February focus: communicating your emotions

Yesterday we explored broadening our emotional vocabulary so we have a wider range of choices when it comes to noticing and labelling our emotions. This is a building block of self awareness and also helps us share how our experiences with others.

Sharing your emotions not only helps release some of your tension, it can also help clear your mind and sort out how you are feeling. You might see things in a new light or come up with additional ideas for coping or meeting your needs. It can help you build stronger connections with others and help others understand you better.

Everyone experiences and expresses their emotions differently, and sometimes when we feel overwhelmed by our emotions we may not express ourselves clearly, or even say something we later regret. It can help to have a simple framework to use when sharing what you are experiencing.

Communicating with empathy

There are many tools and approaches you can use to talk about your emotions, thoughts and feelings, including the one I’m sharing today: Non-Violent Communication.

This approach was developed in the 1960s by American psychologist, Marshall Rosenberg, to support compassionate connection to others. The approach is based on the assumption that humans have the capacity for empathy and compassion, and they only resort to violence (or harmful behaviour towards others) when they don’t identify better ways to meet their needs.

Non Violent Communication (NVC) is about communicating with people from a place of empathy, and uses a simple four-step process: observation, identifying feelings, identifying needs, and making requests.

“Focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging.”

Marshall Rosenberg

It requires you to have the self awareness of noticing, labelling and accepting your feelings. Then identifying the underlying needs.

RECAP: Your underlying needs are usually not directly related to the first emotion you notice. You need to peel the onion and look at what’s happening underneath the top layer.

For example, I might work late to finish a complicated report for my boss. When I hand it in my boss’s only reaction is to share that she’s unimpressed that it’s late. I will perhaps notice that I feel angry inside about her reaction and complain about her to colleague. But if I peel back the onion, anger isn’t what’s really going on. I might notice that I feel hurt that she didn’t acknowledge the effort I went to to complete the task – or the lack of appreciation of the report’s content. What I perhaps notice is an unmet need of mine for approval – and I channelled the feelings of hurt and sadness into righteous anger. By complaining about how terrible she is as a boss and remove my approval of her, I make myself feel better and relive my own feelings of the lack of approval.

Non Violent Communication

To use the NVC four step process with others you avoid the typical paths of blame and judgement by invoking ‘I’ statements and communicating your needs.

When <observation>, I feel <feeling> because I’m needing some <universal needs>. Would you be willing to <request>? 

Observation: The emphasis is on non-judgemental observation. Instead of “You’re always late with your reports.” You could say: “I noticed this is the third time this month that your report has been late.”

Feeling: This step focuses on taking responsibility for our feelings. Instead of “You make me feel disrespected.” You could say: “I feel frustrated and concerned.”

Needs: An explanation of which needs are not being met or of what is important to you. Instead of “You ought to know these reports are a top priority.” You could say: “It’s important to me that our team is timely on our business reports so we operate efficiently.”

Request: Finally making a specific, positive actionable request. Instead of “You need to get the report done and on my desk immediately!” You could say: “Would you tell me what’s preventing you from finishing the report, and what you might do to get it finished by the end of the day?”

The NVC approach avoids blame and judgement which demeans people and can often lead to misunderstanding, pain, anger, shame, and in extreme cases emotional and physical violence.

From > You’re always late with your reports. You make me feel disrespected. You ought to know these reports are a top priority. You need to get the report done and on my desk immediately!

To > I noticed this is the third time this month that your report has been late. I feel frustrated and concerned because it’s important to me that our team is timely on our business reports so we operate efficiently. Would you tell me what’s preventing you from finishing the report, and what you might do to get it finished by the end of the day?

NVC can be a challenging approach to learn and apply, and might sound a little unnatural when you first start. It’s recommended that you take some time to experiment and practice the approach, and make a deliberate effort to embed it.

Daily Practice: Expression

Emotions are inevitable, pleasant and unpleasant. We have to accept all of them to function at our best.

Take 10 minutes to write down the feelings you’ve noticed today.

  • What messages are your emotions trying to tell you?
  • What needs are not being met?
  • Who or what can you turn to?

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