Improve your assertivity with non-violent communication

Improve your assertivity with non-violent communication

What’s assertivity?

A bit of history…

The concept was born at the beginning of the XXth century by the american psychoanalyst Andrew Salter.

It was then picked up in France by others Dominique Chalvin and Eric Schuler.

Eric Schuler said: “neither submissive, nor agressive, nor manipulative” ⇒ When you are assertive you neither submit and stay quiet, nor get angry and agressive, nor try to fool the other by using “manipulative” communication to try to fill in your emotional needs.

“It is not because it is difficult that we do not try, it is because we do not try that it is difficult” Sénèque

The word assertiveness means to affirm oneself, defend their opinion and their rights.

When a personal or a professional relationship affects me and my feelings, how can I express that fact to the concerned person without hurting their feelings but also by respecting my own feelings and my own emotional needs.

That is a question all of us ask ourselves everyday at work or at home.

Spontaneously, human beings tend to be either submissive or agressive in the way they communicate. This is a normal way of the brain to function in an instinctive and rather primitive way. Faced with a danger, a threat, I either run or attack. It works the same way with emotional danger as it does with physical danger.

Submissive communication”: We pretend like everything is fine (submissive) for various reasons (the fact we are not really able to immediately analyse why we are feeling bad about a person or a situation, the fact that we tend to want to preserve harmonious relationships and we are reluctant to say things that we think could hurt the other person and ultimately alter the relationship)

Agressive communication”: After not saying anything for a while, it can happen that the smallest, insignificant thing will trigger anger because we have not been processing the feelings we ha before. In this case, we say things in a very agressive tone, usually accusing the other, telling reproach which in the worst case may not even be linked to what is really bothering us. In this case the other person will not be prone to listen because they will be busy defending themselves from accusations.

But there actually is a third way, a more adult way that lies in assertiveness. It requires a bit of work as our brain is not necessarily built to react that way, but it is immensly rewarding, it is assertiveness.

A great tool towards assertiveness: Non-violent communication (NVC)

NVC is a communication tool created by Marshall Rosenberg, an american psychoanalyst, with the goal of firstly creating empathy in the conversation. The idea is that once there is empathy between the parties in the conversation, it will be much easier to talk about solution which satisfies all parties' fundamental needs.

There are four components to practice nonviolent communication OFNR:

  • Observation: These are facts (what we are seeing, hearing, or touching) as distinct from our evaluation of meaning and significance. NVC discourages generalization and opinions It is said that "When we combine observation with evaluation, others are apt to hear criticism and resist what we are saying." Instead, a focus on observations specific to time and context is recommended. Facts are not as easily denied or discussed.
  • Feelings: These are emotions or sensations, free of thought and story. These are to be distinguished from thoughts (e.g., "I feel I didn't get a fair deal") and from words colloquially used as feelings but which convey what we think we are (e.g., "inadequate"), how we think others are evaluating us (e.g., "unimportant"), or what we think others are doing to us (e.g., "misunderstood", "ignored"). Feelings are said to reflect whether we are experiencing our needs as met or unmet. Identifying feelings is said to allow us to more easily connect with one another, and "Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts."
  • Needs: These are universal human needs, as distinct from particular strategies for meeting needs. It is posited that "Everything we do is in service of our needs.". Marshall Rosenberg refers to Max-Neef's model where needs may be categorised into 9 classes: sustenance, safety, love, understanding/empathy, creativity, recreation, sense of belonging, autonomy and meaning. For more information, the Center for Nonviolent Communication has developed a needs inven
  • Requests: Requests are distinguished from demands in that one is open to hearing a response of "no" without this triggering an attempt to force the matter. If one makes a request and receives a "no" it is not recommended that one gives up, but that one empathizes with what is preventing the other person from saying "yes," before deciding how to continue the conversation. It is recommended that requests use clear, positive, concrete action language.
    1. Example:

      When I see/hear [describe the situation without any judgement], I feel [cite the emotion you are feeling] because I need [describe your fundamental need] so I ask you please to [propose a plan of action that would fulfill your need and restore your feeling to happiness and harmony].

      Non exhaustive List of fundamental needs:

      CONNECTION acceptance affection appreciation belonging cooperation communication closeness community companionship compassion consideration consistency empathy inclusion intimacy love mutuality nurturing respect/self-respect safety security stability support to know and be known to see and be seen to understand and be understood trust warmth

      PHYSICAL WELL-BEING air food movement/exercise rest/sleep safety shelter touch water

      HONESTY authenticity integrity presence

      PLAY joy humor

      PEACE beauty communion ease equality harmony inspiration order

      AUTONOMY choice freedom independence space spontaneity

      MEANING awareness celebration of life challenge clarity competence consciousness contribution creativity discovery efficacy effectiveness growth hope learning mourning participation purpose self-expression stimulation to matter understanding


    2. Your manager has not given you any feedback the 6 last months
    3. A colleague has a negative opinion on someone in your team and expresses it to everyone all the time
    4. Your manager keeps asking you to do things that are not part of your job
    5. A member of your team has been ignoring you completely for a few days.
    6. Use the OFNR to tell the person how you feel.

    7. OBSERVATION: I have noticed you have not given me feedback on my work for the last 6 months. The last one was during the annual assessment meeting last year. FEELINGS: As a result I feel a bit lost and alone in my work as well as uncertain of what you think of my work; NEED : because I need collaboration, to feel included in the team and to grow in order to feel my work has meaning, REQUESTS: Could we please decide on a regular meeting for you to give me feedback? What do you think?