Solving conflicts through nonviolent communication

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How to get your point through peacefully

During a confrontation or a discourse, communicating kindly but assertive can be a challenge. It’s as much about how we say something as it is about what we say.

A simple method can help you speak peace in a world of crisis and conflicts, non-violent communication.

Deceased psychologist, mediator, author, and teacher Marshall Bertram Rosenberg (most often referred to as MBR) developed the method I am going to introduce to you.

Communicate kindly but assertive

MBR has been the target of exclusion because of his Jewish roots. He was nine years old when he shortly after moving to Detroit witnessed the race riot that killed 40 people. He based his psychology on the following concept:

Who wants to create peace doesn’t just have to mind what they say, but also how.

MBR believes that the source of violence is how we learned to think, communicate, and how we perceive power. Even if we don’t mean for our words to hurt others, they often cut into their hearts like a sharp knife. We might think of ourselves as soft-spoken while our words still lead to unnecessary hurt and suffering (of ourselves and others.)

Why non-violent communication?

All too often, we try to win a conversation and even more a conflict. If we want to win, it means someone else has to lose. If they have a similar mindset, constructive conflict will be impossible. How can we have positive communication if we see the other person as an enemy? Whether it’s winner : looser or the business-popular win : win (I get you to agree to what I believe is beneficial for both of us), if we treat communication like a war, our relationship will become the battlefield.

Nonviolent communication (NVC) enables you to create instant connection and a safe environment for avoiding and solving conflicts. The approach is to make sure we understand and possibly fulfil every party’s needs.

What do we mean by non-violent communication?

NVC uses communication skills, self-awareness, and empathy to create a framework for

  • getting through to people
  • get where people are coming from and make them feel felt
  • understand and fulfil the needs of all parties involved

When I speak about teaching a method, it’s not entirely accurate because it’s more about increasing empathy, self-awareness, and listening skills. You could say, “a consciousness-based method.” It’s a mindset rather than a hack.

This simple framework and set of skills helps you to have more positive relationships and less destructive conflicts. You will learn to understand your own needs better and how to communicate them. You learn to listen better to yourself and others. Getting where people are coming from and being empathetic about will aid you in resolving conflicts.

Judgemental words increase anger

MBR developed the concept of nonviolent communication. He based it on the assumption that most interpersonal conflicts have their root in our inability to communicate our needs effectively.

Are you up for a little exercise before I give you an overview of MBR’s method? I developed seven questions that help you understand if you’re free of violent language.

You’ll find the question repeated below the video in case you want to reflect on them for a bit.

Self-Assessment

  1. Am I observing or judging?
  2. Can I express my emotions without sharing my opinions?
  3. Do I stand by my needs and accept responsibility for my emotions?
  4. Can I word a request for support in an actionable form? (State the action I would like the other person to take vs a diffuse request that might leave the other person confused or unaware of your needs.)
  5. Am I aware of the difference between empathic and non-empathic reception?
  6. If someone tells me “no”, do I hear the underlying need of the other person?
  7. Do I use power over? (Do I avoid the feeling of guilt with punishments?)

Four Factors for Non-Violent Communication

This method of non-violent communication applies to every conflict, whether it is a workplace conflict, diplomatic negotiation of confrontation with your partner, friends, or family members.

It is neither complicated nor surprising, but we often forget to apply what we know in emotional situations.

1. Observation

The first step is perceiving the situation without interpretation. For instance, “You were 30 minutes late twice in a row” instead of “you’re always late!”

2. Emotion

Only after the first step, emotions should be recognized and expressed (i.e. “That makes me angry.”)

3. Need

Recognizing the emotion leads to understanding the underlying need (for instance, “I want to feel appreciated.”)

4. Request

Once you are aware of the need, you can translate it into a request. “Please try to be on time to our next appointment.”

I’ll give you an example, and then I will present you with another exercise

Example Four Factors of Non-Violent Communication

Mike had a lot of stress at work during the past two weeks and is afraid he might get laid off in the middle of the Corona crisis. He’s distracted and short when his wife Susan tries to engage and communicate with him. The couple normally sleeps in the “big spoon” position, but tonight Mike turns his back to Susan. Because Mike is afraid of Susan’s reaction, he just told her it’s stressful at work, but not that he’s at risk of being fired. Susan is worried and confronts Mike.

Observation

You seem distracted for two weeks now and give brief answers when I try to talk to you. Last night you didn’t take me in your arms and slept with your back turned toward me.

Emotion

I feel sad and insecure because I don’t know why Mike treats me differently.

Need

Communicating with my partner and physical closeness are important to me.

Request

Can we talk more and can you take me in your arms more often like you used to? I know you have trouble at work, I’d love to hear all about it.

Mike realizes that Susan is in pain and opens up. He tells her about his fear and how critical the situation at work is. He’s surprised how understanding Susan reacts and has new hope because of his supportive wife. Susan feel relieved. She assumed her relationship was in trouble. Now she feels loved and cared about again.

The second exercise

Think about a recent situation that didn’t go as planned. Look at it with the four factor method you just learned and think if (and what) you would have said differently. What would you tell the person if you could use a time machine and start the conflict over?

When I see/hear/perceive…

When you see/hear/perceive…

…I feel…..

Do you feel…

…because I need…

…because you need…

That’s why I ask you to…

Would you like to…

Examples for positive feelings (fulfilled needs)

Grateful, included, fulfilled, relieved, included, connected, concentrated, lively, happy, hopeful, inspired, carefree, in love, relaxed, cared for, cared about, motivated, curious, calm, confident…

Examples of unpleasant feelings (unfulfilled needs)

Disappointed, lonely, shy, unhappy, hurt, lost, angry, doubtful, ashamed, grossed out, worried, bored, longing, appalled, troubled, afraid, fearful, grumpy…

Examples of pseudo feelings (interpretations of the actions of others)

Stupid, lied to, attacked, guilty, unseen, unloved, dumped, ghosted, incompetent, made a fool off, dominated, stupid, threatened…..

Training increases empathy

We can only have positive relationships if recognize people’s perceptions, emotions, needs (temperament); if we’re able to deal with rejection constructively and know how to solve a conflict without verbal violence.

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