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Good Books

Nonviolent Communication Review:

Reading "Nonviolent Communication," has made me realize I don't know nearly as much about the words coming out of my mouth as I thought I did.

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 been.

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 demonstrates 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.

Nonviolent Communication's Four Step Process

A Very Simplified Overview:

  1. Observe what is actually happening in a situation without evaluating or judging, asking questions to clarify as needed. 
  2. Express how we are feeling about it - We often fail to use a vocabulary that communicates feelings adequately. 
  3. Acknowledgment of the root of our feelings -What others say and do may be the stimulus for feelings, but never the cause.
  4. 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.

Nonviolent Communication CoverI've recently experimented with just a few parts of this technique with great results.

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 specifically she was worried.

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 good idea.

Me: (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.

Me: (Pauses, thinks, guesses) Are you worried that you'll say something that he wouldn't approve of?

Her: Well, 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?

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.

Nonviolent Communication: 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 or bad.

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 of inadequacy.

Nonviolent Communication Rope

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 keeping 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 inadequacy 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 consequences. 

Nonviolent Communication: Following Up

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.

You can get a copy of the book here: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

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