The first area of focus in NVC is Observation and the suggestion is I am more likely to get the quality of connection I want when I express the specific, objective observation that’s triggering me. This means not expressing my judgements, interpretations and analysis.

Now many people take a step further and conclude it’s somehow bad or wrong to judge, interpret or analyse.

In other words, they judge judging, which I find amusingly ironic in my less empathic moments.

I believe this is a misunderstanding of what Nonviolent Communication suggests and I prefer to think of judgements and the like as signals about something going on with my needs.

Feelings (in NVC) are felt reactions or alerts to my needs coming from my emotional or physical world. Judgements then would be my intellectual world’s way of pointing out something going on with my needs.

When I can see my judgements in this way they become a powerful tool for looking deeper into what’s going on for me.

Be sceptical about judgements

I could be a freak of nature but most of the time my mind works whether I want it to or not.

Judgements pop into my head unasked for. I analyse situations before I’ve had time to consider even a fraction of the situation. I interpret what’s going on any time it presents itself in anything less than perfect clarity.

Most of the time the results of the workings of my brain are imperfect. They are, to some extent, socially conditioned and they are always based on my own experience, perspective and mental filters. None of these give me perfect input and it’s not surprising the output is often flawed. Maybe you’re different and can rely 100% on your brain …

The problem with judgements is not their frequent inaccuracy or generalisation about an ever changing world populated by ever changing people. The problem is when I believe and act on my judgements or, potentially just as dangerous, identify myself with the judgements of others.

Imagine I make a world tour and at each place snap hundreds of photographs. At home I put all the pictures into an album and proudly show them to family and friends. I then tell them this is a complete representation of the whole world and after seeing these pictures they can now stay at home because I saved them, and future generations, the trouble of travel.

Clearly this makes no sense at all. But don’t we do something similar when we make judgements and present them to the world?

No matter how little sense it makes most of the time, my mind still judges.

There is no good or bad about this, just a simple statement of fact. There’s also no good or bad when I express them.

So what to do about it?

As an Internal Investigation

I want to develop a level of awareness that allows me to:

  • see clearly the difference between the world and people as they are (as far as I can know this) and my stories about them
  • investigate what my stories are telling me about how I’m experiencing the world.

My judgements do serve me when I look under the surface of the story and find what happened to lead me to this judgement.

For example. I think you are inconsiderate.

What did you do or not do that triggered that judgement? What feelings does the memory of this stimulate in me? Which of my needs is it pointing to when I put together what actually happened, my story about it and the feeling stimulated?

After investigation I may transform the judgement ‘You are inconsiderate‘ into an observation. When I came home you continued talking on the phone and didn’t greet me. I had some different expectation so I felt disappointed and because I need care and warmth. The investigation allows me to soften and then I might also wonder what was going on for you. Maybe the phone call was really important for you and you needed full concentration. Or maybe the call was more fun than trying to meet my expectations (let’s face it, most things are more fun than trying to meet other people’s expectations!).

Using the judgment as a signal to investigate makes it more likely that when I do open my mouth it’s going to be a in way we won’t both regret later.

As an External Expression

I want to develop a level of awareness that allows me to:

  • accurately imagine the likely consequences when I express observation and when I express judgement.
  • see clearly the choices I have in my interactions with the world
  • act in ways that serve life rather than damage it.

10 years practicing NVC has given me enough confidence that expressing observation instead of judgement is much more connecting, much less likely to be heard as criticism and a much less triggering start to any conversation. I’ve had enough experience of the damaging impact of judgement in relating to others to conclude they don’t serve me when I express them as something ‘true’.

Most of the time I try to express observation rather than judgement.

There may be times when I decide it would be helpful to share my thoughts, especially when it’s really obvious there is something bothering on my mind. I don’t always remember, it has to be said, but I try to do so by making it as an observation and owning the thought as my ‘stuff’.

It might come out as something like:

I have a thought going round in my head and I want to share it. The thought is a judgement that you are …

Well, it may take a bit longer than ‘You are …‘ or its close cousin ‘I think you are …‘ but my experience is those few extra seconds can save hours of digging myself out of large holes created by the faulty working of my brain when it believes it’s own conclusions.