When You Talk to Yourself, Are You Kind?

“At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.”1 Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

This month’s book spotlight is on Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. I selected it because it’s a fascinating, practical, and down-to-earth guide to deep, empathetic listening and conversation, and I think the world needs more of that these days. It’s a skill that we should all have, but it’s especially critical for leaders.

It’s always interesting to me when I go back to a book and see what I bookmarked and highlighted during my reading. I tend to see those phrases and passages out of context and in a fresh light. The quote above was one that I highlighted during my first reading of the book.

It kind of surprised me, because the gist of Nonviolent Communication isn’t anger. It’s really about the whole range of our emotions, many of which arise because of needs that are unfulfilled. The trick is identifying those needs – in ourselves and others.

One of the things I love about this book is that Dr. Rosenberg applies the principles of nonviolent communication to the conversations we have with ourselves as well as the conversations we have with others.

I don’t know about you, but the conversations I have with myself aren’t always kind.

Like many high-achieving people, I’m probably harder on myself than I am on anyone else. Sound familiar? I think the first place we need to practice deep, empathetic listening is with ourselves.

In his chapter called “Expressing Anger Fully” (and, yes, the anger section is only one chapter), Dr. Rosenberg suggests reframing our we talk to ourselves about feelings of anger.

Instead of saying “I am angry because he/she/they … “, he suggests using the phrase “I am angry because I am needing …”1

What a great way to think about our anger. It puts the responsibility right back where it belongs: on ourselves. Because, as he reminds us:

“… any judgment of another person diminishes the likelihood of our needs being met.” 1

Ha! That makes so much sense, but it’s not how we seem to be relating these days, is it?

What I love most about Nonviolent Communication, though, is that it is filled with heart-warming and honest examples of how it all works. It’s a book that we can learn from. It’s a study in deep listening and empathetic response, both with ourselves and others. It’s probably a book that needs to be read and re-read, practice over and over, because I’m not sure that we ever fully get that kind of thing right. (You’ll notice it’s not the only book on listening on my bookshelf.)

I learned a lot of compassionate and empathetic listening during my training as a coach and, of course, during my years in corporate leadership. I know for me it’s a skill that has to be constantly honed, reinforced, and practiced.

And it’s not only listening more compassionately to myself and others, it’s also listening to the wisdom of my Higher Self, which makes all of this so much easier.

In a world where we are not listening to each other very well, nonviolent communication is a skill that is needed more than ever. And the best thing about it is that you can practice on yourself.

I’m hoping that we can both talk more compassionately with ourselves in the coming week, my friend. Are you game?

With light and love,

1 2005. Rosenberg, M.B. Ph.D., Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, 2nd Edition, Puddle Dancer Press, Encinitas, CA.


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