Note: In the last few blogs, I’ve been taking excerpts from the introduction to my book Urban Empathy where I discuss superheroes, NYC and nonviolence. If you missed those posts, you can read the first in that series here. Today and in my next blog, I’ll be sharing highlights from the aftermatter of Urban Empathy, where I explore how Nonviolent Communication works, with examples. I hope you enjoy this special series! To see Part One of the aftermatter blogs, click here.
What does NVC look like in practice?
Let’s say, for example, that one person in a relationship wants to spend more time together than the other. Some judgments this person might be thinking or saying could include: “You’re more interested in work than in me! You have time for everything else but spending time with the person you supposedly love. And you just don’t know how to prioritize. That’s why we don’t have time together!”
The other person, in turn, might be thinking: “I’m sick of being pressured. If we want to spend time together, it should be natural, and mutual, not forced. And it doesn’t mean I don’t love you! I wish you weren’t so insecure! I just have a lot going on at work right now and I need time to relax and let off steam with my friends. Is that too much to ask?”
This kind of dialogue can easily escalate, with each person reacting to the judgments they hear from the other.
Like looking at an X-ray of the judgments being expressed, if we listen beneath the surface — to the heart of what each person is sharing — we see a very different picture. This is what the conversation could sound like if we focus on expressing our feelings and needs:
Person A: “You know, I’m really feeling frustrated. We had plans to go to dinner last night and you ended up working late instead. This is the second time this has happened in the last few weeks. I’m hurt and a bit confused. I want to trust that our relationship matters, and that you care about our connecting. And I’m curious: What’s going on for you, hearing me say this?”
Person B: “Well, I understand you want to spend time with me — we are in a relationship and all. But I really wanted to exercise Tuesday night and didn’t realize how behind I was with this project at work. I thought I’d be able to finish it by 6 but all kinds of complications came up, like the copy machine breaking!’
Partner A: “So you want some understanding about how things happened and were outside your control?”
Partner B: “Yes! And I really did want to go out with you tonight. There’s just not enough time… it’s so frustrating for me. I just don’t know how to fit in all the things I want to do.”
At this point, there’s already understanding and empathic connection. The one partner has expressed a desire for trust and connection; the other, for understanding and a desire for resolution and clarity (regarding how to find time for all the things that matter).
From this place, the two may move towards considering options that might address their needs — such as perhaps partner B getting support in thinking through scheduling choices or partner A joining time spent exercising or with friends.
The stories in Urban Empathy offer little windows into what can happen when we engage in this kind of empathic communication.