tales from urban dilettantia

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Day One: On better ways of talking

Being Day One of the Festival of Miss Dilettante Posting Things About Her Happiness Project That She Didn’t Post Last Month or Indeed Last Year, which really is a fairly awful name for a festival and may need to be revised.

One of the most useful books I read last year was Nonviolent Communication. It’s most likely to be found on the self-help shelves, and you know how I feel about the self-help shelves. Nevertheless, I stumbled across a reference to it on the internet it when I was stuck and full of anger and pain, and was searching for a way to talk without lashing out at others. Indeed I think I only noticed it because I’d heard kvratties mention the name in passing. (And indeed I’m still feeling a little shy writing about it here, as I have a quiet horror of becoming Tim Robbins’ character from High Fidelity. ‘Conflict resolution is my job, Laura.’ Oh dear.)

Sidetracking in the direction of John Cusack-alicious films notwithstanding,  the implicit premise of the book is that, for many of us, common use of language and ways of speaking tend to escalate conflict. Assignment of blame, failing to communicate our needs and making demands of others are habitually embedded in the way we speak to one another. Rosenberg proposes a very simple – almost awkwardly so, on first read – practical methodology to deconstruct our ways of speaking to one another and replace them with more functional language.

When I first read the Wikipedia entry for nonviolent communication, it all seemed a bit simplistic and unsubtle, but for me there’s been much value in it. Most significantly, it’s been a tool that’s forced me to articulate (to myself, even) how I really feel, what I really need and what practical things I can do or ask for to get there. And, for someone who previously left these things floating in a fog of inarticulate ‘grrr’, ‘hiss’, ‘rawr’ and ‘purr’ feelings, this has been a huge leap of self-awareness.

I’m unsure much value there may be in nonviolent communication for anyone coming from a family where this kind of healthy interaction was the norm, but for those of us who didn’t, simply learning to say ‘I feel angry’ or ‘I feel invisible’ or ‘I feel sad’ and asking another person if they are willing to help with that – and respecting their response – can be an intensely vulnerable experience.

It’s fundamentally about honesty – about being clear with yourself and with others about what you feel and what you need, and being able to express that without implying expectation or asking more of another person than they are willing to give.  And so, ultimately, it becomes about opting-out of playing games – and if you abhor games and disingenuity as much as I do, that looks like a pretty big win.

Category: happiness

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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.