People are always communicating, but typically not well. Most people aren't aware their body language, tone, and even their silence sends loud messages to others. And when you don't realize that not doing the dishes may be interpreted as "you don't love me or value our relationship," that can lead to relationship challenges.

As a licensed therapist, I know most people enter counseling to improve their relationships. And because the foundation of relationships is communication, my clients and I spend a lot of time directly or indirectly working to improve their ability to articulate their feelings, values, and needs to others.

One valuable tool that helps people improve their communication is called Nonviolent Communication (NVC). This framework assumes that people are compassionate and that violence--physical or verbal--are behaviors learned from the environment. While you may not think of your communication as violent, learning NVC can help even the most sensitive and articulate individuals develop greater authenticity and understanding, and better conflict resolution strategies in their relationships.

Here are four steps to Nonviolent Communication:

1. State what you observe that does not contribute to your well-being.

Convey what you see, hear, remember, or imagine in a judgment-free way. Do your best to avoid labeling their behavior as good, bad, hurtful, or anything else. Instead, simply state what you're observing. Try to be specific, as being too general is not helpful to the other person. For example, "When I come home from work and see the dirty dishes in the sink..."

2. Share how you feel in relation to what you observe.

Articulate an emotion or sensation rather than a thought. Think of this as a traditional I message, "I feel [BLANK]." Instead of picking the first and most superficial feeling that comes to mind, try to think carefully about your emotional experience and identify the deepest emotion. Sharing this emotion should make you feel somewhat vulnerable.

For example, instead of saying, "When I come home from work and see the dirty dishes in the sink, I feel angry," focus on the deeper emotion and say, "When I come home from work and see the dirty dishes in the sink, I feel scared..."

3. Describe what you need or value that causes your emotional reaction.

This is a very important step! Search for a deeper need or value that creates your emotional reaction in the first place. Using my example, "When I come home from work and see the dirty dishes in the sink, I feel scared because I value teamwork in our relationship."

4. Politely request the person to take a specific action.

Clearly request something that would enrich your life. Do so without making a demand, ultimatum, or other form of aggression. Pay attention to your tone! For example, "When I come home from work and see the dirty dishes in the sink, I feel scared because I value teamwork in our relationship. Would you be willing to do the dishes so that I can feel like we're part of the same team?"

People tend to find one or two of these steps more difficult than others. As you practice NVC, try to identify which steps you feel comfortable with and which steps you need to refine. Learning to think through all four steps--even if you aren't perfect about sharing them--will improve your communication skills.

Even though it may feel strange and robotic at first, try to learn this new way of handling conflicts and disagreements. Even though we're always communicating, taking small steps to improve our methods will lead to happier and more fulfilling relationships.

Published on: Sep 21, 2017