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

5 Tips for Practicing NVC

As part of our core curriculum at Zen Life & Meditation Center (ZLMC) for increasing empathic awareness, we teach the skill set of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). NVC is based on sound principles of good communication. You may be surprised at how powerful these principles are, and how little you actually use them in real life. So I'm going to give you 5 tips for things you can do to begin practicing these skills in your daily life right away.

1. Let Go of the Outcome When you enter into communication with someone, if you are attached to your own agenda, it's going to be hard to listen empathically to their experience. You will constantly be wanting to steer or manipulate the discussion in a direction that assures that your outcome is achieved. The discipline of mindfulness meditation can help you continue to remain in the present and open to what is unfolding.

2. Change Your Mindset from Being Right to Learning If you enter a conversation with the desire to win the argument it will color everything you do and say. You'll have very little interest in actually listening to the other person. Instead of entering the conversation with the assumption you are right, begin the conversation with a clear intention to learn what the other person has to say before you jump to any conclusions. This shift in perspective will help you open and be more receptive to the other person's experience. This is the first step in cultivating empathic awareness.

3. Listen First before Seeking to be Understood One thing you may do when we are arguing or disagreeing with someone is rehearse what you are going to say, as the other person is talking. If your own need for being heard is not being met you can become anxious to be understood. If you begin by listening first, rather than seeking to be understood, you shift the conversation towards empathic awareness. This shift will be felt by the other person, and when they feel deeply heard and understood by you, then when you do speak about your own experience, they are more likely to be open and receptive to what you have to say. Listening is powerful and healing. When we practice deeply listening with others, its surprising how this can often be reciprocated.

4. Don't Interrupt Someone when they are Speaking This requires some discipline. You have to learn to hold your tongue. Again, as you deepen your skill in listening empathically to another person, you'll find it's very helpful to not interrupt them when they are speaking.  When you interrupt someone, it can be confusing for them. Sometimes when people are interrupted they have a hard time finishing their train of thought. Some people speak slower than others. If you're listening to someone, keep these things in mind. Hold your tongue. It's a good way to remind yourself to listen first before seeking to be understood.

5. Deep Listening Doesn't Mean You Agree with What You Hear In our culture there is an unexamined assumption that if you listen to another openly and empathically, you are agreeing with them. Deep listening has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing. How will you know whether you agree or disagree before you listen? So listening itself is simply a way of receiving and learning information about another person's point of view. Your discernment about whether you agree or not, comes after you have fully heard what they have to say.

These are five principles for good communication. They are all part of the NVC training that we teach as part of our curriculum at ZLMC. If you keep these simple principles in mind they will help you learn to listen more deeply and empathically to those around you. I hope you can appreciate that this kind of deep, empathic listening is not common. We really don't listen very well to others. So when you develop this skill in your daily life it will dramatically improve the quality and depth of your connection with others. If you combine these principles with a Zen-inspired lifestyle rooted in mindfulness meditation you'll find that you are developing some powerful new habits that support your remaining connected to others.

Roshi Robert Althouse

Connecting with Others using Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a skill set we teach at Zen Life & Meditation Center (ZLMC) to help improve the quality of our communication with others. It is a natural extension of mindfulness meditation because, like mindfulness, it is rooted in an awareness free of judgments. If you are able to bring mindful awareness to your own experience, you will appreciate how easily judgments arise in your own mind. These judgments can prevent you from being with yourself and others in ways that are more compassionate. As you learn new habits based on the sound communication principles of NVC, you will enrich the quality of connection with your friends and even your enemies. One of the strengths of NVC is the specific and concrete language patterns it teaches. Sometimes when we are in the middle of a difficult conflict and we are not able to think as clearly as we would like, having this formula at your command, is very helpful.

But it's also important to understand that this language arises from a deeper inner awareness based on needs and feelings. If you simply mimic the technique of NVC without the empathic awareness of self and other, people will notice this and may react negatively, feeling they are being manipulated by your words.

So empathy is as much as an art as it is a technique. Its practice in real life is always dynamic and flowing, and  can be learned and practiced to improve its application and effectiveness. Learning and practicing NVC supports communication that is more proactive. It supports ways of speaking with others that do not blame or even imply blame. It does this by helping you focus on what is important to you.  So instead of merely reacting to what someone else has said, you respond from the experience of what you are actually needing and feeling.

When you set about living a Zen-inspired lifestyle of openness, empathy and clarity, you begin the journey of cultivating new, more constructive and proactive habits that will sustain and enrich the quality of your life and your interpersonal relationships. When you learn NVC and  are able to speak more clearly about what is alive in you right now, you speak in a manner that is more genuine and authentic. When your awareness shifts from "being right" to "being connected", you are able to remain open, receptive and empathic towards yourself and others.

With this shift in your awareness and speech, will grow new habits that cultivate increased confidence and trust in your interpersonal relationships. You will be surprised to discover that you can approach conflicts that used to paralyze you with more confidence and fearlessness. You will become more skilled at discerning what is truly important to you. You will be able to listen more deeply and empathically to others. The empathic awareness from which this NVC language arises is the key. It grows out of the practice of mindfulness meditation and the intention to live a Zen-inspired life.

Robert Althouse

Compassionate Communication

rosenberg2"NVC [Nonviolent Communication] is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. It contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know–about how we humans were meant to relate to one another–and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifest this knowledge. NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. NVC trains us to observe carefully, and to be able to specify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in a given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

As NVC replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimized. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening–to ourselves as well as others–NVC fosters respect, attentiveness, and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart."

Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. from Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion