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Family Communication

A Pathway to Mutual Care and Peace

Are you longing of more peaceful family communication?

Do you wish there was a way to get more joyful cooperation, from your children, your spouse, or your ex-spouse?

Would you enjoy more peaceful communication with extended family members?

This is your page!

Finding a new method of family communication made all the difference in my life.  It helped me build mutual trust and respect with my children, deeper intimacy with my husband, and blissful peace of mind.

And it’s my greatest hope that the same can be true for you and your family.  Although your results will depend on your particular situation, it’s the goal of this page to help.

So let’s get started!

The method most of my family members use for family communication is called “Nonviolent Communication” (NVC).

NVC was developed by Marshall Rosenberg over forty years ago.  It is now used worldwide to communicate and make peace in all kinds of settings – organizational, political, personal, and family communication.

One of the things I most enjoy about NVC in family communication, is that only one family member needs to be communicating with it! Indeed, other family members may be disinterested or unskilled at NVC, and it can still be used it to bring inner peace, and relative outer peace in the family.

To help you understand how NVC might help with family communication in your home, I’ll start with an overview.

Overview of NVC and
Family Communication

Before I begin with the overview, please note that, like many people authorized by Dr. Rosenberg to teach NVC, I am not a “certified NVC trainer”.  Dr. Rosenberg openly invites non-certified trainers to teach NVC, but just asks us to let people know that we can only claim to offer our understanding of NVC.  So, that’s what I’m offering.  But please rest assured that it’s based on lots of NVC training, including some by a certified NVC trainer.  You can read all about my training at my About Me page.

With that said, I’ll start by describing the goals of NVC, as applied to family communication.

NVC aims to transform our family communication so that we go from having angry fights to shared dilemmas.

It aims to help us resolve conflicts peacefully.

It aims to help us find compassion for ourselves and for other family members in the process.

It aims to help us find new ways to get our needs met, while helping other family members get their needs met too.

It aims to help us find peace of mind, even when our needs go unmet, while we look for peaceful ways to get them met in the future.

You’re invited to use NVC in two main ways to shift your experience with family communication

Two Steps Involved in Using NVC
for Family Communication

  • Step one, use NVC to “self-connect,” that is to communicate with yourself  internally.
    • To find empathy, both for yourself and for other family members.
    • To make decisions and “requests” of yourself, including requests about family members who aren’t able to interact fully with you, such as nonverbal children.
    • To find peace of mind, by learning how to mourn unmet needs, and reflect on all the reasons you want to communicate out of compassion, rather than out of anger or judgment.

When in conflict, we’re especially encouraged to self-connect before we engage in out loud family communication.

The concern is that if we skip self-connection, it’s possible that judgment, anger, and demands might fill us, and seep into our tone of voice or body language, regardless of the words we choose.

And, if we let that happen, we may find ourselves faced with numerous consequences that affect both our family communication, and our family life generally, in ways we really don’t enjoy.

For more information on those consequences, I invite you to take one of my classes (you can find out about current classes at My Services page, and keep abreast of future classes and other offerings by signing up for me free ezine, TLC for Your Family).

Or, to get at least a partial idea of the consequences, I invite you to read, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn.

  • Step Two: Use NVC out loud:
    • To “express” what’s going on for you; or
    • To “empathize” with them; or
    • To make “requests” of them.

Once you’ve self-connected, you engage in out loud family communication.  This can include “expressing” what’s going on for you, “empathizing” with what might be going on for the other family member, and, ultimately, making “requests,” aimed at meeting both your and the other family members’ needs.

The Four Components of NVC, Whether Self-Connecting,
or Speaking Out loud,
With Family Communication Examples

Whether we’re self-connecting, or speaking out loud with other family members, NVC invites us to use four basic components in our family communication.

Indeed, the main focus of NVC is a simple, four part model of how to communicate, internally or externally.  The model is taken straight from Marshall’s main book on NVC, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

The four basic components of this model are:

  • Observation;
  • Feeling;
  • Need; and
  • Request.

To help you more fully understand each of the four components of NVC, and how they apply to family communication, read on.  I describe each component, and include a family communication example that involves out loud expression with a child:

  • Observation:
    • Definition:  An “observation” is a simple description of what you’re reacting to.  You might be reacting to a family member did, or even to your own thoughts.  The goal is to try to articulate a specific, fact-based description of whatever it is you’re reacting to.  The idea is to leave judgment out of your observation.  The hope is that leaving judgment out will make it more likely that the other family member will be able to really hear and find compassion for you, rather than get distracted, defending themselves over a judgment you made about them.
    • For Example: Here’s an example of a judgment-free observation, “When you leave your toys on the floor after you’re done playing with them . . . .”  By contrast, “When you make a mess” would not be a NVC observation, because “mess” is considered a judgment.
  • Feeling:
    • Definition: A “feeling” refers to your emotional state in the aftermath of the event you just described with your observation.  Our feelings can range from devastated to ecstatic.  The goal is to use a true feeling word, rather than a feeling mixed with a judgment.  Again, the hope is that the other family member will be more likely to hear and find compassion for you without judgments mixed in. You can find a list of feeling words at Marshall’s website, www.cnvc.org, by clicking here.
    • For Example: Adding a feeling onto the family communication observation example we’ve already started above, might look something like this, “When you leave your toys on the floor after you’re done playing with them I feel overwhelmed . . . .”  By contrast, “I feel abandoned,” “I feel manipulated,” or “I feel like you don’t care about anyone but yourself” would not be considered feelings in NVC, because they are mixed with judgment.
  • Need:
    • Definition: I would define “needs” as basic, shared prerequisites to human well-being.  We have needs for things like nourishment and rest, of course, but also for things like order, peace, companionship, and so on.  You can also find a list of need words at www.cnvc.org, by clicking here. The idea is to name what needs are unmet (or met) for you, as opposed to naming a specific strategy that you want the other family member to execute in order tomeet your needs. Why avoid focusing on the strategy you want?  Using NVC, you want to focus on needs met or unmet, versus strategy, in order to exponentially expand the possibilities for resolution of the conflict.  The idea is that by focusing on the basic human needs each family member is trying to meet, there may be any number of different strategies to meet those needs.  By contrast, if we insist that only one particular person, place, time, etc. can meet our needs, we’re more likely to get locked into seemingly irreconcilable conflict with others.
    • For Example: Adding a need phrase onto the family communication example we’ve been building above, might look something like this, “When you leave your toys on the floor after you’re done playing with them, I feel overwhelmed, because my need for order is not met.”  By contrast, if you focused on strategy versus needs, the example might sound like, “When you leave your toys on the floor after you’re done playing with them I feel overwhelmed,because I need you to pick up those toys right now.”
  • Request: A request is the opposite of a demand.  It focuses on whether the family member is willing to do what we are asking, considering both our needs and theirs, including their need to contribute (to our well-being). A request is not about insisting that family members do what we are asking, under a threat that you will otherwise become angry, or use some other punishment or reward.

You may find it difficult to stick with true requests, especially when you have dire needs unmet.  I focus quite a bit on this in my classes because of how hard people can find it is to make true requests, rather than slip into demands, and how easy it can be to go to demands, without even being aware you are doing it.

To increase your motivation to keep trying, you can find out about the problems with the alternatives to requests, including demands, anger, punishments, and rewards.  You can do this by taking one of my classes, and/or by checking out: Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn.

In any event, there are several different types of requests:

    • Connection Requests:
      • Definition: Connection requests are intended to help build trust and make sure each family member gets fully heard.  It’s recommended that you try to stick with connection requests, until at least the point at which each family member’s needs have been fully heard. These kinds of requests can help us to continue to dig down until we unearth every family member’s needs fully.  Once we discover each family member’s needs, we may find it’s easier to peacefully come up with strategies together to meet those needs.
      • For Example: An example of a connection request, tacked onto the example we’ve been building above, is, “When you leave your toys on the floor after you’re done playing with them I feel overwhelmed, because my need for order is not met.  Would you be willing to let me know how you feel hearing that?”  You could then follow the family member’s answer to this request with empathy, to help you unearth their needs. I’ll use this same example we’ve been working on to show how to give empathy with this same four part model, later on this page.
    • Action Requests:
      • Definition: Action requests ask that someone do a specific, do-able thing.
      • For Example: Again, building on our ongoing example, we might say, “When you leave your toys on the floor after you’re done playing with them I feel overwhelmed, because my need for order is not met.  Would you be willing to play with those toys in the other room, to help me meet my need for order, and you meet your need for fun?”
    • Partnership Requests:
      • Definition: I consider partnership requests to be a hybrid between connection requests and action requests. And I highly recommend using partnership requests, once each person’s needs are completely clear.  I find kids, in particular, enjoy these kinds of requests much more than action requests.  Perhaps this is because children in our society are often not asked to join us in creating solutions, but are instead told specifically what to do.
      • For Example: Again, building on our ongoing family example, we might say, “When you leave your toys on the floor after you’re done playing with them I feel overwhelmed, because my need for order is not met.  Would you be willing to help me come up with a plan that might meet my need for order and your need for fun?

Family Communication Example,
Using Observation, Feeling, Need, Request
to Self-Connect

Using the same family communication example we used above, I can give you a sense of how you can use the NVC model to self-connect in your family communication.  And, again, you would aim to self-connect before either expressing or empathizing.

Self-connection, with the same ongoing example, might look like this: “Hmmmm, what might be going on for me . . . .  Ah, I think when I’m seeing these toys left on the floor after my child is done playing with them, I’m feeling overwhelmed.   Mmmmm, yes. Ah, I think I’m just really, really in need of order. . . . .  Yes, yes, that’s it. Mmmm, and I wonder what might be going on for my child . . . .  Hmmmm, gosh, you know, I’m guessing she might be feeling excited to move straight on to the next thing, because that would meet her need for fun more than it would to pause and clean up first.  I realize that may not actually be the need she’s trying to meet, but it helps me to remember that it’s got to be some shared human need she’s trying to meet, because this helps me find compassion for her, rather than going to judgment and demands. Hmmmm, I wonder, what do I want to request . . . .  I think I’ll make a request of myself – Would I be willing to empathize until my child’s needs are clear, then express, then maybe make a partnership request?  Yes, yes, I really like that idea.”

Family Communication Example,
Using Observation, Feeling, Need, Request
to Empathize

Also using the same family communication example we’ve been using, I can give you an idea of how you can use the NVC model in your family communication to empathize.  

For example, you might empathize with your child, in the example situation we’ve been using, by saying something like, “So, when I see you leave your toys on the floor after you’re done playing with them, I wonder if you’re maybe feeling excited, because your need for fun is met by moving straight on to the next activity, rather than pausing to put your other toys away first?  Would you be willing to let me know if it’s that, or something else?” You can then respond to their answer with more empathy, until you’re both sure you’ve uncovered all their needs.

NVC in Family Communication Can Help . . .  

  • With Our Partners: You can use NVC in communicating with your intimate partner.  And, as noted earlier, this is true whether or not our partners agree to use NVC too.  I will be slowly introducing web pages on this topic over time.
  • With Our Children: You can also use NVC with your children, as illustrated in the example used above.  I learned much about this topic specifically in a nine month Nonviolent Communication Parent Peer Leadership Program, offered through BayNVC.  And using the information gleaned from that class, I recently taught an eight week workshop series’ on NVC in parenting, and am about to offer another.  Plus, one by one, I’ll be adding web pages on this topic.  To see a list of what I plan to add, and what I have so far, I invite you to visit my Child Discipline Transformed page.  I invite you to check out this page, whether you struggle with siblings arguing with one another, kids hitting each other, or kids fighting with you, and whether this takes place at home or at school.
  • With Ourselves: I have found it incredibly helpful to use NVC within my own mind.  I find the ability to self-connect particularly valuable when my needs are unmet.  And I find can this be a more frequent experience when I’m working with kids, versus adults.  My courses cover this topic, and my web pages will touch on it as well.

Final Thoughts About NVC and Family Communication

Another point to make about the NVC model.  There are many colloquial ways of speaking each component of the model, which NVC classes can help you explore.  Such classes can also help you paraphrase some of the story that the other person is telling you, when you first start empathizing with them, in order to build trust. Such classes can help you learn how to then transition from paraphrasing to distilling your guesses into pure need words.

On a related topic, eventually we can find that we’re so able to think in terms of the model that we don’t always need to speak it as such.  Like a church can help support people in maintaining their spiritual faith, the NVC model can help support us until compassion comes more naturally.  That said, just as many go to church all their lives, many continue to use the model all their lives.  They do this as a way of communicating their intentions most clearly to others, and as a way of supporting them in maintaining their NVC consciousness strongly within themselves.

To be notified of future workshops, web pages, and other offerings, as they become available, plus hopefully get inspired along the way, I invite you to visit and subscribe to my blog, or use the RSS feed subscription buttons at the bottom of this page.

Whatever you decide though, and wherever life takes you next, I wish you and yours, “Happy Family-ing!”