Want to Be Heard? Quit Criticizing!

When things don’t go exactly as we hoped, sometimes we go with the flow. Other times, we berate ourselves or others: “This never would have happened if you’d been paying attention,” or, “I’m such a failure!”

This kind of blaming and labeling is not only unkind, but perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t usually yield lasting results.  Maybe we can guilt ourselves into not eating a second piece of chocolate cake, or maybe we can get someone to do something we want in that moment, but will it last? Is it motivating?  Loving? Helpful?  In general, critical language doesn’t accomplish much except to make ourselves or others feel badly. 

I recently attended a workshop on “nonviolent communication”, a process created in the 1960’s by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and I quickly learned just how damaging judgmental thinking and speaking can be.   As soon as we label, blame or threaten someone (including ourselves), we break the connection with them.  Rather than moving closer to resolution or to having our needs met, we move further into anger, guilt, resentment and pain.

The way Rosenberg explains it is that we tend to classify and analyze the wrongness of others rather than acknowledge what it is we need – and what it is that we are not getting.  His excellent example:  If my partner wants more affection than I’m giving him, then he is “needy and dependent.”  On the other hand, if I want more affection than he’s giving me, then he’s “aloof and insensitive.”   Can you see how criticism of someone else  may actually be a tragic expression of our own values and needs?

What Rosenberg suggests is that since all of us have needs, if we can express them along with how we feel, we can deliver clear, empathetic communication.  Imagine this: I say to my husband, “I feel like I’m married to a wall.”  What’s his response likely to be?

“You’re a wall” is not very directive about what I need. Compare that to, “I’m feeling lonely and would like more emotional contact with you.”   The second approach acknowledges my feelings and needs rather than putting the responsibility for how I feel on someone else. Which statement do you think is more likely to get an empathetic response?

Not that everyone will always willingly give us what we need just because we share!  But this process gets us closer to that possibility by acknowledging responsibility for our own feelings and by giving us a better chance of being heard.  So next time you want to lash out at someone, think about it first. What are you feeling?  What do you want?  Can you express your feelings and needs in an honest and open way?  It takes work and practice (and even a little courage) to be vulnerable, but if you value the relationship with the other person, this approach can be incredibly worthwhile.   Try it on yourself.  When you are about to blame or guilt yourself, take a good look at what you really feel and want and then decide, is there a way to take care of yourself so you actually get what you need?

There is much to share about this rich practice, including its many applications in conflict resolution.  To learn more, check out Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication” and visit www.cnvc.org . Here’s a short video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bydhuxilg_A

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Date: Wednesday, 14. April 2010 2:20
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Relationships, Self Actualization

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1 Comment

  1. 1

    Well said, Catherine. It was good to study NVC with you–your insights and enthusiasm were a big help to everyone in the class.

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