I recently published a post in the Facebook neighbourhood group to try and get a free in-person Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practice group going in our community. While a number of people were interested in joining, someone commented that the group is not free, and someone else said it sounded scammy.
What a great opportunity to practice and share what NVC is all about!
In my understanding of NVC, a violent response would come from one of two places, an enemy image of the other, or an enemy image of ourselves. If I saw these messages as attacks, I might get angry or defensive. If I decided I was at fault for not communicating well enough, I might get upset and critical with myself.
One of my instructors called these responses “hit you” or “hit me” because they cause additional pain!
As an alternative, NVC gives us two other responses that create connection instead of pain. The first is to internally give empathy to ourselves. The second is to empathise with the other person, even if it’s also done only internally.
I invite you to pretend to be me for a moment. In your mind, you’re trying to altruistically build community and share something you find valuable. What do you think you would be feeling and needing after reading that what you’re doing sounds scammy and that it isn’t actually free? You might be feeling something like anger, but empathy lets us dig deeper. What could be behind any strong feelings like that?
I’m guessing you might be confused. How did two people come to this conclusion? If you’re confused, you may be needing clarity and a shared reality. I’m guessing you might be feeling hurt that you’re not getting the connection you are seeking and scared that those comments might stop people from joining. You may be needing understanding for your intentions and compassion and kindness from the people who wrote those messages.
Digging into what’s going on at this level can shift the energy from strong feelings like anger to mourning. While that’s still not pleasant, it’s a big step towards being able to connect. People can give empathy to someone who is mourning much easier than they can to someone who is angry at them.
I’m also guessing you would also have a strong desire to set the record straight!
In NVC, we’re often encouraged to empathise with the other, before correcting. I understand that to mean to put your needs for accuracy (as you see it), understanding, compassion, community, etc., aside, and to try to connect with what is “alive” for the people leaving these comments. That’s the NVC way of saying, what’s going on behind the words? I find it makes it easier to connect with people who are upset with us from this energy, and that telling them they are wrong will likely just make them more upset! When people are feeling heard at a deep level, they are much more open to hearing others.
I imagine there is similar thinking in both comments. From my previous communication with the person who left the “not free” comment, I have some context. She had written earlier that her ads have been taken down by moderators, and that what I’m offering is also an ad, so it also should be taken down.
I’m guessing that she sees this practice group as a marketing effort on my part to get paying clients because she has read that I am training to be a relationship coach, NVC trainer, and NVC mediator. I am guessing that she is thinking that I am being disingenuous and that she is angry and disgusted because her need for integrity and truthfulness aren’t being met. On a deeper level, I might guess that behind the anger is a fear about her financial situation, as having her ads banned is not meeting her need for financial security. And her need for fairness isn’t being met when she sees my ads (by her definition) being allowed, while her’s are not. I’m guessing that it’s hard for her to believe that someone would spend time and effort on a practice group without an agenda to make money, and that her need for a shared reality isn’t being met.
Thinking in this empathetic way about the other person can be another step from moving from strong emotions like anger to understanding the others point of view and approaching from an energy of curiosity and connection.
Even if every guess is wrong, that’s okay. If we were talking, she would likely correct me, and I would continue to work to understand where she is coming from… What are her feelings, needs, and requests? The point is that I’m focused on what’s alive for her instead of jumping to judgements, criticism, or blame about her actions. I can keep that focus because I haven’t created an “enemy image” in my mind about her, or if I did, I quickly transformed it with my empathy guesses.
From what I’ve seen of the world, especially on Facebook, people frequently develop and respond from enemy images, and it takes practice to change this reaction when we’re experiencing what looks like an attack. My first reaction was my empathy guesses, followed by frustration about not having the time to type anything meaningful out on the phone – Facebook neighbourhoods only works on the phone, and I strongly prefer writing on a real keyboard and screen. 🙂
But, there was a time I would have had a very different reaction. I would gone straight to correction every time, which usually came across as arguing. And that’s part of what an NVC practice group is about! Learning and practicing new responses, which are more connecting, more functional, and more productive.
If I had that opportunity to empathise with what’s going on for her, and we got to a place where she felt heard and understood, there would probably be a shift in her energy. This would likely happen if her enemy image of me started to soften. Then, and only then, would I ask her if she wanted to hear what’s going on with me.
If she agreed, I would share my many reasons behind creating this practice group, and why it’s so very important to me to make NVC accessible at no cost for as many people as I can.