Enjoy Improved Relationships by Using Nonviolent Communication, Part V

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This is part five in my series on Nonviolent Communication.  You can find parts one, two, three, and four here.

Today we'll be focusing on the third stage of the NVC process.  Just as we ought to become more adept at making observations and sharing our feelings, we must also develop a rich vocabulary of needs and learn how to express these to others.

There are generally three stages people go through with regard to how they do this:

Stage One

We tend to assume responsibility for the feelings of others as well as feeling an obligation to make others happy, which can deny our own needs in the process, but we can empathize with others without taking responsibility for their feelings.

We should remember that it's important to take responsibility for our own feelings.  Statements such as "You hurt my feelings" are just plain wrong, because our feelings are a result of how we take things.  Think of the word responsible as response-able; we're only responsible for what we're able to control - that's our behavior, intentions, and how we react to others (which depends on our feelings).

One way to insure you're taking responsibility is to follow your feelings with "because I."  

"I feel angry because I didn't ensure the electric bill was paid this month and now the power has been turned off."

Stage Two

We next rebel against this perceived responsibility for the feelings of others and understand that we have a right to express our needs, but we don't do this well.  

We're programmed to make moralistic judgements (analyzing what's wrong with a situation), which can lead to anger, guilt, shame, and depression.  We become critical of others, and neglect to look for ways to consider their feelings and needs.

Stage Three

Emotional liberation requires asserting our own needs, but in a way that considers others at the same time.  Now, at this third stage, we cannot only express our needs well, but respond to the needs of others with compassion and communicate that we are equally concerned with them.

Just What Are Needs?   

Needs are the basic requirements for life that are common to all people and not tied to a particular circumstance or strategy for fulfillment (like safety, empathy, sustenance, honesty, meaning, love, etc.)

If what you claim you need contains a reference to a specific action by specific person, then that's really just a strategy, not a need ("I feel sad because I need you to spend more time with me.")

Just as I did with the words relating to feelings, I've created some needs mini-posters. These can strengthen your needs vocabulary by helping you become more familiar with the words which describe needs.

You can print out this free download to display and help you practice recognizing specific needs.  One suggestion is to post them on your refrigerator as a reminder of what words to use to back up your feelings, or you could even use them as flash cards (Do you homeschool?  These mini-posters would work well for studying different words associated with needs!) 

A Warning 

Remember that it can't be what someone did, but how we're interpreting an action that causes our feelings.  When we are experiencing emotions such as anger, guilt, shame, and depression, we should use these feelings to alert us that we are "up in our head" and making judgements.  Since we want to communicate our needs to others and not analyze in a judgmental way, we must find the need that's not being fulfilled behind the judgement, or translate the judgement into a need.

It can take a long time to determine what needs are behind our feelings, since we're not used to doing it, but once we have and use this language of life, conflicts are easy to resolve. 

Resolving Conflicts 

Instead of using a language of love, we end up criticizing the actions of others, which others naturally react to in self-defense.  Think about this: When people hear criticism, they think crisis and get defensive.  

It's important to remember always to express your feelings with needs presented alongside ("I feel ____ because I have a need for ___.")  You have to be clear about what needs are not being met in order to resolve conflicts.

Then, it's imperative for the other person to repeat back the stated need to make sure it is clearly understood.  Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication, asserts that any conflict can be resolved within 20 minutes - once both parties can state what the other person's needs are.

Is it a Need?  Test yourself with these statements:

1.  "You irritate me when you roll your eyes at something I say."  (No, this is not expressing a need.)
2.  "I feel angry when you say you don't care about how the room looks, because my need for partnership is not being met."  (Yes, this expresses a feeling and the need behind it.)
3.  "I feel frustrated when you don't pick up your clothes from the floor."  (No.  While this describes a feeling due to an action, it is not followed with what need isn't being met.)
4.  "I'm sad you're not coming over, because I hoped to spend evening together."  (No, this is a strategy, not a need.)
5.  "I'm disappointed because you didn't call."  (No, there is no mention of needs here.)
6.  "I'm discouraged because I didn't finish the project today."  (Yes, although it would be better to look over the list of needs and choose a specific word to express the need.)
7.  "Little things people say hurt me."  (No, remember that your feelings are your responsibility.)
8.  "I feel happy that you came over."  (No, although it could be, if you followed that up with something like, "because my need for companionship was met.")
9.  "I feel scared when you yell."  (Again, this is a no, unless followed up with a "because I need.")
10. "I'm grateful that you came to help me clean today, because I needed support."  (Yes)

What's next in this series?  We'll discuss how to make requests that are gifts, not demands.  

Our culture says that needs are needy and selfish and therefore we should have an apologetic or "kick me" attitude when we share them.  Instead, we need to see our needs as a gift to others - a way for them to find out how to help us.

NVC concepts can make such a difference in how you view yourself and others.  Feel free to ask any questions regarding NVC you might have in the comments - and don't forget to sign up to receive Syncopated Mama blog updates by email, so you don't miss a single installment of this series!

Resources I've used to learn about NVC


Keep reading!  Find Part 6 of my NVC series here!

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