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Expressing Your Desires: 4 Steps to Violent Communication
Expressing Your Desires: 4 Steps to Violent Communication

Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg advises on how to talk about your needs without offense, blame, or criticism.

Expressing Your Desires: 4 Steps to Violent Communication
Expressing Your Desires: 4 Steps to Violent Communication

Our language has many words to classify people and their actions. We tend to evaluate, compare, label, and demand from others certain behaviors that are consistent with our understanding of the norm. According to American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, this way of thinking divides people and creates conflicts.

In his book The Language of Life, he offers a different approach that allows you to build relationships without resorting to violence. Instead of changing people and their behavior, looking for the right and the wrong, and striving for our own at any cost, Rosenberg teaches us to correctly express our own needs and to treat the needs of others with understanding. The author called this method of communication "nonviolent communication" and for many years successfully applied Nonviolent Communication - a vision of humanity in practice, acting as a mediator in conflicts between people, social groups and entire countries.

Rosenberg identifies four components of nonviolent communication: observation, feelings, needs, and requests.

4 steps to expressing your needs

Step 1. Share unrated observations

To share observations means to name specific actions of the interlocutor that aroused certain feelings in us, avoiding evaluations and labels.

Observation, unlike evaluation, does not contain criticism.

When the interlocutor hears criticism in our words, he automatically takes a defensive position: argues, justifies himself, blames in return. Observation is a simple listing of facts.

Avoiding evaluations can be tricky. When you can't get enough sleep for three days in a row because of the noisy parties of your neighbor, you want to tell him everything that you think about him. However, in this way you are unlikely to solve the problem: instead of understanding, you will receive resistance, and the next night you will again hear loud music behind the wall. Instead of judging and judging, describe the specific actions that led to this assessment. Imagine composing a chronicle.

  • Observation with assessment: “Stop making noise at night. You don't think about the people around you at all. Your nightly parties prevent your neighbors from sleeping."
  • Observation without evaluation: “It seems like your guests have been staying overnight for the last three days. After 23, I hear loud laughter and music from your apartment, which prevents me from sleeping. Due to the fact that I do not sleep well, it is difficult for me to work."

Step 2. Express your feelings in words

The next step is to verbalize feelings about our observations.

In the process of communication, we somehow exchange feelings: verbally or non-verbally. However, when we demonstrate them with the help of facial expressions, gestures and intonations, the interlocutor may misinterpret them: take fatigue for indifference, and anxiety for obsession.

When the interlocutor independently interprets our feelings, he ascribes his own meanings to our words: “I don’t want to meet today” is perceived as “I have more important things to do”, although in fact it means “I'm tired at work”.

There is a chasm between what we had in mind and how it is heard. To help other people understand us, it is important to express our feelings in words.

The problem is that in our culture it is not customary to share experiences. Expressing feelings is perceived as a manifestation of weakness, especially among men. As a result, some people find it difficult to build close relationships: they do not know how to show their feelings and receive accusations of callousness from others.

Our language aggravates misunderstandings: people use the word "feel" when they talk about thoughts, ideas about themselves and other people's behavior, and not about their emotional state. Compare two examples:

  • Not feelings:"I feel that you are indifferent to me."
  • The senses:"When you refused to meet me, I felt lonely."

In the first example, the author expresses his interpretation of someone else's behavior. In the second, he describes the feelings that arose in response to this behavior.

Step 3. Recognize your own needs

Needs are values and desires that shape our feelings. Other people's actions can stimulate our feelings, but they never cause them. When the guests at the party show no interest in you, you may feel lonely if you need to communicate - or it may be a relief if you want peace. In the same situation, different needs create different feelings, regardless of the behavior of other people.

By acknowledging our own needs, we take responsibility for our feelings instead of blaming others.

It is easier for the interlocutor to feel empathy for us and satisfy our need when we say "I feel lonely because I lack intimacy" instead of "You don't care about me." Condemnation, criticism and interpretation of other people's actions is a distorted expression of our own needs, which, instead of closeness, generates misunderstandings.

Sometimes people find it difficult to agree because they confuse needs and strategies. The need describes the true desire, and the strategy is the way to get what you want.

Suppose a wife is in need of her husband's closeness and attention. Instead of directly sharing this desire with him, she asks him to spend more time at home. The husband literally understands the words of his wife and gets a job at a distance. Now he works twice as much as when traveling to the office.

  • Strategy:"I want you to spend more time at home."
  • Need:"I want attention and closeness."

Step 4. Make a clear request

We shared non-judgmental observations with the interviewee, shared feelings about those observations, and acknowledged our needs. It remains to voice a specific request, by fulfilling which the interlocutor will make our life better.

The clearer we make it clear what we expect from a person, the easier it will be for him to fulfill our desire. When we ask for more personal space, we are talking about abstract things, the meaning of which is not entirely clear. Vague language contributes to confusion. It is important to formulate the request as specifically as possible. For example: "This weekend I would like to be alone."

A clear request gives the interlocutor a clear plan of action.

There is a difference between asking and demanding. The interlocutor perceives the former as the latter when he believes that he will be punished for failure to comply. In this case, he has two ways to respond: resist or obey. In the first case, the interlocutor will argue, snap back and look for excuses, in the second, he will be reluctant to do what is needed, will remain dissatisfied and is unlikely to show loyalty in the future. The request provides for freedom of choice and respect for someone else's refusal; requirement - the desire to remake a person and his behavior at any cost.

  • Requirement:"Help me clean, or I won't talk to you."
  • Request:"I would be very pleased if you could help me with the cleaning."

An example of how to apply the Rosenberg approach to life

Mom bought her son a new computer on the condition that he improve his grades at school. The teenager did not keep his promise: instead of studying, he plays for hours. The woman wants to discuss his behavior with her son and remind him of the agreement.

Imagine that the mother does not have skills in nonviolent communication:

  1. Evaluates:"Playing again, bum?"
  2. Manipulates feelings of guilt: “You promised to take up your studies, but instead you are doing nonsense. But we refused to travel abroad to buy this computer!"
  3. Shifts responsibility for their feelings: "I'm disappointed with your behavior."
  4. Punishes: "No games until you fix the deuces."

The mother evaluates and criticizes, manipulates feelings of guilt, shifts responsibility for her emotional state and punishes. This behavior will force the adolescent to take a defensive stance and interfere with empathy. As a result, the son will remain dissatisfied and will sabotage the parental decision.

Now, imagine a mother is using nonviolent communication skills:

  1. Shares observations: “Before buying you a new computer, we agreed that you would correct the deuces in Russian and literature. Six months have passed since then. You have not corrected the grades."
  2. Tells about feelings: "I am anxious and offended."
  3. Acknowledges his needs: “It's alarming because I want you to get a good education and find something to do. It's a shame, because you did not do what we agreed on, and I would like to rely on your words."
  4. Formulates a clear request: "Please tell me what prevents you from observing our agreement and how can I help you with this?"

Mom does not try to change her son's behavior by force, but respectfully addresses him on an equal footing: she sets out facts instead of assessments, sincerely shares her feelings, explains the reasons for anxiety and resentment, formulates a clear request. It is easier for a teenager to hear the needs of parents when there is no need to waste energy on opposition. As a result of such a conversation, the mother will find out that her son is carried away by computers and the exact sciences, but he does not understand humanitarian subjects. The teenager will promise to improve his grades with the help of a tutor, for which his mother will agree to send him to a computer camp. In this way, they will come to a solution that satisfies the needs of both.

A checklist to help you express your needs correctly

  1. Observations. Name the specific words or actions of the other person that influenced you. Avoid ratings. Imagine composing a chronicle.
  2. The senses. Express your feelings about these actions in words. Do not confuse feelings with thoughts and ideas about yourself and others.
  3. Needs. Connect your feelings with needs: “I feel … because I need to …” Don't confuse needs with strategies to satisfy them. Don't hold other people responsible for your feelings.
  4. Requests. Formulate a clear request that the other person will do to make your life better. Do not demand, respect someone else's refusal.