The standard recipe for the “four components” of NVC is Observation-Feeling-Need-Request (OFNR). Today I’d like to invite you to try on a variation on this: Observation-Feeling-Aspiration-Invitation (OFAI). This isn’t intended to mean anything different than the standard recipe does — but I think the different words might support appreciating some nuances that might otherwise be missed.
First of all, while NVC trainers usually talk about “Universal Needs”, this terminology has always had some downsides. First, there is the negative connotation of being “needy.” In mainstream culture, “needs” are too often carry a negative association that it would be nice not to have to overcome. Second, the word “need” suggests “I have to have this or I can’t be okay.” And this would be an unfortunate belief to have about NVC “needs.”
Part of the recipe for achieving reliable happiness is to learn to have peace around living without when we have to and to mourn the reality of not getting what we want, when we don’t. Here “mourning” means honoring the beauty of our unrealized wishes. Letting our aspirations matter to us is important and life affirming, regardless of what life brings us.
I am curious if it might work to replace the term “Universal Needs” with “Innate Aspirations” (or “Built-in Wishes”). To me, “innate” or “built-in” conveys that these are hard-wired into our humanity. And “aspirations” or “wishes” conveys that these are things we are positive, beautiful things to which we are drawn. Try it out. Say to yourself, “I aspire to beauty” or “I aspire to having support.” Compare this to saying “I need beauty” or “I need support.” Either wording could work. And yet I imagine that at least some of the the time, thinking of these as “aspirations” might tend to be more heart opening.
Regarding the fourth component, NVC usually talks about making a “request” instead of a “demand.” The difference being, that a demand implies a response of “no” will be punished, while a request implies a willingness to work with any answer that shows up. That’s great as far as it goes. But it misses one sweet aspect of the ideal NVC request. Calling something a “request” suggests a focus on “getting” something for yourself, possibly at someone else’s expense. Yet, NVC suggests that requests be held as something that is both an a strategy for realizing our aspirations and also an opportunity for the other person to experience the joy of making our life more wonderful. Really! When people do things for others of their own free will, contributing to others can be a source of significant joy. And it’s a strategically poor idea to ever want people to do things in a way that won’t contribute to them as well. I think that calling what we are doing offering an “invitation” would support us in being aware of giving the other person the gift of an opportunity to contribute to our well-being.
Try it out. Think of something you’d love for someone to do for you. Think about how it would make your life better to have that happen. See if you can connect to your desire to have the other person do only things that also serve their own well-being. Now, imaging “inviting” the other person to do what you’d enjoy them doing — if it would enhance their life as well as yours to contribute this gift to you. How does that feel? Does thinking of the process as being about offering an “invitation” seem life-serving?
So, here’s my invitation to you, one which I hope you’ll accept ONLY if it enriches you. You’re invited to try out thinking of the four components of NVC as discerning an Observation, connecting to a Feeling and an Aspiration, and then offering an Invitation. I’ll also share with you that I long to support people in living richer lives through NVC, and it supports me in doing this to know what people experience as helpful. So, I’ll also invite you, if you’d enjoy supporting me around this, to consider letting me know how this new terminology lands for you — especially if you find yourself giving yourself some time to get used to it!
May you experience love, peace of mind, and sweet connections with those in your life.