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4 Steps to Positive, Non-Judgmental Communication

I have lost count of the number of times I have been told by my clients that their partner/family/manager/colleague doesn’t understand them, does not take the time to listen, nor show interest in who they are. This leaves my clients feeling misunderstood, judged, and sometimes even helpless. When they come to me, they feel like they have reached a point of no return. To help I guide them through 4 key steps:

  1. Observation - Observe the situation without judgement

  2. Feelings - Focus on what is being felt

  3. Needs - Expression of needs

  4. Request - Make a request

But before reviewing the steps, I start by asking my clients to name their biggest difficulty when communicating. Is it a problem with speaking? With listening? With understanding or being understood? With expressing their feelings and/ or emotions? Once we have gotten more clarity, we are closer to getting to the root of the problem. Thereafter, I ask them to think about the last time there was a breakdown in communication with someone, and to describe what happened and what they could have done differently.

This exercise helps my clients explore different possibilities, and help them move from feeling like a victim and towards taking their share of responsibility. In the event of a breakdown in communication, both parties are responsible, maybe one more than the other, but it is never 100% one person and 0% the other. A great coaching technique that can be used when revisiting a past experience and seeing it through someone else’s eyes is the Meta Mirror. This is an exercise that brings together a number of different perspectives. The aim of this technique is to get the client to gain insight about the past situation, and to replace any stuck thoughts and feelings with greater understanding of the other person, and creative ideas to improve their relationship. At this point, the client has often identified examples of judgmental, accusing, negative ways of communicating. This is when I introduce NonViolent Communication (NVC), founded by Marshall B. Rosenberg, a 4-point process which is great for improving our relationships with others, as it generates respect, attention, and empathy. Here are the 4 steps involved:

Step One: Observation: This is an invitation for the client to observe the situation without interpreting or judging it.

Step Two: Feelings. The focus here is on the client’s FEELINGS and not what he or she thinks. It’s often difficult for us to identify and be able to talk about how we feel, but it is an essential part of this communication model.

Step Three: Needs. This is when the client will talk about his or her needs, which are often not being met, because if they were, there probably would not have been a breakdown in communication in the first place.

Step Four: Requests. This final step is really important and sometimes overlooked. If the client stops before making a request, all he or she has really been doing is talking about himself or herself. Communication is a two-way process, so we need to have the other party involved in it. Making requests, and not demands, of the other person is a great way of inviting him/her to share things with us, to participate, to help us, to make both our lives better.

These techniques can be used in both personal and professional contexts. If a client finds it difficult to speak to his or her colleague or manager using the NVC process, he or she would greatly benefit from at least writing things down, as it helps to decrease emotion from the situation, and to state our feelings and needs. For more information on NVC, I highly recommend you read the book by Marshall B. Rosenberg, “Non Violent Communication: A Language of Life”. You will find many things of interest, including a list of feelings and needs, and a technique for expressing anger.

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