Tip #314: Nonviolent Communication #5: Express Feelings

In last week’s Tip, I posed a test of your ability to distinguish observation from evaluation. The statements in bold print are observations only. If the statement leaves you wondering what it means or why it was said, it is probably an evaluation.

1. Julie left our meeting in a huff for no reason. [Evaluation- what does it mean?]
2. Last night Linda knitted a sweater while watching her daughter’s karate lesson.
3. Tori did not listen to my advice at lunch.
4. My mother is a wonderful artist. [Evaluation- why do you say this?]
5. Michell argues too much. [Evaluation-what do you mean?]
6. Zelda is very assertive when faced with conflict. [Evaluation- why do you say this?]
7. Billy was the last one out the door every day last week.
8. My granddaughter often forgets to wash her hands before a meal. [Evaluation- what do you mean?]
9. Anna told me that red isn’t my color.
10. My friend complains when we get together. [Evaluation- what do you mean?]

“We must become acquainted with our emotional household: we must see our feelings as they actually are, not as we assume they are. ” Vernon Howard

According to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, the second component of Nonviolent Communication requires that we learn how to express how we are feeling.

This is difficult, because many of us have been taught to value thinking instead of feeling. As a matter of fact, expressions of feeling in the workplace have typically been considered unprofessional- and expressions of feeling by men in any situation considered evidence of weakness. We tend to spend our energy trying to figure out what other people want rather than how we feel about it, particularly if we are women.

The first step is to distinguish feelings from thoughts. We often use the word feel without actually expressing a feeling. For example, in the sentence, “I feel that I was overlooked for promotion,” the words “I feel” can just as easily be replaced with “I think.”

In general, feelings are not typically expressed when the word feel is followed by:

1. Words such as that, like, and as if:

“I feel that you should think before you act.”
“I feel like I’m falling.”
“I feel as if I can do nothing right.”

2. The pronouns I, you, he, she, they, and it:

“I feel I am waiting for nothing.”
“I feel it is ridiculous.”

3. Names or nouns that refer to people:

“I feel Charles doesn’t care about his family.”
“I feel my employee is procrastinating.”

In fact, we don’t even need to use the word feel when we want to express a feeling. We can simply say, “I’m feeling angry” or even “I’m angry.”

NVC distinguishes between words that express real feelings and those that describe what we think we are.

For example, when I say, “I feel incapable of doing a good job as a parent,” I am evaluating my ability to parent rather than speaking about how that makes me feel.
However, when I say, “I feel anxious about my parenting skills,” I am expressing my actual emotion.

We also need to differentiate between words that describe what we feel and words that describe how we think others react or behave toward us.

For example, when I say, “I feel unworthy in this group of go-getters,” I am really saying that I think the group considers me unworthy. A statement of my actual feeling in this situation might be, “I feel anxious” or “I feel bewildered.”

When I say, “I feel taken for granted,” I am really interpreting the actions of others rather than clearly stating how I feel. A statement of my feeling in this situation might be, “I feel disappointed” or “I feel resentful.”

Words like taken for granted express how we interpret others rather than how we feel.

If we want to express our feelings, we need to use words that refer to specific emotions. If I say, “I feel good about that,” the word good is too general. It could mean happy, excited, relieved, or some other emotion. Words that are vague or general make it difficult for the listener to know what we are really feeling.

Let’s check your ability to identify statements that express feelings rather than thoughts, assessments or interpretations. Which of the following statements express feelings?

1. “I feel you don’t want me here.”
2. “I’m glad that you’re back home.”
3. “I feel angry when you do that.”
4. “When you don’t invite me to dinner with your friends, I feel rejected.”
5. “I’m terrified about the situation.”
6. “You’re infuriating.”
7. “I feel like hugging her.”
8. “I feel misunderstood.”
9. “I feel bad about what he did.”
10. “I’m useless.”

If you email your answers to me at dlaurel@laurelandassociates.com with NVC Answers in the subject heading, I will send you two lists to help you build a vocabulary for feelings: how we feel when our needs are being met and how we feel when are needs are not being met.

Next week’s Tip will discuss the third component in Nonviolent Communication, which is to take responsibility for our feelings.

May your learning be sweet.

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