Non-Violent Communication, Part 2: Honesty

This guest post series on non-violent communication by Ian Peatey continues. If you missed part 1 on needs, please take a look!

NVC part 2: Honesty. Image credit: laszlo-photo

NVC suggested an approach to honesty that, while not easy to master, was worth the effort because it gives a way of expressing myself that doesn’t make people hate me as much.

This ‘connecting honesty’ is the art of expressing what’s alive in me. Alive as in what am I noticing in the world around me, how am I reacting to it (thoughts AND feelings) and what’s going on with my needs.

This is a broader view of honesty than the narrow one I grew up with.

Like many kids, I was taught to tell the truth. I was also taught how to analyse, interpret and judge and then defend my views and argue against different positions than my own. I could say the main aim of the education system I was exposed to was to develop my logical, rational brain. There were some attempts to develop my creative, sporting and musical talents but they were largely half-hearted and mainly ineffective.

It’s not surprising, perhaps, that I grew up to equate truth with thinking and the highest form of honesty, therefore, was to tell people what I thought of them. Just to complicate things, this was often in conflict with another piece of my education – how to be polite. As is the case with many of us British, politeness usually won – which is probably for the best, as a lot of what I think is garbage and probably best left as random, irrelevant clouds passing through my brain.

Intuitively I knew uncensored expression of my thoughts was more likely to result in heated exchanges than productive, meaningful relationships. The best I could usually hope for was a triumphant, ‘I’m someone who speaks my mind – if you can’t take my honesty then that’s your problem’. After all few people enjoy being judged and not many like being educated when they haven’t asked for it. So I learned to keep my mouth shut in the interests of harmony and maintaining at least a few relationships.

Quick Exercise

Imagine you say something to the person doing the thing you wish they wouldn’t do (from part 1). Try formulating in no more than 2 sentences:

  • What you observe they do (just the facts, none of your interpretations or judgements)
  • What you feel when they do that
  • Which needs of yours are not getting met.

If I bumped into one of these people throwing litter in the playground and honestly told them what I think about them, I can be pretty sure it’s not going to end well. I doubt there’s a person alive who responds well to: “You selfish, low-life, moronic litter lout”. I want a different kind of honesty.

I might start with something like, “I saw you drop that empty soda bottle and I’m feeling concerned and also nervous, right now, about opening my mouth. My daughter is playing over there and I need her to be safe and grow up caring for the world around her.” I hope it would be easier to hear (even if a bit awkward), though I still predict I’ll get an aggressive, defensive reaction. At least I’m more grounded in myself, less confrontational and genuinely interested in reaching a solution that works for both of us.

One thing I should just add here.

Before opening my mouth I would make an assessment about how safe the situation is. If I  guessed I might get into some physical harm then I would leave it alone. I want to make the world a better place, and getting beaten up in front of my 2 year old daughter is not going to help that.

Jennifer: So, going back to my neighbors who throw recyclables in the trash and drive their pick-up truck 50 feet to the laundry room. If I said what I was actually thinking, it would come out something like this: “For f***’s sake, people. You can’t even be bothered to recycle your plastic water bottles? Hope your kids like it on a dead planet.” To put it in more NVC terms, maybe I could say something like, “I noticed that you throw out recyclable items like bottles and cans. I feel upset when I see recyclables in the trash because I need my community to respect the environment we all live in.”

I think I need to work on that some more. What eco-oblivious actions make you want to start pulling out the asterisks and ampersands? And can you think of NVC ways to rephrase how you feel?


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by EcoCatLady on 07/25/2012 at 13:15

    These are fascinating posts, and I can’t help but relate it all to the political discourse in this country – which sorta seems like the complete opposite of NVC… it’s communication specifically designed to incite anger.

    Anyhow, this sort of reminds me of something I was taught many, MANY years ago in a peer counseling program (I think… maybe it was somewhere else.) Anyhow, the thing was to make “I” statements rather than “you” statements. In other words say things like “I feel this” rather than “you’re doing that.” That way you’re speaking from your own feelings and experience rather than accusing someone else.


  2. In my office people are so keen on the energy intensive AC, even when the windows are open. I definitely have to hold back a little when I mention it to them…


  3. […] « 8 Delicious Uses for Ugly Fruit Non-Violent Communication, Part 2: Honesty […]


  4. […] « Non-Violent Communication, Part 2: Honesty The Great Kale Experiment […]


  5. “a lot of what I think is garbage and probably best left as random, irrelevant clouds passing through my brain”
    There you go again. It’s not often I am to be heard chortling in the morning, but you echo my sad state. Since hitting 50 the random irrelevant clouds have taken up permanent residence. Sadly, the female per-50 age has in my case also made the tact button in my head a bit faulty. So sometimes I do blurt out what I think despite my best intentions…
    Honesty can be over-rated, as you say. Being honest with yourself is a good starting point which means being aware of your thoughts and your behaviour. But not everyone is at the same stage of self-awareness and may not realise that what they do or say can have damaging effects. It has nothing to do with formal education or social background, and is very complicated and very intimately personal. NVC sounds like a great approach to tricky conversations…


    • Abbs – I haven’t heard the word ‘chortle’ for years and years. I rarely miss the company of the English but now and then a very ‘English-English’ word stirs up some nostalgia. So I bring a chortle to your morning and you bring nostalgia to my afternoon …


  6. […] will consider applying it to how you communicate. If you missed them, please check out part 1 and part 2 in the […]


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