It was my 40th birthday when I found myself in a workshop learning Nonviolent Communication. I immediately knew this to be a profound pathway into my inner world, through the things I say and do. This was a life-changer, and a fitting 40th birthday present – if about three decades overdue.
Nonviolent Communication teaches you to spot the signs of communication going wrong. What sends conversations off-course? How do arguments happen? Why do relationships break down? It highlights the pitfalls and shows you how to put the broken pieces back together. You learn how to mend difficulties and calm the frustrations. The skills you practice include an unshakeable ability to stay calm and collected, connected with yourself and others, whatever the situation.
Nowadays, Nonviolent Communication or ‘Compassionate Communication’ is recognised internationally as a method for dealing with conflict and confrontation. Developed by clinical psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1970s, it points to human needs and values as the bedrock for what you think, feel and say and do:
‘Regardless of our many differences we all have the same needs. What differs from person to person is the strategy for fulfilling those needs.’*
Understanding underlying human needs/values is a pathway into harmony and connection. It dissolves the critical judgements and ‘negative’ views that undermine our relationships with others and ourselves, and creates a compassionate framework for thoughts and behaviours. Separating what we do and think from underlying feelings and needs, we see that – however unsuccessful at the time – people’s thoughts and actions are like hopeful strategies, which, at root, aim to meet human needs. These needs are in themselves valid and universal (even if the means for meeting them are not). So by separating the ‘surface’ behaviour from the ‘deeper’ need, we are able to disagree with an action without invalidating or undermining the person who does it. This allows us make extraordinary connections, even when other people are behaving ‘badly’ – that is, without the calm or care we wish for. Opening a wellspring of empathy which teaches us how to resolve arguments and harmony with a deep understanding of everybody’s point of view.
* This idea, frequently emphasised verbally by Rosenberg, appears in a late published source as follows: “As I’m defining needs, all human beings have the same needs. Regardless of our gender, educational level, religious beliefs or nationality, we have the same needs… (etc)”; Marshall B. Rosenberg PhD, We Can Work it Out (Puddle Dancer Press, 2005), p.15.