The use of nonviolent communication to make yourself understood and reduce conflict is a perspective we don’t usually consider. I’m exploring it because many people I work with have struggles around not feeling understood. The pain this causes is often the source of disagreements in relationships and work settings.
Can you relate? It seems that when people don’t have their needs met, or understood, it can set up a sequence of feelings and beliefs that becomes self-sabotaging. The hurt, anger, judgment, and resentment involved often creates a cycle where both parties square off with entrenched misunderstanding that goes on – sometimes for ages.
There is a way to cut through this kind of struggle and it starts with knowing how to effectively communicate your needs.
The seminal work on Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenburg, Ph.D. is the underpinning for the ideas in this article.* See if this information is helpful to you.
Consider a conflict around being understood that is bothering you and walk through these steps.
UNDERSTAND YOUR FEELINGS
The starting point to being understood and making things turn out in a way that meets your needs, without further conflict, is understanding yourself first. What feelings are at the root of what you need? When the feelings involved in the struggle are either hard to express or come out in a negative tone, behavior, or attitude, the conflict will escalate.
For example, let’s consider a common problem in relationships – not feeling listened to or heard. Ask yourself what you are really feeling – alone unappreciated, angry, or resentful? Notice how those feelings will color how you talk about the issue and how you are heard. People tend to respond to the feeling of what you are communicating, not the content.
LEARN TO EXPRESS YOUR NEEDS
Ask yourself what you really need. Be specific. Being listened to actually is a passive process, is that all you want? I expect not. Consider if you are wanting specific comments related to what you are saying, or maybe you want eye contact, head nodding, and more dialog.
When you unpack what you really need, you have to go beyond hoping someone will notice what you need and give it to you. Women have not been trained to communicate their needs, with the expectation to be more focused on taking care of others, just as men have not been trained to talk about their feelings. Everyone has a deficit here – it is a skill you have to learn.
COMMUNICATE FEELINGS AND NEEDS WITHOUT JUDGMENT OR CRITICISM
For most people, the starting point for communicating feelings and needs is to express them in a form of judgment or criticism toward the offending party. The dialog can go something like this – A: “You don’t ever listen or hear me,” B: “I do too.” A:” How would I know, you are always on your phone?” B: “Well, so are you, why are you blaming me” And it disintegrates from there.
Learning to say what you need without hostility is the heart of nonviolent communication. It is the “you statement” with its undertone of criticism and judgment that causes the conflict and perpetuates it. That leaves the real need left unspoken or understood. Before you can solve the problem, with a specific strategy, you have to communicate your need in a specific manner.
MAKE A CLEAR REQUEST
Following this example of wanting to be listened to and heard, try making a specific request. It can include feelings and needs, as long as you are not making an indictment, insult, or criticism. Try making it in a natural tone, free of attitude.
Say something like “I’d like to request something that would make a big difference for me. Would you please let me know you are listening to what I’m saying by telling me what you heard, so I’ll know you got it?” This may not bring automatic change, but it will be the start of a new conversation instead of the same old argument. And notice that this request starts with a neutral “I statement” vs. the previous blaming, critical “you statement”.
When you can tell someone how you feel, and what you specifically need, in the form of a request, you are opening a door to clear and peaceful communication. Try it.
If you’d like to explore how to bring more direct and open communication into your life, reach out. My Transformational Coaching and Therapy can help you learn this skill. Go to www.spectrumtransformation.com and use my free Consultation form to reach me. I’d love to help.
*Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., Living Nonviolent Communication: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation. June 1, 2012