Life Changing Tools (Book Review: Nonviolent Communication)

I've thought myself as a person with empathy for a long time. I always try to put myself in others' shoes. No matter it's a normal chat or a heated debate, I would try my best to understand others' incentives. And when writing code or documentations, I would imagine that I am the reader and review it from his perspective.

But communicating with others still feels hard (if not the hardest) to me. At first, I found it hard to receive feedback in code reviews or 1-on-1 meetings. Then, I found it even harder to give feedback in code reviews or 1-on-1 meetings. And even in my daily life, there are still conflicts between me and others, especially between me and people I love.

Often, I can understand their points. But then immediately, I feel powerless because I don't know what to do next. I often find myself choosing to be silent and accepting others' opinion as much as I can. This works but I can feel the hurt this not-so-optimal behavior brings me.

Then I started wondering, How to help them understand me better? How to feel less defensive when receiving useful feedback? How to communicate in a peaceful way?

Thankfully, this book helped me answer these questions. I can't wait to apply the methodology from this book to my life and see what changes it can bring to it.

The NVC Process

The NVC Process is actually very easy to understand and remember.

First, there are four fundamental components of NVC:

The concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being
How we feel in relation to what we observe
The needs, values, desires, etc. that create our feelings
The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives

Then, we only need to focus on these four components in our communications.

  1. expressing honestly through the four components
  2. receiving empathically through the four components

Sounds simple, right? But I only realized how violent my daily communications were after reading through this book.

I often mix my observations with judgments. I ignore my own feelings. I suppress my needs in favor of others' requests. I give obscure requests or even no requests.

After reading this book, I can recognize these anti-patterns and work on fixing them. So this book gave me hope and a way to become better at communication in the future.

Applying NVC in Real Life

That being said, recognizing anti-patterns is just the first step. Applying NVC in our real life is still hard.

It's extremely hard to not give judgments. Even compliments are often judgments. By complimenting others with evaluations, we are basically saying they are good and if they don't continue doing so, they will become bad.

In a recent episode of the popular TV show Black Mirror S05 E02 Smithereens, the experts gave the CEO these two pieces of communication advice for a crucial conversation:

  1. let him know you're listening
  2. empathize with his position

But even equipped with them, the CEO still can't change the conversation to a nonviolent one. Then they fallback to violent communication patterns again.

This example demonstrates the importance of practice for learning nonviolent communications.

And I'm learning this lesson the hard way now. Even after reading these books about how to communicate well, I still find it hard. There are two specific reasons for me:

  1. These books are all in English. But I mainly use Chinese for my daily communication. This language gap makes my attempts look more awkward. I guess I need to get used to it and learn how to apply the techniques in a Chinese environment.
  2. It's hard for me to break the existing communication patterns between me and people that are more familiar and important to me. I found it was easier to use these techniques on co-workers or even strangers. To break the bad habits, I need to try harder.

Read this book now

I believe this book will bring a lot of positive changes to my life. And I would recommend you to read this book immediately. Hopefully you will also find answers for the communication problems you have.