A New Definition of Violence
“Judgments & violence are tragic expressions of unmet needs.”
~ Marshall Rosenberg
Marshall Rosenberg grew up in a turbulent Detroit neighbourhood and has initiated peace programmes in areas such as Rwanda, the Middle East and Northern Ireland. He describes some everyday violent behaviours:
- Reward and punishment—“Punishment is the root of violence on our planet.” 2
- Guilt—where we trick others into thinking that they are responsible for our feelings, eg “Now you’re really making me angry.”
- Shame—where we label someone when they don’t do what we want, eg. “You are so rude.”
- Denying responsibility for our actions—using “had to,” “can’t,” “should,” “must,” and “ought.” Rosenberg describes how this kind of language was used by many Nazi war criminals.
“She drives me mad when she won’t tidy her room.” Frustration and anger are common when our kids either do things we don’t like, or fail to behave in ways we want them to.
Often we respond with judgments, “She’s so stubborn,” or “I’m such a failure as a parent.” We deal with our feelings by using labels, blame, criticism, and diagnosis. But the problem is that judging our children and believing what they “should” do leads us to anger. Judge ourselves instead, then guilt, shame and depression follow. Feeling hopeless about our children’s desire to cooperate, we try to motivate and coerce them with punishments or rewards.
Whenever we try to make our children behave in a certain way through demanding or coercing, we evoke resistance because humans have a universal need for autonomy. Their resistance comes as submission (leading to resentment and deadening) or rebellion (leading to anger).
“In every moment, each of us is trying to meet our needs in the best way we know how.”
~ Marshall Rosenberg
The Nonviolent Communication process is sometimes called giraffe language, because giraffes have the largest heart of any land mammal, they stick their necks out, and their saliva digests thorns! It WILL be difficult at first for Parents to CHANGE the way they Communicate with their Children ~ with practice it CAN be done! As with any practice, consciousness and effort are required. At first using the model may seem confusing and unnatural, but remember Gandhi’s words,
“Don’t mix up that which is habitual with that which is natural.”
While simple, NVC is often challenging to embody because we are so deeply conditioned to perceive each other through judgments. With practice, the tool of NVC helps us navigate within ourselves to transform blame & judgment–where neither our own needs nor those of the other person are likely to be met–into a mutual awareness of human needs.
Compassionate Communication is a process language that focuses our here and now awareness on feelings and needs, and actions to meet those needs. The process consists of four steps:Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests. Attention on needs is at the heart of this practice, from which the other steps arise.
Unlike evaluation, moralistic judgment, criticism or analysis, observation states a factual stimulus (not cause) of our reaction. Instead of, “you never tidy up after yourself, this room is a pigsty,” an observation is, “I have not seen you tidy up your room in the past week.” The observation is valuable because it establishes a starting point both parties can agree on.
When we express what has stimulated us, we strive in NVC to express it without blame or criticism—simply by stating the observations of what happened without evaluation.
To observe without evaluation is the highest form of human intelligence.”
- “When I see …”
- “When I hear …”
- “When I recall seeing/hearing …”
- “When I imagine seeing/hearing …”
- “When I see you reading the newspaper …”
- “When I hear you say, ‘I’ll never amount to anything,’ …”
- “When I remember seeing you hit the table with your fist, …”
In the Version 2 FREE downloadable PDF printable below there are examples of Observation with Evaluation Mixed In and With Evaluation Separated Out
Feelings are our barometers to tell us whether our needs are being met or not. If we are experiencing pleasurable feelings (e.g. joy, relieved, calm), our present need is being met. If we are experiencing painful feelings (e.g. disappointment, frustration, sadness), our present need is not being met.
Feelings differ from thoughts. Moralistic judgments, thoughts and analyses often masquerade as feelings. When thoughts are disguised as feelings we say things like, “I feel abandoned, abused, attacked, let down, manipulated, rejected, unappreciat- ed, unheard and unsupported.” These are not feelings but interpretations of what we think the other person is doing to us. However, these faux feelings do give us clues about what needs are not being met.
For example, if we think we are feeling “betrayed,” perhaps we are needing trust. We often confuse thoughts for feelings in other ways, such as “I feel you are irresponsible,” and “I feel that it’s time for you to stop that.”
In comparison, we can tell someone how we feel or guess how they feel using a pure language of feeling. These feelings include: concerned, disappointed, dismayed, exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, reluctant, shocked, uncomfortable, amazed, appreciative, excited, grateful, inspired, joyful, moved, proud, relaxed, tender, and warm.
Needs differ from strategies. Needs are the most important ingredient of Nonviolent Communication. Our needs, whether met or unmet, are the roots of our feelings. Relating our feelings to our needs, we say “I feel frustrated because I am needing respect,” instead of “you make me frustrated when you talk back at me.” The latter entices our children into believing they are the guilty cause of our feelings.
“When we’re not able to say clearly what we need and only know how to make analyses of others that sound like criticism, … wars are never far away, whether they are verbal, psychological, or physical wars.” says Rosenberg.
When we own that our feelings stem from our needs we model self-responsibility and establish clear boundaries.
Needs are universally shared and include:
When we identify needs, understanding and connection results.
When our child says or does something we don’t like, we have four options:
- Blame ourselves—“I’m a bad parent, it’s my fault she’s like this”
- Blame them—“You are so selfish”
- Connect to our feelings and needs—“I feel disappointed, because I need recognition for the effortI’ve made”
- Guess their feelings and needs—“Are you feeling reluctant because you are wanting to make your own choices?”
Effective expression of needs happens when they are universal rather than specific and personal.“I need respect,” is much easier to hear than, “I need you to be polite to me.” When we surrender our usual strategies, our children are more likely to respond and we are more likely to find a mutually agreeable solution.
Only after a connection has happened between people (i.e. a mutual understanding of each person’s feelings & needs) do we seek to find solutions. (“Connection FIRST, then solutions”). In making a request, we honor a “NO” as much as a “YES.”
Requests differ from demands. Rosenberg suggests; “Hey, I’d really like you to do this, it would meet my need, but if your needs are in conflict I’d like to hear that, and let’s figure out a way to get everybody’s needs met.”
Particularly important is expressing our requests in a way that will not be heard as demanding. Children will hear demands if they think that they will be blamed or punished if they don’t do it, and will resist. You will probably pay for it later.
We can easily tell if we are requesting or demanding by our response when our children say, “no,” in words or actions. If we empathise with the need they are meeting when they say, “no,” then it is a request.
The Format of Requests
There are two kinds of requests—to meet a need not being met, or to determine if the required connection is there before meeting the need.To ask our children to help meet a need of ours, we use positive language that is concrete, specific, action based, and presently doable. Rather than vague like, “Please be cooperative” or negative such as “Don’t do that again,” we aim for something like “Would you be willing to do the washing up now?”
If we want to check out the connection, such as if we are not sure that they have received our message as we would like, “Would you be willing to tell me what you just heard me say so I can see if I have made myself clear?” If they don’t get it as we meant, rather than telling them they’re wrong, we might say, “I appreciate you telling me what you heard. I’d like you to hear it differently though ..(repeat it).. Would you be willing to tell me what you heard?”
Or, we may want to hear what they are feeling or thinking, “Would you be willing to tell me how you are feeling right now after hearing what I’ve just said?”
Putting It All Together
Expressing how I am without blaming or criticizing:
When I observe /see/hear/ imagine/ remember (not judge) . . . I feel (not think) . . .
Because I need/value (not a strategy) . . .
Would you be willing to (not a demand) . . . ?
Empathically receiving without hearing blame or criticism
When you observe /see/ hear/ imagine/ remember… Do you feel…?
Because you need/value…?
Would you like…?
Giving Empathy To Our Children
When we offer empathy to our children, we aim to be present and understand rather than “get it right.” This is very different from when we explain, reassure, educate, sympathize, advise, interpret, disagree, judge, and apologize.
In NVC, instead of asking, “How are you feeling, what are you needing?” we guess: “Are you feeling sad because you are needing closeness?” and they will tell us if that’s not how it is for them! Guessing promotes being present rather than directing.
When Johnny said to his dad Simon, “I just can’t do this homework,” Simon wanted to reassure him. “Never mind, I’m sure you’ll manage with some extra help.” Responding like that does not meet a child’s needs for understanding and empathy. Instead, Simon could have responded, “Are you feeling frustrated because you’d really like to understand it?” (Observations and requests are sometimes dropped when giving empathy).
Empathy means listening for the feelings and needs of our children even when we don’t like what they are doing or when they are using demands, judgments, silence, or are saying “no.” For example, when Billy says to his mother, “You’re so unfair,” she can choose to respond “Are you feeling frustrated because you are needing fairness?” “Yes, you let Rod watch TV after 9:00 but you won’t let me.” “So are you upset because you’d like equality?” He is likely to respond again … and she aims to keep responding until his needs for empathy get met. When that happens, she will sense a shift in him. In a conflict situation, we may move between offering empathy to our child, giving self empathy, and expressing our observations, feelings, needs and requests.
We can give our children empathy when they have strong feelings or when they seem to need understanding. When they are confident that their needs matter to us, they are more likely to hear our needs and requests and want to contribute. Until feelings and needs have been heard, strategies are not likely to last.
Freeing Ourselves From Anger
Parents commonly struggle with anger. The NVC process helps us translate anger into feelings and needs. When we are angry with our kids, we are doing two things: thinking that they caused our feelings; and thinking “they should have ….” Instead, we can choose to stop and breathe, identify our judgmental thoughts, and become aware of our unmet needs. We can then choose between expressing our observations, feelings and needs or offering empathy. Practising anger translation transforms violent communication into compassionate connection.
Parents Quick Reference Guide:
Remember, the most important part is your intention—CONNECTION. The precise words used are secondary. At any given time, you can choose between giving self-empathy, offering empathy or expressing yourself using Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests. Below are various examples of those three ways.
Instead of: “He is such a stubborn boy. How dare he act like this when I have done so much for him today.” With NVC: “When I see him looking in the other direction after I ask him to come here, I feel helpless because I value cooperation and sad because I value harmony.”
Instead of: “I just can’t get her to do anything I say. I’m such an ineffective parent.” With NVC: “When I remember that she said she would do the washing up and now I see that she has not done it, I feel frustrated because I’m really needing support, and exhausted because I need some rest.”
Instead of: “He is such a monster.”
With NVC: “When I hear him say to me, “shut up mum,” I feel resentful because I really value respect.
Instead of: “Look at how nicely Anne-Marie is playing. Why won’t you play like that?”
With NVC: “When you take that toy car from Peter, are you feeling curious, because you want to explore and learn?
Instead of: “Please be a good girl and help daddy put your clothes on.” With NVC: “Are you feeling really frustrated because you want to choose when you put your clothes on?”
Instead of: “If you just sit there and don’t join in, we’re going home.” With NVC: “Are you feeling a bit nervous about playing with the others, and wanting some help? Would you like me to come over there with you?”
Instead of: “Stop crying now, we can come to the park another day.” With NVC:“Are you feeling sad that we’re leaving because you really enjoyed playing today? Would you like to come to the park tomorrow?”
Expressing Ourselves Using Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests
Instead of: “This place is a pigsty. How can you live in this mess?”
With NVC: “When I see your clothes lying on the floor I feel jittery because I love order. Would you be willing to pick your clothes up and put them away by the end of today?”
Instead of: “Get in the car now … we’re going to be late again … if you don’t get in the car, you’ll be sorry.” With NVC: “I’m feeling agitated because doing what I said I’d do is important to me. Would you be willing to get into the car now and bring your game with you?” Instead of: “Billy, you should do your homework. You know you will make your teacher angry if you don’t.” With NVC: “When I see that you haven’t done your homework yet, Billy, I feel worried because I value learning. Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say?”
Instead of: “You are so patient and well-behaved, Simon.” With NVC: “When I remember that you played quietly whilst Aunty Trisha was here, Simon, I feel really grateful because I appreciate helping each other.”
Download PDF handouts that explain NonViolent Communication here:
- Version 1: parenting_communication_mrose
- Version 2: Kendrick_NVC_Materials (Examples of Observations WITH and WITHOUT evaluation as well as Inventory of NEEDS).
- Version 3: Masarie_NVC_Breakout (inventory of Feelings when needs ARE and ARE NOT being met as well as an inventory list of NEEDS)
- raisingchildrencompessionately-nonviolentcommunication-130724152313-phpapp02 (34 pages – page 22 has the visual shown below)