Dear friends of Kairos
With our move to our new premises in Parkview, we are now able to become more active in our mission to spread the ideals and educational methods of our school to those outside it.
One significant example of this is the ideas of Marshall Rosenberg and his conceptualisation of communicating in a way that is more authentically empathic, less covertly violent and more enriching of life itself. I am no expect in this work, but I have been exploring this aspect of communication since I met Rosenberg in 2004, a meeting which significantly influenced my life and my career.
I think it will help me to summarise NVC principles here, as a refresher to those who are familiar with them, and a taster for those who are new around here.
There are ways we communicate that limit compassion, that discourage mutual understanding, that distract the other person from the speaker’s intended meaning — and there are aspects that enhance compassion, that encourage empathy, that express one’s meaning more clearly.
By taking care of our language, and becoming more conscious of our intentions between our words, we can demonstrate more empathy with each other, even in our own families, and thereby connect with them more easily.
The essence of Non-Violent Communication is not in the method. The idea is to learn to communicate to everyone with genuine empathy, with humility, with love — instead of a subversive, covert intention to shame or appear superior (often doing so subconsciously).
Here are some guiding principles of NVC:
- I-statements: Instead of implying a denial of responsibility by using pronouns that disguise our personal involvement or collusion in a problem (e.g. they, we, you), I could choose to use the pronoun “I”, and others may choose to follow me or they may choose not to — that is their choice. Avoidance of the I-statement can also be achieved by using the passive voice. (Note: I just did that!) This sounds subtle, but in practice it becomes vividly clear and very useful: notice my I-statements in the “Free choice” paragraph below, and consider how it might sound if I used “we” and “others” instead of “I” and “you”.
- Free choice: In NVC there is a strong emphasis on free choice, and individual autonomy, especially the free choice to impact another person or oneself harmfully. If I recognise this free — albeit unwise — choice you have, I can connect with you more easily because I am not attempting to control you. If I speak as if I control you, that would be called “violent” from Rosenberg’s perspective. If I speak as if you are free, then I am being empathic in my communication (and if I recognise my own free choice in any situation, I am being empathic towards myself).
- Observing without evaluating: Instead of offering a complaint of another person’s behaviour, which often includes an interpretation of that person’s intentions or motives, and sometimes a judgment of that person’s whole nature, I could rather choose to offer a strictly factual report about what actually happened, objectively, i.e. what did you do or say, and what did I do or say. It helps to confirm if these “facts” (as we call them in Kairos), are agreed between the people in the conversation.
- Feeling words without judgements: Many words sound like feeling words, but are in fact camouflaged judgments about the other person, such as “I’m feeling disrespected / insulted / betrayed / bullied” etc. True feeling words are what I feel myself in my personal experience, in my body, heart or mind. An excellent list of true feeling words (from Rosenberg’s website) are available here. It sometimes, but not always, more helpful to recognise another person’s feelings, explicitly, before sharing one’s own.
- Expressing needs first, not wants: Since we may not get what we want, it is helpful to communicate to the other person what “unmet need” I have been experiencing, because that need is probably a shared need that other person recognises and identifies with: autonomy, peace, belonging, hope, understanding, and so on. Peruse the list of needs words here. Note how expressing these needs is not a want, there is no request from the other person, and if a request is implied, there would be an undertone of linguistic “violence”.
- Delaying requests until mutual understanding is achieved: Instead of making a camouflaged demand of the other person (so easy to do when the power relationship is unequal such as a parent-child or teacher-child relationship), a request that does not carry the implicit mood of a demand will be helpful, but only after the facts, feelings and needs of each party is heard and understood.
- Slowing the conversation down: When practical circumstances dictate that it is not reasonable to slow down, the conversation can usually be adjourned to when it is reasonable. More difficult is when there is time, but emotions are running high, and people are communicating from their insecurities rather than with a big-picture and empathic perspective. Slowing down helps to bring the idea of exploring the unspoken feelings and unmet needs of each person so that each other’s experience (what Rosenberg called “what is alive” in us from moment to moment) can be more easily shared and more likely to be listened to.
We aspire to practise these principles in Kairos, and I hope they may begin to percolate into the extended Kairos community of our families’ homes and onward, as I endeavour to do in mine, in service of inspiring the ideal of a nonviolent world.
Please do consider to join the NVC talk for parents tomorrow evening — as an introduction or a refresher: register here