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Find Common Ground with Anyone

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

How to find common ground with anyone, anywhere, at any time? According to Marshall Rosenburg, the answer is nonviolent communication (NVC). First, what is violent communication? Rosenburg defines “violent” as “acting in ways that result in hurt or harm”, so judging others, bullying, having racial bias, blaming, finger-pointing, discriminating, speaking without listening, criticizing others or ourselves, name-calling are examples of violent communication. Then, what is the key to NVC? It is to communicate with honesty and compassion. NVC focuses on being aware of our wants and needs and communicating positively with honesty and clarity, while listening to others’ wants and needs with respect and empathy. NVC reframes how we express ourselves and hear others, because focusing on people’s underlying needs can revolutionize the way we interact with anybody, even our worst enemies. Next I will discuss the four steps of applying NVC. After going through the steps in more detail, I will provide an example where applying NVC makes a huge difference.

According to NVC, in order to communicate with empathy and honesty, we should focus our consciousness in four areas: first, observe the concrete actions that affect our well-being; second, be aware of how we feel in relation to what we observe; third, identify the needs, values, desires, etc. that create our feelings; lastly, request the concrete actions in order to enrich our lives.

Here is an example of applying NVC by focusing on how to listen to others’ wants and needs with respect and empathy. Your brother tried a new game and got excited and really wanted to play with you. But you were busy and didn't want to play. Your sibling got upset and snapped at you: “You never like my ideas!” You got upset and snapped back: ”What are you talking about? I like a lot of your ideas.” Both of you feel very upset. Now pause after your brother said “You never liked my ideas!” and apply NVC. First, you make an observation. My brother heard that I don’t like his idea. Second, you make aware that he feels upset. Third, you identify his unmet needs that create his disappointment. He needs you to support her ideas. Lastly, you make the request to find the common ground. “What would you like me to say so you feel supported?” If you said that, would you still be in a fight with your brother?

The NVC suggests two foundational habits. The first is that we learn to separate observations about what happened from our judgments about them. An observation is objective, concrete, and neutral. Instead of a demanding brother, think “he likes me to support his ideas”. Straightforward observations leave much more space for potentially understanding the reasons why people did what they did, rather than making lots of assumptions. This sounds simple but is not easy to do. Often, our brains leap to label someone and our mouths rush to speak the judgment! How do they tend to respond when you judge them? A person who’s feeling judged typically goes on the defensive or just shuts down. The second habit is that we take responsibility for our feelings, emotions and actions. Others’ actions might provide a stimulus for us feeling the way we do, but they don’t literally cause our emotions. In conclusion, the NVC focuses on being aware of unmet wants and needs, specifically, expressing our needs positively with honesty and clarity and listening to others’ needs with respect and empathy. Thank you for your interest!

By Lihong McPhail

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