NVC and Assertiveness: Finding the Balance Between Passivity and Aggression

In our daily interactions, finding the right balance between being too passive or too aggressive can be challenging. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) offers a framework that can help us navigate this balance with greater clarity and compassion.

Understanding Assertiveness in NVC

Assertiveness, in the context of NVC, is about expressing our needs and feelings clearly and respectfully, while also being open to hearing and understanding the needs and feelings of others. It involves standing up for ourselves without violating the rights or boundaries of others, all while doing our best to foster emotional safety.

The Pitfalls of Passivity and Aggression

When we are too passive, we may avoid expressing our needs and feelings, leading to frustration, resentment, and, well, unmet needs. On the other hand, when we are too aggressive, we may express our needs in a way that disregards or dismisses the needs of others, leading to conflict and strained relationships.

Finding Balance with NVC

First, before expressing your needs to someone, try to give them empathy if possible. Can you think about what is going on for them around the situation? Take some guesses to their needs and give them space to confirm or deny those guesses. Lean in with curiosity to what is alive in them. Remember, people are much more likely to have openness to hear another when they themselves have had an experience of being heard and understood.

This step helps to lay the groundwork for emotional safety and connection within the relationship. It is a crucial part of the balance. When the other person has had an experience of being fully heard, and you have clarity and understanding regarding their needs, then you can move on to expressing.

NVC also offers a four-step process that can help us find the balance between passivity and aggression when expressing:

  1. Observation: Start by observing the situation without judgment or evaluation. Describe the facts of the situation objectively. Try to avoid adjectives and adverbs that someone could argue, like “loudly”, for instance. That is a subjective description, as what is loud to one person may not be to another.
  2. Feelings: Identify and express your feelings about the situation. Use words that are actually feelings, and not thoughts and judgments prefaced with “I feel like”. (Here is a list of feelings and needs that might be useful to reference). Be sure to take ownership of your feelings, rather than blaming someone for “making you feel” a certain way.
  3. Needs: Identify the underlying needs that are driving your feelings. These needs are universal and connect us all as human beings. Again, you can reference this same list. Try not to stray too much from this list, as it can be very easy to confuse needs with strategies. Remember, needs are universal to all humans, while strategies are individual ways to get needs met.
  4. Requests: Finally, make a clear, specific request that is actionable and concrete. Try to keep the needs of the other party as well as yourself in mind when coming up with a strategy. Be open to negotiating and finding mutually beneficial solutions.

To practice assertiveness with NVC, it’s important to approach conversations with empathy and a genuine desire to understand and connect with others. Listen actively and empathetically to the needs and feelings of others, and express your own needs and feelings honestly and respectfully.

Finding the balance between passivity and aggression is a key aspect of effective communication and healthy relationships. Nonviolent Communication offers a powerful framework for practicing assertiveness with compassion and empathy, allowing us to express ourselves authentically while also honoring the needs and feelings of others. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into NVC, check out The Bigbie Method’s online course Introduction to Nonviolent Communication.