3/03/2013

Marshall Rosenberg: Non-violent communication (recommended reading)


If I were to choose a single book which should be obligatory reading in school the winner would be Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Communication - A Language of Life. It would be the only book on the compulsory list and recommended to be read every year. Why? Rosenberg teaches in it how to achieve our desires and avoid violence.
As a child Marshall moved to Detroit during the race riot and in school we have persecuted by peers for his Jewish roots. He decide that he will find out why some people manage to remain human and compassionate even in adverse environment and how they evade violence. He started to study psychology and later he led psychologist office, but it was a study of people who managed to contribute to others in compassionate manner that helped Marshall to realize that certain ways of communication help people to achieve what they desire and also helps others to accomplish what they want. This process called compassionate or nonviolent communication (NVC) was successfully used to settle conflicts in wars, in schools or in business.
Non-violent communication consists of 5 simple steps.
  • Observe without judging, rating or creating assumptions
  • Consider our feelings about what is observed
  • Realize our needs hidden behind the feelings
  • Realize what we are asking others to do in order to fulfil our needs
  • If they refuse we empathize with them to find out what prevent them from cooperation
Before we have a closer look at these points let's summary how non-violent communication can help us. Compassionate communication is a way he held dialogue (which we are not taught in schools) which helps both sides to achieve what they want. It also helps to recognize our own personality; from years of clinical practice Marshal can recall many examples when nonviolent communication helped people with health issues or to suppress stress. We can use NVC when we're angry to realize that we only want to fulfill our needs; such a revelation can turn our anger into focusing on what we need. We can start to work on being joyful  rather than feel the guilt, anguish or wrath. 
Let's see how does it work:
    Regular communication: 'You are so unreliable!'
    Non-violent communication: 'I was very annoyed when you did not return my belonging to me today because I wanted to give them to another friend and I cannot keep my promise to him. I'd like to ask you bring the stuff back to me as quickly as you can.'  
Do you feel the difference? Non-violent sentence is longer but it also reveals our feelings and what can be done to satisfy our needs. First sentence on the other hand tells our opinion about the other person but doesn't advice what he can do so we see him differently. 
Compassionate speach - giraffe talk
Giraffe talk
I agree with Marshall that behind each word we say are our needs. If my partner requires more attention that me she is pathetic and reliant. Though if I need more of her presence she is cold and reserved. In both cases the observation doesn't depend on her behavior but on my expectations. Compassionate communication helps us to formulate those expectations and increase the chances they will be satisfied. Marshall often refers to compassionate talking as to 'giraffe speech' while to our regular communication he refers as to 'jackal talk'. On his courses especially those for children he demonstrates both with giraffe and jackal puppets.
Marshall believes that regular communication is originating in domination structures promoted by kings and ceasers throughout whole history. They needed a language which encourages obedience and dominant communication was the way - it focuses on judging what is good and what is bad. Good behavior deserves reward while if we behave badly we should be punished. We continue to use this language even with our loved ones - 'Are you stupid? You cannot do it like that.' we can say to show that others behavior is bad.
NVC on the other hand cares about peoples' needs. When we use non-violent communication we suppress the craving for creating judgement about what is good and bad but we rather try to expose our needs so that they can be fulfilled.


How did Marshall started to research communication methods which lead to compassionate giving and suppress of violance - see all 9 NVC sessions on youtube. 



The process of NonViolent communication

1. Observe without judgement

The first step is to realize what is really happening within letting our judgement system to tweak the observation. 
We say, 'In last three days you came after 11am to the office.' Rather then, 'You are always late.'
Or, 'Yesterday you spoke about your work-related problems and did not smile at me for a single time,' instead of, 'You are reserved.'

2. What are our feelings about observed?

There is usually a feeling connected to our observation. 
'I'm really frustrated, when I see you are coming after 11am.'
'I felt unregarded when you did not smile at me yesterday.'
It's not always easy to understand our feeling - see list of feelings to help you understand your feeling.

3. What is our need?

These feelings are triggered by a need we may or may not be aware of. 
'I'm frustrated because I would also like to arrive as late as 11am, but I have to be here sooner.' In that moment you maybe realize that it's not your colleagues late arrival which is making you upset but your own desire to do the same.
Check the list of universal human needs. Your need can usually be fulfilled by many different means - focus on the need/desire not just your dreamed solution.

4. Request action which would satisfy our need

Once we're conscious about our need we can formulate a request to what can be done so that we are satisfied. We can ask our boss to allow us arrive later, 'Boss, can I also come at 11am, I would feel more comfortable and do a better job if I'm allowed to come later.' We can also investigate from the colleague what he did to be tolerated with late arrivals. We would probably never learn it from the colleague if we accuse him of lateness every time he appears in the door. 

Those were the four main steps Marshall is describing in his book. I would add one more which is discusses in Non-violent communication but not as a separate step. 

5. Empathize with others

When we are asking others to do something there is always a chance that we will be refused. In that moment we can easily fall into the trap of regular communication but if we don't there is a chance that we succeed despite initial 'no'. We try to empathize into feelings and needs of the others. Our boss might decline our request for late arrivals because he is afraid that we will run away from job early and he couldn't control us. If both sides will be able to present their feelings and needs the odds that they will reach agreement increases. 

Nonviolent communication book is a remarkable reading. We won't find many exercises in the book however there are plenty real-life examples complementing the lessons. Marshall had to deal with misunderstanding between nations, tribes, gangs, teachers and students, employees and employers, victims and criminals and many others. These examples can help us decide which way of communication is more useful in order to get results we want. Regular communication often leads to conflicts; on the contrary non-violent communication usually provides both sides with what they want. It however require a bit of training to be really non-violent in our every day communication. 

Non-violent praising

The last chapter deals with non-violent praising. If we say, 'That was really good,' it acclaims what was done however it doesn't show what was it that pleased us. Nonviolent praise clarifies what needs were satisfied and what nice feeling we had about the situation. When I tried it myself for the first time, the receiver of my praise was really excited and declared that she really likes the way I praised her.
So, Mr. Rosenberg, thank you for your publication. I'm feeling more peaceful because I renew my believe that people can can behave in agreement with each other and I'm glad to know that I can fulfil my desires more easily if I state them. Thank you that you taught me to change the word 'must' for 'want' and that it's possible even in such an unpleasant things like morning wake-ups to work. I gives me the freedom that I can choose - 'I must go to work,' gives no choice, but 'I want to go to work because I earn money there,' mean that I'm doing it for money, so I mustn't go there, I just have to think about other options how to make money. I want to thank you because NVC taught me that I possess whole arsenal of feelings and needs and when I don't feel content I can look for needs I want to satisfy rather than just feeling badly. 


Further resources:
The Center for NonViolent Communication
NVC Accademy
NVC World
NVC Wiki

Marshall Rosenberg
Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. is american psychologist and founded of the Center for Non-Violent communication. After he witnessed race riot in 43 he decided that he will explore the ways how people can enrich their lives and connect to each other rather then to create discomfort. The result of his work are manners how to fulfil the needs of all  the participants, solve the conflicts and improve relationships with others and ourselves. He proved that compassionate communication works during many occasions when he communicated with gangs, soldiers, within companies or schools. 

Non-violent communication example from the book. Marshall is talking to the prisoner named John.
John: 'Five weeks ago I asked the prison stuff and they did not answer yet.'
MB: 'When this happens, why are you upset?'
John: 'I'm telling you, they did not answer.'
MB: 'Wait a moment. Instead of saying, 'I'm upset, because they...,' take a moment to examine what is happening inside you that you are so upset about.'
John: 'Nothing is happening.'
MB: 'Calm down, listen to what you're thinking about.'
John: (After a while) 'I think that they don't care about people. It's a bunch of cold bureaucrats who care just about themselves a group of ...'
MB: 'Thank you, that is enough for me. Now you know why you are angry, it is because of this way of thinking.'
John: 'What is wrong about this thinking?'
MB: 'I don't say it is wrong. It is ok to call them rogues and label their behavior as selfish and ruthless. But this way of thinking causes your anger. Try to focus on what is it that you need?'
John: (after a long pause). 'Marshall, I need the training you spoke about. Without that I'm sure that I will return quickly back to jail after I'm released.'
MB: 'Now, after you focused on your needs, how do you feel?'
John: 'I'm afraid.'
MB: 'Now, imagine that you're prison clerk. Will a prisoner have higher chance to get to the course if he comes and say: 'I'm really afraid what will happen if I don't go to the training.' Or when you talk to them considering them as selfish officers. In what case it's more likely that you will get what you want?'

John left the room. Three hours later he came back and said: 'I wish you have taught me this 2 year ago. I wouldn't have to kill my best friend.'

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