Nonviolent Communication

By Marshall B. Rosenberg

What allows us to remain compassionate even under the most trying of circumstances? This is the question that Marshall Rosenberg seeks to answer in Nonviolent Communication. To answer this question, he examines the crucial role that language and and our use of words play in our thinking and communication.

Rosenberg points out that most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to “label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.” He believes that “life-alienating communication has deep philosophical and political roots.”

It originates from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals’ own benefit.

Wow.

The language of wrongness, should, and have to is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad.

Nonviolent communication is a “specific approach to communicating—both speaking an listening—that leads us to give from the heart, connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish.” When practiced, this communication method can help you move beyond feeling attacked to really listening and extracting other people’s underlying feelings.

NVC asks us to focus on clarifying what is observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging. When we focus our attention on clarifying what we observe, feel and need, we are more likely to get what we are seeking.

Our cultural conditioning leads us to focus our attention on places where we are unlikely to get what we want. That’s one reason why it can be so difficult for us to get along, and once we know how this works, it’s relatively easy to address our differences by communicating differently, more accurately, and with more compassion.

Our language leads us astray. Instead of articulating our needs and values directly, we insinuate wrongness when they haven’t been met. We say: Violence is bad. If communicating through compassion, we would state our feelings or needs and then our values: I am afraid of violence, I value resolution of conflict through other means.

Notice how the version without the judgement is longer and less fluid. To me this points to the fact that humans have not evolved to be nonviolent and our language (at least English) is a reflection of that.

Our language also helps us deny that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. This easily observable in the phrase: I had to. As in: I washed the car because I had to. This implies that someone was making us and we didn’t have a choice. Denying our own responsibility is “life-alienating.”

The NVC translation of “I have to” is: I choose to do X, because I want Y.

Our language obscures awareness of personal responsibility.

We deny responsibility when we attribute our actions to factors outside ourselves:

  • Vague impersonal forces
  • Our condition, diagnosis, or personal psychological history
  • The actions of others
  • The dictates of authority
  • Group pressure
  • Institutional policies, rules, etc.
  • Gender, social, age roles
  • Uncontrollable impulses

Rosenberg believes that it is in everyone’s best interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they see the change as benefiting themselves.

The concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment is also associated with life-alienating communication.

Four components of NVC:

  1. Observations (articulate without judgement or evaluation/interpretation the concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being)
  2. Feelings (state how we feel in relation to this action)
  3. Needs (state what needs, desires, values of ours are connected to our feelings)
  4. Requests (something specific the other person could do to make our lives better)

The other part of NVC is receiving this information from others.

  1. Connect with them by sensing what they are observing, feeling, needing
  2. Discover what would enrich their lives; getting their request.

With my husband, because of his brain injury, I am often in the dark as to what he is feeling and needing. NVC has shown me that a lot can be gained by guessing. It is also helpful to have this kind of conversation with yourself.

Your guess doesn’t have to be correct. What matters is that your guess is a sincere attempt to connect with the other person’s feeling or need. If this makes you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, you’re on the right track.

What’s tricky is that our language sets us up to confuse thinking with feeling. For me personally getting these two straight is pretty difficult.

The other critical aspect of this is not to judge. I think we are all wired to judge. It’s a survival mechanism. So if catch yourself judging, becoming aware of that as soon as possible is helpful. Try to move past your judgement and into a space of curiosity. Question your perceptions. Find out if you are correct. Judging alienates us from compassion. Rosenberg includes great examples that tease apart simple observation from judging. If your observation contains an element of rightness or wrongness, you are judging. Try thinking through your observation once again to get to the bare bones facts. And don’t forget, comparisons are a form of judgement.

Classifying and judging people promotes violence.

If we can stop thinking and communicating in terms of what’s wrong with others, we get closer to our NVC goal. Instead if we ponder what other people are needing and not getting, we can open up an area of compassion in ourselves. By questioning others to see if our guesses are correct, we can begin a dialog with them and open up a space of compassion in them.

One thing I really loved about this book was that if clarifies a misquote that I’ve often heard and always doubted as false. People will say that whatever you think others are doing that’s wrong, you are actually doing yourself. They say you are projecting. Rosenberg puts this concept a bit differently:

Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.

Now that, I can get onboard with. I get that. If I say you are hateful, it doesn’t mean I’m hateful. It means I’m needing something from you. Maybe connection.

My interpretation of you as being hateful is a judgement I’m making about you. This judgement isn’t helpful for me to get what I want from you: connection. What I need to do to get what I want is to find out what you need and feel. Once I do that, we can start to progress into a space where we both get what we need, and hopefully feel better.

Of interest to me in my new goal as a caregiver was this:

We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we will experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of either external or internal coercion. They, too, pay emotionally, for they are likely to feel resentment and decreased self-esteem when they respond to use out of fear, guilt, or shame.

He goes on to say that each time they respond to our needs out of fear, guilt or shame, their compassion for us decreases.

Bingo.

Beyond putting NVC into practice in difficult situations, it also appears to be a good method of self examination for the purposes of introspection or for writing memoir. How can you nonviolently communicate with yourself? A good question for those of us who are plagued with negative self-talk.

In difficult situations, it’s helpful to take charge of our feelings. But how?

When making sense of your feelings, try this linguistic construction:

I feel … because I need …

We have four options for receiving negative feedback:

  1. Blame ourselves
  2. Blame others
  3. Sense our own feelings and needs
  4. Sense others’ feelings and needs

Worldwide, NVC is used to mediate disputes and conflicts on a wide range of levels.

The more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately.

Read the book for exercises and to test yourself. Learn more about feelings and non-feelings and how expressing your own vulnerability can help resolve conflicts.

But because I can’t resist, here is one more example, of a  conversation between two people in a relationship:

Partner 1 (not having awareness and taking responsibility for their feelings): “You are so needy and dependent. It’s really stressing out our relationship.”

Partner 2 (enlightened by NVC): “So you find yourself in panic. It’s very hard for you to hold onto the deep caring and love we’ve had without turning it into a responsibility, duty, obligation…. You sense your freedom closing down because you think you constantly have to take care of me.”

Alternative a non-empathic response from Partner 2 where Partner 2 takes responsibility for Partner 1’s feelings could look like this: “Are you feeling tense because I’ve been making too many demands on you?”

This last version keeps both partners enmeshed in emotional slavery, a real bummer of a place to be.

You can use the components of NVC to tune into the feelings and needs of others in stead of blaming them or blaming yourself.

Notes from Memoir Class

Interesting writing is universal and personal at the same time.

When reading, pay attention to what is gained and what is lost.

The character’s job in a memoir is to reveal the narrator to the reader.

The narrator: where are we going and who’s going to take me there?

Have four major characters at most.

Mixed-Up Magical Thinking

I slept on the floor last night. My husband had been crying late into the early morning and then finally had drifted off into a drugged sleep. Every few minutes he would shake violently but not wake. It put me on edge so I decided to head downstairs.

I pulled out a mat that we had used for camping last summer and lay down on it. I had brought my pillow with me and I knew I had a blanket somewhere.

I decided to listen to an audio book by Mary Karr about writing memoirs. It was my idea that maybe if I delved into memoir writing, it would be like therapy for me and I would finally unravel the psychological demons that have been lurking around all these years.

I woke early as is typical of me. I usually get up around 5 and my internal clock naturally wakes me at this time whether or not it’s the weekend. I’ve been tortured by what my therapist said to me at our last meeting. The idea that I enabled my husband all these years. I gave him a place to live and a camera and didn’t make it difficult at all for him to carry on has he had, without a job. Without ambitions. Without financial contributions.

Why?

Why hadn’t I handed him divorce papers? Why hadn’t I given him that ultimate ultimatum?

All week I struggled with that. Some answers. One: I didn’t believe he could make it on his own and I didn’t want to see him living under a bridge. But much more important, I realized that I don’t play that way. If I had given him divorce papers, there is nothing he could have said at that point to change my mind. He could have changed completely and did everything I ever wanted him to do plus some, and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. I’m not that way. I don’t bargain over stakes that large. So I didn’t divorce him because I didn’t want to. I think my therapist was trying to get me to say I loved him. But that word doesn’t come so easily anymore. I’ve become too resentful, too angry.

It’s true though, of course. I do love him. But this love seems to be assaulted by a need for change, and I don’t want to change. I don’t want to change how I love or to engage in a different kind of love. A paternal or rather a maternal love. And that is, it seems, exactly what he needs.

One of the engineers I work with, very inappropriately I think, began talking to me about what men need. This was a man I had been working with for an hour and had never met before. He was supposed to be one of the giants at our company and I needed to interview him and write an article. He said that all men are little boys.

Excuse me. I hadn’t asked. I hadn’t brought up anything private or relationship oriented.

The advice came anyway.

Men are little boys. They need to be mothered.

I returned to my office and shook my head at my “big” boss. He didn’t understand. I didn’t explain.

I’m from a matriarchy. Strong Texas women. Abused, put down at times, but strong. Always strong. The idea of mothering a man disgusts me. My Texas brainwashing says that men must be strong. And as silly as I can recognize that this is and understanding that everyone needs a soft place to be and safety, it’s still ingrained in me that I’m no servant and shouldn’t be.

Mary Karr described passages from The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. This is a book I’ve never read but have on my shelf. I’ve been carting it around with me since grad school. I bought it from the school bookstore not as assigned reading, but on a whim. Karr’s description of this book was so intriguing that I went looking for it around 6 this morning and found it on my shelf. Now it’s laying on my table, within reach.

It promises stories of a rebellious woman. I can’t wait.

This morning, it strikes me with particular force that everything needs to fall away and I need to work on the memoir form. I need to write about my childhood and the brain injury and Russia and my father and how I was nearly raped in college but convinced my attacker to play Scrabble instead.

I’m not good enough for you, I had said. He agreed. Let’s play Scrabble to decide it. Drunk and stupid, a U.S. Marine that my roommate had brought home along with her boyfriend had barged into my bedroom and woken me up. Before I knew what was happening, he was on top of me tearing at my clothes.

He was convinced that he was going to do the deed. I had never seen him before. We were in near darkness except for a street light beaming through my bedroom window. All I could tell was that he was drunk, stupid, and built like tank. I was not going to be any match for his physical strength. I didn’t bother to struggle. Talking was the only thing I could do, so I set to it. I talked and talked, and now I realize that I was practicing some of the tenets of nonviolent communication. I was sensing his feelings and ultimately I gave him an out. Maybe he didn’t really want to be a rapist. Maybe he needed a way to save face. Since then I’ve talked myself out of a few “situations,” but never one as charged as that.

My roommate felt no remorse about his behavior or that she had brought him home. I never forgave her. I hate her to this day.

This was one of the scenes that played through my mind last night as I listened to Karr’s book. There are so many others that I need to release. Maybe it would help. Maybe.

I need to mourn the death of my former relationship with my husband. So says my therapist.

Why didn’t I present him with the divorce papers after say 5 years of not working? Because he was my only friend. The only person I trusted. The person I could confide in and depend on emotionally. I needed him. Now that part of him is gone, drugged most of the time to where I don’t know if it still exists. It must it seems. But I’m not sure.

I just know he doesn’t make sense anymore. The open person I once knew who didn’t hide from me hides now, and try as I might I can’t coax him out. On one hand I want to help him and sympathize with him, on the other I wonder what our lives will truly be like going forward. I can continue to try to manage the situation, to ignore the enormous gaps that are widening. Or, I can get my head together and figure out what it is I’m going to do. I suppose the first step is to figure out what I want. The next is to see if he can get there at all. The final one is to make some decisions.

My therapist says I have choices. But what choices are there when all of them are bad? Where is the choice in that?

What would you do if you could do anything? She asks.

I would travel the world on a trust fund.

Wouldn’t we all, she says, but what really?

No, really. That’s what I would do.

And your job?

It struck me for the first time that I actually like my job these days. I’m incredibly emotionally invested. I don’t want to leave.

But you would write novels or something if you could do anything.

And I thought back to the last Nanowrimo and remembered how difficult it was—and what crap I came up with. All of a sudden that idea, the idea of being a novelist, seemed incredibly unpleasant.

No, trust fund travel. I’ll stick with that.

But then I circled back to Mary Karr. She had tried her hand at fiction but found that she naturally gravitated to memoir. And when I think of tossing off creative writing for good, names get dropped like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coehlo and new people for me show up like Maxine Hong Kingston. Then I remember authors like Amy Tan. And of course guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Sergei Dovlatov.

And like a codependent lover, I’m back.

Surely, I never thought of leaving.

The only trouble with writing a travel blog for $5K per month

Is that I’m not traveling!!!!!

I just read an article about how easy it was to blog and make money. They said that although there are so many blogs out there, hardly any bloggers were using their blogs to make money. They concluded that the competition really isn’t that fierce.

Then they went on with a very nice descriptive post of how to write a travel blog to make money.

As many of us have already figured out, the deal is to get ads posted on your site and you get the money when people click on the ad from your site.

Easy, right?

So, ok, I’m not traveling. I could write about something else that would lend itself to ads so that someone would read my content and then click on the ad.

First of all that kind of makes me want to wretch.

But, hold on. We all buy stuff. Most of us like to buy stuff. I write about stories and books. Seems like that would lend itself to adding ads on where you can buy whatever book or story I’m writing about.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to love everything I read. 😉

And, you’ve got to have a mission:

Such as: I’m on a mission to help writers grow their income.

Or: I’m on a mission to help you realize your life’s dream.

So what’s my mission? Not as good as these.

 

I’m on a mission to cure my husband’s brain.

I’m on a mission to put food on my table and keep a roof over my head.

I’m on a mission to make traveling easier for ME. (I mean who am I kidding?)

In fact, most of my missions are pretty self centered.

I’m on a mission to amuse myself, and maybe you, by grousing this morning.

When I started this blog, I was on a mission to prove that I wasn’t some idiot who had never read a book.

I’m on a mission to find readers to commiserate with.

I’m on a mission to learn Spanish really well.

I’m on a mission to learn Russian. This might not count because I’m rather ambivalent about it.

I’m on a mission to figure out the secret to learning languages quickly, painlessly, and have fun while doing it.

I’m on a mission to get myself a house in the country.

I’m on a mission to have fun.

I’m on a mission to find more free time.

I’m on a mission to enjoy life.

I’m on a mission to find ways to eat good, healthy, non processed food.

I’m on a mission to improve my piano skills.

I’m on a mission to get through the next week without going crazy.

Articles:

Can you really make money by starting a blog?  Posted on WiseBread.com

How I make 5,000 a month as a paid blogger

Travel Writers: 37 publishers who pay

How to Start a Travel Blog and Earn Money in 6 Months

15 blogs that will help you make money off your writing

Make money blogging: 20 lessons…

Of course, I my hero Dan Carlin does something similar. He does two podcasts, one about history and the other about current events as he sees them, and I’ve never in my life seen so many links to Amazon. But then it makes sense. He reads A LOT! Like I said, my hero.

I dunno. I feel like I should be doing more with this. At the very least putting in more of an effort. But it takes time to accomplish my goal of not going crazy each week.

How to Write a White Paper

Purdue Owl’s YouTube Advice:

Purdue says that white papers are written to inform about new trends and research. They provide background for decisions. They address the question of how these new trends are changing the nature of a particular industry and suggest actions to take so that the people or industries concerned don’t fall behind. At minute marker 3:33, the video addresses how corporate white papers can function like ads. These white papers can tell potential customers why they need to hire your firm.

Alphabet Short

“Abra-ca-dabra!”

“Bossy, isn’t she?”

“Casually causing trouble.”

“Do you think he’ll notice?”

“Eventually, they all figure it out.”

“Fortunately, we’ll be long gone.”

“God forbid, we would stay this time.”

“Hell! Do you mean to say you want to stay?”

“I’d like to see what happens.”

“Jeez.”

“Keep quiet. I think he’s coming to.”

“Larry, can you hear me?”

“Mommy!”

“No, I’m not your mommy.”

“Oh, my head.”

“Purple!”

“Quit moving around.”

“Right and why do I have a tail?”

“Stay still.”

“Tell me why my hands are purple.”

“Usually, the tail turns purple first.”

“Vikings, I see Vikings!”

“What?”

“Xanadu.”

“You see, Larry’s starting to see a different landscape.”

“Zeke’s a better name than Larry for a dragon.”

At the Heart of Personal Narrative

These lines were given to me (us) by a grad school professor. I don’t have any attribution to go with them. All I can say is I didn’t write them. They do such a good job of explaining what’s going on when people write memoirs that I’m recording them here.

In nonfiction, the writer has only the singular self to work with. So it is the other in oneself that the writer must seek and find to create movement, achieve a dynamic. Inevitably, the piece builds only when the narrator is involved not in confession but in this kind of self-investigation, the kind that means to provide motion, purpose, and dramatic tension. Here, it is self-implication that is required. To see one’s own part in the situation—that is, one’s own frightened or cowardly or self-deceived part—is to create the dynamic.