In this book, Mr. Rosenberg teaches a better way to express and receive information. The skills throughout are incredibly useful interpersonally as well as in the relationship with the self.

Marshall is absolutely right that our current language and mindset in the American culture “obscures a personal sense of responsibility”. We are taught from a young age to speak using “You…” statements and to blame our internal experience on our circumstances. The author, however, points out the important distinction between the stimulus and cause of our feelings. What others do is the stimulus but not the source of our emotions. Our needs or, most commonly, our unmet needs are the real root cause of all our feelings.

Marshall gives us a new choice regarding our conscious focus while giving and receiving information. Do we want to blame ourselves, blame others, sense our feelings & needs, or sense another’s feelings & needs? According to the author, the latter two options are more effective, less emotionally violent, and also accessible using a few simple tools.

The four parts of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) are observation, feeling, needs, and request.

Basic NVC formula:
When…[concrete actions we are observing],
I feel…[feeling word(s)]
because I want…[needs, values, desires].
Would you be willing to…[request(s)]?

We try to give this information to our listener or to listen for only this information when we are on the receiving end of a communication.

This way of thinking and speaking differs from the more commonly taught “I” message form of communication by the addition of the “because I need” piece. This additional part is critical to intimate communication because it discloses the most vulnerable and important information about us. By sharing our need(s), the main impulse behind our emotions, thoughts, and requests is being owned, blame is less likely, and there is more hope of some understanding, connection, or solution. In other words, if we express our desires, we have a better chance of getting them met.

Many people resist sharing their needs, especially with those significant to them. There are various reasons for this: the myth that morally strong people do not have needs, the belief that those who love us should be able to read our minds, or simply the desire to not have to take responsibility or make the effort. Being passive in the area of communication consistently leads to anxiety, resentment, depression, and ultimately alienation, so learning good skills is critical for keeping the self healthy.

So…PRACTICE with a willing partner. Ask for the listener to reflect back or paraphrase. Appreciate the action of reflection. Use positive, specific language when making requests. Know you can get your needs met even if not from this person. Remember that the main objective is having a genuine, empathic relationship, not to simply fulfill your needs.

If we criticize or judge someone when we hear a refusal, Request personal prophecy then we were not making a request; it was a demand. The author of NVC says that any judgment is an expression of our own unmet needs and that these thoughts lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. It is a helpful exercise to practice translating any judgments we have into a corresponding list of needs. This is empowering because it changes our stance from one of victimhood to one of ownership and possibility. In addition, when we more fully identify with the part of ourselves that needs others, we will then naturally empathize more with people.

Empathy is emptying the mind so you can listen with your heart. It follows that intellectual understanding blocks empathy. Debating someone’s communication by either saying “but…” or quickly sharing an opposing view will sever the heart connection with another. Instead, try to not think while listening. This will lead to a deeper experience and increased focus on the other’s needs.

When we become aware of our and others’ needs, anger diminishes. Violence and abuse come from the erroneous belief that other people cause our pain or can control us; therefore we want to punish them. Since other’s actions are only the stimulus and not the cause of our anger, there is a much more effective way to express upset than by lashing out or attempting to control.

According to Marshall, the steps to more effectively expressing anger are the following:

1. Stop and breathe
2. Identify judgmental thoughts
3. Connect with our related needs
4. Express our feelings and unmet needs

Stay conscious of negative thoughts without judging or expressing them. Practice translating each judgment into an unmet need. Take the time required to process the experience alone or with another before the final step. Whether or not we are heard, this formula for expressing frustration frees us to better understand and take care of ourselves.

Connecting with our own unmet needs can lead to an initial sense of grief for what we have not had or regret for negative ways we have tried to get our needs met in the past. These difficult emotions of sadness and guilt were affecting us even before we became conscious of them. If intense feelings surface, some people find the need to seek professional help at this point to address previously repressed emotions. Once we have processed these feelings and continue to practice communicating, we are better able to achieve our desires and connect satisfactorily to others. Learning the theory and skills of NVC does take a commitment of time and effort, but the resulting improvement in communication and thus relationships is beyond price.

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