This article is part of a series: Relationships 101: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5.
Part 6 is called Getting What You Need. In the past 5 weeks of this series we’ve covered almost all of the fundamental pieces of relationships. We’ve looked at what it is you value and what it is that you need in your relationships in order to feel safe and respected and happy. We’ve discussed how to make sure you’re cultivating relationships with people who are in alignment with your goals and values and principles so that you can be happy in your friendships and partnerships. We’ve addressed making sure that the things you’re expecting/asking of others are things that you are prepared to offer yourself and others as well and that your expectations are therefore reasonable and fair (this is a fabulous way to lessen your frustration and resentment with others immediately and increase the empathy and compassion between you). We’ve talked about co-dependence and how to resolve it if it exists in your relationships. And, we’ve talked about seeking to understand: The fine art of asking questions rather than just assuming your assumptions are accurate.
The only thing missing is how to ask for what you need and how to set boundaries in relationships as clearly, succinctly, and respectfully as possible. The communication tool I’m about to teach you almost guarantees you will get what you need, while simultaneously deepening the understanding and intimacy between you and the other person. And on those rare occasions when the other person is just not willing or able to meet your need, you will not feel rejected or abandoned or hurt, you will understand why they are unable to, and you will respect their reasons, or realize that they’re a total turd and you’re much better off without them! Either way, it’s a win-win!
Those of you new to CEDRIC and our newsletter may be wondering why a centre that specializes in helping people to overcome their stressful relationships with food (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, dieting, etc.) is writing for weeks on relationships. Well, that’s because the quality of your relationships directly influences your anxiety/depression level which directly influences how much you feel the need to restrict, binge or purge. So, trusting yourself to establish and maintain healthy relationships is key to overcoming your harmful patterns around food and body image. We’re going to kick into a series on your relationship with food next week so stay tuned, but for now, let’s finish our series on relationships so you’ve got a full tool kit for this aspect of your life.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Non-Violent Communication? It’s a simple, 4-step process for communicating your needs and making clear requests of others that create the greatest likelihood of you being heard, understood and getting what you need from others.
Non-Violent Communication (NVC) was created by Marshall Rosenberg who, though late in his years, still travels the world to teach his method of communication and to mediate disputes between world leaders and facilitate healing for victims of torture and war crimes. He spends much of his time in places like Palestine and Jerusalem, working to support the leaders of warring parties to understand the other’s needs and therefore, the reasons for their actions. This empathy naturally generates compassion for the other and leads to the opportunity for a closer relationship. I very much admire Marshall’s work and his passion for making the world a better place.
In my book, “Food is not the Problem: Deal With What Is!” I have a chapter on communication in which, with Marshall’s permission, I teach the full NVC protocol and give details on some of the ins and outs of communicating in NVC. I’m going to give you a super, duper abridged version below and encourage you to explore this fabulous tool further in my book or, even better, in Marshall’s (his book is simply titled: Non-Violent Communication which can be found at www.cnvc.org).
A note before we begin. If someone is yelling at you, swearing at you, threatening you or something or someone around you in some way, that person is not in a rational state of mind and you must care for yourself first and end the conversation – walk away – do not ask for permission or wait for them to stop talking so you can tell them you’re ending the conversation. Your responsibility is not to them and their feelings or needs, it is to care for yourself first and keep yourself safe emotionally, psychologically, and physically. The 4 pieces of NVC can be used to help you formulate what you say to end the conversation but you are not going to stick around for a response. Right? Right!
In brief the key to healthy relationships (and what we’ve been up to this past 5 weeks) is to learn how to identify your feelings and needs and first and foremost, validate them for yourself. Healthy relationships require you to stop looking outside yourself for someone to validate your experience – especially the person you are in relationship with – they have their own needs and feelings and won’t always be able to hold the space for you to think/feel differently from them. This doesn’t mean your needs and feelings are wrong, bad, too much, etc. This just means that they have different needs and that’s okay – as long as we are respectful in expressing our needs and we are taking responsibility for ourselves while inviting others to do the same for themselves.
It is okay to ask for feedback and to ask for validation. Where we get into trouble is that we invalidate our experience just because someone else doesn’t agree with us or sees the situation differently (or seems to). Consider studies into eye-witness testimony – 10 people can see the same event and yet remember every single detail completely differently. They are not out to get each other or make the other person crazy – they just saw it differently and that is their truth.
Your needs and your perspectives are not wrong, just different – there is more than one way to see a situation depending on your core beliefs and the needs you are seeking to meet. Others have needs they are seeking to meet, too. If we can take a moment and ask ourselves, as we are beginning to react to someone’s communication: “What is their intention?” “What is it that this person needs right now?” we have far more likelihood of successful communication – and successful communication means everyone gets to be heard and understood. It is safe to do this when you are clear on what you need and trust yourself to not compromise your values and your needs for others. You are not obligating yourself to meet the other’s needs or even agree with them, you are just asking these questions so that you can better understand the other person and find a solution that works for both of you as quickly and simply as possible.
A great tool for making sure you are communicating effectively is to begin to explore other peoples’ reactions to your sharing. Remember the article on Seeking to Understand from last week? For example, if you are asking for a ride to work and your partner says, “You’re so selfish….” Take a deep breath and seek to understand the intent behind the words. It’s not to hurt you. My guess is if you check in with your partner by saying, “I’m wondering what you heard me say just now,” (because you realize your partner’s reaction to your question seems rather strong) you will discover that your partner actually heard you saying you wanted the car that day and he’d have to find his own way to work or some reasonable facsimile. In seeking to understand what others are thinking and needing and why they are doing what they are doing you learn so much about them. You begin to take their actions and words less and less personally and to find more peace in your relationships with them.
It’s amazing how our old core beliefs taint everything that happens to and around us. The same is true for others and it is most common for arguments to be borne out of misunderstandings than it is for them to come from true irreconcilable differences of opinion.
So, the first step in effective communication is seeking to understand. Make sure that you know what the other person is trying to communicate, what they need, and then check in about how that fits for you. Can you commit to meeting that need? Does that fit for you? Once you’re sure you’ve heard them correctly and they feel understood you can then seek to be understood yourself.
As Stephen Covey, guru to the masses and author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” says: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Because if both people are simultaneously working at being heard – no one’s listening. Someone has to be willing to let the other person be heard first. Someone has to be willing to trust that they will also get their chance to be heard after the other person feels heard and understood. If you feel as though you do all the listening in a particular relationship and there is no room for you to be heard when you ask for that, it’s time to set some boundaries in that relationship and ask for what you need. It’s so sad to consider that many people would rather leave a relationship than risk the vulnerability of clearly expressing their needs and asking for help in meeting them.
The model for Non-violent Communication allows us to effectively state our feelings and needs without making someone else responsible and so greatly enhances our chances of being heard and of having that need met.
The 4 steps of NVC are as follows:
1. Observation: “I notice that…” or “When you…” State your observation of the situation – do not include any assumptions or interpretations here – this observation must be stated in such a way that anyone watching the scene would agree.
2. Feeling: “I feel …..” What is your feeling about the situation you are experiencing? You have 4 basic choices: Mad, Glad, Sad, or Scared. You can use variations on these words i.e., frustrated, hurt, thrilled or anxious. You do not say “I feel that…” or “I think…” or “I feel you….” Or “you make me feel…” It’s a simple, straight-up ownership of how you feel, unblaming, non-shaming, clear, honest. “I feel sad.”
3. Need: “Because I have a need for…that is not being met when that happens.” Using the NVC handout on needs, identify the needs you have that are not being met in the current situation. You may have one or 3 or 5 or 10. List them all or pick the top 3. For example, “I have needs for safety, trust and respect that are not being met.” Do not say – “I need you to…” – this turns your statement into a blaming one and puts pressure on the other to meet your need even if it doesn’t work for them. You will get a defensive reaction rather than an open one so save yourself some time and trouble and resist the urge to attach it to the other person directly. So rather than saying “I need you to stop yelling.” Try instead to say for example: “My needs for safety and respect aren’t met when you raise your voice.”
4. Request: “Would you be willing to….?” Here you ask the person to support you in meeting your need. If you are truly making a request, they are free to say no. If your truth is that you would feel resentful, hurt or angry – i.e. take it personally – if that person declines your request then it really wasn’t a request, it was a demand, and the person wasn’t free to decline. You need to be honest about that then and not ask if the person will meet your need but tell them that is it fundamental that they do (this should only be the case when we are talking about violations of boundaries and values in a relationship).
If you find this happening (demanding rather than asking), it means that you are putting that person in the role of being the only one who can meet that particular need for you. It is exceptionally rare that our needs can only be met by one person. If the other person is willing to work on creating a mutually satisfying relationship, they will likely seek to meet your request.
If a person declines your well-worded NVC statement (observations, feelings, needs, and request), your role then is not to get frustrated or walk away in defeat: Your role then, if you want your need met and want to have a good relationship with this person, is to shift into the seeking to understand place and invite that person to share what it is about your request that doesn’t feel good to them. It’s quite possible, in fact, I have found this is almost always the case, that the other person has misinterpreted/misunderstood your request and if you ask for clarification of what they heard you will be able to ensure that you are being heard correctly. What a gift it is for both parties to clarify and seek to understand. Arguments with another person can only occur when you both forget this tool.
So… all together, the NVC model in use looks like this:
“It is 5:30 and you agreed to meet me at 5:00. I feel sad and frustrated because I have needs for respect for my time and for connection with you that aren’t being met. Would you be willing to commit to being on time next time or to giving me notice earlier that day that you will be late?”
Here, the likely response will be: “Of course. I am sorry. I was late because…” You can cut them a little slack if they agree to be on time or to call you in advance so you can make alternative arrangements.
You might get a resistant or dismissive response: “It’s not a big deal. We’re not late for the event…” or “Why are you making such a big deal out of it…?”
This is when you take a big deep breath and say: “What is it that you hear me saying?”
And this is when you get to hear them saying: “I hear you saying that if I’m ever late again you’ll get mad.” Or “I hear you saying that if I’m ever late again you’ll never hang out with me again.”
Can you say “all-or-nothing thinking”?
That isn’t what you were saying at all is it? But that’s what the other person heard and that’s why they’re defensive and resistant to meeting your request. Their resistance now makes perfect sense, given what they thought you were saying. Now you can correct them and let them know it’s not a sudden death situation, just a commitment to call if they’re going to be late.
Practicing asking for your needs to be met with the use of NVC in combination with Seeking to Understand will lead to such amazing depth and intimacy in your relationships and to such confidence and strength in you – co-dependence can’t exist in relationships where you practice these tools, and so your anxiety and insecurity in relationships will disappear and you will feel such a sense of peace in yourself that you will not want to, let alone need to, use food focus and other harmful strategies to cope with life.
If you utilize the tools in this series on relationships, the only thing that can possibly happen, regardless of who you are and who is in your life, is that you will feel stronger and clearer in yourself, and your relationships get so much healthier.
And if you’d like to have some support as you begin to put these tools into action in your life, please reach out and let me or one of my team help simplify and speed up the process for you through a few individual sessions. Alternatively, our web based program is an economical and extremely beneficial way of getting lots of support and tools. And our 3-day workshops provide such an immediate shift in your thoughts and behaviours I think everyone should take one!
Here is a copy of the NEEDS LIST for you to work with.
Have a great week and enjoy your new tools.