Learnings from Nonviolent Communication

I just finished reading Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. From the very beginning, I had this feeling that I should have read it a few years ago. I am so impressed by its simplicity in comparison to the value it brings that I decided to write a few minutes summary of my learnings and personal reflection!

I could say that I recommend this book to every manager at every stage of their career. In people management and leadership, the situations where you will benefit from reading this book happen all the time. However, the reality is that these situations happen way more often in our private life - with our partners, parents or kids. This framework will help you be a better person for everyone around you.

About the Nonviolent Communication framework

The book describes how we can both talk and listen in a way that is not violent and capable of building connection and deepening the relationships by embracing any emotion, good or bad. Used in a sentence, it looks like this:

“When I (see, hear, smell, etc.) …, I feel …, because I need …. . Would you be willing to …”

As an example:

When I see that you are late for the meeting, I feel angry, because I need to know that I can rely on you at situations like this one. Would you be willing to be on time tomorrow?

In other words:

  1. We describe the concrete actions that are happening that affect us.
  2. We talk about how we feel in relation to what we observe.
  3. We explain our needs and desires that created our feelings.
  4. And we ask for concrete actions that will make the situation better for us.

When listening to someone, you can paraphrase what they talk about using this framework. It will help you identify their emotions and drive the conversation to talk about feelings and needs openly.

If you reflect on a few of your last emotional conversations, you will quickly realise how surprisingly often we don’t try to understand each other. You would say that if I didn’t try to understand my partner in conversation, at least I was trying to explain what I wanted. With reflection, I am not even sure if I understood myself what I wanted!

Obviously, no one speaks like that. It feels artificial. But being aware of it and trying to cover all four points of the framework (observation, emotion, need, request) will make your conversations more productive. As soon as you try to think about your emotions and what you need and request, you will connect with the other human being. After that, you are set to find the needs and requests of your partners.

Realisation of unexpected weakness

I realised how poor in emotions my vocabulary is day to day. I don’t reflect or express how I feel. While I often have to diagnose emotions at work, I realised that with a broader palette of words, I could connect more to my partners. This helps in building emotional intelligence and ability to go through and lead difficult situations.

Five lessons to take away

Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.

So simple yet powerful statement. Especially when being a manager of someone who is analysing or judging the performance of their peers. You need to keep it in mind and help them understand what that need is.

Observations specific to time and context are a foundation of nonviolent communication.

Evaluations - observations that are generalised - bring negative emotions and can only be read as unfair criticism. There is a big difference between “You are late today” and “You are always late”. The first is an observation; the second is an evaluation.

Use positive language when making requests.

People are often confused when you use negative requests. Even more, they tend to be more resistant. When you say “I don’t want you to act like that”, you don’t mean that you will be happy about any other behaviour. You look for a specific behaviour, tell it.

Ask before offering advice or reassurance.

It is often frustrating for someone needing empathy to have us assume that they want reassurance or “fix-it” advice.

Reflect back messages that are emotionally charged.

Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. It’s not about feeling the same emotions as the other person or agreeing with these emotions. It’s about understanding them and making another person feel understood.

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