Nonviolent Communication  Model

Understanding Empathy and Honesty in NVC

Nonviolent Communication shows us a way of being very honest, but without any criticism, without any insults, without any putdowns, without any intellectual diagnosis implying wrongness.

Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.

- Marshall Rosenberg

The NVC model of Empathy and Honesty

The Nonviolent Communication model consists of two parts, empathy and honesty, and four components, observations, feelings, needs, and requests. When I am expressing what is alive in me using observations, feelings, needs and requests I am using honesty. When I am acknowledging verbally someone else's observations, feelings, needs and requests I am demonstrating empathy.

Now life would be simple for me if I just got to express myself and the other person gave me empathy until I was done. Then they expressed themselves and I gave them empathy until they were done. My experience is that this situation almost never happens. I might say, when I heard you say It's rude to leave the seat up on the toilet. The other person might start speaking before I even finish with oh, not this again or something similar. At this point I would shift from honesty to empathy. When I mention the toilet seat are you feeling annoyed and don't want to hear about it? The conversation becomes more like a dance than a formula for how to speak. When first learning , I find it very useful to practice working through all the steps so I have a good understanding of where I am in the model. After becoming very familiar, so I am conscious of what is happening in the conversation, then I am comfortable going into the dance, which is more unpredictable.

I have watched professional free-style skiers practice doing flips by going off a ramp and landing in a pool to be familiar with learning a difficult trick in a safe setting. See Youtube video below to see. With NVC  we do the same thing. We practice in a safe place. We find what we do in practice is what we do in live situations. So, if you practice responding compassionately, you are much more likely to be compassionate in difficult situations. The long pause at the beginning of this video is similar to the pause that you would do when giving empathy, to be sure the person is done talking. This is in my experience the hardest part of teaching NVC.

In NVC saying what we do want instead of what we don't want is important. Have you ever noticed how some people will give you a long list of all the things they do not like? Have you also noticed how the same people who complain and tell you everything is awful, it's a government conspiracy, etc., how unhappy these people are? NVC  gives us a way to step back and focus our attention on what we do want instead of what we do not want. When I am stimulated by an event and I notice what my emotional state is, either good or bad, this tells me I have made an observation and an evaluation. Often just separating out the observation from the evaluation gives me relief from a negative emotion (needs not met.)

Judgmental Language Nonviolent Communication
You are a jerk!
My son is a slob!
I feel unappreciated.
You won't listen to me!
I feel disrespected.

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