Nonviolent Communication-Learning a new language

 In my post on the New Year I expressed my commitment to study and practice Nonviolent Communication.  Now here we are a month out and I haven’t even finished Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg. This is not because I have put it aside, it is because I can’t get through a chapter without reading and re-reading it.

 When I first picked up the book it was with the intention to be more receptive to what others were saying to me.  I wanted to break down the walls that fly up in defense when I hear something that goes contrary to how I think it should.  I didn’t want to be such a ‘right-fighter’.  I also wanted to be able to express myself more clearly and in a less negative manner.  Generally I was hoping to clarify what I thought I was already doing in order to better model this for my son.

Little did I know what a journey this would be.  The book, broken up into two main sections dealing with expressing ones self and empathetically responding to others, has me re-learning the way I speak, think and express emotion. The four main components of the communication system are observing the actions that affect us or others, expressing how we feel in relation to what we are observing, examining the needs that created those feelings within us and then requesting the actions that would help to enrich our lives (or meet our need).

Click here for a visual of the NVC components

As I have tried to put this book into action I am continually left speechless.  The two components that really trip me up are expressing how I feel and then examining the needs that created those feelings.  I have come to a realize that I have a very limited ‘feelings’ vocabulary.  The words I use most frequently to express myself are ‘mad, angry, sad, frustrated and happy’.  When weighed against the breadth of human emotion this is a pitiful list to be sure!

As for the needs, well that was easy right? What was I needing? I need you to be quiet so the whole class can take a nap now.  I need you to do the dishes right now so I don’t feel stressed out about them later.  Whenever I looked for a need behind a feeling it was usually focused on someone else.  Furthermore, I have found that I mistakenly label assumptions about others as feelings! For example I feel misunderstood when you say you don’t want to (insert issue here, manage money as I do, run the classroom as I do etc).  When I say that I feel misunderstood I am really stating that I think they are misunderstanding what I am saying.  I am taking away their power and not truly feeling my needs or hearing theirs.

I’ve had quite the long-lasting-aha!-moment.  This quote has really stuck with me “what others say and do may be the stimulus for, but never the cause, of our feelings” WHAAT?! Never? Wow, what an amazing and freeing possibility that only I am responsible for my feelings.

I hope that through knowing myself better and learning  language that will express my feelings I will be able to be a more compassionate mother, wife and citizen.  This is not just about conflict but about being responsible for our own emotions and lovingly supportive of others.  What a gift to give ourselves and our children!

As I continue on this (admittedly longer than expected) journey I will keep you all posted.  Please share your experiences!

Thanks for reading!


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. abundantlifechildren
    Feb 01, 2012 @ 15:20:09

    I love this book, and had the same experience with it!!! “I feel worried because you…oh, wait…not about me.” “I need you to be quiet and go to sleep because I need to…oh, wait…not about me.” “I am angry because you…oh, wait…not about me.” SUCH a great book. Have you read “respectful parents respectful kids” — not by Rosenburg, but an NVC book. It’s a good one. Again — every post reminds me why we need to live closer and do this work together.


  2. Josette
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 07:42:50

    I’m happy to find another NVC/teaching blogger! So much that you said here resonates with my experience. I’ll cut and past the first points that jumped out at me:

    “This is not because I have put it aside, it is because I can’t get through a chapter without reading and re-reading it.”

    I understand. I’ve read the book about 3 times and still haven’t fully absorbed it. The learning never ends.

    “I’ve had quite the long-lasting-aha!-moment. This quote has really stuck with me “what others say and do may be the stimulus for, but never the cause, of our feelings” WHAAT?! Never? Wow, what an amazing and freeing possibility that only I am responsible for my feelings.”

    This truly fascinates me. I agree that it is an incredibly freeing possibility, but again wrapping my head around it is still a challenge. In my blog, I wrote a piece contemplating how we might teach our students this concept. Take a look if you’re interested.


  3. Julie Lawrence
    Mar 06, 2012 @ 07:39:41

    Thanks for this post – adore NVC and am so grateful for the changes it has made in my life. I’ve been doing it for about a year now, and every day still brings new challenges and insights.

    I’d like to offer what I hope might be helpful ideas that I’ve learned along with way. It’s really useful to distinguish between needs and the strategies we employ to meet those needs. For example, your “need to have your classroom quiet” isn’t a need, it’s a strategy – the underlying need might be for peace, or competence (you can’t be a good teacher when no-one’s listening) or ease or many others. Once you can see the actual need, it becomes obvious that there is more than one strategy to meet the need – for example, if it’s for peace, perhaps you could play soothing music which calms you (and maybe the kids), or go outside for a minute (these aren’t offered as suggestions,just examples). It gets us out of that “bashing our heads against a brick wall” stage, trying to achieve something in a particular way.

    To this end (identifying actual needs) I find my “needs list” invaluable – I consult it daily. It’s a list of universal needs – ones that everyone has. And the great thing is that because they’re universal, everyone can relate to them – for example, if I say to my husband “I need to go out tonight” he might not relate to that at all (“but I need to stay in!”), but if I say “I really need some peace and some stimulation and some connection with you”, he’s more likely to get it, and then we can find strategies that meet both our needs. Also, when you sense other people’s needs, you can’t help but feel connected with them – we’re on the same team 🙂

    You can find needs lists by googling “needs list nvc”, and ditto with feelings. It’s really helpful, as you mention in your article, to get clear on what are genuine feelings and what are disguised judgements – again, I find my feelings list very useful here.

    I love that other people are enjoying the NVC journey as much as I am 🙂


    • melissacady
      Mar 07, 2012 @ 05:52:33

      Thank you so much for that advice. I have been finding that my language is inadequate when it comes to properly expressing my feelings and my needs. I will indeed google that list. I was planning on putting up a list of feeling words on our fridge to help the whole family. I think a needs list is a great idea!!


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