Communication in a nonviolent approach strengthens teams
In my work with groups over the years, I frequently encounter situations where communication is a real issue and where people complain about it. In general, there is always something going on in this area: either there is too little communication, too much, too late, some individuals are not involved at all, etc. Or people confuse communication (a two way process) with providing information (a one way process). In this blog I want to focus on a specific form of communication which can really contribute in a very positive way to connect people resulting in stronger teams. The basis for this approach is laid by Marshall Rosenberg in his work on nonviolent communication. I am really touched by his work and believe it has the power to make a positive contribution to the world in general.
Negative impact of judgmental communication
We often have a strong opinion about a situation or even a person. Moreover, a lot of leaders have been trained to come to a point of view as soon as possible (“don’t waste valuable time, take a decision”). In some situations this is a very good approach: in crisis situations one needs to come to a point of view quickly, no doubt about that. However, those are special cases and I want to focus now on more “normal” situations like team meetings, formal employer-employee meetings, or just plain 1:1 conversations. Also, in these settings I frequently observe that people start talking from a clear position: they have a clear judgement about the situation or -even worse- the person they communicate with. It is my experience that as soon as this judgmental position is felt by the other person(s), there will be no real connection between them and therefore no dialogue. In general, very basic psychological patterns are triggered by strong judgmental communication, i.e. communication that infers negative criticism: the other person(s) will take on a defensive, attacking or avoiding attitude and communication style. However, the net effect is lack of real communication. It becomes merely a repetition of arguments and points of view.
Basis for Nonviolent Communication
Some time ago I came in contact with the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg on nonviolent communication (see e.g. his book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”). This is not just “another communication model”, it is more a way of life. The basis is straight forward and simple: it is about connecting people to enable contributing to everyone’s lives. Focus is on recognising and acknowledging everyone’s needs and exploring how everyone’s needs can be fulfilled. So, it is not aimed at winning, it is about going for the ultimate win-win situation.
In his approach, Rosenberg sees 4 steps in communication that helps connect people in a nonviolent way:
- Observe without judgement:
notice concrete things, facts and actions, simply observe! This seems simple but is difficult, especially if we have a strong opinion about the other person, the situation etc.
- Recognise and express feelings:
be aware in the moment of what we feel. This is really about emotions/feelings, not about what we think and construct in our heads.
- Express our needs:
feelings are coupled to (un)fulfilled needs. It is crucial to couple our feelings (step 2) to OUR needs and to express that. Understanding our needs and expressing them is not that easy.
- Make a clear request:
request for concrete actions/next steps related to our needs. There we start to explore creatively to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.
Impact of Connecting Communication
Rosenberg practised his approach in all kinds of situations. He used it, for example, in the Middle East where he succeeded in connecting people from Israel and Palestine by following his communication approach. Closer to home, I have seen the positive impact of this approach on teams and groups. Whenever I use elements of connecting communication, I notice changes in the teams and groups. It really brings people more together. It is my firm belief that when you can remove judgmental communication from teams, the psychological safety is strengthened. In psychologically safe teams team members feel accepted and respected. It is safe to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences for self-image, status or career. It is evident from research performed by e.g. Google on teams, this psychological safety is one of the most important success factors for teams. So, investing in connecting communication enriches the individuals in your teams in general, but it also helps to get teams to perform even better.
Needless to say, we at Con-TACT use elements of connecting communication in our training and coaching. If you want to discuss this subject further get in touch with me direct or check our Virtual Leaders Lounge agenda.
We explore this and other business relevant subjects in our Virtual Leaders Lounge. This is an informal online meeting of maximum 10 business leaders where we discuss challenges in virtual teams and organisations and share best practices. No PowerPoint is used, no prep work required!