Communication in an argument or in a discussion is not only about what we say, but also about the way we express our words. The psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg’s book sheds light on how to express oneself productively in a conflictive communication situation. He developed the concept of nonviolent communication, which builds upon the core idea that most interpersonal conflicts root in wrongful communication of our needs. This is due to our critical and judgmental language. When we identify, understand and connect with our universal needs, rather than judge and diagnose, we have a much better way of understanding one another and resolving conflict without violence, (Rosenberg, 2003).
What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.”
Dr. Rosenberg suggests four phases that can be applied in all conflict situations including intercultural relationships. The phases are as follows:
At the basic level lies the objective description of the situation, the basic facts that we know, hear or see. While observing, we need to separate our own judgments, evaluations and interpretations about what happened.
If we say to our partner, “You are so rude.”, they might disagree, while if we say, “You did not say hello to me when I came home.” this is a neutral fact and both partners’ reality. Simply stating our observations first is making it easier for the partner to listen to us without immediately feeling the need to defend themselves in response.
Only after the factual observation is concluded, could feelings be determined and disclosed. It is important to clarify, if what we are feeling is a legitimate feeling, or simply a thought created by a hasty interpretation out of frustration at the situation. The latter can also be identified as a so-called “pseudo-feeling”. When we say, “I feel like you don’t love me”, we use the phrase “I feel” but someone not loving us is not a real feeling. It is just a thought, our personal interpretation. The real, neutral feeling behind our thought could be for example loneliness, sadness or disappointment. Stating the real feelings instead of thoughts or interpretations is crucial in non-violent communication theory, because basic feelings are neutral and thus, do not carry judgement or blame towards the other person.
Out of the feeling, a need can be crystallised. What do we need? What do we hope or wish for? We cannot expect our partner to guess or assume our need. We need to voice it specifically in order to be heard. This increases the chances of our partner being actually able to meet the need.
After defining the need, a simple, concrete request can be made. Request should be formulated in a positive way, such as, “I would like you to spend more time at home” instead of “I do not want you to work so much”.
Requests should also have the option of being rejected. By explaining our observations, feelings and needs in a neutral way, as well as formulating a positive request, we will achieve better results than with judgment, blame and demands.
As can be noted, the non-violent communication or NVC, places emphasis on deep listening, of oneself and one’s needs as well as of the other person.
At the root of every tantrum and power struggle are unmet needs.”
EXERCISE: Real Feelings or Mere Thoughts?
Read the following statements and determine if they describe: 1) a real feeling or 2) a mere thought.
Remember, that basic feelings are neutral expressions, whereas thoughts often have a blaming or judgmental characteristic, focusing on the other person.
a) I feel like you are hiding something from me
b) I feel very angry.
c) I am so happy for you.
d) I feel used
e) I feel so neglected by you
f) I am so afraid to do this.
g) I get the feeling that you don’t love me anymore
h) I don’t feel good at all
i) I am shaking from anger.
j) I am looking forward to this evening
k) I have the feeling that you don’t care
l) I feel left alone
m) I hope that everything will go well.
Find the solution of the exercise in the "Further Learning" box.
QUICK LINKS TO THE COURSE THEMES
To get a better idea of Dr Rosenberg's theory and non-violent communication, please watch the videos below. Think about how this communication style may benefit you in your relationship with your partner.
Non-violent communication explained in a brief video (2021).
Exercise solution: All statements ending with a dot (“.”) are real feelings. All statements ending without a dot ( “ “) are thoughts.