Thanksgiving: Appreciations A La NVC

‘Tis the season to be thankful.

At the end of the year, especially around Thanksgiving (for those in the United States), people tend to reflect on what brings them joy, contentment, and peace in their lives. Along with communing with family and eating significantly more than usual, it is a common Thanksgiving tradition for individuals to share with their families what they are thankful for, or to share general appreciations for one another. These are often shared in the form of judgments – albeit usually positive judgments, but judgments none the less.

I’ll give you some examples:

“I’m thankful for my wonderful family”

“Your home is so stunning

“This dinner is amazing. You are such a great cook.”

“I’m grateful for such a successful year in my business.”

All of those contain judgments (italicized). Sometimes appreciations and compliments don’t land in the way that we want them to because they contain judgments, which can be disconnecting for others to hear. Even though they are seemingly positive judgments, statements like the ones above can be disconnecting if the person on the receiving end does not agree with the judgment.

Let’s use the comment about the “amazing” dinner and one being a “great” cook. The person who prepared the food might think that the food they made was mediocre because they did not have enough time to give each dish the energy/ attention to detail that they think it deserves because they were stressed from taking on more responsibilities than they were used to handling. In this case, telling them that dinner is “amazing” may not be connecting for them because they have a completely different judgment of the quality of the food.

Similarly, different individuals in a family may not share the same judgment that their family is “wonderful” for a variety of reasons, and those who experience a very different reality might even be offended by the suggestion.

Basically, we never know what is going on for another person at any given time, and offering a judgment that does not fit another’s narrative of the same subject is an invitation for disconnection. So, what does one do if one wanted to share appreciations sans judgment? They use Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

Using NVC, we can share appreciations without judgment by bringing the experience back to ourselves. In other words, we use OFN, or observations, feelings, and needs. Instead of giving someone a compliment (a judgment), we can share the observation, or what actually and objectively happened/is happening according to the five senses of sight, smell, touch, sound, or taste; then we can share the feelings we experience as a result of that observation; finally, we can share the needs being met by the experience. (You can see a list of feelings and needs here).

Using the same example above, “This dinner is amazing. You are such a great cook.”, could look/sound like this instead:

“When I ate the potatoes, I tasted notes of garlic and rosemary” (observation). ” I felt excited and delighted by that” (feeling), “and I’m really celebrating not only nourishment, diversity, and fun from the potatoes themselves, but also care and consideration from you for making this food for all of us” (needs).

Do you see how this expression is entirely based on the speaker’s experience? And therefore cannot be refuted or argued? Additionally, there is no judgment here, and the person receiving this message will likely have a greater understanding of exactly why the speaker appreciated their food.

I get that if you are not used to expressing in this way, it may seem awkward or challenging. Using NVC in a way that flows and meets needs for authenticity and confidence takes time and practice. However, I will say that when I intentionally us OFN instead of compliments, I notice that the person on the receiving end, without fail (literally), is incredibly touched by my words in a way that compliments have simply never accomplished. It always leads to connection; whereas compliments sometimes do, but sometimes really really do not.

If you are curious, try using OFN this holiday season while sharing your appreciations. Let us know how it goes in the comments!