Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

I-Messages: How They Help and Hurt

I-messages are a popular and useful way to lubricate relationships. Still, they're not as reliable as they're made out to be. Here's why. Read More

I feel nauseous

after reading this post. Just kidding. You have a very good point.

Ad infinitum, ad nauseum--I

Ad infinitum, ad nauseum--I aim to please. ;-)

Some worthwhile points, but...

I feel as though this article unfairly frames NVC. It's generally stated that it's bad form to use language that implies there is fault in the other person. Sure, there will be some interpretations that do this regardless, but I wouldn't consider "I'm feeling intimidated" a non-violent phrase. For the most part, verbs are off limits. "I feel attacked", "I feel neglected", "I feel resented", etc., are breaking form.

I don't think that the last word example applies at all, since it's not an NVC conversation. There's absolutely no attempt at empathetic recognition or to move the conversation in a direction of mutual understanding.

"I'm disappointed" is another one of those problem statements, where it's easy to imply that the other is acting upon you.

I'm not out to pick everything apart here, because I do think that what you touched on should be addressed in an attempt to communicate effectively, but I can't say I found this article as constructive as it could have been had it been a more accurate and direct critique.

Nicely put and pointedly

Nicely put and pointedly valid criticisms Anonymous. There may well be more to NVC than I know. I'm not an expert on it. My critique is not of that school of thought but of the predicament we all face when there's a problem and we don't know whose fault it is, or how best to repair it.

I welcome your thoughts on some things, Anonymous.

Though your note was tastefully crafted, I still interpret as you saying I was unfair to NVC. In other words, that in the relationship between me, you and NVC, the misunderstanding is my fault.

Now by my standards that's fine, as would be you saying it was my fault if I always misinformed in my articles. We might debate whose fault things are but suspicions, implications and explicit accusations of fault are inevitable. The idea that we could live without every thinking or talking of whose fault things are seems unrealistic to me. From your note it sounds like NVC thinks it is realistic to basically eliminate all talk of blame, and fault.

If that is so, if as you say "it's bad form to use language that implies there is fault in the other person" then you've made my point about NVC. It's a formula supposedly for clean talk that basically forces blame into subtext as in your letter, which not just my ears but any ears implies "Jeremy you misrepresented NVC," a message I welcome from you, but one that I would never pretend didn't still work with the currency of blame and fault. I continue to suspect that NVC thinks it has eliminated fault-talk when its really just tucked it under the radar.

So my questions:

There are some folk who think that nothing is anyone's fault and that that's why it's bad form to imply that the fault is in the other person. Would you agree with that approach?

There are some who think that things are sometimes peoples fault but that no one is faulty, and so it's bad to imply that there is fault in the other person. Would you agree with that approach?

Some think that the past is the past and all that matters is the future, so don't play the blame game ever. Would you agree with that? If you do what do you think about courts and prisons?

I hope you don't mind my long winded response and questions. And I thank you for thinking with me.

Best,

Jeremy

Thanks for your prompt reply

I was implying that I thought it was unfairly represented, but NCV doesn't suggest "fault." It's a communication tool, which intends, not to place blame, but to seek the meeting of everyone's needs. That doesn't necessarily mean that nobody is ever at fault for anything. It would be rightfully difficult to find such a concept hard to swallow.

We could definitely engage in a debate about who is at fault, but NVC would consider that unproductive, at least in most emotionally charged circumstances. Overcoming our biases is far greater a task than expressing and hearing needs in order to reach some resolution.

As for our interaction, it's probably not necessary to stick to NVC protocol, since it's a welcome conversation. We're fully capable of getting on without it, barring needlessly aggressive behavior, which can often be par for comment sections on the internet. There exist no unmet needs between you and I. Nothing so far has elicited the kind of response NVC is meant to deal with.

While using NVC with somebody that isn't well versed in it, seeing fault remains an issue. NVC is a way of thinking that overrides what we've been, more or less, trained to think like socially and linguistically. Communication consists of both vocalizing and hearing(state the need and hear the need), and both aspects require the participation of both parties to reach full potential.

I suspect I covered parts of your questions in that reply, but I'll go through them.

"There are some folk who think that nothing is anyone's fault and that that's why it's bad form to imply that the fault is in the other person. Would you agree with that approach?"
I would consider it a bad communication practice. The goal of communication is to have the other individual be receptive, so engaging them in a way that "raises the defense" probably isn't the best tactic. As for fault itself, NVC would consider behaviors the result of unmet needs, i.e., an attempt to meet needs, which may or may not be rational. I think that this is well supported by the evidence.

"There are some who think that things are sometimes peoples fault but that no one is faulty, and so it's bad to imply that there is fault in the other person. Would you agree with that approach?"
I would agree with the former half(some fault), but again, that's not necessarily why it's bad form, since the form is about mutual results, about empathy. In addition, I'd put a big asterisk on, "sometimes people's fault", explaining the nature of social systems producing unmet needs, rather than individuals. How one behaves given a circumstance varies, but how one behaves is highly subject to the society in which their needs are met or unmet.

"Some think that the past is the past and all that matters is the future, so don't play the blame game ever. Would you agree with that? If you do what do you think about courts and prisons?"
I would agree with that. If we're looking for mutually beneficial relationships, the past takes a different role. Opening up the discussion on trust may take much longer, so I'll just say that I believe it to be particularly needs based, so approachable with NVC. I am in complete disagreement with current systems of courts and prisons, but I would consider the current state of worldwide socioeconomic systems extremely ineffective. First and foremost, dealing with potential crime is a matter of dealing with needs. Theft is a good example of a blatantly unmet material need. I'm a proponent of restorative justice, rather than retributive justice, in a similar way to NVC being concerned with moving forward rather than placing blame.

I could continue with that last question for hours, but I believe this reply is long winded enough. I'd rather dialog.

Interesting. I don't think we can begin to address moral questions realistically

until we factor in that there sociopathy is real. I would have been much more receptive to NVP before I had lived at close range with psychiatry diagnosed sociopaths. They would tear a NVP practicing empathist apart alive. If you're suggesting that NVP is a sometimes or even an often useful tool, I'd agree. If you're suggesting it's a way to have all communication go, I wouldn't. And I've had NVP suggest it is.

Thank you for engaging with me here and for answering my questions so thoroughly. I stand by my position. I think NVP is useful but oversold as solving more problems than it does. Feel free to write back. I'd engage more just fine.

Jeremy

ASPD

As far as empathetic engagement, we do have a problem, but surely that's not a problem that wouldn't exist otherwise. Whether you blame somebody with a wildly anti-social personality or tell them your needs, we wouldn't normally expect a desirable response. But it's still true that the bulk of people that engage in the practice of NVC increase their empathetic abilities, including those that lack affective empathy. Certainly there are a handful of lost causes, but we might as well be talking to a wall concerning those cases.

I would have to point out that NVC heavily encourages people to say no. It is thought that a sacrifice made without the desire to make it is harmful to the relationship, i.e., one should avoid responding to emotional manipulation like the plague. The key to achieving this in the face of empathy is needs-based honesty. So if you were to ask me if I loved you and wanted to move in together, expecting an affirming response, I'd give you an honest answer, rather than the one you want to hear, but I'd do it in a way that reiterates why I actually enjoy your company in the first place and focuses on my needs in that situation. A "no" is an expression of conflicting/incompatible needs. So in this way, one can avoid emotional power being exercised over them, since they're trained to view these emotional compromises as harmful rather than necessary.

Practice is quite important because what we're actually looking to do is change how people think about relationships and communication. We're trying to modify the results of the authoritarian and hierarchical indoctrination permeating our society and our language. We carry these heavily into all social territory. There are implied differences in value/social power between women and men, parents and children, bosses and workers, law enforcement and citizen, and the overwhelming majority of relationships in our society. These are the sorts of things that have trouble surviving the change in communication that provides the tools to prevent one from exercising abusive power over another and from being abused in the same way.

There's no magic bullet that will make communication perfect, and NVC advocates shouldn't make such claims. We can, however, express the efficacy and theoretical benefits of mainstream use. As a base for communication, I'd consider it second to none.

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Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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