The book I’m reviewing here is “Being Genuine: Stop being nice, start being real,” by Thomas D’Ansembourg. This book, as well as a few other books I have on the subject of non-violent communication (NVC), has been on my mind lately.
The author is a student of Marshall Rosenberg, who was the developer of Non-Violent Communication and an American psychologist. He died in 2015.
What is non-violent communication?
NVC is a communication process that helps people to exchange the information necessary to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully. NVC teaches skills for communicating in a way that respectfully expresses true feelings and the power of requesting wants without demands or force.
Coaches would do well with learning this technique, as it helps very much when listening to your clients discuss conflicts they have with other people. That being said, we ALL could use these skills.
What this book teaches
In this book, “Being Genuine,” the author provides practical skills and concrete steps that allow us to safely remove the masks we wear, which prevent the intimacy and satisfaction we desire with our intimate partners, children, parents, family, neighbors, students, clients or customers, as well as colleagues and managers or supervisors.
If you want to know how to tackle life’s difficult situations and conversations, especially in light of the recent US presidential election, this book will show you the ease and excitement you will feel after you master these skills.
You will learn to identify feelings and needs without blaming others and find balance by staying connected with your needs and hearing the needs of the other person.
I can’t say that I’ve always followed these steps. When you’re in the heat of the moment, and emotions are overwhelming, these kinds of peaceful and authentic (and therefor vulnerable!) interactions may not seem possible. But with a little practice, they are.
And over time, being real becomes a real thing:
'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.'
~ Margery Williams, "The Velveteen Rabbit"
How NVC works
The preface of the book notes: “This technique would make miracles in politics.”
The reason why it’s probably not widely used in politics is because it’s not easy. It might be the most difficult form of communication, because it asks a lot of us. It asks us to shed the protective barriers we put up. It asks us to not focus on the “win,” but on understanding. It asks to come from a place of non-judgment and without accusation. It asks us to let both sides of the argument get something out of the exchange. No one walks away the loser.
Think about it: if both sides of an argument could get their needs met, then the tension wouldn’t be there and both sides could respect one another.
The simplified method of NVC is this:
Here’s an example of it being put into practice:
“I notice you’re yelling [my observation]. It makes me feel intimidated [my feeling]. I can not respond calmly to you when you are using a loud voice [my need] and I need to talk to you [my need]. Can you lower your voice [my request], so that we can have a calm conversation?”
Nowhere in this statement is there a judgment about the person (such as, “you’re a bully,”) an accusation (such as, “you always do this to me,”) a violent feeling being expressed (such as, “I hate it when you…”) or the need to win (such as, “shut up or I will get out”).
NVC requires us to look within
It clearly takes some work on ourselves to be this calm and easy in the face of a violent person. They may be verbally violent, physically towards others or towards themselves. The author offers a few suggestions for working on yourself:
1. Cultivate gratitude. Learn more about gratitude here.
2. Take time each day (he suggests 3 times per day for 3 minutes each) to check in with yourself and be truly present for yourself, for where you are in that very moment.
Where violent communication comes from
The author offers that violence is not our natural way of being. Violence is symptom of frustration, which comes from a need not being met and feeling incapable of ever having it met.
What I like about this book is that it homes in on the need for human connection and on the ways for doing that (listening without judging, speaking our needs without making it about the other, noticing ourselves and our own role). It’s about communication and about recognizing the needs in ourselves and others, and respecting them, understanding them.
All humans have a few basic needs, but one of the most important is BEING UNDERSTOOD. More frustration comes from not feeling understood than from any other feeling. Being understood means that a person acknowledge who you are without judging you for it. It means that they “get” you. It means that what you are presenting as your true self is respected and accepted.
The parallel to that is that we also have a need TO UNDERSTAND. I need to understand why someone behaved so badly towards me. I need to understand how someone can be obtuse or deliberately unwilling to recognize a truth that I think is obvious. This causes enormous frustration.
This is what I see happening in the political dialog of today’s America. We feel misunderstood by the other side which causes one frustration and we also feel frustrated by those on the other side because we can’t make sense of their position. There is MISUNDERSTANDING on both sides and a double layer of frustration. No wonder we’re all angry!
There is hope
Non-violent communication goes a long way to resolving this gridlock. But we have to work on ourselves first. We can’t sit and do nothing about cultivating our own understanding and expect the other side to change.