!

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is an approach developed by Marshall Rosenberg for communicating with others. I have been reading his book and thinking about how useful it might be for a wide ranging array of conversations as well as for garnering an understanding of oneself. My previous post was about the first of the four essential precepts of NVC; this post is about the second, identifying and expressing feelings.

On the one hand, especially for me, this might seem quite easy to accomplish. I can often sense my feelings and usually have little difficulty expressing them, though more intense feelings or feelings as a result of complex situations, often leave me a bit encumbered in trying to state how I feel.

Turns out, precept two is an exercise (and a chapter) in semantics. Semantics is all about the meaning of words, and what we may call “feelings” are not always – according to Rosenberg – feelings. For instance on page 43 there is a list of words, many of them verbs that end with “ed” and he ascribes these words to “how we interpret others, rather than how we feel.” The way I speak, any of these words could easily have been used to express a feeling.

Rosenberg makes several distinctions: “between feelings and thoughts; between what we feel and what we think we are; and between words that describe what we think others are doing around us, and words that describe actual feelings.”

All is not lost in the world of words! To assist with expressing feelings Rosenberg provides a two-and-a-half page list of words for describing emotions. (Refer to the image at end of this post.) As for the difference between emotions and feelings, there is a wealth of information available with a quick web search, and I leave that to you if it is of interest.

Perhaps the strongest lesson I take from this chapter is the importance of thinking before I speak in order to come up with accurate expressions of what I want to express. For me, this is not just about expressing feelings, but having conversation in general. There is such a wealth of words available to us if we give ourselves time to choose them and incorporate them into our daily language. I am not suggesting using “fancy” words when simpler ones will do; just choosing the words that most truly reflect our feelings and thoughts.

Nonviolent Communication: Observing Without Evaluating

Not too long ago I heard of a new three-session workshop, Difficult Conversations: Using Nonviolent Communication in Our Relationships, hosted by a yoga teacher whom I have studied with multiple times online. The required reading is the book What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication, authored by the teacher and her former husband. Ultimately, I decided to pass on the workshop to conserve funds that have been too readily spent during the pandemic!

In the meantime, during a conversation with our younger son and his girlfriend, I mentioned the workshop, and immediately Katryna responded that it reminded her of the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which she had on a bookshelf, having read portions of the book but not a cover-to-cover read. I then blurted “that is who trained the leader of the workshop!”

All this by way of explaining how, thanks to our local library, I have come to read Rosenberg’s book.

In general, I tend not to have patience for reading self-help books, which is what this book initially felt like. However, I was determined to give it a try and so pushed on to chapter two and then chapter three, by which point I was hooked.

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is grounded in four essential precepts, the first being observation without evaluation. Immediately this idea hit home. As a teacher and a parent, I can recall too many instances where adults made value judgments based on what they saw rather than simply stating what they noticed. A typical example: This child is lazy because she does not turn in her homework on time. The observation would be: This child does not turn in her homework on time. The judgement is: This child is lazy.

This type of thinking is not unusual for us humans, as assumptions about the reasons behind what is seen or heard helps to give meaning to actions. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for those assumptions to be made without benefit of knowledge or understanding of the actual conditions behind the action. The result is inaccurate evaluation; evaluation that is incorrect.

Our older son and his wife are both trained Montessori Guides and as such had to studiously learn how to observe children without evaluating them. After one of her training days, Sandra returned home and described spending hours at the Central Park Zoo diligently recording regularly paced observations in a journal. Each observation was of the same animal throughout the day. Even while it was sleeping she remained attuned to how it positioned itself, whether it moved, if it made noise, and anything else it did.

This may sound tedious, and at times she said it was, but it brought home to her the importance of simply observing. The exercise helped to fine-tune her sense of looking, watching, noting, heightening her awareness that observation takes focus. And, as I learned in a nature journaling class this past fall, only by truly focusing on an object can you begin to see it. Often, this focus leads to questions, which should be duly noted for future research, yet the questions are not the actual observation; they are two distinct entities.

Liz, the nature journaling instructor, shared the Curiosity Cycle. As this is a cycle, the Further Questions would lead to additional Observations, and so on. Drawing is from my Nature Journal.

While this is not a one-to-one equivalency with NVC, the observation component meshes them together. Simply put, an observation can only ever be a neutral statement of what is seen. The way to know the meaning behind what we see is to then ask questions to find out the “why”.

…I noticed close to one hundred ducks swimming in the Mill Pond, almost all of them moving in the same direction. Gradually, a bunch would turn 180 degrees and ascend in flight. Maybe they were swimming with the tide, or preparing for flight by swimming in one direction to give themselves enough of a runway for taking off in the other direction. And that had me wondering if there is any intentional synchronicity to floating en masse? Knowing that they do not ride the currents as other water fowl do, does wind direction impact how ducks prepare for flight? What is the relationship of this large group of ducks to one another? What is the deal with duck families?

From my Fall 2019 Nature Journal