When my friends and loved ones feel sad or worried, I tend to feel very powerless. I just don’t know how to react! I would like to show support but only seem to spurt out unwanted advice. I know that’s not what they need, but I don’t know how to offer the empathetic ear they are longing for. While doing research, I recently stumbled upon a technique that teaches us how to listen to our friends’ needs and truly show them that we care. It is called nonviolent communication.
I must say that I am not in love with the term. Coined by psychologist and author Marshall B. Rosenberg, nonviolent communication refers to a way of communicating that will cause no harm to its recipient. I did not believe that giving unwanted advice was “violent” in any way, but it can surely harm a relationship if the person manifesting sadness is only wishing for closure and connection.
So what is this communication technique that does no harm?
Nonviolent communication is a technique that can be applied towards others or ourselves. It is meant to show compassion and understanding of the feelings expressed. It can be used towards ourselves by refraiming the self-talk that we use when we are undergoing strong feelings. It is comprised of 4 simple steps.
The nonviolent communication technique
First, when you interact with others, start by listening intently to what is being said. Look for verbal and nonverbal cues. Listen with focus, without thinking of what you’re going to say next. Be mindful and fully present. This can be the hardest part sometimes, but it is arguably the most important part.
2. Identify the underlying feelings
When we speak, we are really expressing feelings, even though sometimes that is not what we are saying. When you communicate in a nonviolent way, you are listening to the underlying feelings being expressed. You can identify them by what is being said, left unsaid or expressed physically by your interlocutor.
3. Rephrase the feeling you have identified
Formulate into words the feelings you think that you have identified by listening intently.
4. Formulate a question
Now that you have listened carefully to everything that’s been said and that you have identified the feelings expressed, do not assume that you got the right message. Formulate a question and ask if you’ve understood correctly. Ask “are you feeling X ?” Sometimes, you’ll get it right, sometimes you’ll hear a no, and you’ll be able to ask a second question. Asking instead of telling shows that you are trying to understand the other person and not deciding for them what they are feeling.
Repeat the process
As long as your loved one needs to express himself, you can repeat this process. Listen, identify the feelings, formulate your question. When he or she will feel seen and heard, they will usually come to a halt in their stories. You’ll know that you’ll have done a good job.
What you should not do
Do not try to interpret, judge or evaluate what is being said. You are simply trying to uncover what the other feels. Keep your own judgements to yourself if you can help it. Also, do not give advice if the other is not explicitly asking for it. Most of the time, the only thing we need is to vent our feelings. If we need help, we’ll ask for it.
How and when to use nonviolent communication
I recently used this process with a customer who came into my office to complain about a particular situation. At first I was trying to explain why the situation was the way it was, trying to come up with excuses, and the conversation seemed to be going nowhere. She was upset and I wasn’t making any progress in making her feel better, or making her go away. Then I remembered nonviolent communication.
I started listening to the feelings I thought she was expressing, hiding behind the situation she was trying to solve. She was saying that she shared her problem with the city, the mayor, our company multiple times, and no one was doing anything about it. I asked her if she was feeling upset that she didn’t get the support she was looking for. After a while reframing the feelings I was uncovering, she thanked me for listening, and left. I hadn’t solved her problem, but at least, she felt heard.
You can use nonviolent communication with a difficult customer like I did, and I bet you can develop amazing customer service that way. You can also use it with a child that’s being difficult, or in an argument with your husband or wife. Or you can use it anytime your loved ones need a little TLC and compassion.
You can also use nonviolent communication in your relationship with your own self. When you catch yourself having negative self-talk, pause for a second and go back to listening intently. Listen to your own feelings and identify what is really going on, without passing any judgement. Identifying your own feelings can foster positivity and self-compassion. Give it a try!
If you would like to enhance your relationships with yourself and others by implementing nonviolent communication, I highly suggest that you take a look at Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. It is a quick read, very easy to understand, and packed with exercises to learn how to apply the technique. I believe that everybody can benefit by reading this book.
Will you give nonviolent communication a try? What do you think of this technique? Let me know in the comments below!