Non-Violent Communication

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Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.
–Rumi

Today I would like to share my interpretation of this three hour video on NonViolent Communication, hosted by Marshall Rosenberg. It is a workshop that has been filmed where he intends to “Help you learn what you already know how to do… but forget … because we’ve been educated to forget.”

Marshall identifies that we are stuck in a perpetual negative cycle. “Even though we could be playing the game, ‘Make Life Wonderful,’ we have been educated to play another game: ‘Who’s Right?’”

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It seems that even when we think we are behaving in a way that meets our needs and those of our loved ones we could actually be doing more harm than good. Marshall characterises the traits of individuals playing the ‘who’s right?’ game as jackals, and those that can express directly from their heart as giraffes. We are born as giraffes, but many individuals soon become jackals, even if they do not realise it.

The video offers suggestions of how we can of interact with each other in ‘authentic, effective, and powerful ways, aligned with our values for the change we want to see in the world’.

When our communication supports compassionate giving and receiving, happiness replaces violence and grieving!
– CNVC founder, Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD

The Center for Nonviolent Communication pursues the vision of a world in which
• everyone values everyone’s basic human needs and lives from a consciousness that connects with the universal life energy and natural oneness of all life
• where every individual embraces self compassion
• where people joyfully and compassionately contribute to each other and resolve conflicts peacefully
• where the systems and structures we create in economics, education, justice, healthcare, peace-keeping and other areas across our global interdependent community reflect that consciousness and evaluate their actions against their contribution to life and the human needs they ultimately serve

So this is what we can hope to achieve by living with Nonviolent Communication Values. But how can we live this way, especially when those around us are still playing the ‘who’s right?’ game. First it is important to understand why we move from the energy of living as ‘giraffes’.


How do we become jackals?

We are taught from a young age by parents and schools that we must do things in a certain way in order to prevent punishment. We follow demands in the hope for a reward, or to prevent guilt and shame. This continues into a life where we act out of a sense of obligation and duty, rather than the joy of giving.

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Marshall makes the radical suggestion that we should not do anything for anybody, if it comes from a sense of obligation, for fear of being punished or because we want someone to like us. Doing things in this energy is no good for any person involved in the exchange. The resentment and bitterness that comes with doing something for a reward or to avoid a punishment is palpable.

Requests vs demands

When you ask somebody to do something for you try to be clear if you are making a request or a demand. What will your response be if they choose not to do it? An example is asking your partner to do the dishes. If they do not, will they be punished with sulking? If you have made demands in the past it can be difficult for them to accept that any genuine requests that you make are done with no attached punishment for not doing so. The coercion is hard to forget. Making demands of people takes away the joy from giving.

When you can see the difference, you can see that it is not fair to make demands of anybody….and also that you do not need to fulfil demands of others. Living as a giraffe means only doing things that will give you pleasure. The wonderful paradox is that we can gain enormous pleasure from giving to others from our heart….…note, I did not say from completing demands for others.

Hearing beyond words

Marshall describes some words and being windows and some as being walls. The art is in hearing beneath the words to the deeper needs, our own and those of others. No matter what words are used, Marshall tries to help us to realise that an individual is only really saying ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.

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Try to listen from your heart and recognise that everyone has the same universal needs that must be met in order for them to feel fulfilled. We all have the same needs, we have just forgotten how to ask for them.

We are caught up in a constant cycle of blame, judgement, expectation and domination, rather than hearing the truth. That the individual needs to feel understood, or safe or loved.

When we can hear the needs underneath the words Marshall says that we are able to stop taking things personally. There are no criticisms, simply tragic calls for help to meet a need. Taking this a step further, Marshall goes on to say that it is not up to any individual to fix an unmet need, we simply need to be present and offer empathy.

How to practice NonViolent Communication

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Putting Marshall’s suggestions into practice takes time to get right. While it may not feel natural, he argues that it is because it has become a habit to act from our brains rather than our hearts. In conflict situations it is important to stay present and calm, put on ‘giraffe ears’ and hear the needs behind any critical words and judgement. Give empathy before education and advice. Learn how to say no, by expressing the needs behind your decision to say no, and recognise that nobody has the power to cause emotional pain to any individual. Your emotional pain comes from your own reaction to the stimulus.

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How to give and receive gratitude

The most important lesson that I will take away from this video is how to express gratitude from the heart. Compliments and praise can be seen as part of the reward/punishment system that Marshall says we need to get away from. Instead we should be specific about what somebody has done to make your life more wonderful, let them know how you felt as a result of that and define what need of yours was met by them. When receiving gratitude, accept it with an open heart.

The message is simple but profound. Many of us have forgotten how to communicate in a loving way, and may not realise that we are actually being harmful. Being ‘nice’ could be one of the most damaging things we can do, if it does not come from the heart.

What do you think? Are you a jackal or a giraffe?

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