Every now and then, I need to remind myself where we are in a particular thread of discussion. We’ve been looking at the elements of Nonviolent Communication (NVC, with Marshall Rosenberg as authority) as a way to make our speech more skilful. Right speech is part of the Buddha’s 8-fold path, which I’m recommending as a fundamental guide for developing clearer thinking and better relationships.
To review, in NVC, the four components for reflection are:
What are we:
Rosenberg says: “My belief is that, whenever we say something to another person, we are requesting something in return. It may simply be an empathic connection – a verbal or nonverbal acknowledgement…that our words have been understood.”
We may also be asking for a specific response in the form of words or action.
The idea that when we speak to others we are asking for something in return should give us pause. Ideally we should know – before we speak – what we’ve observed (is the other person open to our words?), what we are feeling, whether there is something we need (is this talk necessary?), and what specifically we’re requesting. Going through this process before each time we speak might make us all mutes! However, if we practice with these principles, even though it might seem laborious to start with, we should see progress in aligning our intentions and our speech. It could also become more natural to frame our thoughts in this way.
In the requesting phase of NVC, it is essential to use positive language. It’s often easier to know what we don’t want than what we do want, so we ought to inquire into our own thinking before asking for something directly. “I need you to stop acting like an idiot” is not a genuine request. “I need you to…” is a phrase that is unlikely to satisfy the speaker or the listener. “I need to find a way to feel that we are in this [project/relationship/etc.] together” is closer to an actual felt need, and the accompanying request might be “Would you be willing to do X (specific act, time, etc.)?”
Making requests in clear, positive, concrete action language reveals what we really want. Requests may sound like demands when unaccompanied by the speaker’s feelings and needs, so it’s important to communicate our felt need behind the request.
We can easily discover the results of an unskillful request — when people hear a demand, they see only two options: submission or rebellion. Listen for these responses! They are signals that our words are creating a separation rather than a connection.
If we show sincere empathy toward the other person’s needs when we ask for something, then it’s a request in the NVC mode. Our objective, with NVC and right speech, is relationships based on honesty and empathy (another word for compassion). Our care with speech is a direct path towards this goal.