The central idea behind Marshall B Rosenberg’s system of Non-Violent Communication is people’s needs and whether they are being met. NVC shows us how to express ourselves in ways that increase the likelihood of getting what we need. It also teaches us how to listen to and respond to the messages of others from our heart. Once the needs of all people involved have been acknowledged and understood, compromises or solutions can be found. We have a natural inclination to help others out and make life better for them. When we are approached with a true request, we tend to grant the request, if possible.
If anger is present, it is more likely that the interaction is not going to be very constructive. Suppressing or denying anger never works. We need to ask what is going on underneath the anger. Anger is like the indicator light in your car. We wouldn’t ignore that warning light. It gives us useful information about what our engine needs.
The first thing we need to let go of is blaming others for our anger. Nobody makes us feel angry. The behaviour of others might be the trigger for our anger but not the cause. When you find yourself thinking “He/she is making me feel angry because…” stop and reframe. We are never angry because of what others say or do. We are angry because of what we are telling ourselves about the situation.
“The cause of anger lies in our thinking—in thoughts of blame and judgment.” (Marshall Rosenberg, Non-violent Communication, 143)
Here is an example: If you have agreed to pick me up at 6:00 but you show up at 6:30, am I angry? It depends on what I make this mean. Do I tell myself that you don’t care about me or my time and that you are disrespectful toward me? Do I judge you as unreliable and inconsiderate? Do I stress myself out because we might now be late for something? These are all stories which will make me feel angry. If I don’t give your lateness any meaning, don’t take it as a personal attack, I don’t feel angry. If you arrive late and my need is to spend time purposefully and constructively, I might feel frustrated or angry. If my need is for 30 minutes of quiet time or to finish something myself, I might feel pleased.
It is not you who has made me feel angry, it is the story I tell myself based on my underlying need. When we are connected to our needs, we don’t need to move into anger. Instead of engaging in righteousness, we can connect with our own needs and those of others. Instead of believing we are angry because somebody else made us feel this way, we can shift to “I am feeling anger because my need for… is not met.”
We have the choice to take four steps toward expressing anger constructively:
- Stop what we are thinking or saying and breathe
- Identify our judgmental thoughts and stories
- Connect with our feelings and needs underneath the anger
- Express our feelings and unmet needs
- Make a concrete request of how our needs can be met
When I share the steps of non-violent communication with my clients, three different hurdles usually show up. One, many of us have never learned to recognize what our needs are. Two, nobody has ever taught us how to express them. Three, we need to be okay with the other person denying our request.
Here are some examples for beliefs that we need to balance at a subconscious level to communicate more successfully:
- My needs are important / as important as other people’s needs.
- It is safe for me to express my needs.
- I am willing to communicate my emotions.
- I express my needs calmly and clearly.
- My needs are acknowledged / heard.
- I deserve to have my needs met.
- I love myself when others deny my requests.
- I listen with an open heart to other people’s feelings and needs.
- I respect and honour other people’s needs.
- I lovingly accept others as they are.
For examples of non-violent communication please read my blog “Communicating More Successfully”.