In an earlier post (Feelings and thoughts and judgments. Oh my!) we were looking at the language that Chris and Pat used while trying to resolve a domestic dispute…oh wait, that sounds like something the police would handle. They were having an argument over the trash (at least that’s what it appeared to be).
This week I’d like to take a look out how this might have been presented differently using techniques from NVC – Nonviolent Communication.
Now before you get all excited that I’m going to provide THE proper words to get your housemate/spouse/whoever to FINALLY take out the trash…I’m not. Bummer, I know, but the reality is that people don’t always respond just the way you’d like them to so trying to write the “better” dialogue would be, in all honesty, an act of creativity rather than an act of communication. I get to determine how each of them reacts, right? And that is probably NOT how life really works in your home…it certainly doesn’t in mine!
However, what I will do is help pull apart the underlying messages that could have been presented and why they would be important to address.
Here’s the dialogue again (with line numbers added for reference purposes):
1. Chris: “Hey, Pat. Damn, you didn’t take out that trash?”
2. Pat: “I forgot, no biggie…why are you so steamed about the trash?”
3. Chris: “‘Cause I feel that YOU don’t feel anything I ask you to do is important enough to do, that’s why!”
4. Pat: “Seriously? Well, I’ll tell you what I feel…I feel like I’m the hired help around here half the time.”
In line 1, Chris sets the tone for an argument by basically coming out swinging. If I were to change one thing in this dialogue it would certainly be that first line.
This actually ,might have gone far better if Chris had said: “Hey Pat, will you able to get the trash out soon? I can’t get to it and I don’t want to miss the pickup. “
That would have done (at least) the following:
1. established why it was important to Chris
2. expressed a request, not a demand
Now here’s the reason why I won’t keep this “NVC- enhanced dialogue” going: Pat still could have responded “negatively”. NVC is not magic, there are no specific words which guarantee success; but it is a way to communicate with a far greater chance of success, especially if both parties “speak the same language”.
In line 2, Chris actually has a legitimate question – it is very likely that Chris does not know why Pat has placed importance on this task. All to often we assume that others feel the same importance or urgency that we do and all too often we are mistaken!
In lines 3 AND 4, Chris and Pat simply take potshots at one another bringing up issues that go way beyond the trash and it’s all downhill from there…
If there’s a “secret” to effective communication, whether you’re using NVC or any other technique, it’s this: say what you mean, clearly and directly. If you speak openly, without malice, without a sense of “winning” or “losing”, with a clear intention of sharing (which is at the root and origin of the word communicate), everyone benefits.