Some of us know the basic building blocks of Nonviolent Communication: statingobservations, feelings, our needs, and specific, doable, and positive requests. But just knowing what I mean by these terms obviously doesn’t make it possible for you to instantly use these tools in the middle of a fight. And so I want to offer the 3 steps to interrupting a fight with NVC.
- Becoming untriggered
- Putting on my empathy ears
- Using the NVC tools
The first step is to get myself untriggered. In most of the fights that I’ve been in, there’s something the other person has said or done which has gotten me all triggered up. They said “you don’t know what you’re talking about” and now I’m feeling really angry and have it in my head that I need to prove to this person that in fact I DO know what I’m talking about. I get defensive and aggressive. And as long as I’m in this place using NVC is going to be difficult. Sure I might say “I’m feeling really angry right now because you’re not respecting me”; but somehow in the tone that I use and the gestures I make with my arms the other person still gets angry.
One of the greatest tools that I know of to getting untriggered is self-empathy. If I can empathize with myself, I often can bring myself down. ”Oh wow, I’m really angry. And I really want to show him that I do know what I’m talking about. It’d be nice if he’d respect me more.” If I can empathize with my own feelings and needs, I’m better able to feel understood and thus calm down. There’s also something about letting go of our should thoughts which helps us to get untriggered. What’s key in letting go of our should thoughts is inquiring into their truth, noticing how we’d feel if we didn’t have to hold onto those thoughts, and finding what need the should thought is trying to fulfill.
Both giving myself empathy and letting go of my should thoughts are mental activities I can do to get untriggered. But I can also engage my body. I can actively calm my nervous system down by taking a breath which has an unusually long exhale. And I can notice what muscles in my body are tense and consciously relax them. Finally, what sometimes maintains the trigger is the fact that I’m not letting my body release it. So there can be a way in which I let my body freak out in a safe and responsible way. Think crying and shaking, or even laughing. Not hitting or breaking things.
Even if you can just get slightly less triggered, this’ll greatly improve your ability to communicate while in the fight. And also notice that getting untriggered doesn’t mean you now magically enjoy whatever it is the person said or did, it just means you’re rational and compassionate brain is more activated.
The second step is putting on our empathy ears. When I put on my empathy ears, I stop paying attention to the exact words the other person uses. Instead of paying attention to “you don’t know what you’re talking about”, I pay attention to what the person is feeling and needing in the moment. I’m paying attention to this person feels frustrated and maybe even a little scared because whatever I’ve said doesn’t confirm their reality. And when I’m paying more attention to the other person’s feelings and needs than their exact words, then I’m bothered less by their exact words. I don’t take it as a personal attack, I take it as this person trying to reassert their needs in the best way their capable of in this moment. There’s something about attributing to someone the best possible motive that’s consistent with the facts which makes it easier to view them with empathy. And of course, extending empathy in verbal and non-verbal ways helps the other person begin to calm down.
And finally, after I’ve gotten myself untriggered and I’m able to hear the other person’s feelings and needs, then I want to express my own feelings, needs, and requests as clearly as possible. I want to say specifically what it is that I’m feeling and needing. ”When you said ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’ I got really scared and defensive about my own respect.” And then stating our requests in specific, doable, and positive language. ”Could you tell me what you disagree with me about?” Practice using these tools. The only way they will become habit is through practice and discipline.
These three steps are the way to transform a fight into an opportunity to connect. Getting untriggered, putting on my empathy ears, and expressing my feelings, needs, and requests.———— If you’d like to learn more about, and gain more practice in, communicating with honesty and compassion consider participating in a free Practice Group session, a group class or workshop, or private coaching and counseling. You can find more information at theservices page. KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.