Episode 22: Nonviolent Communication

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson with guest Bob Yamtich

Release date: November 23, 2022

In episode 22, Chris and Emma talked with Bob Yamtich, a coach who uses Nonviolent Communication to build poise, joy, self-connection, and choice. We talked about Nonviolent Communication with Bob, as well as empathy, needs, and strategies. We discussed shared connection and living in a shared reality, as well as connection requests. This is a primer in NVC with someone who lives it and uses it as a coach.

Bob and Chris worked through an issue she had on social media and how she might have handled it differently. We talked about having the option, but not the obligation, to engage in a restorative process. We had an open and vulnerable discussion about how to navigate challenging interactions.

Bio: Bob Yamtich was a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, and he now coaches by phone in Indiana and trains schools. He uses Nonviolent Communication to build poise, joy, self-connection, and choice

Resources from this episode

Bob’s website

Bob on Twitter

Marshall B. Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication (Indiebound)

Thank you, Bee Mayhew, for editing this transcript!


Emma: (voiceover) Welcome to Positive Disintegration, A Path to Authenticity. In this episode, which we recorded a few months back, we're joined by Bob Yamtich to talk about nonviolent communication. For those of you wondering what nonviolent communication is, nonviolent communication, or NVC, is a way of speaking to others where we learn to hear our own deeper needs and the needs of others. It's got an emphasis on deep listening, and observation, which helps us uncover the depths of our own compassion. It's using language in a way that doesn't hold to blame or judgment or domination. It's talking to people in a way where we can clarify what we observe, what emotions we're feeling, and we can reinforce what values we want to live by and be clear on what we want to ask of ourselves and of others.

NVC is a good path for reconciliation and for speaking to others, even under trying conditions, with empathy. You can see how it might apply to relationships or work settings, or even schools. NVC is nothing new, but it does have a focus on being conscious, using language and communication skills to help us maintain that perspective of empathy for both ourselves and others, even when things get tough.

You're going to hear Chris reference a book a lot during this conversation, and that book is “Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life”, which was written by Marshall Rosenberg. So Bob is going to join us in this conversation to talk about NVC, what it means, the difference between needs and the strategies to get those needs, and also how the whole thing connects to Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration. I hope that you're going to enjoy this and get as much from it as I did.

Emma: Hello, happy listeners.

Welcome back to Positive Disintegration Podcast. I'm your host, Emma Nicholson, and with me as co-host, Dr. Chris Wells. Hi, Chris.

Chris: Hey, Emma. Nice to see you again.

Emma: You, too. Always a pleasure. Today we're talking about nonviolent communication. I'm excited to learn about that.

Chris: Our guest tonight, Bob. I would say that he has been a real influence on me when it comes to nonviolent communication. I've followed him for several years now on Twitter and his tweets, talking about the way that he works with nonviolent communication in his coaching work, they've just been really interesting to me and that's why I wanted to have him come on the podcast. Thanks so much for joining us, Bob. We're glad to have you with us today.

Bob: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here.

Emma: So for our listeners, our guest today is Bob Yamtich. Bob was a licensed marriage and family therapist in California and he now coaches by phone in Indiana and trains schools. He uses nonviolent communication to build poise, joy, self-connection, and choice. So thanks, Bob, for joining us today.

Bob: Thanks for inviting me.

Chris: So, Bob, you mentioned that it would be nice to start with a check-in today, and I think that's a great idea. Do you want to lead us through that?

Bob: Yeah, yeah. Well, a check-in starts with body awareness. So if I could just have a moment of teaching before the check-in.

Your body gives you clues about your feelings and your feelings give you clues about your needs. So I'm gonna take a moment for self-connection and just a quiet moment inviting everybody to. You might notice gravity on your feet, you might notice a feeling that's been with you through the day, or it might just be a feeling about being on this conversation right now.

So for me, I haven't had an interview in years. So I am thrilled and delighted and I have so many needs involved. Needs for community, needs for contribution, needs to be known, to be seen- and underlying all of this is work for peace in the world. And that gives me a sense of flow and delight. So really I have so many needs met here right now. I would love to hear from you all, any feelings or needs that come up for you, for being here right now.

Chris: Yeah, I mean, I honestly, just listening to you say that I felt some joy. And I think that the needs that I'm recognizing right now are also around community and respect and support. I mean, those are the ones that come up. I was looking at the list from the Nonviolent Communication book earlier and thinking about them. And those are the ones that come to mind. What about you, Emma?

Emma: Feeling a sense of calm. So, I suppose my body feels relaxed and that is from the fact that it's morning here.  I spent the morning going, ‘oh, nine o'clock meeting, run around, do everything, feed the pets, put the kettle on’. And I got into my chair and now I'm ready and relaxed. I know I've taken care of everything and I can sit back and absorb information now. So I feel a sense of readiness, kind of, and prepared, I know that everything's being done and being taken care of, and I can just focus on listening and learning.

Bob: Okay. It sounds like Emma, you are not only relaxed, but also deeply present.

Emma: I hope so. I like to think I'm an active listener. It's something I work on. I'm not always sure I nail it, but because I'm interested in the topic as well. Bob, I've been looking forward to having you on the podcast. It's almost an eagerness to just let you talk and see what comes out.

Bob: [laughter] Yeah, I'm open. I am trusting both of you so much. And so I am available for anything, whatever is going to serve the listeners, whatever is going to serve your learning. So many of my needs are met and I would just love to share some of the fullness that I'm feeling.

Chris: Please go ahead. We'd love that.

Bob: Okay. My work, you mentioned self-connection and I have a, I have a little theory that I want to propose that ties into Dabrowski's work. My theory is that every single time you take a moment for self-connection, every single time you think about what you care about, you know who you are, you are flexible about getting your needs met because you know there are many strategies to meet a need. So you have a sense of abundance. You have a sense of power in the world. So every moment of self-connection is a small leveling up and in the same way that the Dabrowski model includes leveling up. So you don't have to have a huge disintegration to level up. You could just take a deep breath and ask yourself what you care about.

Chris: That's interesting.

Bob: Yeah, I'm curious what comes up for you hearing that.

Chris: It's interesting, you know, I was thinking before we started recording, earlier this afternoon about what I had said to you when I reached out to you initially to say that I wanted to have you on the podcast. I said that nonviolent communication reminds me of Dabrowski's multi-level development in some ways. What you were just saying makes sense to me from the perspective that so much of being in multi-level development compared to uni-level development is [about] a different kind of consciousness or awareness.

I think in nonviolent communication, you're making such an effort to have awareness and consciousness, not only of your self-connection, but of being respectful of the person that you're talking with that it just makes sense to me. You know, I mean, I do think that this is a framework that really elevates a person potentially, you know, if they use it correctly.

Bob: Yeah. Yeah. And the energy that you come from, or the intention, matters so much because I wasted years being an NVC jerk thinking this is the “right” way to do it. And then I'm in right-wrong thinking and the whole work is to move away from right-wrong thinking and just see that people are trying to meet their beautiful needs.

They might have a tragic attempt, a tragic strategy. I taught in prison for three years and a lot of my right-wrong thinking faded away because the guys I was working with, I could see their innocence. I could see them loving the skills they were developing. And I know we were cautioned not to be gullible and we weren't allowed to have outside relationships with the guys we were teaching in prison for safety reasons. But over half of them, I would have been happy to be  neighbors and get some pizza with.

Chris: Yeah, I can relate to that. I did an internship at a youth correctional facility. It’s the same thing where so many of the teenage girls that I worked with, they were really great kids and had, for the most part, ended up in this prison for adolescents because they had just come from families where they had had criminal behaviors modeled to them. It wasn't because they were bad kids.

What you just said about that also reminded me about children. I think that this is also a great way to look at kids and, you know, the fact that kids have needs under their behaviors.

If we take the time to listen to them and help them connect with what they need, you can eliminate some of the behaviors that people look at kids and think, “oh, like this kid's just trying to be difficult” when really it's that they have an underlying need that's not being met.

Bob: Exactly. It's a needs awareness model, it's a needs fulfillment model, and I was taught needs met or not met. So I'm trying to move away from the binary to needs being partially met, because that's where we have the most progress, to look at our needs being partially met. And it's very rare for a need to be fully unmet.

Chris: That makes sense. And, you know, what you said about changing your right-wrong thinking, there again, there's an intersection with Dabrowski because that's a shift from that unilevel, you know, binary thinking to the multilevel, broader dimensional multilevel, thinking. It's interesting to me to just ponder all of this.

Emma: You were talking about working with people, obviously, in the prison system. Can you sort of explain to us a little bit about what the sorts of things that you were focusing on with them and the sorts of skills that you were looking to impart? Because you said you had to shift yourself from that right-wrong thinking. So what is it that you teach people, some of the skills that we might find valuable?

Bob: Yeah, yeah. And, and it's the same, the same work I do, I did in prison and in California, I do now in Indiana, and I do it in schools, I do it with fancy rich people with fancy jobs, it's the same work. The work often involves a study of the book, the main nonviolent communication book, “NVC, A Language of Life”. A simple technology, and I'm glad, Chris, that you were looking at the needs list. That's formulated to be true needs, true universal human needs, as opposed to strategies.

We do a lot of work thinking about what's a need and what's a strategy. And the simple technology is the deck of feelings and needs cards. So I've used this with schools. I used it in prison. I had a man, it was an advanced class… The first, the beginner series in prison was basically a chapter by chapter of the book: what's an observation, what's a feeling, what's a need, what's a request, the four steps of NVC.

There are the three modes of NVC- that NVC can be used for self connection as we've talked about, but it can also be used for empathy for another person, or for honesty. You're always focusing on one of those three options. When in doubt, step back into self-connection, [that] is what I teach. The advanced work, this guy in prison was flipping through a deck of needs cards, and he said, I'm gonna stop now because if I continue, I'm gonna start crying and this is not a safe place to cry. And I was just so floored by his, I know this is a made up word, but I have to use it, his choicefulness.

Chris: Well, yeah, I can see how you would be blown away by that. I'm interested in these cards, the feelings versus needs cards. It sounds like a great tool to use with clients.

Bob: Yes, because there's something about holding the cards in your hand that normalizes having these feelings and normalizes having these needs and you have to be strategic with a person. Because NVC can be used feelings first and then needs, or needs first and then feelings.

So the main way it's taught is feelings first, but that's to help emotional people connect to the logical basis of their needs. If somebody is highly analytical, I found it's easier to start with the needs, because they can inventory their needs, and that’s a common thing I do with clients, inventorying their needs.

At a school I visited a couple weeks ago, every student was able to address the question, “what are three needs on your radar at this moment?”. I always want somebody to have an awareness of three needs, and then you don't just self-connect, you also solve problems because you develop three strategies for every need. When you have three strategies for every need, you are resilient and you are flexible and you are abundant.

Chris: Can you give us examples of strategies?

Bob: Yeah, yeah. I want to share my most personal example. My son, he lives in Costa Rica and I live in Indiana. I'm at the beginning of a two month visit with him. You caught me at a good time because I am just overjoyed with love and miniature golf and going to movies and all kinds of great things. But playing miniature golf with my son is a strategy. Giving him a hug or a kiss is a strategy. Going to a movie is a strategy. The needs are closeness, connection, and love. So when we're apart, we talk most mornings, almost every day we get to talk. Talking then is the strategy. So I have peace with one of the hardest things in my life, being away from my son, but I have peace with it because I'm focused on the needs. Closeness, connection, and love are well met.

Chris: Well, I'm so glad that you're getting to spend time with your son right now. That's wonderful.

Bob: Thank you.

Chris: That makes sense now, I'm so glad I asked the question because I mean that that makes a ton of sense to me that those are the strategies.

I'm going to start thinking about this more in my day to day life and because it just seems like such a simple recipe for being more present. The words that I want to choose right now don't really match what I mean. I was going to say ‘more effective in my work’, but I don't know if ‘effective' is the word that I'm looking for. I just know that a lot of my work with my clients, or not even just clients, but in my life, it helps to be able to be present with the people I'm talking to or talking with. I would include my own son in that. There's really something to be said for having an awareness of my own needs when I'm trying to help him connect with his own needs, the ability to model these things helps when you're trying to help other people put things into practice, I guess.

Bob: For sure, you can only take people as far as you've gone yourself. We all have an empathy battery, and that empathy battery has size based on our life experience, and it has charge based on our self-connection, how much self-empathy we've had. So, I want to make sure in my work that my empathy battery is always fully charged. That was my main preparation to get ready for this call, to be sure that my self-empathy was really solid. I want to add one more teaching piece: “hold your needs tightly and your strategies lightly.”

Chris: I like that.

Emma: That's really good advice. I went to a class once on presentation skills, so getting up in front of a group and presenting. The teacher in that group said she liked to use what she called “blinding flashes of the obvious”. And that's what I think you've just given us, Bob, is something that seems really simple, but when you're not putting conscious thought into it, it can just sort of elude you.

That process of paying attention to what your needs really are and focusing on them, and then being flexible with your strategies, as you said, with your son, depending on whether or not you're physically present or you're distant, be flexible about how you're going to meet those needs. I think that ties in nicely with Dabrowski because when he's talking about aligning your actions with your values, this is really the essence of it. What are your needs and your feelings, but how are you acting in a way that's effectively going to meet them and not things like lashing out in anger? There's obviously a need under that anger. Is your action going to effectively address that or are you just going to feel better in the short term and maybe have horrible regret later?

Bob: Yeah, I'm so glad you mentioned that alignment. A concept I've been thinking a lot about lately is coherence. One definition of wellness is that a person chooses coherent strategies to meet their needs. There's a logic to it. And NVC, I tell families, I tell schools, I don't teach problem solving. I teach connection. Once you're connected, cooperation flows, creativity flows. It's very easy to have problem solving, you can make a request. And yeah, NVC helps with making a request. But that Dabrowski alignment of values, yeah.  Some people call [it] needs, like one of the decks of feelings and needs cards is called ‘needs and values’, so it's totally aligned with that.

Chris: Tell us more about how you charge your empathy battery.

Bob: Well, I have a two-hour walk through fields of corn and soybeans every day, weather permitting. So time with nature, exercise. I also receive therapy every week. Our therapy style is very much based on what's alive in the moments and receiving empathy for that, and some insight, some challenge. So it's not just validation, there's also challenge. But I also have a self-empathy just to ask myself, what needs matter to me right now? It feels really good to know that you're choosing actions that are meeting your needs.

That's where poise and joy comes in, and it just so happens that poise and joy are the opposite of anxiety and depression. But I've been so focused on what to build because in NCV, we say, “Even a no has a yes behind it,” and we ask for what we want because the list of what we don't want is infinite. So, at the dinner table, I don't want somebody barking like a dog, but I also don't want them quacking like a duck. And I can't make a list of all the things I don't want. I do much better by describing what I do want.

Chris: That makes sense. That's one of the parts of the book that really gave me pause, the chapter on requesting that which would enrich life. Because it's not easy to ask for what you want. Even when you do identify your need, it's challenging to say to someone, this is what I need.  I would love to hear from you, when you're teaching about NVC or working with someone, how do you help them ask for what they need?

Bob: Yeah, I spend some extra time with them to be sure they're connected to the beauty of their need, because I want them to be fully confident. I want them to approach the request with confidence that they're inviting you to participate in something joyful and beautiful and meaningful. So a request on Marshall, who founded this work, it's a little crude, but he talked about how a request could have ‘kick me’ energy…like, “oh if it's not too much trouble, could you pour me some iced tea, but I don't want to bother you”. As opposed to “I would really love some iced tea, if you could share!”. I mean which would be more fun? The love! So yeah, he named it “Kick Me Energy”, and it's a little crude, but I think it's a good reminder to, before you make a request, spend some time with the beauty of your need.

Emma: It's almost like any time someone starts their sentence or their statement with something like, you know,” I don't mean to be an imposition” or “with all due respect” or “I don't mean to be rude”… you can guarantee that whatever's coming afterwards is going to be an imposition or disrespectful or rude.

Chris: That's so true. I just made that mistake recently actually. I said, you know, no offense and then said something offensive and thought to myself, wow, learn to stop doing this, but it's hard to break patterns. You know, it's hard when you're in middle age to say, oh gosh, here's something I've been doing for years. It's time to change that. But yeah, I mean, that's one of the beautiful things about trying to have some awareness or having some self-connection before you say something that you may regret.

Bob: Yeah. The key thing about a request is the distinction between a request and a demand and the distinction is not about politeness or how pretty your sentence is. The distinction is, are you open to hearing a no? If you can truly know that there are many strategies to meet your needs, then you're walking in the world of requests. That meets needs for choice and autonomy and cooperation and even shared reality, which is a real golden need name I want to be sure I share with you because shared reality comes up in couples' work and it comes up all over the place.

And in my personal life, it turns out I have bipolar. And I had a years-long manic psychosis. So not just a manic road trip. This lasted for years. And I lost a marriage. I lost so much during this time. And what got me back was I wanted to be in the same reality as my son. So that need for shared reality was a huge motivation on my path to wellness.

Chris: Thanks so much for sharing that with us, Bob. And actually, right before we met, I added shared reality to the list of things I wanted to ask you about, because this is another thing that you've brought to my awareness, thanks to Twitter. I think that shared reality is… that phrase, once you introduced me to it, I see often in my own relationships with people, even outside of my family, that we are not living in the same shared reality and how much that creates problems. If you're not in the same reality, if you're not in the shared reality, then it's really hard to communicate effectively.

Bob: Yeah, yeah. What could be simple and coherent becomes really confusing and really ineffective.

Emma: I want to ask what is a shared reality? How would you define it? Because you could take a vernacular meaning of what people think it might mean, but I'm curious to hear how Bob would define that.

Bob: First of all, at the observation level, your observations match. So I'm observing that the three of us are on a phone call right now, and it's being recorded. And if one of you doesn't see it that way, then we don't have shared reality because we fail at the observation level. But you could also fail… I don't want to talk in terms of failure, I want to talk about how do we build shared reality. We build shared reality by having the same observations. We build shared reality by acknowledging that the same needs are involved. So for all of us, and correct me if I'm wrong, but for all of us we have needs for community involved, needs for contribution, connection. I'd like to think that the need for fun and play is involved, but if I were to have some kind of secret mission, then that would not be in the shared reality. Like if I thought the purpose of this phone call, that this phone call is gonna make me a million dollars. If my motivation is to make a million dollars, we're not on the same page.

Chris: Yeah, I mean, I've found shared reality useful in thinking about just people in my life where we're not on the same page and where we are potentially we should be working together, but we're not because we're not in the shared reality. I think that a lot of it is when there's hidden expectations. I find in general that expectations are problematic in relationships and that this is a huge source of suffering in a lot of ways because we expect people to read our minds and know what we're, and hope that they'll understand how, we're feeling, and that's an unrealistic thing. It just creates a lot of problems.

Bob: Yeah, this work requires self-responsibility and it allows for interdependence. So I'm not saying a fierce independence, thinking I am alone in the world. Like we met, we met on Twitter and now we're having a delightful conversation because you reached out. So you took a risk, you made a request and here the three of us are. So a lot of this celebration and gratitude goes to you, Chris, for, for initiating this. And I don't know the history of the podcast about how you two first started working together, but I'm sure there's a lot to celebrate there as well.

Chris: Oh, right. And that's, yeah, that's another interesting thing is the vulnerability, or the trust around these things, too. I think that's just another thing that's been on my mind while I've been reading the book. I'm glad that you differentiated, and I'm going back for just a second, but I'm glad that you differentiated request versus demand, the difference there. You know, I guess empathy, responsibility, so many of the terms in nonviolent communication align with Dabrowski's dynamisms. He saw empathy as one of the most powerful developmental dynamics, and  nonviolent communication is so grounded in empathy, empathy for self and others. I think that that relates to this shared reality situation, too. I think that when we're in the same shared reality, it's easier to have empathy. Again, just on a tangent.


Bob: No, no. It all flows together. You have empathy because you mentioned agendas. There's no hidden agenda. There's a beauty. There's a transparency that people know what needs are involved. They know what needs they're paying attention to and every action becomes so much more choiceful and joyful.

It's like the joy of feeding a baby goat, that every action is an attempt to meet a need. And I don't know if Dabrowski, if it's implied that at the higher levels, you also have higher levels of joy, but in the NVC work, conflict occurs at the level of strategy, not at the level of needs. If we're creative enough and patient enough, there's a way to honor all of the needs. There might be a tension between certain needs and maybe we have to be mourning that one need is not met at certain moments, but we could still honor that need by mourning that it's not met at that moment. And I think, The pain is less when a need is properly mourned, because you could feel the sadness and you could feel the grief and have those feelings flow through you, that a need is not met as fully as you would like. And you wake up the next day and you work to meet that need. So yeah, does Dabrowski imply joy?

Chris: You definitely did see that there were levels of joy. Yeah. And that like a higher level of joy would be like joy in love or in connection, right? A lower level of joy would be like joy that I got the material thing that I wanted or you know something that was more egocentric.

Emma: Particularly with the shared reality thing and also having empathy, it's a lot like Dabrowski's concept of subject-object and viewing individuals as being unique and having their own unique needs. I think particularly in relationships, sometimes people just assume that, you know, all of your needs are going to be exactly all of the other person's needs and you get those couples that are kind of joined at the hip and expect 100% alignment in who they are and it's just about the relationship and they forget they're individuals in this piece.

So I think that concept of having a space of shared reality gives you a nice little warm center to connect while still respecting the fact that you have two individual people in this and viewing each other as unique individuals, which builds your empathy.  I think you can get more joy by not trying to get 100% overlap because you're just going to meet frustrations. As you said, Bob, you're going to get needs that aren't met and a lot of people don't take space to mourn those. They just let them lead into conflict because they don't realize that they're now employing strategies that [are] competing with each other.

Bob: Yeah. And where all this shared reality and empathy leads us, it leads us to interdependence- where we see the other person as fully unique and having their own self connection. I just want to bring in a common thing from couples work, because I would ask, do you have a sense that I heard what's important to you? Or do you have a sense that they fully heard you? And I encourage one person to ask another: Did I hear what really matters to you?

That's called a connection request. So there are two different kinds of requests. One is for connection, one is for solution. So would you pick the sock up off the ground? In NVC, we do a lot of work with socks on the ground.

Would you pick the sock up off the ground and put it in the hamper is a solution request- but more often, we want a connection request to check if we're fully heard, to check if we're on the same page, to just check on connection, because all of these things we can ask about. We have the power to make requests to get the information that we need.

Chris: Can you say more about connection requests? I'm curious about how that looks in practice.

Bob: Sure, sure. Well… what are some examples? I would have people listen to each other for two minutes and then reflect back what they heard was important to the other. Just that question, you could check for understanding. Could you tell me what you heard is important to me? Or if I'm explaining something painful in my life, do you see what was painful about that experience? Or could you give me a guess of what needs you think are important here? So that's actually a request for empathy, but it is a connection request, it's asking for any information that will, and I don't want to think in the negative, but it will remove neurosis. So what's the opposite of neurosis? Poise. It will give you the information. You don't have to second guess, like, was I clear? You can check with a connection request.

Chris: Interesting. Thank you. That really helps. This is good. I'm so glad that we're having this conversation. I like the way that… because you have practice doing this too. I mean, you use it in your work and you have experience teaching this stuff, but it's fun for me in this moment because I've been reading this book and so to hear you say it is bringing it to life for me and I appreciate it.

Bob: Yeah. I'm glad you have a balance of book learning and in-person learning.

Chris: Right, and I would argue that I definitely need way more of it. This is something I could see taking a class on nonviolent communication, because there's so much here. It's a lot to try and absorb the book. And I can see that it would be great to actually do a workshop or learn it in person with somebody, or even virtually, I suppose.

Bob: Yeah, yeah. Would you like an empathy buddy?

Chris: Sure. Yeah, I mean, explain to me what you mean by an empathy buddy. How would that work?

Bob: Once a week, you share an hour and it doesn't have to be [a full hour]… 30 minutes, 30 minutes. If somebody has something burning, you could give more time to that person, but you just practice NVC empathy, like the needs awareness.

It's not just, empathy isn't just feelings and needs. It's also how, empathy is traditionally defined as a quality of presence, but the language is key to NVC and getting to the needs. We say that the needs have 85% of the life energy and the feelings have 15% of the life energy. So again, the feelings give you clues about your needs. So with an empathy buddy, it's like peer counseling.

Chris: That's cool. That's cool. I could see doing that. At this point, I've been so swamped lately, but I would love to carve out time to do this kind of empathy work and learn this at a deeper level. That would be really cool. I only made it so far in the book, I still have a ways to go. But I marked a few pages that I wanted to ask you about.

One of them is interesting to me because in Dabrowski's theory, the level three dynamisms are, they can feel harsh, that's like dissatisfaction with oneself or inferiority toward oneself. And on one page of the book, and this is Marshall Rosenberg, he says that “self-judgment, like all judgments, are tragic expressions of unmet needs”.  I wondered if you could say something about that, like self-judgment, because it seems to me that Dabrowski saw maybe the word judgment doesn't really connect with the dynamisms exactly. But when I read this part, I thought to myself, huh, that's interesting because it's my impression that Dabrowski wanted people to evaluate themselves. And so, you know, maybe it's the language that I'm taking issue with, you know, maybe you can evaluate without judging.

Bob: Without moralistic judgments, you still have your judgment, like good judgments. So it's the moralizing, which is problematic. And in NVC, we want to observe without evaluation. So observation without evaluation or assessment or comparison, just to know in simple terms, what are we talking about? But as far as looking at the self, yeah, you can evaluate.

I used to be really rigorous about what was nonviolent and what wasn't violence. I've shifted towards taking any clue I can get to get to the needs. So in NVC, there's a couple characters. There's the giraffe who listens for feelings and needs. There's the jackal or wolf that is attached to a strategy and will just run towards that strategy and grab it by its throat and not let go and only see one way to be satisfied. So giraffe and jackal are, if you get into the NVC world, you will see ears and puppets. I don't think anybody's done a full body costume yet, but soon, it's going to happen.

Like Marshall said, everything is a tragic expression of an unmet need, or any judgment is a tragic expression of an unmet need. Listen for the need. So take any clue you could get. Because we also distinguish between what's a true feeling and what's a thought or thought snuck into a feeling. It takes a lot of work to figure out what's a true feeling and what's a thought. And I think we could skip that step and just use it as a clue to get to the needs.

Chris: Thank you. That really helps. You know, I had something happen this week that I wanted to bring up. It was almost… hilariously good timing that we were having this episode this week to record because I had an issue where someone posted a comment to me that felt like an attack. Suffice it to say that I really recognized in myself that I could have handled it better. I could have put more work into trying to understand where they were coming from, but I didn't.

I was thinking, you know, while we were preparing again earlier today, I was in the book again and thinking about it. I think I really have a need for safety. I'm sensitive. I'm a sensitive person. When people say things to me that feel like attacks, it's hard for me. I feel myself triggered into that fight or flight mode. I have most of my life been a fight responder, you know, where when I was young, I was really kind of an aggressive person and I don't live like that anymore.

But I wanted to bring this up and say that I'm constantly seeing places where I can improve. I see my flaws in how I communicate with people. I see the remnants of the past and how I'm still just easily triggered, I guess, when I feel attacked. I'm not even sure where I'm going with this, but

Bob: Yeah, Yeah.

Chris:I want to do better in the future, I guess is what I'm saying. And I, I don't know, how much do I have to, how much am I obligated to, connect with someone when it feels like they're attacking and that's like the way that they operate in the world?

Bob: Yeah. Well, I have an empathy guess for you and then I have some coaching for you, if you can handle both.

Chris: Yes.Yeah, let's do it, thank you.

Bob: So the empathy guess is I wonder if your need for ease was involved.

Chris: Definitely. Yes. I'd had a need for ease because my life is so busy right now. I did not have the mental bandwidth to try and work this out.

Bob: Okay, yeah. Parents laugh at me when I mention the need for ease, but it does exist and it comes up for adults a lot. Then sit with that, because you weren't just honoring your need for safety, you were also honoring your need for ease.

And here's where I challenge you. “Attacked” is one of those words that isn't a true feeling. It's a story we're telling ourselves. It's an evaluation. It's an assessment. It's a judgment. So I would, in my own mind, maybe even quote the person of what they said that was unpleasant. But a quote is always an observation. Attack is a judgment. And you want safety. So I'm not suggesting you don't assess for that anymore, but I am suggesting that you connect at the needs level. At the observation level, you remember what is the specific observation. Attacked is, it's vague, it's not specific. What if the person isn't on the same page as you? Then you don't even get to step two in a restorative process. So you need an observation that's gonna let you get to step two.

Chris: Well, so this is how this person operates in the world by saying you are whatever derogatory word comes from them.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: It felt like an attack, you know, to have someone say that to me, unprovoked, just out of the blue in a comment.

Bob: Well, it's not observation language. We don't even know what that means. It's almost inadmissible. Common sense comes first, and your need for safety comes first, because NVC can make somebody too soft. But what I do, and what I've been trained to do, is I'm always listening for feelings and needs. So no matter what somebody says to me, even if they come up to me and say, you're a total jerk face, I'm listening for their feelings and their needs because they're not trained to share their feelings and needs.

They might not even be self-connected to know that maybe that person is longing for a shared reality. I mean, maybe they're not understanding where you're coming from, and at the observation level, maybe their heart would shift once you got on the same page, but we talked for 20 minutes about shared reality. That person's longing for shared reality. It doesn't make what they said okay. I get that what they said is problematic, but it's also incomplete. And it's so tragic because it doesn't guide you to a next step and it doesn't start a restorative process. So I would want you to have the option, but never the obligation, to engage in a restorative process.

Chris: OK, well, this is, yeah, well, thank you. I mean, this is helpful. So what could I do better? Because honestly, this is where I break down. It's a challenge for me. When somebody says something like that, I'm just completely at a loss for how to deal with it effectively. What's your suggestion for how to begin a restorative process or how to try to figure out how to connect with someone and their needs in that moment?

Bob: I would say or type, ouch, O-U-C-H, ouch. Like that, that hurts. But, you're allowing vulnerability at the same time that you're setting a boundary. So, “ouch. I would really like to understand where you're coming from, but I'm not getting the information I need from the way you just said it. Would you be willing to tell me what specifically you're observing?”. And they're probably not open-hearted enough to fully engage in a restorative process, but yeah, what I would offer you, and I tell this to couples all the time, say “ouch”. I don't know if that's meaningful to you.

Chris: It is, it is. Thank you. It just never even occurred to me. And so I appreciate it. I really, it's tough for me to navigate these comments that are, that are tough. This doesn't come naturally to me at all. I really appreciate you talking me through that because it's an area where I want to get better.

Bob: Yeah, yeah. I think your foundation is strong, so just a little bit of fine-tuning and I think you're going to have a lot of options. A lot more options than you currently experience.

Chris: Well, thank you. And yeah, I'm definitely going to keep reading the book too. This is really helpful for me. It's something that I wish I discovered when I was young, that's for sure. And I say that also as a parent. I wish that I'd had NVC when my son was young. Do you find it helpful as a parent? I'm sure that you're teaching your son these things, aren't you? Because it seems like it would be a great thing to learn as a child.

Bob: Yes, yes. And I've also been friends with a guy who's an adult now, ever since he was eight, who was raised by two NVC trainers, and they pulled me in to take him on hikes and launch rockets and stuff. So my son is seven now, and the kid who was, forgive the judgment, but perfectly raised, that I got to have a close connection with, like, they're so full of choice. I mean, self-connection and choice. Their autonomy needs are huge. They've never seen a worksheet. Like my son, my son studies play. He's a master of play and connection and choice. And yeah, he's a thrill and his mom is also on board for NVC. We’re doing great at co-parenting.

Chris: That's wonderful. Well, I hope you have a wonderful visit with him while he's in Indiana with you..

Bob: Thank you. Yeah, it's going great so far. I'm so grateful.


Emma: I wanted to ask you, in light of people struggling with facing situations of conflict, me personally, I used to work in insurance, in claims, and we actually got taught techniques on how to, because obviously particularly when you tell people no, things can get quite aggressive and there can be conflict and you need to learn how to de-escalate that.

We were always taught, listen for the customer's needs, both expressed and unexpressed. So I guess from my background, a lot of this is making sense for me, but that's because I've had training and practice in this area. So what I wanted to ask you is, particularly with the way that we're brought up or raised in society to interact with each other as people, and sometimes that interaction can be quite combative or conflictive, what is it that you find people struggle with the most when you're trying to teach them these techniques of nonviolent communication?

We've talked about things of having to trust, having to be vulnerable, having to be present and actually connect with your needs and not just react. You talked about the wolf going straight for the strategy and not thinking about the needs underneath. So there seems to be a lot of things that people might struggle with. What is it that you find that people struggle with the most or they find it the hardest to translate from knowing it to getting it into practice?

Bob: Yeah, even people I've been working with for years I still have to coach them on the distinction between a need and a strategy to meet the need. I think on some level, that's the hardest thing because they're taught to long for certain things. And these are beautiful things, but they are strategies. I'm not saying the strategy isn't beautiful. A strategy can be beautiful. But the distinction between a need and a strategy is the toughest to integrate. There's a lot of language rigor that's involved.

I've heard a criticism that you need a certain amount of cognitive functioning to really embrace NVC. And I've had some people, I have an article about what five needs I would recommend for a young kid. And I think young kids could have needs awareness because this is intuitive. It's natural to want to contribute. It's natural to want to meet needs. It's self-motivating because the motivation is right there in the need. Different struggles with different people, but the need strategy distinction is the hardest to fully take in because that's where you see the innocence of yourself and the innocence of somebody else.

Emma: I find that fascinating that you've brought that up. I recently did a blog post about my perplexity that a lot of people don't have what I call ‘soul goals’. So a lot of people's goals are based in the material world, around home and career and travel and study and all those things, which arguably we don't have a whole lot of control over because look what happened with the pandemic. If you were hoping for a trip overseas, your plans got cancelled. But a lot of people aren't thinking, my new year's resolution is to be more compassionate, or my goal for next quarter is to be more empathetic.

And I was sort of talking in my blog post about that. So for me, the differentiation between that seems to be that the need is more based in your emotional, but because we've been trained to want the physical and see things in terms of the material, is that where you think people are tripping up in the ability to differentiate strategy from need? Because if you're like, “I want to own a new home, that's my need”. No, it isn't. You need to have security. The home is the strategy to feel that security.

Bob: Exactly, exactly. And, oh, because this is where the hang-up comes from. People were taught the distinction between a need and a want. We use those as synonyms in NVC. I'm really wanting some closeness right now. I'm really needing some closeness right now. They're synonyms. So, they're trained as a thought exercise to think what's a need and what's a want. That's not the distinction that I'm coaching. The distinction I'm coaching is need and strategy and needs and wants are the same thing.

Emma: I need a roof over my head as opposed to I want a solid gold toilet. But those are still strategies. I think that's how most people are raised anyway. If they're differentiating what's a want and what's a need, it's all in terms of, well, what physical things do you actually need versus what physical things are nice to have?

Bob: Yeah, yeah. And, and at the end of the day, it's still a physical thing. It's still, still a strategy. So I think people were taught to skip over the need step. So this, the challenge of this work is to reintroduce a moment of pause and let the needs awareness come in. Then you could think about a house and you might still buy a house, but as you said, the need is security. Another need a house meets is comfort. Tons of needs that having a beautiful house meets. Beauty. Beauty is a need. Order is a need that comes up a lot with parents because they want more order, like the kids to clean up basically. There's a dad I'm working with that I'm trying to get him to see any need, in addition to order, because all he talks about is the need for order. So I mean, needs awareness doesn't mean that you fully mastered the concepts yet, because that's, I want you to be aware of three needs at any moment, not just one need.

Chris: Yeah. I've seen you say on Twitter that. hTe need, well, to look for three needs or to be aware of three needs. And it's challenging. You know, it's easy to think of one need or two needs, but three needs, it's a real exercise.

Bob: But the brain can handle three concepts at the same time, because needs simplify. A brain can't handle, in working memory, a list of all the attributes of a house. But you can hold in your awareness, as I walk, as I tour this place that I'm considering buying, how will it impact my needs for security, for comfort, and for beauty? So there's three needs just for buying a house. Three needs.

When you're going to dinner with your family, you probably want connection, you probably want joy from the taste of the food. So pleasure, you have connection, you have pleasure. and you certainly want ease, somebody banging their fist on the table is not going to contribute to joy or pleasure or comfort.

So yeah, it is a challenge to spread out and most NVC, it's me, it's not other trainers who talk about three needs, that's coming from me. And I should mention, there are certified trainers who have done certain steps that I have not done to join the club of certified trainers. So they request that I mention that when I'm talking about NVC.

Chris: Okay. We still appreciate you bringing your expertise to the podcast because you know a lot about this and this has been really fascinating.

Bob: Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm 20 years in, so there's a lot to digest. And I think you have a better foundation than I did when I started. When I started, I was still pretty deep in right-wrong thinking. And I am excited how this interconnects with the Dabrowski work.

Chris: It’s neat. I'm not even sure what made me eventually buy the book. Oh actually I do know what it is! I purchased the book because I, I mean for one thing I wanted to know more about what you've been talking about. Seeing you say on Twitter about the three needs, well, now that I've seen the needs list in the book, I'm like, oh, it makes so much more sense to me. And so I'm really glad I did.

Part of why I got the book was that I just had a feeling that I wanted to read through this before I went to work at camp,I’m going to be a facilitator at Yunasa, which is a camp for gifted kids, and the one here in Colorado. I'm really excited to have this. I'm going to bring the book with me in case anybody wants to have a look at it. There's always little moments where the kids, they get into a battle over something and I'm really excited to have a new strategy to bring to them because I know that they'll be interested and that they'll be willing to hear it out.

Bob: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think in particular for gifted kids, gifted adults, I say deep minds dig deep holes. So it's really helpful to have a simplifying process. Like we talked earlier, that NVC, when fully implemented, makes life simple and coherent. And when you have a complex brain, you want things to be as simple and coherent as possible.

Chris: And just, I mean, even the most basic things about NVC are helpful when you think about them… observe, observation without evaluation, even. Just being aware of what's happening without placing your judgment on it. It's a huge deal. It just makes so much sense. There's so much intuitive common sense to this.

Bob: Yeah, yeah. It just so happens that observation is the first step of the scientific method too. So there's ways to integrate this into broader education.

Emma: I also find all the connections with Dabrowski fascinating because observation in and of itself, subject-object thinking, you can't evaluate yourself objectively without observation and even the exploration of needs. Once you start thinking about what your emotional and spiritual needs are, those deep needs, that's the first step towards finding who you really are, what's important to you, what you value and becoming a little bit more authentic.

Bob: Yeah, authentic, purposeful, so you've got the needs for meaning and purpose involved. Yeah, it's life transformative. If I had one blessing for a family I work with, it would be self-connection and choice.

And again, this is me, this is not the official teachings, but I've kind of honed in on these two needs. Self-connection and choice are the foundations of well-being. That's what I hope this work helps contribute to. And I think the needs awareness is the best strategy I've found, but whatever serves your self-connection, I would say trust that.

For me, I mentioned it was going for a walk. I don't know if it's climbing a tree or drinking tea or whatever you need to do for your self-connection, for your self-empathy. There's a guy I've been working with for two years and once, you know, we have homework assignments and coaching, he was doing really well. So I just wanted to continue his progress and I said, just keep your empathy battery charged. That was his homework for the week. Is that a doable request? It's not specifically a doable request. It's a little vague. It's hard to verify that you've done it, but that's my hope for every listener. What serves your self-connection? I hope needs awareness helps with that, but needs awareness is not the only thing. You need something else to have the whole self-connection.

Chris: Thank you so much. I just feel like there's a lot to chew on here and process. I am going to keep going with NVC and keep thinking about it. And I'm glad that we're connected on Twitter and we will, we can certainly talk more about this there. This is really great stuff. And I'm so glad that you joined us.

Bob: Oh, yay. Thanks for having me.

Emma: And thank you too, Chris. It's always a pleasure having you on the podcast with me.

Chris: Thank you, Emma. It's always a pleasure to be here.

Emma: And thank you to you, listeners, as well. What would we do without you?

The Positive Disintegration podcast is funded by the Dabrowski Center. If you like what you've heard, please consider donating through the link in the show notes. And if you're listening to us on Apple or Spotify, give us a rating or leave a review. If you want to get in touch with us, you can email positivedisintegration.pod@gmail.com or find us on Twitter or Instagram. And until next time, keep walking the path to your authentic self.