More happiness through word choice?

When I was introduced to Non-Violent Compassionate (NVC) communication methodology several years ago, I became aware that the words we use have a huge effect. Unfortunately, over the years, I forgot most of what I learned through NVC.

I want to revisit it because Covid-19 put a spotlight on the fact that instead of growing as a person, I seem to be living out patterns that destroy rather than improve relationships.

When I practiced NVC in the past, it was tiring, because it requires scrutinizing everything that comes out of my mouth. But, I remember that I did improve my relationships at the time. Even if you utter a word or phrase you wish you hadn’t, you can still capture it as it is floating away, and rephrase 😉

Consider trying these seven challenges below. I’ll start with a challenge presented to me by a friend…

First challenge: eliminate “never” and “always”

A good friend of mine asked me to eliminate these words…and I found it almost impossible to do thus far. However, it CAN be done….through more attention to detail and commitment.

  • instead say “sometimes” or “often” or even “90% of the time…

Second challenge: replace “i’m sorry’s” with “thank you’s”

  • instead of “sorry i’m late” say “thanks for waiting for me”
  • or instead of “sorry for being such a mess” say “thank you for loving me unconditionally

It shifts not only the way I think and feel about myself but also improves relationships with others who now get to receive gratitude instead of negativity.

Third challenge: clarify “should”

A failing of English is revealed when we read shades of meaning into modal verbs “could”, “ought”, and “should”, where no such meaning was specified.  Other languages use subjunctive phrases, with which you have to add substance to clarify the shade of meaning.  English speakers ‘blow off’ this clarification. Is this casual lack of clarification a manipulation with which we take advantage? …obscuring our true intention by using a modal “should” instead of stating our intentions?

  • if you use the word “should” follow it up with “according to [what] guiding principle?”
    • whose opinion is this?
    • how strongly is this opinion held?
    • is it contrary to fact, or just in appearance?

Fourth challenge: avoiding third party “shoulds”: “we should” or “someone should”

What does this mean? Usually, it means that the person saying it wants something done FOR them, that they are not willing to do themselves.

Be courageous and make a plan or ask someone directly.

Fifth challenge: eliminate “should”

Subtle demands inherent in “should” can manipulate everyone involved, through unconscious automatic conditioning…meaning, that when we say “should” we are buying into an unseen authority — which perpetuates victim consciousness.

Phrases can be made more powerful and effective by removing “should”:

  • instead of saying “you should…” say “I want you to…“, or “I would like…“, or “would you be willing to…” (classic NVC phrase).
  • instead of “I have to”, “I should”, “I must”, say “I choose to” or “I want to” or “I would like to”, “I prefer”.

Sixth challenge: change how you read into other’s “shoulds”

We are told what to do as children, which can be interpreted as a limit of choice and autonomy. But, we have a choice about we interpret it.

Instead of focusing on limitations or feeling helpless/victimized, identify FEELINGS and NEEDS in the person speaking. This is known as “using feelings and needs to describe what is alive in the other person.”

We can hear a sentence in which someone uses the word “should” as being about:

  • ourselves (limiting our choice and autonomy), or
  • the unseen authority (the power of that unseen authority), or
  • (best) about the person who is saying it (what is alive in the other person). What might they feel or need?

Seventh challenge: change “labels” and criticism, to feelings and needs met or un-met

  • instead of saying “good”, “bad”, “right” and “wrong”, take a moment to identify the feeling and need that is either being met or not met
  • instead of labeling or criticizing, say “I feel ____________, because I need ____________” 
  • If you say what you don’t want, re-phrase to say what you want
  • instead of saying “I feel like” or “I feel that”, realize that you are expressing a thought rather than an actual feeling, and try to identify the actual feeling, and eliminate the words “like” and “that”
  • instead of saying “you/it made me feel”, say “I feel ____________, because I need ____________

Feelings Inventory

The following are words we use when we want to express a combination of emotional states and physical sensations. This list is neither exhaustive nor definitive. It is meant as a starting place to support anyone who wishes to engage in a process of deepening self-discovery and to facilitate greater understanding and connection between people.

There are two parts to this list: feelings we may have when our needs are being met and feelings we may have when our needs are not being met.

We also have a list of needs.

Feelings when your needs are satisfied

AFFECTIONATE
compassionate
friendly
loving
open hearted
sympathetic
tender
warm

ENGAGED
absorbed
alert
curious
engrossed
enchanted
entranced
fascinated
interested
intrigued
involved
spellbound
stimulated

HOPEFUL
expectant
encouraged
optimistic
CONFIDENT
empowered
open
proud
safe
secure

EXCITED
amazed
animated
ardent
aroused
astonished
dazzled
eager
energetic
enthusiastic
giddy
invigorated
lively
passionate
surprised
vibrant
GRATEFUL
appreciative
moved
thankful
touched

INSPIRED
amazed
awed
wonder

JOYFUL
amused
delighted
glad
happy
jubilant
pleased
tickled

EXHILARATED
blissful
ecstatic
elated
enthralled
exuberant
radiant
rapturous
thrilled
PEACEFUL
calm
clear headed
comfortable
centered
content
equanimous
fulfilled
mellow
quiet
relaxed
relieved
satisfied
serene
still
tranquil
trusting

REFRESHED
enlivened
rejuvenated
renewed
rested
restored
revived

Feelings when your needs are not satisfied

AFRAID
apprehensive
dread
foreboding
frightened
mistrustful
panicked
petrified
scared
suspicious
terrified
wary
worried

ANNOYED
aggravated
dismayed
disgruntled
displeased
exasperated
frustrated
impatient
irritated
irked

ANGRY
enraged
furious
incensed
indignant
irate
livid
outraged
resentful

AVERSION
animosity
appalled
contempt
disgusted
dislike
hate
horrified
hostile
repulsed
CONFUSED
ambivalent
baffled
bewildered
dazed
hesitant
lost
mystified
perplexed
puzzled
torn

DISCONNECTED
alienated
aloof
apathetic
bored
cold
detached
distant
distracted
indifferent
numb
removed
uninterested
withdrawn

DISQUIET
agitated
alarmed
discombobulated
disconcerted
disturbed
perturbed
rattled
restless
shocked
startled
surprised
troubled
turbulent
turmoil
uncomfortable
uneasy
unnerved
unsettled
upset
EMBARRASSED
ashamed
chagrined
flustered
guilty
mortified
self-conscious

FATIGUE
beat
burnt out
depleted
exhausted
lethargic
listless
sleepy
tired
weary
worn out

PAIN
agony
anguished
bereaved
devastated
grief
heartbroken
hurt
lonely
miserable
regretful
remorseful

SAD
depressed
dejected
despair
despondent
disappointed
discouraged
disheartened
forlorn
gloomy
heavy hearted
hopeless
melancholy
unhappy
wretched
TENSE
anxious
cranky
distressed
distraught
edgy
fidgety
frazzled
irritable
jittery
nervous
overwhelmed
restless
stressed out

VULNERABLE
fragile
guarded
helpless
insecure
leery
reserved
sensitive
shaky

YEARNING
envious
jealous
longing
nostalgic
pining
wistful

Needs Inventory

The following list of needs is neither exhaustive nor definitive.

We have another list that might also be of interest to you: a list of feelings.

CONNECTION
acceptance
affection
appreciation
belonging
cooperation
communication
closeness
community
companionship
compassion
consideration
consistency
empathy
inclusion
intimacy
love
mutuality
nurturing
respect/self-respect
CONNECTION continued
safety
security
stability
support
to know and be known
to see and be seen
to understand and
be understood
trust
warmth

PHYSICAL WELL-BEING
air
food
movement/exercise
rest/sleep
sexual expression
safety
shelter
touch
water
HONESTY
authenticity
integrity
presence

PLAY
joy
humor

PEACE
beauty
communion
ease
equality
harmony
inspiration
order

AUTONOMY
choice
freedom
independence
space
spontaneity
MEANING
awareness
celebration of life
challenge
clarity
competence
consciousness
contribution
creativity
discovery
efficacy
effectiveness
growth
hope
learning
mourning
participation
purpose
self-expression
stimulation
to matter
understanding

(c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication
Website: www.cnvc.org Email: cnvc@cnvc.org
Phone: +1.505.244.4041

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