Communication," has made me realize I don't know
nearly as much about the words coming out of my mouth as I thought I
As a newspaper reporter, I live by my ability to connect to others. If
I wasn't good at making people feel comfortable enough to speak I
wouldn't have lasted very long in the profession. Yet I must admit this
book has pointed out just how inept of a communicator I've often
In "Nonviolent Communication," author Marshall Rosenberg makes a good
point - that we have all been brought up since birth to judge, demand
and diagnose others without really listening to the underlying needs
that they have. Similarly, we're often so blinded by our reactions that
we don't understand what causes them. By listening to others, asking
the right questions, and properly expressing ourselves, a whole new
world of communication opens up.
Rosenberg teachers that we should put our primary focus on connection
through empathetic listening rather than on being right. He
how his technique can be used to defuse rage, break the patterns of
thinking that lead to anger or depression, and move beyond power
struggles to cooperation.
Four Step Process
A Very Simplified Overview:
Observe what is actually happening in a situation
without evaluating or judging, asking questions to clarify as
Express how we are feeling about it - We often fail
to use a vocabulary that communicates feelings adequately.
Acknowledgment of the root of our feelings -What
others say and do may be the stimulus for feelings, but never the
Request clearly what will enrich our life - Telling a
person that he fails to make you feel loved does not give him concrete
ideas about what actions he could take to make you feel loved.
I've recently experimented with just a few parts
of this technique with
I both love and hate writing obituaries. When the friends and family of
the deceased are cooperative, I can often craft a fitting monument that
represents the best parts of a person. When they are grieving or
reluctant, the process becomes awkward, as I usually have to write
around their conspicuous resistance.
Recently I called a grieving widow to see if she would be willing to
talk to me about her husband, who had been a major mover and shaker in
the region several decades before his death. When she expressed
resistance I was tempted to just let it go, but instead I put on my NVC
hat and used a small part of the technique to get past her negative
reaction to the idea of an obituary and toward recognizing why
Nonviolent Communication Conversation
Oh, I don't think I should talk to you. It was so recent, I'm not sure
that he would want me to talk. He was so private. I'm sorry. It's not a
(Considers giving up, then pauses, calling NVC ideas to mind). Are
you worried that your husband wouldn't approve of the story of
his life appearing in the paper for others to read?
Her: No, it's
not that. He wouldn't mind. He talked to you reporters
all the time.
thinks, guesses) Are you worried that you'll say something
that he wouldn't approve of?
yes, I suppose. He never did like me talking about our
private lives. He always called me a blabber mouth.
Me: So you
think he might like a well-written obituary for his friends
and family to read, but are worried that you might say something that
would displease him?
Her: Yes, I guess that's it.
At this point I have helped her move past her vague unease at the idea
of an obituary to recognizing the specific hangup that is stopping her
- her fear that she will say something her husband would not approve
of. After a bit more conversation I got her to agree to talk to
me but then run all her quotes and anecdotes by her son, who she
thinks of as more savvy than her.
Before we got off the phone she
thanked me for calling, and said she enjoyed reminiscing about her
husband's life. I want to emphasize that this is just a fraction of
nonviolent communication, and I applied in a very haphazard fashion.
The Blame In Your Head
As I explain in my Ebook, "The
Raw Food Lifestyle," one of the most
important improvements I've made to my mental landscape was adopting a
view that I'm responsible for all things that happen in my life, good
Although I find most people will resist this idea- sometimes
venomously because of their love of blaming- it has brought an
disproportionate amount of peace and clarity to my life and I would not
give it up for all the mud slinging in the world.
Nonviolent Communication has allowed me to take this view step farther
for even more impressive results, however.
One of the obvious holes in my self-causative stance showed up when I
would have a negative reaction such as anger to an event originating
from outside of myself. It's very tempting to blame these outside
events as the source of my anger, but Nonviolent Communication points
out that it is never the outside situation, but your reaction to it
that is causing the anger. Your reaction is nothing more than stimulus
hitting your own underlying unmet needs.
For instance, I often have to coordinate with
photographers and videographers when setting up interviews and coverage
for live events. There's nothing that annoys me more than when I show
up on time to do my interview only to have other staff members be
tardy. When I examine that anger, though, I can quickly determine that
I am the source of it. The rage is really a result of my own feelings
As a journalist I always try to project an image of professionalism,
competence, and efficiency, especially in the face of older government
officials, businessmen and others who trust me to do a good job
with their story and not waste their time. This, for me, includes
conversations along professional lines. When staff members do not show
up, I am left to hold up the crumbling walls of my facade, nervously
making small talk.
When it comes down to it, my anger in this situation originates from my
inability to to make strong personal connections with people who
I judge my relationship to be "professional". I am not willing
to breach the professional divide, and so am left making awkward
small talk instead of the interesting discussions I know I could start.
How else can you look at this? Get road rage over the poor driving of
others? Maybe that rage is masking your own fears about dangerous
driving conditions. Get
mad at a boss? Maybe the underlying factor is the feelings of
that your boss touches upon.
Nonviolent Communication: Stop Punishing
I've never responded well to threats, even if they're not direct ones.
Tell me I can't do something and you've just upped the chance I'll do
it by 50 percent. Threats are such a subpar way to motivate someone
that it's bizarre they're used so often.
One of the pleasant surprises in this book was having Marshall
Rosenberg expound on the limitations of punishment as a motivating
force. He points out that while it might work temporarily to get
someone to do something, it always fails in the end because it doesn't
account for the question, "What do I want this person's reasons to be
for doing what I'm asking?"
The threat of punishment almost always means the person won't be
carrying out the action for the reasons we want them to. Punishment and
threats damage goodwill and self-esteem while shifting our attention
away from the intrinsic value of an action and toward external
Nonviolent Communication is definitely worth a read. Although I
certainly have no plans to use its techniques at all times, I hope to
apply it in a
more complete manner to my relationships in the future.