Canvas for Nonviolent communication

At the end of April, I facilitated a session on nonviolent communication (NVC) in Agile Finland Coaching Circle. I presented there a support tool for NVC: NVC Canvas.

Canvas has three purposes and intended uses:

  1. It’s a learning and teaching tool.
  2. It’s a tool for reflection. Use it before you discuss a difficult topic, or use it to reflect an incident.
  3. It can be coaching tool. However: Don’t use it in coaching situation if it makes it harder for you to listen and be present.

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Tool is published with Creative Commons 3.0 BY-AS -licence.

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Non-Violent Communication and Its Nietzschean Foundation

I truly love Marshall B. Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication — not because of its apparent but delusive, hippy “seek-for-compassion-and-love-everyone” -tone, but because of its solid nietzschean foundation.

Yes, for the techniques and practices of Non-Violent Communication the core is in compassion and empathy. Nietzsche doesn’t emphasize compassion and empathy, quite the contrary. Then again, the philosophy behind the praxis is similar: Rosenberg underlines the same underlying principles that are essential for Nietzsche as well: (i) intellectual honesty, (ii) complete but not blind affirmation of your needs and urges, and (iii) vitalistic emphasis on positive, life-affirmative thinking over negative, afterlife-centric thinking.

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) in nutshell

To condense, the core idea of Non-Violent Communication is to reflect a bit longer than normally what for you see, feel and need as you do before responding anything:

The ordinary way to think and communicate bases on a fast loop: The synthesis of observations and needs composes a feeling or feelings and the feelings trigger immediate reaction. A feeling emerges from a situation, but we do not know exactly how and why. Therefore our ability to emotional control is not only impaired but also arbitrary and random.

For instance, a teammate says something wrong to you and suddenly you feel angry and react immediately accordingly. Oftentimes you even don’t identify that you actually feel angry before you say “f*** you!” or do something similar. The loop from impression to reaction is often incredibly fast. “F*** you!” is a reaction to an impression that our teammate said something wrong. It is not reaction to what actually happened or what the other person actually intended to do.

According to NVC, it’s by default unclear “what my feelings are”, “what my needs are”, and “what is the actual situation I’m a part of”. They all are inseparable and uncontrollable part of the impression of a situation. Sometimes we instinctively reflect the situation, see things clearly and control ourselves; sometime we just lose our temper. The chain of thoughts behind this is usually ill seen. Thus, our behavior is more or less random.

NVC makes a small change to this mechanism: Just like above, the observed situation produces to feeling(s) as a part of an impression and the impression relates subconsciously to my needs. After this I should reflect how needs, feelings and observations are related: What I actually feel apart from the impression (in image 1, NVC 1)? Why I feel the way I feel and how the feelings are produced from my needs (in image 1, NVC 3)? How the observed situation activates the needs behind the feelings (in image 1, NVC 2)? This kind of reflection will extend and change the impression by making the related observations, needs and feelings more clear, honest and separate.

The key question in NVC is “do I control the impact the other’s messages and reactions causes in me?” (See image 2 below). Unlike in rationalism, the control here does not mean devaluation of emotions and suspension from them. Rather the control means emotional honesty (i.e. what I truly feel and need?) and emotional clarity (i.e. what really happened and what parts of my impression are colored by the lenses of my needs and personality?). NVC does not propose emotional control in that sense that the rational mind should control the emotions! In NVC the point is that the emotional mind should not bang its head to concrete wall but rather use doors and evade obstacles – not because it’s rational but because banging your head to concrete wall is prima facie stupid and actually, the rational mind is needed to make such a headache desirable.

Nietzsche and NVC

It’s ironical, that Nietzsche’s philosophy of power seems to be rather far from Rosenberg’s thinking as the philosophical roots seems more or less the same.

I have a theory: the delusive difference is caused by the fact, that Rosenberg focuses on feelings and Nietzsche focuses on the values. On the time of Nietzsche, feeling were seen as second class citizens compared to the values. On the time of postmodern pluralism, the situation is almost opposite. The values are often considered just opinions while the feelings, needs and observations are real neurophysiological facts. However, if you put NVC and Nietzsche’s ideas to the same puzzle, the pieces fit together seamlessly. Nonetheless, they both clearly discuss on healthy and honest relation between consciousness, world around and my needs:

Example: Blame

The connection between NVC and Nietzsche become obvious as Rosenberg underlines (i) in the chapter five the importance to accept own feelings and take responsibility for them and as he emphasize (ii) in chapter six the importance of clarity and clearness of thoughts.

When someone gives a negative message we have four options: (1) blame ourselves, (2) blame others, (3) sense our own feelings and needs and (4) sense other’s feelings and needs. Nietzsche uses different terms for blaming ourselves. On one hand “blaming ourselves” is bad consciousness and on the other hand it is life aversive asceticism. Blaming others is resentment. Instead of an attempt to face another person resentment re-frame the other as an evil or otherwise bad person. For Nietzsche, options 3 and 4 are something that happens behind good and evil and are examples of what Nietzsche calls evaluation of all values.

While Rosenberg’s claims that “vague use language contributes to internal confusion” Nietzsche seems to say the exactly same of the values: vague transcendental, higher values (like good, evil, wrong, justice, truthfulness, freedom, etc.) contributes internal confusion.

On the later part of Rosenberg’s book, the connection gets stronger and stronger. On chapter nine Rosenberg criticizes self-judgment: “These speakers [that condemns themselves by statements like ‘That was dumb!’, ‘How could you do such a stupid things?’, ‘That was selfish!’, etc.] had been though to judge themselves in ways that imply that they did wrong or bad; their self-admonishment implicitly assumes that they deserve to suffer for what they’ve done. It is tragic that so many of us get enmeshed in self-hatred rather than benefit from our mistakes, which show us our limitations and guide us toward growth.”

Wow! That was exactly the Nietzsche’s point: don’t hate yourselves because of the values you’ve been given as a poisonous dowry. Rather face everything as an opportunity to live the worthiest possible life.

Sum up

For sake of brevity I won’t justify my claim more extensively. Instead, I recommend that you should read “On the Genealogy of Morals” from Nietzsche or Giles Deleuze’s excellent Nietzsche interpretation “Nietzsche and Philosophy” in order to deeply understand the (incidentally) radical philosophical foundation of NVC.

Nietzsche writes on from eagle’s perspective while Rosenberg’s perspective is alike a lion. They both are lonely, noble beasts rather than evangelists of consensus: honorable, open confrontation is more worthy than fearful aversion of conflicts and resentmental submission. They both underlines intellectual honesty and life-affirmative vitalism. The only real difference is that Nietzsche is more likely to leave the conflicts unresolved while Rosenberg is more likely to leave the values beyond needs unarticulated.