If you’re one of the fortunate ones this year, the winter holidays are not only a good opportunity to rest and take a break from work, but also to connect and spend quality time with family members you don't often get to see.
While in an ideal world, the topics discussed during these get-togethers would focus on interesting news, innovation, sustainability, trends, personal updates, or even silly games, we're well aware that more often than you would like, you might have to deal with offensive or discriminating remarks directed either at yourself or a group or collective you support.
Once this takes place you can either:
Switch the topic of the conversation. You can opt for protecting your space and avoid any unpleasant conversations, but you would also miss a good opportunity to act as an ally and call out something that's offensive. At the same time, you would be keeping the speaker from hearing other perspectives, learning from a different point of view, and perhaps realizing something they didn't know before.
You could also snap at the commenter, but this would likely harm your relationship and it wouldn't be a useful exchange for either of you.
Or...you could use Nonviolent Communication.
NVC is a communication style or process, first introduced by Marshall Rosenberg. It's a framework for processing information and interacting that, by leveraging compassion, will help its users develop higher-quality relationships in their lives. Something definitely needed in these modern times where societies feel more polarized than ever.
Rosenberg defines NVC as “an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking”. So Nonviolent Communication can be a powerful tool, not only to develop better relationships but also to communicate more effectively. It's a win-win.
So let's say you are at dinner with your family, and aunt Carol jokes about something that's offensive. Here's what to do:
Observe the facts
Think objectively about the facts that trigger an emotion inside of you, and voice them without making an evaluation or being judgemental.
Instead of: "You are always making these horrible, racist jokes", try something along the lines of "What you just said is discriminatory"
By removing personal evaluations from your statement and focusing on observable facts, you will provide a common ground for an open conversation. Otherwise, you might trigger a defense position that won't likely end up in an understanding.
Note your feelings
Describe exactly the feelings the previous observation evokes inside of you. Communicate your feelings without getting caught up in the expectations you place on the other person.
Instead of: "For once, I wish you were more respectful", you could rather say "This comment makes me feel uncomfortable or upset".
By expressing your feelings objectively and with honesty instead of from a place of judgment and unmet expectations, you'll reach a stage in the conversation where the listener will more likely empathize with you and therefore, be more receptive to your desires and needs.
State your needs
Feelings are indicators of underlying needs. You might feel annoyed when lacking understanding or respect. Sometimes you feel sad when lacking companionship.
Feelings arise from our desires and whether those are being fulfilled or not.
But don't forget that feelings = personal interpretation (event) + personal needs.
Too often, we fail to make a clear connection between our feelings and our desires. Instead, we tend to focus on the stimuli: the person or the event that made us feel a certain way. By switching our focus and taking responsibility for our own feelings, we will be able to provide clarity on what needs to be addressed and connect with the listener to a greater extent.
Translate the feelings you're experiencing into personal, unmet needs. Voice the requirements or desires that you would need to meet in order to address these feelings.
Instead of "I feel hurt because you are disrespectful", try "I would like my environment to be inclusive".
Make a request
Use all the information you've stated previously to make an effective, concrete and clear request to the other person. Focus on what you actually need, opposite to what you don't want or what you're trying to avoid.
It's important that this request doesn't come accross as a demand. The best way to ensure a request is received as such is to make sure that the other party walks volunarily into the agreement, and is not feeling judged or forced to comply. Ensure the other person doesn't fear being punished or blamed if he/she doesn't respond to your request.
Take this step as an opportunity to address your concerns and cooperate to find a creative solution that covers everyone's needs and desires.
Instead of "As a member of society, you're supposed to be informed and support diversity", try leading with "Would you be willing to hear about diversity and inclusion?".
Let's see an examples that reflects how the whole process would look like, when phrased together:
Aunt Carol, the comment you just made is discriminatory towards LGBTQ+ people, as it invalidates their identity. It saddens me, and even though I know you are not trying to upset me, it affects me because I want to live in a society where everyone feels included and valued. Would you like to discuss the topic in detail? I could provide you with valuable information.
(Download and save it for later!)
Before closing up on the topic, it's also important to note that you have to embody this process from a place of empathy and honesty, which are the key pillars of NVC. Both will provide you with the tools to set judgement and expectations aside, while breaking down the barriers to effective communication.
Have you ever had to leverage NVC? Can you think of a situation where you already leveraged NVC without necessarily knowing all the steps and details?
I am not an expert, I just researched this topic from a place of personal interest. If I used incorrect terminology or expressed something incorrectly, please feel free to let me know.