In the blog post series “AI explains NVC“, Joachim Berggren (JB) asks questions about NVC to Alex Incognito (AI), a fictional character representing Artificial Intelligence in the form of the tool ChatGPT.
JB: Hi Alex! Nice to meet you again. I will continue to explore how you answer questions connected to NVC. I’m curious about your take on communication and how it affects connection. Thoughts around the way we use our language are a central piece of NVC consciousness. I wonder if AI can grasp the essentials around this topic. So, my question for today is: Based on Nonviolent Communication, can you explain how communication can facilitate or hinder contact between people?
AI explains how communication affects connection
AI: Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as Compassionate Communication, is a method of communication that focuses on expressing oneself honestly and empathetically, while also trying to understand the needs and feelings of others. NVC can be a powerful tool for facilitating contact between people because it promotes the use of language that is respectful, nonjudgmental, and focused on shared understanding.
When we communicate using NVC principles, we aim to avoid language that is blaming, judging, or critical, and instead use language that is neutral and objective. We also try to focus on the specific observations, feelings, and needs that are driving our own behavior, and express these in a way that is open and vulnerable. By doing this, we can create a safe and open space for dialogue and mutual understanding, which can facilitate contact between people and build stronger relationships.
On the other hand, communication that is aggressive, manipulative, or dismissive can hinder contact between people by creating conflict and mistrust. When we use language that is designed to blame or control others, or that lacks empathy or respect, we can create barriers to communication and damage relationships. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of how we communicate with others, and to strive for a style of communication that is respectful, honest, and compassionate.
JB: Thanks for your precise answer, Alex! I’m more or less in alignment with what you are writing. I would like to add some pieces of my own thoughts, but I also want to respect your answer. If I want a more detailed answer I guess I need to ask more detailed questions. I will bare that in mind for coming blog posts.
One thing I’m not completely in line with is your first sentence in the second paragraph. You suggest “use language that is neutral and objective”. I would connect neutrality and objectivity to the first component in the NVC model – observations, and at the same time I want my language to be juicy, emotional and subjective. Take no offence Alex, but I don’t want to sound like a machine. I hope that my language can be rich and lively, at the same time as I take responsibility for my feelings and needs without blaming, judging and criticising.
I would also like to add a few pieces of how communication can get in the way of connection, and then what to do to rise the likelihood of mutual understanding. In his book ”A Language of Life”, Marshall B. Rosenberg writes about how we are culturally conditioned to use a language that tends to prevent the connection between people. Based on that I will write about how this affects me.
The first barrier in connection is moralistic judgements. In this category, Marshall includes blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticism, and diagnoses. When we use a language like this, it tends to create resistance in the ones we are talking to. I will share a couple of examples, and maybe you can recognise similar tendencies in yourself or in others?
It happens that I have labels such as “non-empathic” when I hear that someone has a different political view than me. If I hold on to my judgment and am not open and curious, I tend to receive all that this person does through the filter of my judgment. All actions of the other that confirm my judgment, are proof that I’m right. If the person does anything contrary to my judgment, I see that as an exception to the rule. My unreflective assumption is that this person actually is non-empathic, regardless of what they do.
Another example is when people listen to music aloud on public transport. My immediate thought is that I get annoyed because they are not using headphones, mixed with judgments that they are rude, disrespectful and inconsiderate. If I would try to communicate with them out of this mindset, it would probably not be such a fruitful talk. The actual reason that I get annoyed is that my needs for consideration and peace are not met.
If something I’ve done (or not done) has affected anyone else to the degree that this person calls me for example messy, inconsiderate or manipulative, my spine reflex tends to go in two directions. Either I’m defending myself, including some counter-judgments about the person. Or I submit myself and take on the blame. In neither case, I get curious and want to connect and spend time with the person. Rather I’m trying to avoid the person and their judgements.
Another barrier is making comparisons. When it comes to comparisons, we can always find someone who is better or worse than us (there are exceptions: I have a few friends who are convinced that they always are on top). Regardless if we put ourselves above or below others, it can hinder our connection.
I’m not proud to admit it, but on a few occasions in my life, I’ve had friends that I somehow regarded as being in an inferior position in relation to me. For some reason, I thought I was better, more intelligent or any other trait I happen to identify with. When I believed those thoughts I was feeling uncomfortable in our connection and eventually, I avoided them.
I also tend to put labels on my heroes and role models. When I put such a person on a very high pedestal, it’s like I’m seeing them as a super being, someone without flaws. Because this being is so superior, I don’t want to pollute that person’s surroundings with an inferior being like myself. Or if we have any connection, I’m very cautious in how I express myself. I do all in my power to appear as good as I can. Any of these behaviours are not promoting connection.
Denial of responsibility
Another thing that gets in the way of connection is the denial of personal responsibility for our own actions, feelings and thoughts. Instead of taking this responsibility, we have a tendency of trying to put that responsibility on forces outside of ourselves. We position ourselves in a place where we are victims of circumstances and other people’s actions.
One experience of this is from my working life. I once had a colleague that demonstrated a lack of responsibility. If someone did a mistake, she referred to that person when talking about the incident. On the other hand, when she herself did a mistake, she talked about “us”: “We did a mistake”. I noticed that I became a little cautious around her.
When we deny responsibility and blame external forces, regardless of if it’s individuals, organisations, customs, culture or traditions, we can become dangerous. We have seen horrible results in history when people have denied responsibility for their actions. No one can force us to do anything. It’s easy to see when a parent tries to get their three-year-old to clean. If we can’t force a three-year-old, can we really force an adult?
We may not always like the choices we have, but we always choose to do what we do. Even if someone with authority has the power to induce a consequence (or rather a punishment) if we disobey, we choose what we do. Of course, some people’s range of choice is very limited, but within that range is choice.
Shame and Guilt
Shame and guilt are unpleasant states to be in. When I look back at some relations in my life, it seems that I was easily manipulated into doing things to avoid the feeling of guilt – I could walk miles to avoid it. If I believe that anyone has the power to put guilt or shame on me, I try to avoid that person as much as possible. Today I don’t think anyone can shame or make me feel guilty, without me having some of those views myself.
Punishment and Rewards
Good connection is also affected when there are punishments and rewards. I notice that if I’m in connection with people who might use their ability to punish me, I tend to avoid them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a person with formal authority or if it’s someone who might withdraw anything I appreciate, such as care, consideration or support. This can be painfully realised in our roles as parents in connection to our kids. If we punish them (or as many phrases it, hand out “consequences”), they will likely avoid our company when they are growing up.
While punishment prevents connection – it’s easy for me to understand – I have had a harder time grasping why rewards can raise an obstacle. What I have learnt is that when we are connected, our willingness to contribute to each other’s needs, even though we might disagree, rises. When we mix in rewards, our attention shifts from connection to getting something. Instead of contributing out of the joy of giving, I do stuff out of a promise to gain a reward. Instead of mutual giving from the heart, the contribution is turned into a trade. Many experiments and scientific research have shown that if the rewards stop, the behaviour is likely to stop as well.
Generalisations and Interpretations
Another thing that sometimes creates distance between us is our habitual way of expressing ourselves. For example, when I use words like “always”, “never”, “often” and “rarely” when describing people’s behaviour, these are generalizations and interpretations that most people do not recognise themselves in.
I have a friend who “never” calls me. In the past year, I have called her maybe five times and I can’t remember her calling even once in that time. I could come up with judgments about her based on my generalisations: “She doesn’t care”, “She doesn’t value our relationship” or “She is selfish”. Whether I’m just thinking and believing these thoughts or speaking them out, they likely aren’t contributing to the connection between us.
In this blog post I have mostly written about what might disrupt the connection between people when it comes to the way we communicate. NVC is all about facilitating connection, so reading about so much disconnection might be a bit discouraging. In the coming blog posts with Alex Incognito, I will ask specific questions related to NVC, which all somehow will be about creating a connection between us.
In short, I want to say that connection of course can be created in many different ways. It is no “one size fits all” when it comes to contact making. There are so many parameters involved in human interactions such as: who is involved, what relationship they have, what context they are in, what state of mind they are in, and so on. When it comes to connection, NVC is an approach that I have found supportive in my life.
The basic concept about creating connection based on NVC is to go beyond our habitual ways of expressing ourselves. Behind all judgments, labels, demands and punishments are our feelings and needs. Regardless of how we express ourselves and what strategies we use, we share the same feelings and needs. Although we cannot fully grasp what other people experience, we can sense it, because we recognize what’s alive in ourselves. That recognition potentially creates understanding and connection.
In support of this, we have the four components of NVC: observations, feelings, needs and requests. These components are our guide and lead us more often into closer contact than when we interpret, use judgments and other thoughts, and make demands. We can apply these components towards ourselves when using self-empathy or by silently guessing what others feel and need. We can also use them to express our feelings and needs honestly or by listening empathetically to the feelings and needs of others.
This text is a little longer than future blog posts will be. In the next blog post, I will ask AI about the difference between observations and interpretations. See you then!
Joachim Berggren is a certified CNVC trainer. He has been a student of NVC since 2009 and has taught his understanding of NVC since 2010. He writes blog posts, offers workshops and hosts events about NVC, as well as offering individual sessions. He is passionate and intrigued about exploring human connection and our capacity to grow and evolve as individuals and groups during our lifetime.
In the blog post series “AI explains NVC“, Joachim Berggren (JB), is in dialogue with a fictional character, Alex Incognito (AI). Alex uses Artificial Intelligence to help Joachim explore questions related to NVC. Joachim asks questions and Alex generates answers from the tool ChatGPT. The text from ChatGPT is not edited, it’s just copy-pasted. The only change is the layout so the text fits in the blog post. Alex’s answers are indicated in italics.
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