Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is more than a set of tools. The tools help cultivate and maintain a paradigm shift in how we relate to ourselves and others. If we just simply try to use the tools of observations, feelings, needs, and requests without altering how we relate to ourselves and others, then we may find that it saps the life out of conversations, it’s too difficult to remember the formula, or it’s just generally ineffective. That’s because NVC is about speaking and listening from the heart. It is a change in perspective from “let’s resolve this conflict and move on” to “I want to know myself, I want to know you, and I want you to know me”.
It is hard to make this switch, it is a process. And so I am going to be writing a series on the Five Fundamentals of this NVC paradigm. I want to help people understand the full context for these tools so that they may be more effective in your lives. The first fundamental is to listen to our core feelings and needs, and in this process let go of our thoughts.
Here is a thought: ”I shouldn’t be treated like that!” What a perfect and great thought. Here are some of the feelings that might be under this thought: “Angry, hurt, disappointed, sad, despair” and here are some of the unmet needs in me causing those feelings: “respect, safety, justice, fairness, equality.”
Most of us listen to our thoughts as soon as a conflict comes up. But our thoughts lead us to making one person right and the other person wrong. To defend myself, and attack the other person. Or to attack myself. To “what’s the solution?” To how do I win? And this leads us into fights.
I’d like to share a story about a time when I was first learning how to get in touch with my own feelings and needs. This is a conversation between a coach and me to get at my feelings and needs. I had realized that I hadn’t been fully honest with a girl on a date we had just gone on. I’ve labeled my lines as a Thought (T), Feeling (F), or Need (N)
Me: So I don’t think I was fully honest with this girl last night on our first date, and I think she’s going to get mad at me when she finds out. (T)
Coach: And can you tell me what your body feels like right now when you think about her getting mad at you, and you think you weren’t fully honest?
Me: My stomach feels empty, like a pit has opened up in it. (F)
Coach: And is there a feeling associated with this empty pit in your stomach?
Me: Really sad, and regret (F)
Coach: And why are you sad?
Me: Cause I really wanted to date her and get to know her. (T)
Coach: And what would that mean for you if you’d gotten to date this woman?
Me:…we could connect and have fun; we could share and be open with each other…we could support and care about each other. (N)
Through a process of noticing my body sensations and associated emotions, I then could inquire into the core needs being threatened for me which both my feelings and thoughts were pointing to. I found that I was sad because my need for connection and companionship was being threatened. Once I know what is going on with me, I can truly honor that. I embrace it, own it, and understand it. And if we can share this with the other person then they too will know exactly what is going on for us, they then have the opportunity to fully embrace and honor us. Notice that once I get to my feelings and needs how much more brief and to the point I can be. And I wonder if you notice a difference in how you think and feel about my story when I transitioned from talking about the thoughts to talking about the feelings and the needs.
In this process I let go of my thoughts. I didn’t highlight how I thought this was totally unfair. I didn’t tell myself I was a jerk for not being honest in the first place. That she wasn’t fully seeing my predicament. I stopped listening to all the stories about meaning: She’s judgmental, she’s not compassionate, I’m such an idiot, I’m a liar. I just got really honest with and respected my feelings and needs. And if you struggle with this, I highly recommend meditating twice a day for twenty minutes at a time. Learning to allow thoughts to arise, inquire into their true essence, and then let them go is an invaluable tool which is a key aspect to meditation.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.