Remember playing "telephone" as a kid? It's the game where one person whispers a phrase to someone else, and it gets whispered down a line of children until the last one says the phrase out loud and everyone laughs at how much it has changed.
Sometimes relationships can feel like we're stuck in that game. You say one thing, but your partner hears something completely different. Your boss gives you feedback, but all you can hear is criticism. You try to express your feelings, but you just sound mean and petty.
Research reveals we are more likely to be aggressive with the people we know and love rather than strangers.
“The people who are likely to cause us harm of any sort are likely going to be people we know,” researcher Deborah South Richardson, a psychology professor at Georgia Regents University, told the Huffington Post.
At its core, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) begins with an understanding "that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture," according to the Center for Nonviolent Communication.
The practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a process developed by clinical psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, offers a way to unlearn this aggression and sharpen your communication skills.
NVC teaches you how to listen to yourself and others, and to identify and express how you're feeling. A style of relating also called compassionate communication, NVC can be used even if the other person isn't aware of it because the practice is about examining your own needs and feelings.
"Long before I reached adulthood, I learned to communicate in an impersonal way that did not require me to reveal what was going on inside myself, " Rosenberg wrote in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. "When I encountered people or behaviors I either didn't like or didn't understand, I would react in terms of their wrongness."
Rosenberg set out to understand this experience and found that behind all his judgments was a longing to express his own needs. He developed the four main practices of NVC as a means to help himself and others relate and feel connected.
1. Observations: To start, simply observe what is happening. For example, you come into the living room and see your partner is on the computer playing a video game.
2. Feelings: Next, tune in with yourself. How does it make you feel? Did you expect to spend some time with him or her after a busy day? Do you have something important you want to talk about? Are you annoyed or upset?
3. Needs: Look for a need associated with that feeling. Perhaps you have a need to connect or to be listened to.
4. Requests: Finally, you can make a request and ask the other person for what you want. You might ask your partner, "Would you be willing to sit and talk with me for a few minutes?"
The request might seem like what you originally wanted to ask for, but many times questions come out in a more aggressive tone than you intended if you're not watching closely. In this example, perhaps your feelings may have had you say, "You're always playing that stupid game instead of paying attention to me."
For most people, one of the hardest things about NVC is getting in touch with feelings and learning how to express them.
The Center for Nonviolent Communication has a helpful feelings inventory list. It has two parts: feelings you may have when your needs are being met and feelings you may have when your needs are not being met. You can use the list of more than 100 feelings to help build this important skill.
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies