5 Tips for Practicing Nonviolent Communication

Speaking skillfully with others is sometimes challenging for us, especially when we are in the midst of  conflict where tempers flair and emotions rise. When we are primarily concerned with winning the argument or being right, then the possibilities of speaking in a constructive and proactive manner decrease considerably. So I'd like to give you 5 tips for practicing Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in your daily life.

1. Be Mindfulness of Your Inner Critic (Enter the Jackal) Your inner critic can be a harsh voice of condemnation and a source of toxic negative thoughts and judgments. When the inner critic has free reign, it also becomes the source of many judgements directed outward towards others. These judgements make it very difficult to practice NVC.

In NVC the metaphor of the jackal is used to describe this kind of consciousness that is occupied with judging and being right. Jackals are fond of giving everyone advice and keeping score. They are attached to their agenda and they always try to win arguments because they are convinced they are right. Jackals are fond of calling other people names and finding fault with everything people try to do.

2. Honor, Acknowledge and Cultivate Awareness of Needs If you reflect on this one, you will probably find that you learned something negative about having needs when you were growing up. Maybe you learned it was selfish to have needs or if you had them, not to express them to others.

In NVC a need is defined as anything that supports your life. So as long as we are alive everything we do is in the service of a need. We have physical needs such as the need for shelter, food and warmth. We have interpersonal needs such as the need to be heard, the need for understanding and the need for respect, and many more.

When you shift your awareness to needs, you are less likely to be listening to the inner critics' judgements. You are taking the first step towards an empathic awareness that can help you remain connected compassionately with others.

3. Hear only Please and Thank you (Enter the Giraffe) In NVC we use the metaphor of the giraffe to describe this kind of consciousness that is aware of feelings and needs. When you shift from judging to a more empathic awareness that is connected to feelings and needs, you begin to hear what all humans are saying. They are saying either please or thank you. If their needs are not being met, they are saying please. If their needs are being met, they're saying thank you and expressing gratitude.

You can begin to appreciate that jackals don't say please very skillfully. When jackals say please it comes out sounding something like this. "You are such an idiot!" But if you are wearing your giraffe ears it's possible to hear this unhappy human being saying "please" because he or she has a need that is not being met.

If you actually get this one NVC teaching it has the power to transform the way you connect and communicate with everyone in your life.

4. Let Go of Your Agenda You are probably familiar with this one. You enter a conversation with someone, but in the back of your mind you are already attached to an outcome, so as they are speaking, you are busy preparing what you are going to say next. This is of course, a very poor way to listen to another person. Yet you probably find yourself doing it from time to time.

If you are able to shift to a more empathic awareness of your feelings and needs, this will help you remain connected in a conversation in a way that is more likely to enrich your relationship and increase your understanding of what is going on in the other person's experience. It is a first step towards learning to speak and listen in a way that is pro-active, constructive and compassionate.

5. Speak Pro-actively When you communicate what is alive in you in terms of your feelings and and needs, you do not imply that the other person is to blame in any way. You do not put the other person on the defensive. In fact, you may actually touch the other person's heart by your genuineness which will make them more willing to listen to what you are saying.

This is one of the most important principles of NVC and of living a Zen-inspired life. It's easy to be reactive. When you are reactive, you tend to put your focus on the other person in a way that blames or judges them. Once you do this, your jackal is going to have a field day.

So I'm sure you may be thinking now, "Oh, sure. Like, I didn't know this already. What kind of idiot does he think I am? This guy is a real jerk!" Well, I never said NVC would be easy to practice. That's why NVC is one of the pillars of our core curriculum at the Zen Life & Meditation Center. We all need to practice this skill. And when we begin to master this way of speaking and listening, we have a much more empathic way of connecting and communicating with others that heals and nurtures trust in our interpersonal relationships.

Robert Althouse