Yesterday I got a reminder that learning how to live NVC is a long journey. I enjoy such reminders because they keep me on my toes, provide rich learning and help reconnect with myself and others when I’m mentally and emotionally somewhere else.
Yesterday evening I was laying on bed with Mona and Emma (wife and daughter, respectively) reading as part of Emma’s bed time routine. Emma passed the book to Mona to which Mona said to me, ‘I would you like you to speak to Emma more’.
I heard the words accurately in my ears, yet what I heard in my head was, ‘You don’t talk to Emma enough.’ and for a few minutes reacted quite strongly to that.
My defensive/aggressive reaction to Mona was triggered by what I thought she said, not what she actually said.
I discovered later that Mona was expressing a concern about Emma’s language development. She was aware I am almost the exclusive source of English for her and mostly she hears Romanian. Mona wants her to be able to thrive and fit in if we decide to move to England (which we have talked about as a possibility). I failed to pick up any of this because my brain had translated a simple expression into a criticism directed at me.
It was really strange experience because while I heard criticism in my head, I knew the actual words I heard were different but found myself responding to my version rather than the real version. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me and I’ve heard others recount similar experiences. In some ways I find it a strange phenomenon and hard to really understand on a logical level. I also wonder just how many conflicts flare up because of it.
Here are some reflections about how this could have turned out differently.
Learn the signs
Sometimes I’m able to catch the situation before I react to it by recognising certain internal signs that something is ‘off’. For example there’s a particular whiney, irritated sensation in my torso (hard to put into words) that only happens when my brain is over-analysing. Or there’s a dizziness (again hard to put exactly into words) when my thoughts are spiralling out of control. These are helpful signals that I’m about to react to something (such as criticism) which is entirely of my own making.
When these signals start to appear I can ask myself – what’s actually going on here? What’s the OBSERVATION?
Create a pause
When I react immediately – especially in heated situations – I almost always regret it. Slowing down is a great way to check on reality, find some ground under my feet and make a decision about what to do or say that is more conscious than the knee-jerk reaction. Bringing my ATTENTION to the present moment by taking a deep breath, by very deliberately shutting my mouth and allowing a moment of pause. It is possible though not always easy.
Owning my part
I think an important element of resolving conflicts is to own my part in it.
In this case my translation of what Mona said into a criticism was at the root. It was what stopped me seeking to understand and the place from which I expressed my anger in ways that were never going to get anywhere. Mona had a part in it too. She could have chosen her words more carefully, picked a better time or reacted to my anger differently. That’s up to her to recognise and is absolutely not a necessary condition for me to move through the conflict. When I own my part it gives me the power to come together in a compassionate and connected way.
See my choices
I’ve always got a choice. I could choose to:
- hear a criticism and go on the attack
- avoid dealing with it and stay silent
- seek clarification by asking what was meant (REQUEST)
- give empathy by connecting to what was behind the comment at a deeper level (NEEDS)
- give myself empathy and stay in connection to my reaction at a deeper level (NEEDS)
- express how I’m reacting to the words (FEELINGS and NEEDS) and make a REQUEST
There’s no ‘right’ way and each them looks after some needs of mine, though the first two might create some additional problems I’ll have to deal with at some point.
Staying connected means being with whatever comes up and trusting that if I stay focused on discovering what’s really going on then we’ll solve the conflict together in a way we’re both happy with. It’s about keeping my INENTION to meet our needs in my awareness. I find what really helps is when I’m listening, to do so with 100% of my attention and when I’m expressing myself, to do that 100% as well. If I’m hearing you and processing what it means for me at the same time, then I’m neither fully with you nor fully with me.
I don’t always manage to follow my own advice, as in the situation last night. I ranted a bit. I triggered Mona and we ended the evening with a feeling neither of us enjoyed.
Failing to read the signs, pause, see choice or stay connected doesn’t have to be a permanent state.
Tomorrow will come and a chance to use the experience to reconnect having learned about myself and the people in my life. Again there is choice about how to move forward. Maybe an apology, a question, a reflection, an action or a second attempt to communicate and understand each other.
And maybe the raw material for writing an article about it.
Welcome! I'm Ian Peatey and this site is one way I share Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by writing articles and sharing information about NVC materials, news and people. I hope you'll be a frequent visitor.
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