Anyone on their Nonviolent Communication (NVC) journey, whether they are first learning to implement it into their daily life, or have been doing so for many years, will likely encounter someone who is resistant to their use of NVC. Usually, this person is someone who is accustomed to hearing the other speak in a certain way, and when that other starts implementing NVC, it throws them off and they might say something like, "Just speak normally", or "I know what you are doing and I don't like it".
Similarly, one might be giving another person empathy with hopes of being able to express and also have a sense of being heard, but they never are actually heard by that person.
Both of these situations can be discouraging, because NVC is supposed to be a tool that fosters connection, not deepen disconnection. So what does one do if they find themselves in a situation where they are trying to use NVC with someone who is resistant or unwilling to engage?
Respect Their Feelings and Needs: Start by acknowledging the other person's feelings and needs. Even if they are not open to hearing you, showing empathy for their perspective can create a more conducive atmosphere for communication. This empathy may go on for hours or even days. If someone is responding with more thoughts and feelings coming up for them, it is likely because they want to be heard around those. Give them an experience of being fully seen and heard to the best of your ability.
Choose the Right Timing: Sometimes, the timing might not be right for the other person to engage in a deep conversation. If they are not receptive at the moment, consider finding a more suitable time to approach the conversation.
Lead by Example: Demonstrating the principles of NVC in your own communication can have a positive influence on the other person over time. Your consistent use of empathetic language and understanding may encourage them to adopt similar practices. You can read more about this in our last blog post, Walking the Walk: Why Embodying Your Philosophy is Better Than Talking About It.
Create a Safe Space: Make sure that the environment is conducive to open communication. This might involve finding a quiet and private space, minimizing distractions, and ensuring that both parties feel comfortable expressing themselves.
Listen Actively: Even if the other person is not initially open to hearing your perspective, actively listen to them when they're ready to speak. Show that you are genuinely interested in understanding their point of view. This means giving them full presence and not thinking about what you are going to say next, or the best ways to respond, but instead, just be with them and their words.
Use Neutral Language: When you do have the opportunity to communicate, use neutral and nonjudgmental language. Focus on observations, feelings, needs, and requests, avoiding blame or criticism. In other words, use NVC principles!
Respect Their Boundaries: If the other person is not ready to engage, respect their boundaries. Pushing too hard can create resistance and make the situation worse. Let them know that you are available to talk when they feel comfortable.
Build Trust: Establishing trust is essential for effective communication. Over time, by consistently demonstrating your commitment to NVC principles, the other person might become more open to engaging in dialogue.
Focus on Self-Care: Dealing with resistance can be emotionally draining. Make sure you prioritize your own well-being and self-care throughout the process. If you really need to be heard, you can get third-party empathy from someone else, or maybe even give yourself empathy.
Finally, if you have done the steps above, and you think the other person might be willing to hear you, but you aren't sure they will know how, you can make a very specific request to be heard. Here is one possible strategy:
Think about what would need to happen in order for you to have a sense of being heard in the situation, and then ask for it. Is it reflection? Is it needs guesses? You can ask someone to give you presence, listen to you fully, and then hand them a feelings and needs sheet. Ask them not to respond with their thoughts, but rather just look at the sheet and take some guesses as to what you might be feeling or needing. Sometimes this will work, depending on the willingness of the other participant. In my experience, if I've laid the groundwork (steps 1-9 above), usually the other person is pretty open to trying this. The beauty is, that person doesn't need to know anything about NVC. All they need is specificity from you and a list of feelings and needs.
If you have an introductory knowledge of NVC but you would like some more guidance or opportunities to practice your skills with others, consider taking our Intro Course or joining our Empathy Gym. If you would like to deepen your practice, wherever you are on your NVC journey, contact us here.