I am a student of relationships – sibling relationships; friendships; spousal relationships; parent-child relationships; neighborhood relationships; power relationships; workplace relationships; political relationships; spiritual relationships. I have studied and observed; read and taught; struggled and delighted; and have committed myself and my work to the healing of relationships and the development of life-giving, sustainable relationships that (in my mind at least) reflect the desire of God for us, God’s beloved.
Thanks to the recommendation of a friend and colleague, I discovered the work and teaching of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg in his book, Non-Violent Communication. While it might be easy, at first, to imagine that this book is for those who have a hair-trigger temper, or for those who live in violent and dangerous environments, it is – in fact – a book for all of us.
Rosenberg asserts that we do violence to relationships – even, and maybe often, those relationships most precious to us – by judging one another. It happens all the time, often in subtle ways; and without being aware, we erect defenses between ourselves and those around us to protect ourselves from the hurt – and violence – we experience when we are judged by another.
In some ways, it’s no surprise. Judgment happens all the time, all around us. We live in a world that values either/or, red/blue, liberal/conservative, right/wrong, in/out. We need only turn on the TV, the radio, or connect to the web, to hear rhetoric on all kinds of issues that underscores the value of ‘being in the know’, of winning, of having the final word, of getting what we want before someone else does.
I believe, though, that we all suffer from this way of being; this way of relating; this way of parsing the world. Most of all, our relationships suffer – and with that, our freedom to be fully human.
Rosenberg outlines a 4-step way of understanding and communicating that I have found to be both incredibly (and embarrassingly) hard, and powerfully life-giving. Here are the 4 steps:
- observations: the concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being
- feelings: how we feel (be specific here) in relation to what we observe
- needs: the needs, values, desires, that create our feelings
- requests: the concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives
Here’s an example:
When I’m talking and I get interrupted (observation), I feel anxious (feeling). I need to get my whole thought out (need). I’d like you to wait until I’m finished talking, and then give me a moment to make sure I’m done, before you speak (request).
This is very different than saying:
You always interrupt when I’m talking! I forget what I want to say. You really make me mad. I don’t want to talk any more.
If you’re anything like me, the first example sounds contrived, unnatural maybe. And the second example sounds sadly familiar. I can only say that my attempts at employing Non-Violent Communication (NVC) have brought about powerful shifts in my relationships. Check it out~
(For more information about NVC, check out Marshall Rosenberg’s workshops on YouTube.)
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