NVC & Authenticity

Like anything, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can be hijacked by old patterns of reactivity and used to meet needs in indirect and harmful ways.  NVC doesn't make you authentic or kind or compassionate.  It simply provides a simple and concrete way to express and connect.  

A common misperception in learning NVC is that it means always being calm and polite.  In truth the practice of NVC is about being fully alive and authentic.  Sometimes this means feeling angry, exasperated, frustrated, irritated,
etc. The hard part is that the expression of difficult feelings is so often accompanied by shame, blame, and criticism, that it can be hard to imagine anything different. In actual practice, you can name that reactivity is present and that your voice is raised and has a particular tone and then express what's true for you without resorting to criticism and blame.

For example, when you get home from a long day at work and open the door to a living room strewn with food and clothes, you might be tempted to scream at your teenage children and say something like, "Didn't I tell you guys to clean up when you got home!  Why can't you do what I tell you?!" 

While this may or may not set them in motion, it certainly doesn't do much for your relationship.  Being aware of your own reactivity and using skillful language, it might sound like this:

"Arrg!  I feel so angry and frustrated when I see this living room.  I need order and help.  I am going to take ten minutes to rest before I can talk with you."

From a NVC consciousness, you recognize that engaging in a dialogue from anger rarely yields effective results.  If it does get results, you will pay for those results later.  Resentment, disrespect, and a loss of connection are usually the long term results of interacting while you're angry.  You can express that you are angry and then take responsibility for it by naming it, expressing that you will talk later, and then walking away. Of course, what you do next matters a lot.  It's essential to have "go to" deescalation strategies and to identify feelings and needs underneath the anger.

If the parent in the example above came back later and started a NVC dialogue, it might sound like this,

"Hey guys, I am calmer now, would you be willing to sit down with me and talk for ten or fifteen minutes.  I am really wanting us to get along around order and help in the house."

(teenagers agree to ten minutes).

"When I see the state of the living room, I feel tired and frustrated because I am wanting to feel comfortable at home and a clean orderly house really helps.  I want to be sure I am being clear.  Could you tell me what you understood me to say?"

This is just the beginning of a dialogue.  The emphasis here is on dialogue.  That is, you're expressing your feelings and needs and are willing to hear the feelings and needs of others.

If attempting communicate using the structure and vocabulary of NVC is starting to disconnect you from authenticity, it is helpful to spend more time connecting with what's deeply true for you.  This might be a regular practice of journaling or meditation or perhaps sitting quietly noticing your experience before an important dialogue.

Take a moment to think about the last time you attempted to make use of NVC structure in a dialogue and you started to lose connection to your own authenticity.  What parts of your own experience can you identify now that you lost track of during the dialogue?