Episode 2: The 4 Steps of Collaborative (Nonviolent) Communication



In the first episode of the Connecting Across Differences podcast, Dian talked about the first step in the model of compassionate, Nonviolent Communication: the power of making a clear observation free of evaluation or judgement. You can listen to the first episode here.

In this episode, Dian gives an overview of all 4 steps and talks in depth about the 2nd and 3rd steps:

  1. Observation – exactly what you heard the person say or what you saw them do
  2. Feelings – noticing what you’re feeling or what the other person is feeling,  free of judgement.
  3. Needs – noticing what your needs are and what the other person’s needs are, free of strategy.
  4. Requests–connection requests (checking in) and/or strategy requests that are clear/concrete, positive, doable and free of demand

When practicing NVC, we’re repeatedly practicing these 4 steps in relation to ourselves, which is known as self-empathy (we will focus on self-empathy in more detail in episode 3).  We’re also connecting with the feelings and needs of the other person we’re speaking with So we’re continuously using these 4 steps– sort of like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at hte same time. The cool thing about this model is that you can practice the 4 steps in relation to yourself and in relation to another person—and continue “recycling” these steps until you reach clarity, connection, and closure.

Let’s do a practice today on feelings and needs so you can get a taste of how powerful and effective it can be to pause to connect with your own feelings and needs and the feelings/needs of other people.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen and write down something that you heard someone else say that you did not like. Write down what you actually heard, word for word. If you’re having trouble thinking of something, think of a person that gets on your nerves. Think back to something you heard this person say most recently that you found irritating. You’ll notice that by writing down the thing you heard someone else say that you did not like, you are actually writing an observation. To find out how to come up with a clear and judgement-free observation, listen to episode 1. Example “You never pay attention to me” or “You don’t make time for me so obviously this relationship doesn’t matter to you.” These would be observations if this is what you actually heard the person say, verbatim, word for word.

Now, notice what is going on in your body. If you’re thinking about something that’s irritating you or pissing you off, you’re probably experiencing some physical sensation that might feel unpleasant — restriction, heat, pressure or tension.

See if you can isolate where you’re experiencing those sensations. Is the pressure in your chest? Is there a heat sensation on your face? Shaky or trembling hands?

Once you notice that, write those words down too.

You can download a list of feeling words here. You also will find in this doc a list of sensation words, to help you connect with what’s happening in your body.

In English, there’s a bunch of words that *sound* like feelings that are actually what are considered “faux feelings” or feelings that are mixed with judgement. You can see a list of faux feeling words here.

An example of a “faux feeling” that has judgement mixed in is “I feel misunderstood.” The word “misunderstood” is actually a story about what happened–i.e., that the other person didn’t understand you. That’s different than a feeling that is actually going on INSIDE your own skin.

Examples of feelings: concerned, anxious, sad, disappointed, happy, excited, relieved, energized, relaxed.

Now that you’ve written those words down, we’re going to look at what you’re needing.

What values are coming up for you? If you wrote down, “you just don’t listen to me,” and the feelings in relation to that are sad, concerned, disappointed, disheartened, or confused, what might you be needing? Maybe you are needing hope, understanding, or clarity about what is going on for the other person. Maybe you want to be seen for your intentions. Note how the feelings you picked point to your needs– if you’re confused, you probably are desiring clarity. IF said or discouraged, you might want hope or relief.

You can download a list of needs here.

When connecting with your needs, it’s important to make a distinction between needs and strategies. It’s easy to say things like “I need a new apartment” or “I need a new car” which are all great things, but they are strategies, not needs. Each of those strategies can meet different needs for us. Needs are abstract qualities. Like understanding, compassion, community, choice, autonomy, independence, connection. Needs are qualities that can be met by different people and in many different ways.

Now check in with yourself. When you connect with your feelings and needs, do you notice that your physical sensations have changed at all? This is the result of self empathy (connecting with your feelings and needs). It usually helps you calm down and return to stasis. Needs are universal and even if we can’t meet them in the moment, just by noticing and honoring them it helps our whole system to calm down because we’re connecting with what really matters to us. It’s refocusing on the direction we want to head in rather than focusing on what is wrong with our current situation–which is reassuring and recalibrating for our system.

If you’re not feeling calmer, just check to make sure you’re not mixing feelings with faux feelings or needs with strategies. Double check that you’ve identified fully all your feelings and needs.

Once you’ve connected with your feelings and needs, the next step of the model is making a request. It may seem odd to make a request of yourself. In fact, we make requests of ourselves all the time. For example, if I’m lying in bed in the morning feeling hungry I’ll wonder “hmm I wonder what I want to eat this morning” I’ll think about what I have in my fridge or pantry. How hungry am I ? Do I want a light meal or something that’s more filling? Whatever it is, I’m going to check in with how I’m feeling to decide what I’m going to eat. So that’s a basic example of making a request of myself.

In any given moment in the day, we’re in effect calibrating what our feelings and needs are even if we’re not fully aware of that and making choices based on those feelings and needs.

In Compassionate, Nonviolent Communication we’re doing that more consciously and really connecting with ourselves so we can be more in choice about the strategies we do want to choose.

You can practice these 4 steps in relation to other people. If someone comes to me and their upset about something, I can also try to guess the feelings and needs of that person. I can imagine, based on the example, “You never listen to me,” that they might be feeling frustrated, hurt, disappointed, and guessing that their core need to is be heard and wanting confidence that they matter.

If someone can hear those needs underneath their judgement, they too can start to feel more relaxed and open.

When we’re communicating with someone we’re repeatedly recycling these 4 steps: Practicing self-empathy (connecting with our own feelings and needs) and listening empathically to the other person.

In Episode 3 we’ll focus more on practicing these 4 steps in relation to yourself– a.k.a. Self-empathy. In Episode 4 we’ll go more detail about listening empathetically to other people.

Want to try this out yourself?

As a way of getting clear about your intentions, the next time you choose a strategy, no matter how mundane—like, What will i eat this morning? or Will i ride my bike or take the subway? take a moment to self-connect to see what needs you’re choosing to meet by a particular strategy. Maybe you’re choosing to ride your bike because you want some physical activity or movement which is also a strategy for self care. Or you’re choosing the subway because you’re just wanting some ease and efficiency right now.

What needs are you meeting by the choices you make this week?

Feel free to share an example of your feelings and needs based on something someone said to you on the Work Collaboratively Facebook Page.  

You can also subscribe to the Connecting Across Differences podcast on iTunes. Please be sure to leave a review if you enjoyed the episode!

Thanks for listening– and be sure to tune in for our next episode in two weeks. And if you’re enjoying our podcasts, please share them with your friends and family. The more people in your life who know how to connect with their feelings and needs, the easier you’ll find it to connect with them and come up with solutions that work for everyone involved!

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