May 14, 2010: Nonviolent communication expands understanding and trust, by Patricia Gerhardt

As a member of the Concordia Year of Peace Committee, I agreed to write on “non-violent communication.” That would be easy.  I would simply write about “talking nice” and encouraging others to practice courtesy in their language with one another.

I would talk about how important it is to speak positively of others and refrain from putting others down or gossiping. Research out of Iowa State University has shown that “positive communication” is one of the top three qualities found in strong families. Plus, I would point out University of Washington’s Dr. John Gottman’s research that it takes a minimum of five positive comments to cancel out one negative put-down.

But in an effort to be thorough, I checked out what Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the guru of nonviolent communication, has to say about the subject. It turns out nonviolent communication is simply speaking and listening with your heart.

Dr. Rosenberg’s explains the four stages of speaking in nonviolent communication:

1. Observation – Simply state what you saw or heard the other person do or say without passing any judgment or evaluation.

2. Feelings – Tell how that action or words made you feel. Again, do not blame the other person but simply state what you are feeling.

3. Needs – Explain how those actions affect your own needs.

4. Requests – Address what you want the other person to do.

Following that, you must listen — and that is much harder. The other person must have the freedom to express what he/she heard you say, how it made him/her feel, how it affects his/her needs and what he/she wants you to do. Your responsibility is to listen and respond appropriately. As someone wiser than I once said “God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we would listen twice as much as talk”.

While the nonviolent communication process written above seems to follow a set pattern, the steps of the pattern adapt and change to fit the situation. The important thing to remember is to communicate with compassion. It is all about thoughtful giving and receiving. It moves from a language of blame, coercion and threats to a language of understanding and trust.

As I thought through this method of communicating, it occurred to me that I’ve witnessed nonviolent communication in action — right here in Concordia Elementary School. Here’s how I observed a teacher using nonviolent communication:

First she stated what she was observing.  “I see several of you have not cleared your desktops like I asked.”

Then she stated her feelings. “This upsets me because it shows you were not listening.”

Next she stated her needs. “I need you to clear your desks so that we can move on to the next activity.”

Finally, she made her request. “Please put everything inside your desk or on the floor besides your desk.”

When the students complied, the teacher thanked them and the class moved on to the next activity.

Using nonviolent communication techniques helps us to connect with one another in a positive way that encourages growth. It helps us adjust how we express ourselves and listen to others so that we encourage respect, empathy and true understanding. It’s not an easy process or one that any of us will completely accomplish all the time. But if more of us would communicate in this way, think of what the outcome would be. I encourage you to join me in making nonviolent communication a goal for 2010 — Concordia’s Year of Peace — and beyond.

— Patricia Gerhardt, a member of the Year of Peace committee, is a Family Consumer Sciences extension agent for Kansas State University — River Valley Extension District.

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