Tense Situations: The Nonviolent Way
I've been an attendee at a couple of meetings---one, a community
coming together to discuss the possibility of hosting a Tent City; the
second, a group of physicians coming together to discuss a possible
separation of several of the members. I noticed how easily some
of the participants fell into the mode of using violent language to
make their point. More troubling, they frequently invoked
moral and ethical principles to support their anger. They
probably didn't think they were being "violent" but the
effect was to intimidate and "shut up" people with different
points of view.
been in a tense meeting like that? What's a good approach to
defusing meetings and situations that threaten to get out of control
into and turn into a verbal torrent of anger?
Nonviolent Communication Model
Rosenberg, PhD, founder of the Center
for Nonviolent Communication, has spent most of his professional
life teaching Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as a method to
create dialogue, connection and collaboration. The objective of
NVC is to get to the underlying emotions and needs at the heart of of
angry discourse, and then steer parties to understanding.
model for nonviolent, constructive communication has Two
part, then, is comprised of the same FOUR components or
"steps" that we should walk ourselves through, in order to
create collaborative dialogue:
Be an Empathetic Listener
yourself in the middle of a particularly tense meeting among physician
members of a large group, and the group is veering from a tense
confrontation to angry diatribe. First, assume the role of Empathetic
Listening. Here are your four steps in action:
Observations -- What is the body
language of the other person? Or, what is the behavior of the person
or group? You might say something like: "I notice
that that several people are raising their hand to speak; this is a
topic a lot of people want to have a say in." Or, "I notice
that this topic is really important to you."
Feelings -- What are the feelings
being expressed by the person speaking? Can you identify them,
or is the person telling you what his/her feelings are? You
might say something like: "What I hear that you are angry
about how this is being handled." or "I can hear that
you are disappointed about this."
Needs -- What are the underlying
needs being expressed by the person speaking? This is often the
most difficult to discern because, as the listener, you will be
tempted to jump into a defensive mode, rather than stay calm and probe
for the deeper needs of the speaker. You might say something
like: "Based on what I'm hearing, what could be an important
issue here is having more people involved, and then having them
develop a broader sent of choices" or "What might be an
issue here, based on what you've said, is that this decision could
affect our collegiality and the general stability of the
Requests -- What is the person
requesting? They may be explicit about the request, or you may
want to guide them to a request. This is an important step
in creating a "give and take" in the dialogue.
You could ask them directly: "What would you ask of us/the
group/organization right now so that you can start to feel better
about this?" Or you can clarify what you think is the
request: "What I think I hear you saying is that you
request we reorganize the governance structure altogether? Did I
understand that correctly?"
Express Yourself Honestly and Respectfully
assume you will be a participant and speaker at a highly charged
meeting. Sadly, what I have found is that some people seem to
pride themselves on the eloquence of their angry outburst and will wax
eloquently as vile spews from their mouth. Furthermore, they are often
applauded for their gumption by others who are less apt to yield a
verbal club. Please don't go down that road! If you truly
want resolution, go the NVC route.
a few moments to mentally prepare your remarks incorporating the four
components of Honestly Expressing. Here is an example:
"I noticed that some of members of the group are getting
preferential referrals, when we had agreed last year that we would
rotate the new referrals. I say this based on reviewing the
administrator's summary of new patients over the past 4
months. I also have observed that some of us have not been
included in or notified about Executive committee meetings, the
agenda or the results of discussions."
"I'm feeling pretty angry about this, and frankly really
disillusioned about our whole group mission. This makes me
feel like a second class partner in the group; like I'm in the
doghouse, but I don't know why.
"When I joined the group a few years ago, we had a real
atmosphere of trust. We shared openly the information about
our financials; we've always treated each other fairly. It's
important to me that we value each person and be fair."
"What I request is that we have rotating members of the
executive committee every six months so we have more people in the
know. An that we stick with our referral rotation as we had
before unless we ALL agree it has to change. And then maybe
set up a committee just to look at whether we need to have a
different rotation, and they can come up with specific reasons and
time you attend a meeting, jot down these four components
of the NVC model on an index card or Post-It Note: Observations,
Feelings, Needs, Request. Let these serve as a reminder and
guide to help you frame the conversation for collaboration and
R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE is an executive coach and business
consultant. She is president of The Gaillour Group and director
of Creative Strategies in Physician Leadership. Dr. Gaillour is
a professional speaker on healthcare leadership, cultural change
and physician professional development.
can be reached at (888) 562-7289 or firstname.lastname@example.org
10 things we can do to contribute to internal, interpersonal, and organizational peace
(1) Spend some time each day quietly reflecting on how we would like to relate to ourselves and others.
(2) Remember that all human beings have the same needs.
(3) Check our intention to see if we are as interested in others getting their needs met as our own.
(4) When asking someone to do something, check first to see if we are making a request or a demand.
(5) Instead of saying what we DON'T want someone to do, say what we DO want the person to do.
(6) Instead of saying what we want someone to BE, say what action we'd like the person to take that we hope will help the person be that way.
(7) Before agreeing or disagreeing with anyone's opinions, try to tune in to what the person is feeling and needing.
(8) Instead of saying “No,” say what need of ours prevents us from saying “Yes.”
(9) If we are feeling upset, think about what need of ours is not being met, and what we could do to meet it, instead of thinking about what's wrong with others or ourselves.
(10) Instead of praising someone who did something we like, express our gratitude by telling the person what need of ours that action met.
The Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) would like there to be a critical mass of people using Nonviolent
Communications language so all people will get their needs met and resolve their conflicts peacefully.
© 2001, revised 2004 Gary Baran & CNVC