Nonviolent Communication – noun
- Nonviolent Communication is an approach to nonviolent living developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s. At its heart is a belief all human beings have capacity for compassion and empathy.
The following is a fictitious short movie and you are the lead actor. This is a tragedy, not a comedy.
Let me set the stage: Act 1, Scene 1 – “The Call”
Lights, camera, let’s get you into character… Imagine for a moment that you are a senior-level manager responsible for an inside customer support team. Things have been going pretty smoothly for a while. You’re pretty happy with the feedback you’re getting about your employees, all is well. What could go wrong? (you didn’t really just ask, did you?)
It’s your average Friday afternoon, the sun is shining, you’re sitting in your office looking out the window dreaming of the weekend to come, 30 minutes to go – almost there! Suddenly your desk phone rings…ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring. You get a weird feeling, this can’t be good. You reluctantly answer, the voice on the other end of the phone is screaming at you. A very angry client, one of your best, complaining about your newest employee (thus far a shining star). This client is on an absolute tirade! You try to speak, but this client won’t let you. You have no choice but to listen. You’re desperately trying to figure out the problem (it’s hidden somewhere between the loud voice, run-on sentences, and the audible angry breathing).
Now you are getting angry…you are mad at this caller, mad at your employee and mad at yourself for taking the call. So close, you almost made it, the relaxing weekend dream is fading! You finally regain your composure and begin to figure it out. The big complaint from this client is the fact that they don’t feel listened to…pretty ironic since you really don’t want to listen either and would rather be anywhere else at the moment. Your newest employee is accused of being a bumbling idiot. Now it’s up to you to solve the problem. The client is demanding that someone’s head should roll. Before you can speak, the caller abruptly hangs up on you (or the call dropped), either way, you call the person back… voicemail, damn it!
Got it? Set camera, you take it from here, action!….and cut!
End of Scene 1
Fired up yet? First of all, take a deep breath. For many of you reading this, that scenario is far too real. This opening scene, with substitutions, plays out with regularity across all industries and all professions. By now, I am sure you are recalling an actual event, good… keep that in mind while you read on.
This post is not about the client or how to handle the call. It’s about you and how you show leadership when interacting with your employees. The typical boss would probably yell at the employee and demand change. A great leader would set the tone of the conversation thus, guiding the employee to understand the impact of the actions and effect change.
There is a tremendous difference between being a ‘leader’ and being a ‘boss’ but in my experience, and far too often, even some of the best leaders and bosses interact aggressively. This is especially true when they themselves are fired-up. This behavior sets the course for a confrontation, halting any forward progress. People tend to take out their own frustrations on those around them. Emotional reactivity, the lowest common denominator, UGH!
Moving on: Act 1, Scene 2 – “The Talk”
Lights, camera, let’s get you into character… You have no choice, you have 15 minutes to go before weekend bliss. You have to talk to this employee, it can’t wait till Monday. Or can it? After a bit of self-talk, you compose an instant message and send it to the employee’s desktop. You write, “Please come see me before you leave”. Five minutes later, three soft knocks can be heard on your propped open door (the employee enters). You hear a hesitant voice, “You wanted to see me?”
Got it? Set camera, you take it from here, action!….and cut!
End of Scene 2
Before we move on, I chose to present this information as a movie in an attempt to heighten your senses to the point where you could literally feel the tension. This vignette is a prime example of a highly emotionally charged experience for everyone involved. My goal was for you to have a visceral experience and identify with at least one of the characters. Although I was guiding you in the direction of the leadership character, you may have felt something for the employee and, quite possibly, for the client. You have most likely played this part, perhaps all three, at one point in your business career.
You, the reader, will finish off this last scene. First consider these factors: How does it end? What would you say to this employee? What has been said to you in the past? How have you handled this before? Take a moment, really think about it before you answer. To recap, things are good, 15 minutes to the weekend, irate client, you’re angry with everyone (including yourself). Take a moment and think about it.
Now that you have your own version, I’ll write the ending for you. This is based on my personal and professional experience. Much as I don’t like to admit it, I wasn’t always good at this. I can clearly recall the times where I was ill-equipped to handle this type of event. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. I will also tell you that I have witnessed far too many experienced leaders struggling with this type of scenario. Handling these situations is why you ‘get paid the big bucks’, at least that’s what you’re told. In my experience, a surprising number of leaders fail miserably, left wondering why employee morale is lacking.
Final: Act 1, Scene 3 – “The (Difficult) Ending”
Here is the sad truth… Lights, camera, let’s get you into character for this final scene…Your blood is boiling, you’re doing your best to contain yourself. You’re secretly worried that if your VP finds out, things will be much worse, for YOU! There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on you to get this right, you need to get ahead of this. You engage the employee, telling yourself – here goes nothing… These are the words that come out of your mouth: “Client ‘X’ called me about you today, they were really pissed, even yelled at me…complained about you not listening to them and demanded that I talk to you. What happened? What were you thinking?”
End of Scene 3 – It’s a wrap, great job! or was it?
Wow, let’s dive in, a lot to unpack here. Like I said at the beginning, this vignette was a tragedy with an ending that is all to common and predictable. Far too many fail at this task, even with the best of intentions, emotions and personal history often get in the way. The result is a lack of respect, increased sick days, negative talk among the employees, etc… everybody loses.
Fortunately, you have the power to learn and adapt. You can control the narrative and engage the employee in a positive way with compassion and empathy. There is a very simple, easy to understand method to deal with this exact type of situation. Let this book be your guide: Nonviolent Communication (NVC), by Marshall Rosenberg. It’s is my opinion that every family and organization has at least one copy on hand.
I didn’t take the book very seriously at first. The practice seemed almost condescending and disingenuous. The book was calling me, begging for another read. I had no choice, it was relentless so I read it again. I found that Rosenberg’s book contained a ‘real life’ treasure map. Follow it and you will discover a communications model made of solid gold!
I grew an appreciation for the concept and accepted the premise. This had a profound impact on my daily life. I can attest that the NVC model works however, this takes a lot of practice. It was not intuitive for me. My drive to get results and answers pushed back against this new way of communicating. Learning the NVC model took time and attention.
NVC is a blueprint for something that I was never taught and therefore never knew existed – a way of communicating that you are not happy with the actions of others without ever accusing them of doing anything wrong! Giant ah-ha moment for me! Another one!
Here is an alternate ending, using the NVC model:
Alternate ending Act 1, Scene 3 – “The (NVC) Ending”
“Client X called me today pretty upset that they didn’t feel listened to. I’m always really concerned when I get a call like that. The goal is to make sure that every client feels that their needs are being met. Let’s talk about this, any thoughts?”
(Now that is leadership!)
End of Act 3 – Final Curtain Close
A closer look at NVC model in action. The basic principles of NVC are as follows:
- State the facts as observed, a description of the event. Do not accuse and do not point fingers, avoid making it personal, never use the word ‘YOU’. The person you are addressing will know it’s about them without feeling personally attacked.
“Client X called me today pretty upset that they didn’t feel listened to.”
- State your feelings about the descriptive statement showing that there was a personal impact on you, without putting them on the defensive.
“I’m always really concerned when I get a call like that.”
- Clearly state the needs or goal. This will instill confidence and creates an environment where change can happen anchored in trust, integrity and respect.
“The goal is to make sure that every client feels that their needs are being met.”
- Guide the conversation without judgment or confrontation.
“Let’s talk about this, any thoughts? ”
Another example, this time a family perspective:
Two different responses to the same problem.
- “Again?, how many times have I told you to take out the kitchen trash? You need to get it done! Go do it now! I’m tired of telling you!
- “The trash can in the kitchen is still full, I get really upset when I see this, especially after my long days. This needs to be taken care of before I get home.
Ok, I’ll admit… I’ve used the first example many times in my life. I’m not proud if it, just being honest… I own it.
The NVC model works in all areas of my life. I consistently state the objective facts, state the emotional impact, then state the needs. This takes practice, restraint, and control. NVC removes the emotional reactivity from both parties. The practice also removes confrontation, judgment, and ambiguity.
Focus on the issue(s), not the individual! —
I told you there would be treasure here…there it is, you found it!
Leadership Through Integrity requires compassion, empathy and kindness.
I welcome discussion on this topic.