In the last article we introduced and discussed the process of the virtuous circle of communication. In this article we will discuss how to communicate in a family meeting. Often conversations with family are well-intended, however the conversation can become caustic if approached with accusation and blame. Family members will tend to shut down and/or become defensive, thereby losing the opportunity to express themselves. This can further damage family relationships.
Before beginning a family meeting, ground rules must be established. If at any time the meeting is not safe or productive, then the meeting should pause so that family members can take a time out. Once everyone is willing to adhere to the ground rules, the discussion can be resumed. Communicating is not an easy task, especially when discussing a highly emotional topic with family.
In Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, he offers a process where families engage in family meetings using four components: observation, feelings, needs, and requests.
1) OBSERVATION. Rosenberg writes with respect to observation: “First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: What are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our lives? The trick is to be able to articulate the observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation.”
2) FEELINGS. The second component is to express how one is feeling. At first glance, this may appear to be simple. However, most people can express only a limited number of feelings. The book’s author provides a helpful list of words that express feelings that can be used instead of comparable words that do not express feelings.
3) NEEDS. Once we can clearly express our feelings, we want to express our needs. Rosenberg explains that, when we are expressing feelings such as hurt, sadness and anger, what it really means is that our needs are not being met. And, if we want to communicate clearly and deeply, we will want to determine what the unmet need is that is causing these feelings.
4) REQUESTS. The final component of nonviolent communication is to make positive requests, meaning we ask for actions that might fulfill our needs. Rosenberg suggests making requests in a positive manner. Rather than saying “I don’t want you to … ,” say “I would like you to … .” Request specific actions rather than asking for a change in others’ general behavior.