Conflict-Free Communication

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We Brits are known for avoiding saying what we’re really thinking, which inspired the table above. I think it’s mostly because we hate conflict!

Is there someone in your life at the moment who’s rubbing you up the wrong way but has no idea? Instead of being honest, are you opting for silent resentment or talking to other people about it: AKA, bitching?

Resentment is really detrimental to your relationship with that person, and it feels unpleasant, so it harms you. However, our fear of conflict can lock us into this toxic dynamic so that the tension builds and builds.

But there is a way of breaking deadlock that makes having the conversation much less uncomfortable for both sides.

It’s a technique called Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and it was developed by Marshall Rosenberg. The idea is to tell the other person how you feel about something they’ve said or done, without blaming them for that feeling. Avoiding blame is crucial for avoiding conflict.

For example, imagine your flatmate or partner has a different approach to kitchen hygiene to you.  They often leave plates and cups next to the sink and having a messy kitchen stresses you out. You feel resentful about clearing up after them and maybe even that they’re taking advantage of your ‘good nature’ by waiting for you to do their washing up.

You spend more and more time thinking about how irritating they are and this once small thing starts to really affect how you feel about the person.

One way of dealing with the situation is to eventually ‘snap’ and make an aggressive comment, when you can’t take it any more. “Graham, you always leave your ‘f***ing washing up next to the sink!” Graham swipes back and you’re in an uncomfortable argument.

Instead, with the NVC model, you break down the communication into four steps:

1) State the facts in a way that the other person wouldn’t disagree with.

For example, “Graham, it seems like sometimes after you’ve finished dinner, you leave your washing up next to the sink.”

It’s good idea to avoid saying that someone always does something. It’s probably not true, and it’s very likely to make them defensive.

2) State how you feel about it.

“When I see that, I feel stressed and frustrated…”

Avoid saying, “It is so annoying” or “You make me feel…” because that’s blaming them.

3) Say what your need is

“… because I really like the area around the sink to be clean.”

4) Make a request of them 

“Would you mind doing the washing up by the end of the day?”

Avoid telling them what to do; ask politely.

I’ve used this structure several times in what might have been potentially very uncomfortable conversations, and it diffused the situation incredibly well.

When emotions run high, it’s easy to have a mind-blank or get in a muddle, so try writing down what you plan to say first.

It takes courage, but it could save you a lot of energy and headspace wasted on silent resentment, and transform your relationship.

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