Recently, someone in one of our Empathy Gym sessions shared about an experience in which they encountered someone who said some things in conflict with their beliefs and values, and in a way that did not meet their needs for respect. In turn, this person was pretty hurt, irked, and angry, and they wanted to know how to move through a situation like that using NVC.

People have opinions about all sorts of things, and many people confuse opinions with fact, convincing themselves that any alternative view is inherently wrong and those who hold it must be flawed in some way. Obviously, this can be infuriating, and talking to someone who holds these kinds of views can leave one mourning needs for shared reality, being heard and understood, and likely respect.

I’m guessing almost everyone can relate to this in some way. For example, have you ever attended a Thanksgiving dinner with people who have conflicting political views?… On an election year? Things can get heated really quickly. So how does one come back to connection with someone who insults their beliefs, mocks them, or simply refuses to listen?

You already know… Nonviolent Communication!

Okay okay, it is not that simple… I think something important to remember here is the reason why we use NVC: to find or come back to connection. If your goal is to have connection with the person who vehemently disagrees with you to the point of insult, then NVC is your tool. If your goal is to win an argument, maybe try studying debate instead, because NVC is not going to work without a genuine intention of connection.

Sometimes it is hard get to the point of wanting connection, though. Especially when feeling hurt, embarrassed, or infuriated and mourning needs around respect and being heard. If deep down you know that connection is your end goal, you can work through those other feelings through your WAIT process.

WAIT stands for “What am I thinking?” or “Why am I talking?”, and it is when you might step away from a conversation, especially if you are triggered, so that you can do some internal work to be able to show up to the conversation in a way that is within integrity with NVC and in service to connection. There are many processes to choose from within wait, like self-empathy, third-party empathy, or, for a situation like this, maybe enemy image process. (If you’d like to learn more about WAIT processes and deepen your NVC journey, you can take The Bigbie Method’s Intro to NVC course here; we also offer extended personal development of NVC skills through the empathy gym).

Beyond doing the work in WAIT, I have found one particularly impactful mindset shift to be helpful in getting to a place of wanting to work towards connection, and that is to remain curious. Curiosity opens us up. Instead of thinking “I cannot believe how rude and insesitive this person is”, I try to approach the same situation with “I wonder what is compelling this person to say these things to me”. When we can have curiosity around what is going on for another person, we are more able to let go of judgments about them. Additionally, even when someone’s words hurt us, if we think about them with an open and curious mind, we are less likely to allow them to be as detrimental to us.

Nonviolent Communication is, at it’s core, nonviolent. We have to remember that even our thoughts about other people can very easily move into violent territory once we slip into judgment, blame, and story. Communicating nonviolently requires an authentic and genuine belief that the person with whom you are speaking to deserves opportunities to have their needs met, and it requires your suspension of blame and judgment, at least momentarily. This internal shift is palpable to others, and it cannot be faked. People tend to sense genuine sincerity, and simply going through the vocal steps of NVC without this internal shift is simply not enough.

But when that shift is accessible, then we just do the dance: give empathy, express using OFNR, use connecting requests, come up with action requests around how to get your needs met and maybe the other party’s needs as well. The steps are clear. We can learn them and understand them logically, but doing the internal work preceding these steps – the work of coming to acceptance, openness, and curiosity around those who we deem to threaten our own needs – is no small task. In fact, I would say this is the hardest work we ever have in this process, but it is so imperative for not only connection with other, but also quelling that internal fire that is so easily ignited when we are triggered. Self-study around our own feelings and needs, and patterns of when certain feelings and needs come alive for us, is super helpful in being able to come to curiosity about another’s needs.

Again, you can learn more about the intricacies of the NVC process as well as get tools and support for this kind of self-study through TBM’s Intro to NVC course here.