Thanks to Amari and others for mentioning Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I finally got around to checking it out. I am very impressed! Here's what I found:
Nonviolent Communication Part 1 Marshall Rosenberg (10 min), Part 2 (6 min), Part 3 (4 min)
Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication ~ NVC
Nonviolent Communication Skills Training Role Play NVC or Active Listening
I don't entirely agree with this, but I found it interesting:
You Just Don't Listen
Rosenberg's book: Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life.
Rosenberg's web site: cnvc.org.
I'm still very new to this concept, haven't read the whole book yet, but here is my present understanding of it:
NVC is useful for getting conflicting parties to talk AND LISTEN to each other. Once a person feels that their unmet needs have been HEARD and understood, they may be willing to stop talking and listen to the other party's unmet needs.
A funny thing about angry people's communication is that they don't necessarily say exactly what is bugging them. They are too busy complaining and hurling accusations, or defending themselves from the other person's attacks. Thus, even if party X monopolizes the air time and rants on for hours while party Y politely and attentively listens, X may STILL not feel heard - because X never expressed their unmet needs.
Defensiveness ("answering" the other person's attacks) is not very effective at resolving conflicts. First, time spent justifying ones actions is time not spent listening. Second, the purpose of justifying is to make oneself seem more right and to make the attack seem wrong. It's a subtle form of counterattack. It doesn't address the attacker's unmet needs or make them feel that they've been heard.
Rosenberg advises to listen for the unmet needs that underlie a person's attacks, and ask questions to verify or clarify what those needs are. That sort of dialog directly addresses the person's need to be heard.
Here is an example of how NVC might help in my own marriage.
Recently (before I saw the NVC material), Zoe complained that seven years ago, in a marriage counseling session, I had said that I didn't love her any more. My habitual way of dealing with her complaints is to just listen quietly for as long as I can. So after she said that, I probably said nothing and was just thinking about it, while she continued talking about other things.
How could I have responded? Before learning about NVC, if I had chosen to respond, I might have explained that at that time, seven years ago, she wasn't sleeping with me very much, she wasn't showing many signs of affection toward me, and was often complaining and attacking me (not just verbally but sometimes physically!). So I wasn't feeling very loved, and not very loving either.
Or, I might have said that a marriage counseling session ought to be an opportunity to speak freely and honestly about what is on ones mind. What I said then, in session, shouldn't be thrown in my face years later.
Or, I might have reminded her that "she started it," so to speak. In the first few months of our marriage, when she was upset with me about something, sometimes she would say (exact quote) "I don't love you anymore." Of course I felt quite hurt by those words. Usually I would try not to react, just tried to ignore it and forget about it. Finally, one time I responded, "Fine, I don't love you anymore, either." She immediately started crying. So I explained that I didn't mean it, but I wanted her to see what it felt like to be on the receiving end of those words. Since then, she hasn't tried to use those words as a way to manipulate me.
Or I might have said, "That was how I felt then. It's not necessarily how I feel now."
All of those would have been great comebacks, huh? Sure to stop Zoe in her tracks, instantly dissipate all her anger toward me, and make her fall into my arms and love me happily forever after, right?
Well, maybe not. Part of the reason why I usually just listen and don't say much in response to her tirades is that I know, from long experience, that trying to "respond" to her words has rarely helped.
This morning, as I was thinking about all of this, I realized that NVC might be a better way to respond. If I try to listen beyond her complaint that "Seven years ago you said that you didn't love me anymore," maybe the unmet need that gave rise to those words was/is a need to feel loved by me.
What if I responded with something like "Do you need to feel loved by me?" If I was close to the mark, she might feel like I had heard and understood her unmet need.
And maybe, if she thought about it, or if she became willing to listen to me, she would realize that I have a need to be loved by her.
So, I have some hope that NVC could be a useful tool for marriage repair. A couple other notes:
- A couple of the presenters in the videos mention that it takes some practice to apply NVC effectively. I can certainly believe that. It takes practice to replace one habit - silence, defensive responses, counterattacks, etc. - with another habit. I think role playing with a friend might be a good way to practice.
- That's not to say that one should hold off trying to apply NVC until one has perfected the skill. I like the encouraging remark of Rosenberg in his role playing video: "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly."
- They also mention that it can take a lot of active listening (NVC style) before the other person may become willing to listen to you.
- I don't expect NVC to be a panacea. It appears to be a specialized tool which is good for opening up communication lines and exposing the unmet needs that underlie conflicts. I don't expect that NVC can always provide a solution for meeting those unmet needs.