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 ____________“
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
Feelings when your needs are not satisfied
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.
to know and be known
to see and be seen
to understand and
celebration of life