Why It’s Not About the Words

 In Ask Glenda, Blog, Effective Dialogue

(Time to read: ~ 3 minutes)

Some students who come for NVC training start by asking “How do I say this? What words do I use?”

It’s my experience that the words that I use have relatively little impact on whether connection is created with the other person. Two other factors are far, far more important.

  1. The first is how I am holding the situation. If I’m holding a perspective that the other person has done something wrong (or that I have), that message is going to come through loud and clear, no matter what words I use.
    For me, one of NVC’s most powerful gifts is its ability to help me shift my perspective – from one of “right-wrong” to a recognition that everyone here has just been doing the best they know how to meet their needs.
    And that if we can understand what all those needs are – the other person’s and mine – together we can find a way to meet them.
  1. The second key factor in whether connection is created or not – is whether I am able to hear whatever the other person says as being information about their needs, even if the words they say sound like criticism or judgment of me.

    So that if their response to something I say is “You are a selfish, inconsiderate jerk” what I hear them saying is something like “I’m feeling hurt because I want to know that you care about me.”

 But What About Classical Giraffe?

Sometimes people respond to this information with “But what about classical giraffe then? Why did Marshall offer us the sentence structure ‘When I … I feel … because I need… Would you be willing…?’ – wasn’t he saying that that is how we should express ourselves?”

I feel very excited about this sentence structure. For me it is an incredibly succinct summary of the basic philosophy of NVC:

I feel something because I need or value something – not because of some external event. The external event has just highlighted how important that need or value is for me.

Furthermore, the “would you be willing” part reminds me that I only want people to do the things I ask if they are truly willing and can do it with a sense of joy.

The other thing that is very exciting for me about this sentence structure is its power, when used over time, to shift my basic paradigm from “right-wrong” to needs-focused. That by repeatedly describing every situation I’m not enjoying in these terms has changed something fundamental in how some deep part of me views the world.

I still get my initial surface reactions of judging and blaming myself and others. But deep down, some part of me is always holding an awareness that we are all just seeking to meet our needs. It is also holding trust that, if I am willing to do the work, we can find ways to meet all those needs in ways that work for everyone.


So what does this mean for us as students of NVC?

For me, it means that before I try to figure out what words to say, I first want to focus on using the tools of NVC to shift my perspective of the situation so that:

  1. I’m recognizing the needs that are important to me in it, and I’m peacefully focused on seeking ways to meet them, rather than being upset that they haven’t already been met,
  2. I’m recognizing that the other person has also just been trying to meet needs that I also value, and I’m feeling a kind of heart-connection to them,
  3. I’m connecting to my trust that we can find a way to work this out together,
  4. I’m prepared to hear anything the other person says as being simply information about what is important to them in the situation – recognizing that sometimes I’ll need to crack the “secret code” of criticism and judgment in order to understand what their needs are.

Once I’ve done this, the specific words I say are much less important. At the same time, the support that NVC offers to focus on sharing observations, feelings, needs and requests rather than judgments, interpretations, evaluations and demands can help me to avoid unhelpful words.

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