There’s no one on the planet who hasn’t been in a situation where tempers and/or emotions escalated—perhaps even dramatically—due to miscommunication or poor communication. When this has happened in your own life, you’ve likely looked back on it afterwards and wondered how things got so out of control. You might even have tried to determine who was to blame for the bad communication, or perhaps you ended up pursuing avenues of explanation that resulted in self-doubt or justifications for the communication mishap and resulting behavior.
A colleague introduced me to three levels of communication that have served as a reminder that I shouldn’t automatically accept everything I hear at face value. Given that I’d had a lifetime of communication by the time the colleague pointed this out, it’s ironic that this idea actually sounded like a new piece of information to me. The three levels of communication explain even further why we shouldn’t accept everything we hear at face value. Those levels are:
Intention (what the person intends to say)
Communication (what actually comes out of the person’s mouth)
Reception (how the listener interprets the message)
To better understand people’s deeper motives when you’re communicating, consider using the helpful tool known as Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Developed by twentieth century American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, NVC is a communication process that encourages its users to express needs and feelings rather than judgments and criticisms. This tool can help people to better understand his/her and others’ motivations, express his/her needs more positively, and be more empathetic toward the needs and feelings of others.
There are several key principles involved in the practice of NVC that can help you better understand the tool. The first is that the goal of NVC is to foster an environment in which everyone’s needs are understood so that all needs are equally valued. Another key principle is that all actions are motivated by the desire or drive to meet human needs, so anytime we do or say something we’re attempting to meet a need. Finally, the last key principle is that compassionate thought starts within a person, so it’s an “outside-in” job. More specifically, this final principle means that as we take better care of ourselves and meeting our own needs, we in turn become more compassionate toward others.
You can easily learn how to practice NVC yourself by employing four simple steps. The first is to talk about a situation specifically based on observations. The second step is to express your feelings regarding the specific situation based on feelings rather than judgments. Next, identify the needs that are at the root of the feelings. And finally, make a specific request (But not a demand!) to yourself or the person with whom you’re talking that is clearly articulated and actually achievable.
An example of how this works might go like this: “Lydia, when you call just before we’re supposed to work on this project to say something came up (observation), I feel put out (feeling). I believe this is because I need to feel other people are respectful of the time I’ve set aside for these meetings (need). Next time we schedule a time to meet on the project, could you please let me know at least 48 hours in advance if you’re going to have to reschedule (request)?”
It’s important that you pay close attention to the needs that may seem unimportant on the surface as well. We’ve all experienced the joy of having needs met by things that were otherwise insignificant to those on the outside looking in. Further, implementing the steps of NVC when you’re embroiled in a stressful situation can help you not fall back on old habits. If you are conscious of this, you’re less likely to lose control and end up with poor communication that leaves both parties feeling badly afterwards. When you next find yourself in a situation that feels as though it could potentially turn into a conflict, keep your and the other person’s needs at the forefront of your mind. This will mean that you’ll have to reach for the NVC formula rather than reacting with your own recriminations or potential hostility. Using the steps of NVC will allow you to separate yourself from the situation and consider what the true need is that’s not being met as well as how that makes you feel.
Until next time, embrace your inner wisdom.