I’ve been asked by several people “when should I use Nonviolent Communication?” And I used to answer with a resounding “Always! Anytime!” But I finally noticed that this only reinforced a “have to” mentality. Now people were burdened with this new obligation. So allow me to give four questions to help you figure out if Nonviolent Communication will help meet your needs in a given situation.
First, “am I talking about a personal issue or an intellectual issue?” Nonviolent Communication pushes you to get out of your thoughts and into your feelings and core desires and concerns (needs). When you discuss thoughts there is this inherent evaluation of true or false, better or worst. While when you discuss feelings there is equity of sharing. But that isn’t to say that thought filled discussions aren’t useful. If you’re discussing the merits of a scientific study, or if you’re diagnosing a car problem, or if you’re trying to figure out how to solve a complicated problem on a work project you may need to look at thoughts and ideas and evaluate which ones are more useful than others.
Sometimes though we think an issue is an intellectual one, but in fact it is quite personal. I remember once I was dating someone long distance, and we were having a difficult time about how often we got to see each other. I thought “oh how simple, let’s just discuss options for how we could see each other more often.” What a good intellectual challenge. But I found as I went over and over the same options my partner was just getting more and more frustrated. I missed the boat. I thought we were having an intellectual conversation, but my partner really wanted a personal discussion.
That story reminds me of the second question, “am I getting stuck? Do I feel unheard?” I was getting stuck in a loop. I just kept repeating the same four options over and over again, and my partner was just getting more and more angry. If I had stopped to ask myself this second question, I would have screamed “yes!” This was a sign that I needed to dive deeper. Instead of repeating my four options, I could go a little deeper and reveal my feelings and needs. The conversation with my partner would have changed radically if I had said “you know, I’m really annoyed and disappointed that I can’t solve this problem with you…in fact I feel hopeless. I’m really scared though that admitting that means that I’m going to lose you and our connection.”
And the same goes for the other person. “Does my conversation partner seem stuck? Do they seem unheard?” They may need some help breaking into a more vulnerable and connected conversation. Try extending some empathy; reflecting back the unspoken feelings and needs you think are there. I could have tried saying to my partner “oh…you know it sounds like you’re really upset? Is that cause you’re scared that there aren’t any good solutions to our problem? And are you sad that maybe we can’t make this work?”
Vulnerability can break the cycle.
The final question I have is “do I want to experience a deeper connection here?” The goal of Nonviolent Communication is to create intimacy and connection through being vulnerable. Is that what you want to occur? Maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. I don’t always want to have deep connection and intimacy with the stranger I meet in the check-out line, sometimes I just want to get home. But I certainly wanted to have a deeper connection with my partner in the story above. That’s the whole reason we wanted to see each other more often! And so this final question may be the real fundamental question to when to use Nonviolent Communication and when to not.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.