In our fast-paced world, where communication often feels rushed and transactional, the quality of our interactions can easily slip through the cracks. We may find ourselves racing from one task to another, juggling responsibilities, and sometimes neglecting the significance of our connections with others. But what if we could change this pattern and tap into a transformative tool for self-reflection and relationship improvement? Enter Non-violent Communication (NVC) by Marshall Rosenberg.
I have recently been exposed to this transformative way of thinking, a profound way to reframe my interactions and enhance the quality of my relationships.
I have realised that even before I look at improving how I communicate I need to retrain myself on how to listen. This means listening with full presence and without judgment to understand the other person's feelings, needs, and perspective. Often I am caught in the trap of my own thoughts and judgements when someone is speaking and I miss a key opportunity to connect and understand their needs. I also need to distinguish between observation and evaluation. Observations are concrete, specific descriptions of what is happening without judgment or interpretation, while evaluations involve our opinions and judgments. If I am trying to foster empathic listening I need to train myself to focus on observations to better understand the other person's experiences and needs rather than placing my own judgements on what or how they say something.
Now this sounds easy and still I find myself responding in my old patterns. I was recently on the front end of receiving feedback from someone I worked with and very quickly found myself emotionally triggered. You know the feeling of your heart racing and all of a sudden there is a flood of emotions? To be self aware means that I need to stop myself from reacting from that emotional state and rather try to make sense of what need the other person is attempting to express. This was still a very challenging task as my thoughts kept going back to evaluating rather than observing.
Empathic listening involves paying attention to the speaker's feelings and needs. By identifying and acknowledging the emotions and underlying needs of the speaker, you can create a deeper connection and understanding. This not only helps the speaker feel heard and valued, it can provide you the opportunity to see the humane side of what is being communicated. For example, someone shouts at me, "Why don’t you ever listen to me?” Instead of responding defensively and shouting back, I might respond by saying, "I sense that you're angry, and I hear you saying that your need for being listened to and understood is not being met." For me this is probably the most difficult thing to do: to try and connect and listen for the other person's needs in what they are saying and not get caught up in my own emotions of how the person is expressing them and what that stirs up in me.
A technique one can use to help navigate this is called reflective listening, where you reflect back to the speaker what you've heard them say. This not only confirms your understanding but also reassures the speaker that they've been heard accurately. Reflective listening can take the form of paraphrasing or summarising what the speaker has said.
I want to reiterate that during empathic listening, it's important to resist the urge to offer advice, solutions, or judgments. Instead, focus on creating a safe space for the speaker to express themselves and explore their own feelings and needs. The ultimate goal of empathic listening is to foster empathy and compassionate connection between individuals. When people feel truly heard and understood, it can lead to a deeper level of trust and more open communication. What this has taught me is: through the process of listening to what needs the other person exhibits, despite how accurately they express themselves, I have learnt to listen more closely and try to make sense of my own needs.
NVC goes beyond how we engage in empathic listening and focuses also on how we convey gratitude. It is not just about saying "thank you" in a conventional sense. It's a holistic approach that goes beyond mere words; it's about fostering deep understanding and empathy in our interactions and engaging in compassionate communication. By practicing NVC, we can profoundly impact our daily lives and the relationships we hold dear.
For many of us, receiving feedback or appreciation can be challenging or at least for me it is. We often harbour negative self-judgments and self-doubt. But here's where NVC shines, it encourages us to begin the transformation within ourselves. To provide genuine appreciation for others, we must first be kinder to ourselves.
NVC invites us to replace self-criticism with self-compassion. It teaches us to acknowledge our own feelings and the needs that underpin them, allowing us to approach self-improvement with empathy rather than judgment. When we treat ourselves with kindness, we are better equipped to extend the same empathy and understanding to others.
Our daily interactions shape our lives in countless ways. They determine the quality of our experiences and the outcomes we achieve. Yet we often default to programmed responses when communicating, providing feedback or even appreciation for others and these responses may not truly resonate with others the way we had wished. Tragically we often communicate our needs in such a way that ensures they will not be met.
NVC encourages us to break free from these ingrained behavioural patterns. Instead of merely reacting, we can learn to respond from a place of authenticity and empathy to others' needs, thereby elevating the quality of our interactions. The narrative we have about ourselves plays a pivotal role in our relationships and NVC challenges us to reframe this narrative. By acknowledging and addressing our inner dialogues of self-doubt, we pave the way for healthier and more genuine connection with others.
When we believe that people matter and that relationships are invaluable, we are motivated to constantly improve how we communicate. NVC reminds us that authentic connections require us to be present, empathetic, and open-hearted in our interactions.
Where do I start?
Begin by practicing self-compassion. When you catch yourself in self-criticism, pause, and replace those negative thoughts with kind and empathetic self-talk. This shift will empower you to extend the same compassion to others.
Embrace active listening in your conversations. Pay attention not just to the words spoken but also to the feelings and needs underlying those words. Seek to empathise deeply before responding no matter how difficult you might find it.
And lastly when expressing appreciation, make it authentic and specific. Use the NVC framework of stating Observation, Feelings and Needs, to frame your appreciation. For example, "When you listened to me without interrupting (Observation) the other day, I felt relieved to be heard and understood (Feeling). It met my need for validation and connection (Need), and I appreciate it.
Remember that NVC is a journey of continuous learning and growth. Be patient with yourself as you navigate this path of self-discovery and relationship transformation. It will challenge you to rewrite the narratives you hold about yourself, fostering self-compassion and extending empathy to others.
By believing in the value of people and relationships, we can build a world where authentic connections are cherished, compassion is the foundation of our interactions, and our needs as well as the needs of others get met.