If any of you have a mother and father, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, then you already know how difficult it can be to work through conflict with them. My mentor Thom Bond says that using NVC to help you navigate through conflict with family is like playing in the Super Bowl. You don’t wake up one day, learn how the game works, and decide to go play the biggest game in football. You have to spend countless hours training for it. Just like you might go to the gym to exercise your physical body, you must also exercise your mental body. The same concept can be applied when learning any new self-awareness skill. If you practice new behaviors and new ways of looking at the world with purpose and drive, then you can quickly recall those newly created behaviors more easily during times of stress.
One specific behavior that helps me through conflict or tension is something I personally call Translation. There are 3 steps.
- You hear or see someone say or do something (In NVC this is called “Making An Observation)
- You notice and label your thinking (In NVC, we first identify our feelings and needs. I find it helpful to also recognize your thoughts. What are you telling yourself about the situation?)
- Translate! What do you think the other person is really trying to do or say? Keep your version out of it. If you can’t, go back to Step 2.
In Sue Johnson's book Hold Me Tight, she tells of a couple's success with Translation. When Pauline expresses her need for closeness, Doug hears criticism. He says "I heard you say that I wasn't doing my job, that I was blowing it with you. If you were happy you wouldn't have to ask for those things. But what did you say to me?" Doug recognizes he is hearing a version of communication that may not match what Pauline is trying to get across. He pauses and expresses what he's hearing. This gives Pauline a chance to understand what's happening internally for Doug. It also gives Doug a chance to understand his fears are doing the talking, and he doesn't have to believe them to be inherently true. With this new awareness, Doug identifies his own thoughts and then chooses to hear what Pauline is telling him.
"It's All Your Fault"
Often we think the conflict is coming from the other person. We think “They make me so angry!” However, the conflict is usually found within ourselves. We can use Translation when we are in conflict with ourselves. Once my cousin was telling me about a new promotion she was hoping to receive. I was hearing her say, “Wow, Kat, you really have to get your act together and start making some money, or you’ll never make it in this world.” The truth was those words never came out of her mouth. That’s what I heard. Instead of responding to my cousin from the frustration and anger I was feeling in that moment, I paused the conversation long enough to sort out and translate my thoughts. I quickly recalled how much doubt and confusion I had been experiencing about my future. This translation helped me realize my thoughts were getting in the way of hearing the excitement coming from my cousin. Once I translated my thoughts into feelings, I was able to resume hearing her story with clarity and understanding. (Note: In this situation, I did not think it was necessary to bring up what was going on for me in that very moment. I did not need to fix anything, just notice it and move past it for the time being. As it turns out, I was in conflict with myself. I made sure to return to my inner conflict later and receive empathy from my empathy buddy.
Note: Practice during a time when you feel at ease. This will help you sort out feelings from thoughts and translate what you were seeing or hearing.)
- Recall a time in your life when you heard criticism from another person. How are you feeling about what was said? (No blaming here, only feelings)
- What are you telling yourself about the situation? (Here comes the blame. “She’s a horrible, no-good person who only cares about herself. Remember, this is not an inherent truth. It’s only what you think. )
- What do you think that person was really trying to say? What need were they trying to meet and how do you think they were feeling at the time?
Note: Kat makes no claim that any of this is The Truth for anyone else. She writes to keep up her practice of NVC skills, which are always evolving, and to share her learning with others. This post may change at a later date.