How to slow down, calm down, and harness non-violent communication

Photo by Chris Sabor

At various times in your career you’ll probably find yourself handling a variety of challenging situations. In fact anyone on an upward career path will encounter tricky circumstances at one time or another, involving unhappy, disappointed and frustrated people. So how do you manage yourself, and them, effectively?

A method called Non Violent Communication, NVC, is extremely useful when dealing with challenging situations, helping you to understand your own reactions by slowing you down, giving you conscious steps to follow that can establish a different way of communicating.

Taking the heat out of tricky situations – Emotional awareness

Part of coping with challenging circumstances means being able to handle yourself even when strong emotions and conflict are rising. It’s easier said than done when you find yourself in a difficult conversation, especially if you’ve already started to lose a sense of control in the situation. A couple of important keys to success are more empathy and better self-management. The foundation is a self reflective process that can raise your own emotional awareness and also developing deeper listening skills.

To hone these skills, make a conscious effort to think about other people’s feelings and put yourself in their shoes, as well as considering your own feelings. This really helps to build trust with the people you’re engaging with, and you can when this quality is present sometimes, use your emotional awareness to pin down misunderstandings before they begin to grow. You can find an earlier and more open way to bring them to light, clearing the path ahead.

Emotional awareness means the ability to understand feelings, as they happen, in yourself and others. It helps you intervene more effectively because you notice other people’s emotions and can see how their feelings are influencing the way you and they are communicating . It involves not trying to necessarily hide your feelings completely, which can be a relief since feelings are notoriously hard to hide. Instead you become more aware of them, focusing on them and the emotions of the people around you. Choosing whether or not to reveal what you are feeling, becomes a focus, rather than ignoring them or pushing them down. You can then develop a greater capacity to decide the timing of what you say and how you say it.

Dealing calmly and positively with difficult people

Photo by Mimi Thian

Someone is clearly frustrated and they’re taking it out on you. It’s very easy to get flustered when confronted with an angry person, but when you understand what’s going on your responses can pacify or even turn things around. Responding calmly, with empathy, instead of becoming an aggressor yourself, means you keep control and have more chance of defusing the situation in a polite, professional way.

Being self-aware can also help you distance yourself emotionally, understanding that a person’s anger isn’t often not really directed at you but at their situation. When you know you are not the cause of another person’s anger it is easier become much less upset by it.

However, if someone’s extremely angry and alarm bells are ringing in your head, you can follow a few common sense steps, remembering that your safety is of the highest priority.

  • Remove yourself from the situation if you feel very unsafe.
  • Get someone else involved if you feel overwhelmed.
  • Avoid getting angry back, if you possibly can – breathe, breathe again and stay steady, slowing down your response.
  • Distance yourself emotionally, take a step back literally, ground yourself and remind yourself not to take it personally.
  • Find out why they’re so angry – listen, really listen and repeat what you are hearing clearly and succinctly.
  • Offer solutions or possible options, if the angry person seems open enough and ready to listen. The timing is crucial here. They will need to be ready, as before that point, your well intentioned ideas may well fuel the anger. This will be the case if they are still feeling unheard or they experience you as cutting them off prematurely.
  • Last but importantly, let the person know clearly and politely how their anger makes you feel – something that could help them understand its impact on others. Take your leave of them if they persist on being very angry without reference to what you have said.

Examining your attitude to negative emotions

Anger and sadness. Frustration and fear. They’re harder to deal with than positive emotions, and because of that a lot of us tend to try and avoid them, seeing them as negative. On the other hand these difficult emotions are there for a reason – they reveal important information. Often they have a message for us embedded in them, Negative emotions can then be viewed as potentially incredibly useful but most of us tend to retreat from them. And retreating from them disempowers us.

When we are sad, angry, frustrated, or depressed, there’s usually a good reason. There’s no need to feel ashamed or guilty about ‘negative’ emotions. Understanding the source of the emotion means you have a healthy curiosity and this can lead you to solve the problem that led to it. This can then provide you with a greater sense of control and ultimately lets you resolve the emotion. The feelings shift and then change. The emotions move on.

Can you see the pattern?

There’s a pattern emerging. When you have a good level of self-awareness you can help other people gain better self-knowledge. Doing so calmly and kindly, with empathy, means resolution is easier to achieve. It sounds simple enough. But is it?

Are there easy answers?

There are no easy answers or short cuts. But you’ll find great value in developing real self-awareness, understanding your feelings and being conscious of the type of language you use. When you use language and words that are not fuelled by reactivity, value judgements, blame and implied criticism, all of which just stoke the fires of anger, you cope a lot better. And not taking things so personally is another great attribute.

The idea is to become more emotionally literate, able to name your feelings specifically and be emphatically more caring towards yourself and others. This means not jumping to judgements and conclusions immediately but trying to see what need is met, what value is created for the other person. This involves clearly identifying your own needs, something pioneered by Marshal Rosenberg, the creator of Non-Violent Communication, a powerful approach to handling conflict even in the most difficult situations.

Marshall Rosenberg on NVC

Marshall Rosenberg firmly believed every human has a capacity for compassion and empathy. He felt we only resort to violence or harmful behaviour when we can’t see a better way to meet our needs, and that social, psychological and physical violence are all learned via human culture.

His theory says all human behaviour stems from attempts to meet our universal needs, the things we all want that are never in conflict. Conflict arises when the ways we meet our needs clash. He says identifying our shared needs, as revealed by the thoughts and feelings surrounding them, then collaborating to develop strategies to meet those needs, results in harmony.

This harmony is brought about by change on three levels, all of which connect: within the self, between others, and within groups and social systems. Taught as a way to improve our compassionate connection with others, NVC delivers a set of values similar to being a parent, a superb tool for change, mediation, and education.

Read The Non-Violent Communication book by Marshal Rosenberg, or watch this video where Rosenberg talks about how he resolves conflict to bring peace.

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Maria Engels on Non-Violent communication

Maria Engels has more to say about non-violent communication

She outlines in her TEDX talk below, Marshal’s four steps to interacting and responding rather than reacting instantly:

  1. Observation – noticing what is going on – where’s the unease coming from?
  2. Feelings – what is the feeling or feelings involved?
  3. Needs or wants – what are the unmet needs or wants? What personal values are being ignored, crossed or left unmet?
  4. Request – asking for what is needed, and realising the person on the receiving end has a choice of ways to react – yes, no, or an alternative
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Watch Joe Brummer for a lighter touch!

Joe Brummer has a different take on non violent communication, expressed with a lighter touch. He gets some great points across and is amusing. Watch it here

Get help managing conflict at work

If you find conflict at work difficult and want to become better at handling yourself and others when the heat is rising, contact us. We will be pleased to discuss some focused coaching sessions with you, designed to boost your confidence and skills.