How to disagree, peacefully?

Nonviolent Communication is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. This type of communication focuses on three aspects:

  1. Self-empathy  – defined as a deep and compassionate awareness of one’s own inner experience
  2. Empathy – defined as an understanding of the heart in which we see the beauty in the other person
  3. Honest self-expression – defined as expressing oneself in an authentic manner, which is likely to inspire compassion in others.

This is all very positive-sounding and ideal, so how is it actually done?

First, notice what others are doing which is in some way affecting your life (both positively or negatively). It may not be easy to verbalise this observation without judging the other person, but generally using the pronoun “I” as opposed to “you” can really help to avoid making this compassionate conversation an attack.

So after identifying the action which we would like to speak about, next we need to realise what feeling is evoking in us. Is it fear? Is it anger? Is it joy? This is an essential component of compassionate or nonviolent communication.

And lastly, we need to add a specific request. It’s good to express our feelings, but if this action is somehow affecting our wellbeing, then it needs to change – through a collaborative process. Therefore, the request we make of this person needs to be specific, but also manageable. No use asking someone to leave the country because we don’t like the way they speak to us!

So for example, you’re sharing a flat with a friend, and you realise that they’re always leaving dirty laundry all over the place – once you found a pair of socks on the floor near the TV, and another time you found a t-shirt on a chair in the kitchen. You can either choose to keep all the anger and frustration in and then explode later, or you can decide to speak with your flatmate in a compassionate manner. Such as by telling them:

“When I see dirty clothes around the house, I feel irritated because I need more order in the rooms which we share in common. Would you be willing to put your dirty clothes in your room, or in the washing machine?”.

Through the above phrase you are 1. expressing what the action is, 2. expressing how it made you feel, and 3. explaining in a clear and realistic way how the other person can support you.

Applying nonviolent communication to our lives can be daunting, as it involves quite a bit of thinking at first, but once we get the hang of it, and we see how our interactions and confrontations with people change, there’s really no going back.

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