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Thread: NVC and effective speech

  1. #1

    NVC and effective speech

    This past weekend I participated in a three-day workshop on “effective communication.” The workshop was held at a local yoga center and taught by someone who was training for certification in the teachings of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Marshall Rosenberg. Some years ago I purchased some of Rosenberg’s books and found that the basic structure for communication seemed like a way to develop a sense of understanding and use language consciously as a way to connect and particularly diffuse anger that someone else is directing outwards. It’s a way of recognizing our judgments but choosing instead to be clear about our needs or feelings. So for instance, you might initially think “his room is a total wreck” (wreck would be a judgment, a label that we apply). When instead with NVC, you might say “clothes lying around on the floor does not meet my need for order.”

    The approach seemed like one that could be used as a way of developing practice with mindful speech. Even though it is not pitched using Buddhist terms, the essence is one of not doing harm in our communications -- how our way of communicating can contribute to closeness with others by being clear about what we need and how the other can contribute.

    The idea is that judgments can put up barriers to connection with others (or with ourselves in the case of self-directed judgments). The NVC approach encouraged a beginner’s mind in interactions with others – a desire to find out what the other person is trying to convey rather than just presuming and reacting.

    While some of the practice seems mechanistic, rote practice (such as saying “do you feel . . . because you need . . .”) does foster awareness of the difference in judgments, observations, feelings, needs, and strategies. But even after a three-day workshop I feel dismayed because I seem to have a need for mastery (to use NVC language). But I need to relax that grasping for perfection and cultivate patience of continuing any practice I choose to pursue (since it could take many years to change habits)! I wonder if I’ll find myself consciously applying the lessons of the weekend or not.

    Have any of you had any experience with this technique?

    Regards,
    Janice

  2. #2

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    I've heard of it, Janice. To me the only problem with these psychological techniques like positive thinking, transactional analysis, and the like is that they seem to be an attempt to try to reprogram yourself from the outside. It's the mind trying to change the mind. It works up to a point but I think we have to try to deal with the original deeper impulses and emotions that provoke the wrong speech. I also think that a lot of wrong speech is produced by the egoic mind when it tries to strengthen itself by putting others down. In our zazen practice we learn to see through the thoughts of the ego self and its need to keep comparing itself with others. If we can relax onto our real self and just be as we are we find we become at peace with ourselves and don't feel any need to act judgementally or critically towards others,

    Gassho,
    John

  3. #3

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    The idea is that judgments can put up barriers to connection with others (or with ourselves in the case of self-directed judgments). The NVC approach encouraged a beginner’s mind in interactions with others – a desire to find out what the other person is trying to convey rather than just presuming and reacting.
    Hi Janice. I have not heard of it, but I believe that practice does this as well. What real use is practice if it can't help us recognize our little habits and judgments. Instead of changing this, I think practice puts us right in the middle of it, and we gain a deeper (or stronger) understanding of how we do these things and the effects they produce.

    Gassho Will

  4. #4

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    You know, one chronic frustration with my practice has been the ability to identify my less-than-positive habits and my judgements, yet still be unable to change them to a satisfactory degree. You touch upon a good point Will, half the battle is just in the recognition, and perhaps that recognition should be seen as progress rather than a source of frustration.

    Of course, what is positive, negative, progress... ? (my Zen disclaimer)

    Gassho,
    Kelly

  5. #5

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    Thanks for all the contributions. What I take away from your input is that our zazen practice may help us (1) in dropping judgments and criticisms and/or (2) being more attune to them as they arise so that we can observe and then respond with wisdom and compassion.

    When people need to respond to verbal aggression that someone else has just expressed towards them, a first step is being able to recognize what emotions that triggers in us before we speak. But then the next step, on how to speak and acknowledge what we understood them to be conveying or to identify the need that might lie beneath their harsh words could perhaps be facilitated by techniques like Marshall Rosenberg's non-violent communications.

    I know for me, sometimes I just back away and that may not be as helpful in really connecting with the other person.

    For instance, on a visit home some months ago, I was staying at my mother's house and reading some books on Buddhism. When she noticed what I was reading, she was very upset and concerned and reacted emotionally with this sort of sentiment (words might not be exactly what she said since my memory for this sort of thing isn't always precise): "Your father would roll over in his grave." "I'd rather die than see you take this up." "I don't want you getting involved in Hinduism." and so on. It went on for a few minutes, which felt like an eternity. And I felt misunderstood and frustrated and I just wanted it to stop. My response was: "You've made your position clear. I do not wish to discuss this any further."

    So I retreated as a refuge. But that didn't really do anything to address what was underneath her concerns. As background, I was raised as a Southern Baptist, was read Bible stories as bedtime stories as a child, attended church weekly and so on. All of this certainly shaped my ethical foundation and I am grateful for that basis.

    I think Mom was afraid. She doesn't know about Buddhism -- as you can tell. I suspect she imagines me worshiping some god or gods (maybe a statute of Buddha, I'm not sure). I imagine she thinks a lot of things that probably aren't true. But my inability to respond in an open and inquiring manner just shut out those avenues.

    It wasn't that I had any harmful intention in my heart by not responding to her. I wasn't disrespectful in my tone or my choice of words. In fact, part of what has always kept me from engaging with my parents over controversial issues is that I was raised to "honor my mother and father" (one of the 10 commandments). And that comes very naturally to me -- but honoring mom while also disagreeing with her is territory that is difficult (maybe due to my lack of practice).

    Mom is 81. I'm not trying to change who she is. I don't even feel a need to "educate" in the sense of trying to convey what Buddhism is about. But on the other hand, I don't want her to worry. My guess is that she is worried about my "salvation." That's why she would be willing to give up her own life -- it would be to save me. So her heart is in protecting me.

    Anyhow that's a long story for part of what led me to seeking out some way that would add to my tool-belt as Jundo might say to better deal with confrontations that I feel ill-equipped to handle.

    Janice

  6. #6

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    It takes practice Janice. We're all learning how to deal with new things everyday. I am not here to wonder why someone does this or someone does that. I am here to realize Buddha Nature. When that happens I believe the world will be just a bit better and the dealing with Mom and Dad a bit more enjoyable. We can't analyze every moment that we have. I think a lot of Zen teachers are terrible and at the same time wonderful at giving advice. Usually it is "just sit" "pay attention" but, but, but "just sit" "practice".

    Sounds pretty lame, but...

    Gassho Will

  7. #7

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    It's a fine line for sure. One the one hand it's not about becoming emotionless blissed-out automatons, but on the other hand you don't want to be a slave to your desires or reactions. Not a passive pushover, but not an overbearing know-it-all. Knowing what battle to fight and which to let pass. When honesty is the best policy and when "skillful means" are appropriate. Recognizing when honesty or rationality has hidden motives. It's just life.

    Family certainly knows what buttons to press!

  8. #8

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    For what it's worth, I think you responded appropriately, Janice. Living in Tennessee, I get some strange reactions in my family to my practice, but I've come to think that you cannot teach someone about Zen (or anything for that matter) if their mind is already made up about it. So, a non-response is OK, I think. It sounds like you are being as respectful as possible given the circumstances. Lying is not a good option, and my experience tells me that there is an epistemological gulf between Zen and American culture/Judeo-Christian beliefs that many find difficult, or are unwilling, to cross.

    If you continue to love and honor your mother, that is proof enough that you are not astray. Eventually, I guess she will probably see that you are better for having found Zen, not worse, but change takes time.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  9. #9

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    I agree with Bill, Janice. If the other person isn't receptive, sometimes there's nothing you can say. I have the same problem with an old friend who is an evangelical Christian who knows absolutely that he is 'saved' and going to heaven when he dies and is concerned that I am into devil worship or something like that and have thrown away all my former Christian faith. I think that many Christians kind of build a box structure of beliefs around themselves that is pretty impregnable until they find a need to dismantle it themselves. People have to come to a point where they are ready to be open to Buddhist teachings, IMO, and before that it's pointless trying to talk to them (or even give them books about it unless they have shown some interest) - you always just finish up in an argument. All you can do is try to be 'present' with them,

    Gassho,
    John

  10. #10

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    Quote Originally Posted by Janice
    This past weekend I participated in a three-day workshop on “effective communication.” The workshop was held at a local yoga center and taught by someone who was training for certification in the teachings of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Marshall Rosenberg. Some years ago I purchased some of Rosenberg’s books and found that the basic structure for communication seemed like a way to develop a sense of understanding and use language consciously as a way to connect and particularly diffuse anger that someone else is directing outwards.
    Would you recommend his workshop/materials for training non-violent community actions?

  11. #11

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    Hi Janice, I have only just read your latest thread concerning your mother's attitude about your perceived interest in Buddhism. I can imagine how threatened she probably felt and as a Baptist of her generation she very likely would know little about Buddhism and probably regard it as a sort of cult.

    It brings to mind something that Joseph Goldstein said in one of his tapes from my Vipassana days.
    One of the women at his retreat had had the same problem with her mother but had worked with it.
    She told him "My mother hates it when I am a Buddhist, but she loves me when I am a Buddha".

    He also said that when people visited home, even those who had perhaps taken robes, the best thing to do was to sit down in front of the television and have a beer with them. (Probably not the beer if Baptist!)

    Jenny

  12. #12

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    Very helpful. Yes, instead of reading books when I visit I could be interacting more directly with Mom in some way! I truly appreciate your helping me to see this.

    Regarding the use of NVC in training non-violent community actions, I would think it could be useful in helping to bring clarity to underlying needs (which can open up a broader perspective on ways to meet the needs) and the participant is trained to listen for what may lie beneath responses and keep questioning in order to check out those intuitions. The person who led the weekend workshop mentioned that Robert Gonzales -- http://nvctraininginstitute.com/trainers/-- is a very good NVC teacher and that he adopts a "Buddhist perspective" to the work. So he'd certainly be able to tell you more if you are interested.

  13. #13

    Re: NVC and effective speech

    I can appreciate the benefits, and inquiry into motivations is (almost) always good.

    But I've also seen cases where the "calm, rational" approach to disagreement comes off as very smug and actually the person is using it to put themselves in a position of higher moral or whatever authority with or without their knowledge. Conversely, I think "violent" communication (having it out...) can be healthy sometimes if its treated the right way, but that's just me.

    I don't know. It's complicated Tricky business, this life thing

    Skye

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