Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. (1934 - 2015) was the founder and author of Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life. I was drawn to his work because it teaches that if we meet our needs using our words, we can make life wonderful. Our thoughts become our words and our words become our actions. Rosenberg’s work is all about orienting our focus to lovingly meeting our needs by communicating from the heart rather than the head.
Stopping Punishment and Reward
The first step to aligning your language to generous natural giving to another is ending the idea of rewarding and punishing another with our words. It is culturally acceptable to lavish praise for a job well done and heap criticism for mistakes. Rosenberg suggests that this sets up a win or lose situation in relationships. Another option is to communicate to meet our needs and trust the other person will communicate their needs. Here are a few steps to better meeting our needs using language.
“If we express our needs, we have a better chance of having them met."
Keeping our language based on our feelings means talking about how I feel without a relationship outside of myself. I am feeling sad is contained in myself vs. I am feeling manipulated. Manipulated is an interpretation of another’s relationship with me, it is not my feeling contained solely in myself. Other words that interpret others are abandoned, abused, diminished, misunderstood, manipulated, pressured, overworked, rejected, and used (from Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life). The reason why it is important not to label our feelings using words that link another’s negative behavior is that it casts judgement. Judgement creates division.
Examples of words that express our feelings when our needs are not being met without judgement of another are sad, afraid, ashamed, confused, frustrated, impatient, jealous, overwhelmed, numbed, or surprised (from Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life). This is not an argument. I feel sad. It is relatable in conversation with a loved one without setting the stage for them “causing” our feelings. Rosenberg advocates that no one can make us feel anything. Only we can listen poorly and create suffering in our listening.
“The purpose of non-violent communication is to make natural giving possible.” — Marshall Rosenberg
Listening differently can look like listening for the gem of connection in a curious manner. “I hear you say that you feel sad. I am guessing you are feeling sad because the tournament was canceled. Is that correct?” When we deeply listen to understand the other person, we can then move forward with curiosity of their needs. “What action would meet your need to feel included? What would you like to have happen to fill that need?” We can make our love clearer and more tangible by creating actions that have been articulated.
In the same manner, we can lovingly express our inability to do what was requested if it comes at too great a cost to self or directly impairs our own needs getting met. “I hear you want to spend time together because you feel lonely. I’m so sorry but I have a paper due tomorrow. Can you ask a friend to spend time with you this evening and then tomorrow can we have a date?” Using this technique requires being present and noticing what is going on in our interior landscape. When I am actively communicating to meet my needs, I am better able to navigate conversations to listen to another’s needs. I can lean into my confidence that I am worth expressing my needs as well as offer empathy and compassion while listening to others.
I feel this is a relationship game changer. If you would like to brainstorm how this could apply in your relationships, book a coaching session!