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Sounding Natural

I have often heard students express frustration because they want authenticity and fluency in using Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and sometimes get feedback from others that they sound like a robot.

Most folks who first learn a second language have an accent. The accent tells the listener that the speaker is new to the language.

The same is true for NVC.  In many ways, you are learning a new language. You are learning to speak from your heart rather than your head and use a new vocabulary and syntax that reflects self-awareness and self-responsibility. That's a lot to do all at once. It makes sense that in the beginning you would speak in a halting sort of way. 

And, of course, you want to sound natural and have a certain flow in your communication.  What you are referring to as "natural" is often really just something that is habitual.  In the big picture, when you have practiced the classical format of NVC so much that it becomes a habit, you will begin to sound "natural".  At the same time, I will offer a couple of things you can do now to help you on the path to sounding more natural.

First, let's look at the phrase "I need_____"  This seems to be the most awkward part of NVC.  Here are some more familiar ways to express universal needs:

because __________ is important to me

because I long for__________

because I am hoping for____________

because I am wanting______________

because I am missing_____________

because I am looking for a sense of _______________

because I enjoy ____________

These same phrases could be used when offering empathy by replacing the "I" with "you".

Second, if you reflect on every disonnecting or difficult conversation with the following five distinctions in mind, you will make significant progress toward integrating NVC consciousness as a way of life.  Here are the distinctions:      

  1. OBSERVATION:  What happened? vs. What did you make it mean?
For example, "She was tapping her pencil as I talked" is an observation.    "She was impatient" is the meaning you made out of that behavior.  Noticing the meaning you make out of what you see and hear allows you space to question your interpretations and ask for clarity about the other person's intention or experience.

  1. FEELINGS:  Feelings arise from needs vs. Feelings are caused by others
For example, in this statement, "When he says he won't say more, I feel frustrated because I want more information."   Your feeling is connected to your need.  In this statement, "He upset me." , the cause of your feeling is someone else. Linking your feeling to your need is a way of taking responsibility for yourself.  The classic format is: "I feel _____because I need______".  Getting away from this format is tricky because you have likely been used to saying things like:
You hurt me.
I feel disappointed because you didn't come the concert.
You made me angry.
I feel that you are being irresponsible.

None of these expressions reveal your need or the fact that your feelings arise out of your needs.  Instead they blame others for your feelings and make you an emotional victim.
  1. FEELINGS:  Feelings vs. Interpretations of others' behavior
In the English language there is a list of words that are expressed as feelings, but are actually interpretations of what others are doing to you.  For example, the phrase, "I feel frustrated because I need belonging" links a real emotion to a universal needThe phrase "I feel excluded", implies a feeling and need, but actually is an interpretation of what others are doing to you.  You can find a list of these interpretive words in the handout called "Feelings" that Blame on my website here:

  1. NEEDS:  Universal Needs vs. Strategies to meet needs
Universal needs are those that every human being on the planet shares.  When you are attached to having your needs met in a certain way, you might confuse a universal need with a strategy to meet that need.  In our everyday language we often mix universal needs and the strategies to meet.  Common examples are "I need you to be on time.", "I need a car.", "You need to get your life together.", "She needs to have control."  All of these expressions are examples of strategies rather universal needs.  Contrary to the lyrics of pop music, the person you happen to be in love with is not a universal need.  This is a common confusion.  So, when you hear yourself say, "I need you." or "I need you to...", you are mixing needs and strategies to meet needs.  You can find a list of universal needs on my website here:

  1. REQUESTS:  Requests vs. Vague invitations or Demands
A request refers to a concrete specific action and is connected to a need.  Here is an example of a request:  "To help with predictability, would you be willing to let me know a day in advance if you won't attend the meetings on Fridays?"   An expression like:  "Be more considerate." is a vague invitation that refers to a need but no specific behavior.  An expression like: "Be at the Friday meetings or else!" Refers to a specific behavior, but leaves out the need and threatens punishment thus making it a demand.

These five distinctions are, perhaps, not so difficult to understand conceptually.  The difficult part is that they ask you to change habits of thought and speech that you have likely been practicing all your life.  For this reason I encourage you to give yourself permission to sound awkward and robotic and follow the form of classical giraffe until you can really sense that your habits have been re-wired.  You can make space for sounding awkward by simply letting your listener know that you are learning something new that you are hoping will help with connection, but it might sound kind of robotic and take a little longer.

Take time now to reflect on a recent difficult conservation.  Review both what you said and what the other person said relative to the five distinctions.  In which distinction did the disconnect occur?  How would you express yourself differently next time according to these distinctions?

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When others become ”Its”
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Checking Out Assumptions

5 Responses

  1. Jun 28, 2010
    Paul Michael

    Oh continue to do street stuff (did I just use street to comment on Street Giraffe?) I got so mechanical with classical and I long for street stuff...Thank you. Paul

  2. Jun 28, 2010
    Paul Michael

    Can you suggest other NVC blogs with comments?

  3. Jun 30, 2010

    hmm, I am not sure about other blogs. Yea, I will continue to model steet giraffe. Thanks for the reminder about how useful this is.

  4. Jul 22, 2011

    Just got a taster of this via the wonderful Jason Stein & delighted that a Google search brought me straight to your site :) I've previously listened to your excellent call on empathy with Mark Silver and am now drinking up your Connection gems. Thank you.

    Corrina in England

  5. Jul 25, 2011

    Very glad to hear it!

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