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Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent communication is a language of life. I'm personally devoting this year fully to nonviolent communication. Being a fire sign, I have to be very careful of my language, because it naturally comes out fierce and aggressive, if I'm not mindful.


Nonviolence means allowing the positive within you to emerge. To be dominated by love, respect, understanding, appreciation, compassion, and concern for others rather than self-centered and selfish, greedy, hateful, prejudiced, suspicious, and aggressive attitudes that dominate our thinking. This world is what we make of it. If it is ruthless today it's because we have made it ruthless with our attitudes. If we change ourselves we can change the world, and changes ourselves begins with our language and methods of communication.


There are 4 components of nonviolent communication: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. The concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being. How we feel in relation to what we observe. The needs, values, desires that create our feelings. The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives. There are 2 parts of nonviolent communication: 1. expressing honestly though the four components 2. receiving emphathically through the four components


When we combine observation with evaluation, people are apt to hear criticism. Expressing our vulnerability can help resolve conflicts. Distinguish feelings from thoughts. Distinguish between what we feel and what we think we are. Be sure to express your feelings. Take responsibility for our feelings. What others do may be the stimulus for the cause, but not the cause. The four options for receiving negative messages: 1. blame ourselves 2. blame others 3. sense our own feelings and needs 4. sense others' feelings and needs. If we don't value our needs, others may not either. The first stage is emotional slavery. We see ourselves responsible for others' feelings. The second stage is the obnoxious stage. We feel angry; we no longer want to be responsible for others' feelings. The third stage is emotional liberation! We take responsibility for our intentions and actions.


Use positive language when making requests. Making requests in clear, positive, concrete action language reveals what we really want. Vague language contributes to internal confusion. Depression is the reward we get for being "good". When we simply express our feelings, it may not be clear what we want them to do. We are often not conscious of what we are requesting. Requests may sound like demands when unaccompanied by the speaker's feelings and needs. The more clear we are about what we want, the more likely it is that we'll get it. To make sure the message we sent is the message that is received, ask the listener to reflect it back. Express appreciation when your listener tries to meet your request for reflection. Empathize with the listener who doesn't reflect back. After we express our vulnerability we often want to know 1. what the listener is feeling 2. what the listener is thinking 3. whether the listener would be willing to take a particular action.


The two parts of nonviolent communication: 1. expressing honestly, 2. receiving empathically. Empathy is emptying our mind and listening with our whole being. Ask before offering advice or reassurance. Intellectual understanding blocks empathy. No matter what others say, we only hear what they are 1. observing, 2. feeling, 3. needing, and 4. requesting. Listen to what people are needing rather than what they are thinking. When asking for information, first express our own feelings and needs. Reflect back messages that are emotionally charged. Paraphrase only when it contributes to greater compassion and understanding. Behind intimidating messages are merely people appealing to us to meet their needs. A difficult message is an opportunity to enrich someone's life. Paraphrasing saves time. When we stay with empathy, we allow speakers to touch deeper levels of themselves. We know a speaker has received adequate empathy when 1. we sense a release of tension, and 2. the flow of words comes to a halt. We need empathy to give empathy.


The power of empathy allows us to reperceive our world in a new way and to go on. It's harder to empathize with those who appear to possess more power, status, or resources. The more we empathize with the other party, the safer we feel. We "say a lot" by listening for other people's feelings and needs. Rather than put your "but" in the face of an angry person, empathize. When we listen for feelings and needs we no longer see people as monsters. It may be difficult to empathize with those who are closest with us. Empathizing with someone's "no" protects us from taking it on personally. To bring a conversation back to life: interrupt with empathy. What bores the listener bores the speaker too. Speakers prefer that listeners interrupt rather than pretend to listen. Empathize with silence by listening for the feelings and needs behind it. Empathy lies in our ability to be present.


Nonviolent communication's most important use may be developing self-compassion. We use non violent communication to evaluate ourselves in ways that engender growth rather than self-hatred. Avoid shoulding yourself! Self-judgments, like all judgments, are tragic expressions of unmet needs. Nonviolent mourning: connecting with the feelings and unmet needs stimulated by past actions we now regret. Nonviolent communication self-forgiveness connecting with the needs we were trying to meet when we took the action that we now regret. We are compassionate with ourselves when we are able to embrace all parts of ourselves and recognize the needs and values expressed by each part. We want to take action out of the desire to contribute to life rather than out of fear, guilt, shame, or obligation. With every choice you make, be conscious of what need it serves. Be conscious of actions motivated by the desire for money or approval, and by fear, shame, or guilt. Know the price you pay for them. The most dangerous of all behaviors may consist of doing things "because we're supposed to".


It is important to express anger fully. Killing people is too superficial. We are never angry because of what others say or do. To motivate by guilt, mix up stimulus and cause. The cause of anger lies in our thinking - in thoughts of blame and judgement. When we judge others we contribute to violence. Use anger as a wake-up call. Anger co-opts our energy diverting it toward punitive actions. When we become aware of our needs, anger gives way to life-serving feelings. Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment. We recall four options when hearing a difficult message: 1. blame ourselves, 2. blame others, 3. sense our own feelings and needs, 4. sense others' feelings and needs. Judgement of others contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies. Steps to expressing anger: 1. Stop. Breathe., 2. Identify our judgmental thoughts., 3. Connect with our needs., 4. Express our feeling and unmet needs. The more we hear them the more they'll hear us. Stay conscious of the violent thoughts that arise in our minds, without judging them. When we hear another person's feelings and needs, we recognize our common humanity. Our need is for the other person to truly hear our pain. People do not hear our pain when they believe they are at fault. Practice translating each judgement into an unmet need. Take your time doing this.


We can liberate ourselves from cultural conditioning. The ability to hear our own feelings and needs and empathize with them can free us from depression. Focus on what we want to do rather than what went wrong. Defuse stress by hearing our own feelings and needs. Defuse stress by empathizing with others. I empathized with clients instead of interpreting them; I revealed myself instead of diagnosing them.


Compliments are often judgments - however positive - of others. Express appreciation to celebrate, not to manipulate. Saying "thank you" in nonviolent communication: "This is what you did; this is what I feel; this is the needs of mine that was met." Receive appreciation without feelings of superiority or false humility. We tend to notice what's wrong rather than what's right.


Words are Windows (Or They’re Walls), a poem by Ruth Bebermeyer

I feel so sentenced by your words I feel so judged and sent away Before I go I got to know Is that what you mean to say?

Before I rise to my defense, Before I speak in hurt or fear, Before I build that wall of words, Tell me, did I really hear?

Words are windows, or they’re walls, They sentence us, or set us free. When I speak and when I hear, Let the love light shine through me.

There are things I need to say, Things that mean so much to me, If my words don’t make me clear, Will you help me to be free?

If I seemed to put you down, If you felt I didn’t care, Try to listen through my words To the feelings that we share.

~ Ruth Bebermeyer (from the book Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life)

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