Enjoy More Satisfying Relationships
We all experience situations and circumstances in which someone crosses our personal boundaries, triggering a strong emotional response. When someone pushes our buttons, it’s tempting to push back. But reacting with hostility, blame, or defensiveness is not an optimal response − nor is it productive. It wastes valuable personal energy, and it creates more turbulence in the world. We can instead use the tools of conscious communication to express our boundaries in a clear, compassionate way that nourishes our relationships and our lives.
In his book Nonviolent Communication, psychologist Marshall Rosenberg describes four fundamental steps to conscious communication that you use whenever you find yourself becoming defensive, irritated, or “triggered.” The following exercise will familiarize you with this powerful process. Begin by thinking of a recent situation in which you became annoyed or upset about something. Keeping that experience in mind, apply these four steps:
1. Describe What Happened: Separate Observation from Evaluation
When you describe what happened, pretend that you are an objective reporter and outline the observable facts. For example, “My friend is never on time” is an evaluation. An observation is “My friend said she would meet me for dinner at 7 and didn’t arrive until 7:45.”
Using words such as always, never, repeatedly, frequently and other adverbs are often a sign that we are evaluating and generalizing rather than observing. In making an observation, it’s important to be specific and avoid verbs with evaluative connotations, such as procrastinate, manipulate, victimize, punish, avoid, and so on. As best you can, describe only what you can observe through your five senses, without filtering the facts through the lens of evaluation. The reason why this is important is that when we evaluate or mix observation with evaluation, the person we are communicating with is more likely to hear criticism and resist what we are saying.
Whenever you find yourself reacting emotionally, step back and observe. Observations are empowering because they allow us to recognize how much of our response is based on interpretation, which in turn allows us to change our patterns of responding to the actions of others.
2. Describe Your Feelings
The next step is to describe the feelings you are experiencing in a given situation, using words that express your core emotions, such as “I feel angry (or sad, anxious, joyful, lonely, jealous, frustrated, etc.).” Avoid using words that describe how you interpret other people’s actions, such as abandoned, misunderstood, unsupported, rejected, or pressured. These kinds of words reinforce a sense of victimization and tend to thwart the process of conscious communication. By developing a rich and nuanced vocabulary of feelings, it will become easier to connect with yourself and others. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable in expressing your feelings can also help you resolve conflicts with more grace and ease.
3. Identify What You Need
As infants, we had caregivers trying to figure out what we needed because we could not identify our needs and communicate them ourselves. As adults, we often subconsciously expect our loved ones to know what we need and spontaneously provide it. This rarely happens. You are much more likely to get your needs met if you can identify them yourself and communicate them clearly. Ask yourself What do I need in this situation? You wouldn’t be having strong feelings if all your needs were being met. Identify the unmet need behind your feelings, being as specific as possible. For example, “I felt sad that my sister couldn’t come for a visit because I need more companionship and connection in my life.”
4. Ask for What You Want
Now that you have identified what you are observing, feeling, and needing, the final step is to make a request for specific behaviors or actions that will help fulfill your needs. If you want more attention from your partner, don’t ask him or her to just spend more time with you − be specific. Ask to take a walk together after dinner or to go to a movie on Saturday night. Express your need in the form of a request rather than a demand. You can tell that you are making a demand if you try to blame, punish or lay a guilt trip on someone if he or she declines to do what you want. When you make a genuine request, on the other hand, you’re able to show empathy about what prevents the other person from doing what you asked.
Although using this conscious communication process doesn’t guarantee that you will always get your needs met, it will greatly expand your ability to create relationships based on honesty and empathy, allowing you to experience greater peace, joy, and fulfillment in your life.
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The skills of conscious communication and emotional awareness are a vital component of the Chopra Center’s Perfect Health program. Learn more about Perfect Health here >>