Our way of being — the intentions, attitudes, and quality of the energy that we bring to an interaction — is more important than the particular words we choose to speak. The heart of Nonviolent Communication is not about speaking using a particular recipe. Rather it is about “being” a particular way. When one is being that way, one is said to be “in NVC consciousness.”
What are the intentions and attitudes associated with NVC consciousness? There are different ways of describing these, but I’ll offer how I am currently thinking about the subject. When I am in NVC consciousness:
- I am aware of my longing for deeply satisfying human connections.
- I believe that whoever I am interacting with is a human being with this same longing.
- I am connected to what ultimately matters to me.
- I am open to the wisdom of all parts of me, including my heart.
- I realize that having a certain quality of connection in a conversation is important — without it, it is unlikely that anyone will hear what I say or that there will be a satisfying outcome.
- I am innocently curious about what is going on for each of us, yet undemanding in how I explore my curiosity.
- I trust that there is a wonderful intention I can appreciate (an intention to meet a universal human need) behind anything that anybody does.
- I know there would likely be a high cost to forcefully getting my way at your expense.
- I am aware that ultimately I am likely to be happier, and the relationship will be more sustainable, if both of us get our needs met.
- I am committed to allowing both of our needs to matter.
- I am aware of the value of making requests, either to further connection, or to invite clear, do-able actions.
- I get that thinking things “should” be a particular way, or judging, blaming or labeling ourselves or others, lead straight to suffering — and I aim to gently reduce my feeding of these thoughts and energies, without judging them.
- I am not attached to believing my thoughts, especially my judgments.
- I get that we are all capable of feeling great joy in giving to one another — but only if we are able to freely decide whether to do so or not, without focusing on hope of reward or fear of punishment. I want people to have more opportunities to experience this joy.
- I get that choosing to be vulnerable can be a form of strength, and may open up possibilities for deeper connections.
- I take responsibility for my emotions but not yours, out of awareness that (a) our emotions are largely driven by our own internal processes and (b) taking responsibility for what is ours is ultimately empowering.
- I take responsibility for getting my own needs met, and often do this by inviting but not demanding help from others.
- I acknowledge that we are interdependent — we affect one another and we play a large role in meeting one another’s needs.
- If a need is unmet, I know that I can enter into a healthy (and often sweet) mourning process if I connect to a visceral sense of the beauty of what I am longing for.
- If a need is unmet, I aim to allow myself to experience this without creating suffering by judging and rejecting the unmet-ness.
- I get that it is possible to have unmet needs and still be okay.
The short form is something like this:
In NVC consciousness, I am open-hearted and self-responsible, hold judgments lightly, honor both your needs and mine, and am in touch with the beauty of the longings that are at the heart of our lives.
If we are firmly rooted in the consciousness, our words need not sound much like formal NVC and we can still reap NVC’s benefits. The significance of verbal recipes is that they can remind us of how we want to be and help others to hear our intentions. The recipes are valuable — but they are merely supports, not the essence.
On the other hand, if a we speak words that perfectly follow the form of NVC, but our intentions and attitudes are off, then we are not likely to enjoy the results. In fact, others may have a profound dislike for being spoken to in this way. There are people who “loathe NVC” because they have experienced people trying to use the form of NVC while holding intentions and attitudes inconsistent with NVC. Too often, aversion to NVC may develop with those with whom we are closest, with whom it may be challenging to stay in NVC consciousness. Generally, it is helpful to focus on the consciousness more than the form. It is especially important to be rigorous about this with loved ones who haven’t yet been attracted to NVC.
Being “in NVC consciousness” is not all-or-nothing. The more we embody the intentions and attitudes, the more fully we will experience the fruits of this way of being. It may take many years to fully embody the consciousness. The good news is that every incremental step along the way is likely to be richly worthwhile. I hope we will offer ourselves patience and compassion as we practice and learn.
May we all be in the world in ways that support mutual well-being.
(I welcome your feedback.)