April 12, 2024   growth skills

How I use NVC

Let’s talk about NVC – Nonviolent Communication. NVC sometimes gets a bad rap because using it as instructed can make you sound like you’re a robot. “Are you feeling sad because you need connection?” Like, ya think?

But I’ve found NVC to be one of the most useful foundational skills you can have in doing growth work, NOT because I talk like this IRL or insist everyone else talk like this. Trying to make someone else change their speech is a form of violence, and talking like a robot does not meet my own need for authenticity.

But what NVC does brilliantly is show that there is a pathway from competition-for-needs to cooperation-for-needs. It doesn’t always stick the landing on helping people make that shift, but just from understanding the basic principles (that everything everyone does is in service of a need), you start to shift how you think about human behavior. You move away from judgement and expectations and toward the ground truth that we are all just running around trying to get our needs met. Some of us have better strategies than others, but ALL of us are steeped in the idea of competition and scarcity and zero-sum. And that’s just a terrible way to live, honestly. To think that the only way your needs can be met is to deprive someone else of their needs (or sacrifice your own needs) puts you into a trauma headspace and limits your options to fight-flight-freeze-fawn.

And we often turn into assholes when we are triggered. I did for a long time, and had to do a lot of work on being able to meet my own emotional needs and heal attachment trauma, and un-suppress parts of me that were coming out sideways. Equally I had to work on my tendency to fawn and self-sacrifice when I felt a connection I really valued was on the line. NVC wasn’t enough to heal all that–I had to do a lot of other kinds of work. And that’s one of the downsides of NVC, that it doesn’t tell you how much inner work is actually required to stop being violent. (Especially if you have any significant trauma history).

But NVC helped me understand what the goal was–to be able to stay in a space where I believed everyone’s needs are valid and can be met, at all times, because if I’m not in that space, I’m going to be doing some form of violence to someone (could be me, could be you). So I see NVC as a kind of touchstone for myself–it shows me where I still need to work on my beliefs and mental habits to deprogram myself from violence. Because the violence isn’t just over in Gaza. It’s in all of us, and all our relationships, constantly. It’s in our politics, it’s in our economy. It’s in our heads and often in our hearts, unfortunately. When we are overcome by fear, someone loses (often yourself). The antidote is to believe we really can solve for everyone’s needs if we stay in connection and conversation. But to have faith in that when our biology kicks in requires a lot of practice and work for most of us. So in summary, don’t blame NVC that it doesn’t instantly make people genuinely nonviolent. That’s just the work we have to do as a species, and it’s going to take a lot from all of us.

Learn more about NVC on my other blog Joy Ninja. I also have a mobile friendly list of needs.

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