Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Non-Violent Communication, parts 3 & 4: Empathy and Asking for What We Want

This is the final part of Ian Peatey’s guest post on non-violent communication. I apologize for the irregular posting, as my cumulative bio final was yesterday and many things got put on hold while I studied. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and will consider applying it to how you communicate. If you missed them, please check out part 1 and part 2 in the series!

Empathy and asking for what we want. Image credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service


Empathy is a fashionable concept at the moment and I celebrate this. Learning to listen with empathy is, I believe, the most important step towards a more peaceful and sustainable world.

Applying the NVC approach to empathy means listening to what someone is expressing beyond the words they use. Most people have been educated to express mainly their judgements and analysis. So being able to hear their unexpressed feelings and needs is a great gift to them – it’s reaching out to what is really alive in them and not only staying in the relatively narrow realm of the mind. If their judgements are directed towards me then empathy is also an essential act of self-protection!

Quick Exercise

Guess the reaction you might get if you did say what you wrote down in part 2 above.

  • What would they say to you
  • What might they be feeling?
  • What needs of theirs might be at play?

The reaction I might get to the litter situation could be, “Who the f*** are you telling me what to do. Mind your own business, asshole!”

My guess, which I might verbalise if I thought it would help: They’re feeling irritated and need freedom and autonomy. They might also be feeling embarrassed as they didn’t meet their need for care and consideration of others when they dropped the trash.

Jennifer: I think my neighbors would be likely to react this way. They would probably be embarrassed and angry to be approached about something like recycling. They might need to be able to finish chores quickly to get back to taking care of their families.

Asking for What we Want

If I view people as basically generous and compassionate and if I’m equally interested in getting my needs and your needs met, then asking for what I want ought to be straightforward.

NVC suggest treating a request as a suggestion about what current action would meet my needs. If my suggestion also works for you and then we’re good to go! If not, it’s the start of a dialogue where we can get clearer about both our needs and come up with a solution together.

Contrast this with some of these common approaches we learned as children:

  • Punishment (“clean your room or no TV for a week”/ “Come home now or I’ll leave you here on your own”)
  • Reward (“Get good grades and I’ll buy you a new ball/iPad/bicycle/keg of beer”)
  • Denial of choice (“You must do your share of the chores … so you have to wash the dishes!”)
  • Exclusion from the rest of society (“Nobody talks to their parents like that”)
  • Emotional blackmail (“If you tell me the truth I won’t get mad”/”If you lie to me I won’t love you as much”)

All these methods rely on fear of some kind to get children to act. And children grow into adults who learn either to use fear themselves or continue to act out of fear.

The NVC way might take a little time, and for me it’s a small price to pay for reducing the amount of fear we bring into our lives.

Quick Exercise

Continuing the example from the previous sections. What do you want to hear or see right now that would meet your needs?

Ideally I would like this person to never throw litter again and join me on a crusade to convince everyone they know to keep trash off the streets. Somehow I guess I might be wanting more than they are ready to commit to right now.

More realistically I might ask: “Would you agree to throw your next piece of trash in one of these bins?” and I’d also go over and pick up the litter they dropped and throw it away.

Going off on a bit of a tangent – I can’t remember actually meeting a litter-dropper, so I tend to do a lot of picking up of other peoples’ trash. It’s not ideal as I would love to have a dialogue with them – human to human – and see where it led, but I’m not prepared to loiter around the park, pouncing on people as they discard their rubbish.

Picking up other peoples’ litter might sound like a dumb thing to do – but I’ve tried complaining, feeling resentful and disgusted or hoping for some wave of awareness to come over the neighbourhood. None of those things made me feel good so cleaning up myself is a the best choice I’ve found.

You know what, I was in the park the other day and I saw someone else doing exactly the same thing, which brought a smile to my face.

Jennifer: I’ll think about asking for what I want the next time I meet a non-recycler at the trash bins. Maybe offering to help them sort their trash or addressing why they don’t recycle could open up a conversation. And until then…sigh, I guess I’ll keep fishing recyclables out of the trash.

About the Author

Ian Peatey is a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) living in Romania where he runs and writes for NVC World and does a bit of business training. Together with his wife, he runs the Romanian Association for NVC delivering workshops and training courses aimed at supporting parents and couples as well as organisations involved with children. His main contributions to the environment are refusing to eat meat, walking a lot (and not owning a car) and buying local, natural foods wherever possible. On the other hand he does have 3 kids but he’s not willing to give any of them up.

He can be contacted here.


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?

Guest Post: Non-Violent Communication (part 1)

This is a guest post from Ian Peatey, a Non-Violent Communication Trainer, on a system of communication based on empathy rather than competition. I’m not qualified to write on this topic myself, though I have seen that it works and fosters real conversations instead of shouting matches. Environmental issues are complex, and many of us are deeply emotionally invested in our perspectives on them. Listening and responding empathetically are not instinctive, but they can be taught. I hope that non-violent communication will help us to listen better and find solutions.

Is there a better way to communicate? Image credit: Akuppa

I turn 50 next year (gulp!) and I can point to maybe a small handful of events so far that triggered really huge changes. One of those transforming moments was coming across Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in 2001.

On the face of it NVC is simple and obvious – deceptively so. Scratching away its layers and patiently learning how to integrate it revealed a rich, practical approach to myself, relationships and social structures. It also turned upside down some of the things I’d taken for granted all my life about basic concepts such as honesty and co-operation.

At its core is a positive and compassionate view of the human race. Yes, of course, there are plenty of people I could label selfish, aggressive, violent or mean – in fact, I might even use those words to describe myself from time to time.

NVC takes the view we are all doing the best we can to meet our needs and we all enjoy giving when we are free to do so. It maintains that how we’ve been educated to think, communicate and act sometimes interferes with this positive, compassionate orientation. And by re-learning some of this education we can choose modes of living that help us connect with others, resolve our differences constructively and seek peaceful ways of living.

Me and NVC (or NVC and I)

My introduction to NVC was pure chance combined with laziness.

I was sitting in the main hall at a very large conference, trying to decide which workshop to go to next. A guy came and sat on the edge of the stage, talked a bit, pulled out a guitar and started singing in a rather tuneless voice. I can relate to ‘tuneless’ but didn’t want to listen to 2 hours of it. I glanced at the programme and saw it was the beginning of ‘Nonviolent Communication’ presented by Marshall Rosenberg. It didn’t sound really appealing but I was just too lazy to move and by way of justification, told myself there might be more to it than crap songs.

So I stayed.

Fast forward and today my life pretty much revolves around NVC. I run workshops on it, write about it and do my very best to integrate it into how I relate to myself and those around me. I’m even married to it – my wife is also an NVC trainer. There are many different aspects of NVC that changed how I live and I’d like to touch on 4 elements that had the biggest impact on me.

1. Needs

Needs are central to NVC – not as a consumer driven or egotistical concept but as the very real things enabling us to survive and thrive.

Needs are what underpins everything we do and include basic physical needs (like protection, food and water) and more complex needs (such as belonging, meaning, understanding, beauty, emotional safety). They are also one way we can bridge the differences between us and find that  place where we meet as human beings. By finding the needs we’re trying to meet (my needs and your needs) we’re much more likely to find sustainable solutions than if we stick only with ideas and opinions.

This was quite a different way of looking at needs than the one I grew up with. I believe needs are often misrepresented. I mean, who wants to be seen as ‘needy’ or ‘selfish’ (only looking after their own needs).

I was brought up to put my own needs to one side and do things for other people out of duty and obligation – in other words, to be obedient. Obedience was promoted as a virtue – to parents, teachers, bosses and any other authority figure. I’d also bought into the notion of needs promoted by the mass media which got me to think I ‘need’ certain products, brands or services in order to fit in, be successful or get the girl!

From a certain perspective it’s not so hard to see why needs get misrepresented. People who are clear and assertive about their own needs tend to be quite difficult to control and don’t make compliant consumers!

Quick Exercise – think of something someone does that drives you crazy.

  • Which needs of yours are not met when they do this?
  • Which needs of theirs might they be trying to meet by doing this?
  • Are there other ways they could meet their needs while also valuing yours?

For me it’s people throwing litter in the playground where my kids play. My needs are for care, safety and health and I guess the needs of those throwing the trash are about ease and (possibly) being noticed/getting attention. Just getting to this step I find helpful and I feel calmer. I no longer see these (usually faceless) people as moronic louts who don’t care about anybody. I start to get a tiny glimmer of them as people, just like me, doing the best they can – albeit, it in a way I really don’t like.

Overflowing bin with doomed recyclables. Image credit: Ecstatic Mark

Jennifer: I get so angry when I see recyclables in the trash. Despite the fact that we have super-easy single-stream recycling, people still throw away their trash without sorting it, and their big white trash bags contain highly recyclable glass, aluminum, and plastic. I think it makes me even angrier that it often comes from families — Enfamil containers, other kiddie items — because surely they have the highest stake in the future? If their recyclables are easy to reach, I fish them out, but it’s really gross and gets my back up.

My needs that are not being met: the need to respect limited resources, for thoughtful behavior, and a planet-centered worldview. Their needs: convenience or to save time (I’m sure they are busy and sleep deprived). I don’t know what a compromise would look like — I can’t talk to them because I don’t know who they are, and I never see them doing it. Thoughts, Ian?

I’d love for you to try this thought experiment, even if, like me, the solutions aren’t immediately obvious. When it comes to environmental issues, what makes you angry, and what needs of yours aren’t being met?

Go on to part 2: Honesty

About the Author

Ian Peatey is a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) living in Romania where he runs and writes for NVC World and does a bit of business training. Together with his wife, he runs
the Romanian Association for NVC delivering workshops and training courses aimed at supporting parents and couples as well as organisations involved with children. His main contributions to the environment are refusing to eat meat, walking a lot (and not owning a car) and buying local, natural wherever possible. On the other hand he does have 3 kids but he’s not willing to give any of them up.

He can be contacted here.

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