Nonviolent Communication

Vietnam war memorial
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I don’t remember buying it. It’s been on my bookshelf for more than 5 years, maybe 9. There was even a note in the margin of one page that says, “Share with Michelle,” in handwriting I don’t recognize. I don’t know who the note is for, but the quote is interesting, regardless. While discussing the power of positive thinking, Rosenburg explains how he set himself up with “Don’t thinking” as follows:

During the Vietnam War, I was asked to debate the war issue on television with a man whose position differed from mine. The show was videotaped, so i was able to watch it at home that evening. When I saw myself on the screen communicating in ways I didn’t want to be communicating, I felt very upset. “If I’m ever in another discussion,” I told myself, “I am determined not to do what I did on that program! I’m not going to be defensive. I’m not going to let them make a fool of me.” Notice how I spoke to myself in terms of what I didn’t want to do rather than in terms of what I did want to do.

A chance to redeem myself came the very next week when I was invited to continue the debate on the same program. All the way to the studio, I repeated myself all the things I didn’t want to do. As soon as the program started, the man launched off in exactly the same way as he had a week earlier. For about ten seconds after he’d finished talking, I managed not to communicate in the ways I had been reminding myself. In fact, I said nothing. I just sat there,. As soon as I opened my mouth, however, I found words tumbling out in all the ways I had been so determined to avoid! It was a painful lesson about what can happen when I only identify what I don’t want to do, without clarifying what I do want to do.

I know I relate to this line of thinking, whether the quote was intended for my eyes or not. When I was selling books door-to-door for Southwestern, for example, we were encouraged to shun Mr. Mediocrity, the little green man who sat on your shoulder saying things like, “You can’t!” Rosenburg addresses this line of thinking when dealing with the fourth element of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), requests, and asking for specific requests.

  1. Observing without evaluating
  2. Identifying and expressing feelings
  3. Taking responsibility for our feelings (expressing needs)
  4. Requesting that would enrich life

So, my understanding of the methods behind nonviolent communication would be observing a situation or conversation, identify the needs of the other person and express your own, express your needs (through taking responsibility for what you feel), and then request, specifically, what you need.

Tonight, my husband noted our son’s diaper was in need of a change. I did what I normally do, “Would you like to change it?” I didn’t mean this! Sure, I wanted to offer it, but who looks forward to changing a poopy diaper? Not many people I know. So, I give my husband a choice, “Would you like to change Levi’s stinky, poopy, potentially really messy bottom?” And, then I act surprised when he says, “No!”? How fair is that.

Identifying my needs and making specific requests is definitely something I could stand to work on!

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