When approaching a difficult conversation with a family member, partner or boss, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a tool to help you step outside your comfort zone and go to the next level to enrich your relationships. But these situations can also be stressful (and sometimes risky) so you need to also take care of yourself before doing it. As a Nature-Informed Therapist, I know that nature can help take the edge off and soothe my nervous system when coping with tricky situations. It’s like a “reset” button. But don’t fret, here are some concrete steps in joining with nature for a difficult conversation:
STEP 1: Take care of yourself first.
Before communicating with anyone, it’s important to practice self-compassion and fill your own cup. This could mean pausing for a few hours by your favourite beach or park spot either grounding with your bare feet into the earth or gazing at an ocean line or listening to nature soundscape to recalibrate your nervous system. You may even you may need a few weeks or more before communicating with the other person. If you engage with them without checking-in with yourself and addressing your own feelings, you won’t be approaching the conversation from a heart-centred place and you may create more triggers for you and the other person. In order to be nonviolent, self-care is the first step so consider spending some time in nature.
A natural backdrop can promote a soothing effect when engaging with others in difficult conversations.
STEP 2: Identify your needs
Once you are clear about your feelings, get clear on the underlying need. Feelings are messengers for an unmet or met need. For example, anger could be a sign that our boundaries aren’t being respected, and joy could be an indication that our need to belong is being fulfilled. We are a society that overemphasized emotional literacy but aren’t as well-versed with pinpointing our underlying needs that accompany those feelings. With Nonviolent communication (NVC), there’s the understanding that as social beings, we all fundamentally have the same needs (ie. love, respect, agency over our lives, belonging, play) but our strategies to meet those needs vary greatly and that’s where conflict happens.
STEP 3: Get outside with the other person.
Once you’ve identified and taken care of your needs you may be ready to engage with the other person outside. Research shows that walking and talking outside can greatly improve creative problem-solving improve positive mood. The backdrop of nature serves as a soothing third party presence to facilitate connection with the other person.
STEP 4: Make a request.
NVC is not about memorizing a script nor is it about saying things nicely, but rather, genuinely aiming to connect. Making a request is a solid way to reconnect and resolve a conflict. The idea is that you make a request for 1 of 3 things, either to:
- Be understood. For example: Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say? or Are you willing to hear my experience of this?
- To understand the other person. For example: Can you help me understand what happened? What do you wish would happen differently?
- Make an action request. For example: Can you please turn off the lights after 9 PM? Would you be willing to listen to me when I share how my day is going?
It’s not always appropriate to engage in NVC with another person, sometimes it’s just about identifying your needs and having self-empathy when your cup is full. Either way, finding a way to connect with nature for self-care and for having difficult conversations is an aide when attempting to mend and connect with yourself and others.