how to manage conflict in relationships: non-violent communication

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By: Blandine Gerber Fleury

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) creates an opportunity to build a deeper connection in your relationships

Main takeaways

  • NVC is a proven strategy to strengthen our relationships and diffuse unhealthy conflict
  • We are predisposed to non-violent or benevolent communication and can re-learn it if we follow the appropriate steps.
  • When unhealthy conflict arises, it is crucial to stop and observe what is happening.
  • We can formulate requests peacefully and constructively by identifying our core needs and expressing our feelings without blame.
  • Adopting this communication style will allow us to transcend conflict and positively transform our relationships.

Non-Violent Communication is a proven strategy to diffuse heated disagreements swiftly, whether these arise with a spouse, family member, friend, or colleague. Better yet, following a quarrel, we can create an opportunity to improve or even strengthen the relationship.

Benevolent or non-violent dialogue is the solution to relationship challenges, capable of transcending unhealthy conflicts and positively reshaping them.

Let’s clarify what it means and doesn’t mean to be benevolent. Some might think it is not a weakness and softness of the mind but rather its substantial strength and virtuous power.

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What is Non-Violent Communication?

Non-Violent Communication, or NVC, is a communication technique developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg that enables a safe and peaceful communication framework between two persons or groups. You can learn much more about Dr. Rosenberg and his work in the interview he gave us.

What is benevolence?

Benevolence constitutes the foundation of Non-Violent Communication.

So first, let us define what it means to be benevolent and what it does not mean. Some may believe it is not the mind’s fragility and softness but rather its enormous strength and ethical power.

Benevolence is a voluntary attitude that seeks the well-being and happiness of others; it is a disposition that values understanding and indulgence. It can also be defined as a predisposition for generosity and a tendency to live with one’s emotions fully awake. In a nutshell, it is a state of being that promotes relational and societal harmony: This is not a minor detail!

Two persons doing a friendly fist bump

As a result, we are eager to put it into practice because non-violent communication can transform our disagreements into opportunities to build harmonious relationships and contribute to a better society!

Relearning to be benevolent

But will it be challenging to alter our communication style? Yes, since we have learned to overcome our natural tendency to communicate benevolently from childhood. We may, however, reconnect to our intrinsic capacity and put it at the center of our relationships. Then we can turn our often recurring arguments into a chance to evolve and enhance the link that unites us.

How can we accomplish this seemingly daunting challenge? You can see the guidelines from NVC (Nonviolent Communication) below. In these few paragraphs, you will find explanations that will help you better comprehend and assess the validity of this strategy.

Also, I recommend the practical online course of Sophie Parienti, a renowned personal development coach, who taught me this technique (see her approach below).

Join >>> Transformative Communication Course For An Extraordinary Relationship with Sophie Parienti & Jesse Gabler. What if you could get unstuck & feel heard?

Causes of unhealthy conflict in relationships

Unhealthy conflict emerges in a dialogue when unpleasant emotions flow via the filter of the protagonists’ brain interpretations. The mind transforms these emotions into thoughts, which results in bad feelings. We will employ them if we are ignorant that nagging, verbal judgments, or critiques imply unmet needs.

Read also – Emotions & Feelings, or how to calm your mind (in French).

When we communicate from a place of resentment, we put the person we are speaking to on the defensive. Because they feel assaulted by the comments, and their needs are also unsatisfied, they blame the other person for their emotional state. A dispute begins, with each individual attempting to be right by denying responsibility for what animates them within.

Such dialogues, far from allowing for a kind exchange, almost always result in a division. How can we avoid such escalation? It is crucial to understand that what is at stake for each individual is satisfying basic and legitimate needs. Using non-violent communication daily reduces conflict in relationships and increases connection.

How to turn a tense discussion into an opportunity to make a connection

Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) method is effective and straightforward to implement in a conflict situation. It is a deliberate, authentic, and responsible communication that promotes benevolent interchange, affinity, and intimacy.

The technique’s four critical steps for transforming conflicting relational situations into opportunities for relationship progress are as follows.

1. Observe what is happening

Consider two persons conversing, one of whom is continuously interrupting the other. The person being interrupted is overcome with emotion. That person becomes engulfed in a whirl of unpleasant feelings, exclaiming, “We can never talk to you! You are always interrupting me! You never pay attention to people in the first place!

You may imagine the implications of these judgments and interpretations. Assume this individual had incorporated and used Marshall Rosenberg’s communication approach (NVC). They may have avoided avoidable confrontation in such a scenario.

  • They would have positioned themselves as spectators of the encounter if they had first become aware of their emotions. They would have then recounted the scenario objectively and without judgment, merely noting that one was interrupted in their speech and was unable to express themselves. 

Also, read>>> Signs of a Healthy Relationship.

The focus dedicated to observing the facts would have then soothed the passion. This explanation of the facts would not have made the other person feel attacked, and there would have been no conflict.

But the technique doesn’t just help you notice facts; it also enables you to express your feelings healthily.

2. Express your feelings.

After you’ve examined the facts, it’s time to consider the emotion or mood evoked by the circumstance you encountered.

Then, explaining your point of view without resorting to interpretations that would hold the other person accountable again becomes critical. It is vital to avoid using the personal pronoun you.

Use the pronoun I instead because one cannot express oneself or one’s feelings by pointing at others.

Man and woman sitting inside a geodome having a dialogue

The list of emotions and sentiments that motivate us is lengthy, and it might sometimes be challenging to identify them correctly.

  • In our case, the interrupted person may have felt overwhelmed, disillusioned, upset, angry, and so on. Assume that this person is irritated by being interrupted multiple times during the speech. That is what they must say to their interlocutor after discussing the circumstances that led to this sentiment.

This activity of identification of feelings, which facilitates self-awareness and expression of emotions, promotes the formation of a benevolent bond. It enables you to proceed to the next phase and get more intimacy.

3. Identify your needs.

Even though we all have more or less similar wants, they are not identically basic, and we do not prioritize them similarly.

Because our education, interactions, society, and everything at the root of our belief system have allowed us to develop ways to meet them or limit our ability to meet them.

Some basic requirements are:

  • Security
  • Understanding
  • Attention
  • Intimacy
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Rest
  • Relaxation
  • Connection
  • Sharing

This list is not exhaustive.

Let’s think about our example again.

We know that the bad feeling caused by the situation is linked to a basic need that is not being met.

The point here is to figure out what it is. In our case, the need that isn’t being met could be the need for consideration.

Of course, this person’s emotion or feeling could be caused by other intermediate or even deeper needs.

But let’s say we manage to identify it.

This step of saying what you need will bring understanding, compassion, and curious empathy into the conversation.

The next step will help improve the relationship in the long run and strengthen the connection.

4. Formulate a request.

At this point in the conversation, where we have established a connection, it is necessary to open the dialogue, allowing the person who has been inconvenienced to be deeply appeased and continue to speak without influencing the other.

A request is an invitation to resume a conversation under favorable circumstances. We must make a positive demand, avoiding reducing the situation to failures and raising it to the level of potential.

This request must be feasible, concrete, and satisfying to all parties.

  • In our case, it is a matter of locating and offering a way to feel considered, and the other is allowed to express themselves when they feel the need. At this point, a common ground has been established that permits the interaction to be appreciated, and more profound closeness is conceivable.

Marshall Rosenberg’s four stages of communication in action.

Here is what the person who is affected by the situation could concretely express and how the exchange could turn out if they followed the four stages of communication recommended by Marshall Rosenberg:

When I speak and am interrupted, I feel overwhelmed. I understand that this is due to my deep need for consideration. What do you think about using a “witness” who would allow us time to talk to each other? We would take the object in hand whenever we needed to express ourselves.

At this point in the dialogue, the person has filtered their request via the four NVC processes; it is not an aggressive exchange but rather a caring one. The communicative bridge between the two persons stimulates more attention to the other, as well as the expression of each other’s needs and the infusion of more intimacy.

Let us be cautious! Even when employing NVC, emotions and other negative feelings can continue.

This risk is usually due to an incorrectly identified necessity.

Behind the one articulated, there is most likely a more fundamental one tied to the negative sentiment. It could also be a poorly stated request that lacks precision or conflicts with the other person’s demands. It is then necessary to repeat the process, which, once learned and practiced, becomes regular and spontaneous communication.

Also Read>>> NVC by Marshall Rosenberg

Conclusion

“How we communicate with others, and ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.” Anthony Robbins

Our communication impacts our lives, and it is preferable to cheer it up rather than sober it up by modifying our speech here and there. Marshall Rosenberg’s technique enables us to achieve just that. And you may accomplish this by integrating it to the point where it becomes your communication habit.

The stepping back involved in each step of NVC allows us to become aware of and learn from ourselves and the other person and to rediscover our innate and too often forgotten predisposition for benevolence. It will enable us to live our relationships with others and with ourselves peacefully.

Relationships integrating NVC as part of their communication style successfully move away from all ideas of bad or good and can stay focused on the intention to stay connected.

I hope you will have beautiful encounters with authentic, inspiring, and benevolent exchanges. Please take note of these tips from the NVC teachings and apply them daily in your interactions to transform your relationships!

B. Gerber Fleury loves to write, share and inspire. Mother of four and author, she can be reached here on FB.