Nonviolent Communication and the Impact it Could have on Humanity
By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News
Thankfully in the last week, the world has not imploded. In some ways, it feels like it is going that way though. US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away after a lifetime of service to her country. Her efforts changed the lives of countless people for generations to come. The coronavirus seems to be tracking upward with thousands of new cases every week, changing lives it touches both directly through illness and indirectly in how we live our lives. Dozens of climate fires in the Western US continue to blaze, not to mention the others that are currently destroying wild areas, homes, and lives in countries around the world. Portugal, India, Siberia, and the Arctic, Brazil, and on and on are all suffering from rare and deadly climate fires. Many of these areas are also suffering through unprecedented drought, crop losses, and water shortages.
This is not normal. These are life-changing events for everyone involved (the whole planet). Thankfully it appears that humanity is finally recognizing them for what they are – a big wakeup call.
But life-changing events are not always bad. In the last two weeks, I can honestly say I also had my own life changed. Thankfully, it is a positive change. I do not make this statement lightly, but I believe my life has been changed simply because of a book I read.
Nonviolent Communication, by Marshal B. Rosenberg PhD. In his book, Dr. Rosenberg explains how he discovered a method of communication that addresses the needs of the participants from an empathetic point of view rather than a judgmental point of view. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) allows the needs of individuals to be expressed so that people can truly communicate in a meaningful way as opposed to blaming or finger-pointing. When someone expresses their true needs and how it makes them feel, it is impossible to assess blame. A need, an emotion, or a feeling is not good or bad, or right or wrong, it just is. All of us intuitively understand this and it is the basis for a connection based on understanding that leads only to compassion.
In his long career, Dr. Rosenberg used this technique to achieve peace between police forces and African American youths, with couples who had been married for 30 years and were on the brink of divorce, between parents and estranged children, Palestinians and Israelis, and even warring Muslims and Christians in a remote Nigerian village. Some of these people were from backgrounds of privilege and wealth, and some of them were raised in profoundly difficult circumstances. Some were dealing with relationships, others with war, and decades of brutality and killings. All found the ability to find meaningful communication with what were once their deepest adversaries.
I read the book most mornings before doing anything else and then listened to the (free) podcast of his training sessions while driving or exercising. You could say it was a pretty deep immersion in the material. I found that when I began to use the NVC techniques to really try to understand the needs of the people who I was talking to (and these were some emotionally charged situations), the dialog shifted from frustration and blame to expression of true feelings. When you truly understand where the other person is coming from, it is natural to want to change your own behavior to fix the situation. When the other person truly understands your needs, they can only want to do the same. This improved knowledge of each other forges deeper connections that lead to understanding and empathy on both sides, and it works even if only one side is practiced in using NVC.
Here are two personal examples of how NVC helped me in just the past few days. I used the techniques to communicate better with someone a generation younger than me who is quite rightfully very frustrated about the state of the world their cohort is inheriting. As a result, this person is angry and afraid of what their future will look like. With this anger and fear seething below the surface, it is easy for them to see anyone over a certain age as the enemy; after all, we were the ones who created the policies that perpetuate such inequality. With NVC we were able to communicate in a truthful manner that diffused a very difficult and potentially hot discussion.
I also recently used NVC to explain my needs to another person who has demands on my time professionally but doesn’t always make requests in a clear, direct, or even kind manner. In this conversation, I was able to understand their needs and adjust my own response to help meet them. And the best part was that in so doing, I managed to have my own needs met. We both compromised and gained at the same time. I do not use NVC in every conversation, but every time I have used it, the conflicts that were expected either dissipated or never occurred at all, and both parties felt heard.
Having the connection with another person after this level of understanding is achieved is remarkably calming. I believe mutual understanding can only lead to better and more peaceful interactions. In this pandemic world of hate, intolerance, and partisan based anger, Non-Violent Communication (NVC) could have a huge impact on many of the problems facing the world today. From racial and economic inequity to the destruction of nature and selfish political agendas, all sides could certainly benefit from fully hearing each other.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who interacts with other people, and that means basically everyone.
Thank you to Howard Eaton of the Eaton Arrowsmith School for introducing me to Non-Violent Communication and for changing my life for the better.