In NVC, the intention with which we do anything is as important as the action itself. For example, if I ask you to wash the dishes and you do so out of obligation and resentment, I would rather you not wash the dishes because I value our connection more than the dishes being washed. It’s very important to remember that NVC is not the model, it is the intention to connect.
At the same time, our intentions do not guarantee a specific outcome or response for someone else. And if we’re more focused on a specific outcome than connection, then we’ve lost sight of the purpose of NVC. This brings us to intent versus impact, or what I like to call effective contribution. I thank CNVC Certified Trainer Roxy Manning for her insights on this topic in the 2013 NVC & Social Change Telesummit: A Path With Heart, organized by CNVC Certified Trainer Alan Seid.
If you’re in a place to connect and trying to contribute to someone’s well-being, and the strategies you choose are not in harmony with that person’s needs, then you have extremely vital feedback letting you know that different strategies would be better suited to contribute to this person’s needs.
If I’m longing to express my care and support for you and I say something like “You just need to try harder next time,” and when hearing this you feel annoyed and frustrated because you’re in touch with your needs for understanding and support, than it is very evident that the strategy I chose was not an effective one. The impact of our strategies are also equally as important as the intent.
Unfortunately, we often get stuck and disconnected when our goodwill is not received how we would like it to be. We often get confused and completely disconnected from the original intent – to connect with this other person. We may say things like “But you’re not listening to me!” or “But that wasn’t what I was trying to say!” or “You’re putting words in my mouth!” or we simply don’t say anything and just experience this disbelieve, alarm, and discomfort.
Some common examples come to mind when I’ve seen this happen:
- Parent to child communications [see example in paragraph 4],
- Partner to partner communications [example above],
- Friend to friend communications [example above],
- And between someone from a privileged group communicating with someone from a disenfranchised group.
- An example of this might be a white person saying “Can I touch your hair?” or “You must really like Obama, huh?” to a black person. These questions may be triggering for a black person. In these scenarios, the white person, in their discomfort and confusion, will often lose sight of the original intention to connect and be unwilling to offer empathy to this other human being who is clearly expressing that the particular strategy chosen was not in harmony with their needs. Rather than hear this, i.e. accept the feedback we are receiving from a place of care and longing to connect, we instead make it about ourselves and get defensive. [See defensive quotes a above]
If our intention is to connect and we want to effectively contribute, then accepting the feedback given by others in relation to our strategies, the impact of our strategies, is paramount. If we are trying to control how others respond to us, then we are not embodying NVC and the intention to connect. Let the intention to connect, this longing to contribute to one another, carry you through this discomfort to the other side, to offering compassion and care to the metaphorical “no” of our request to connect. Otherwise, if we cannot hear a “no” with as much love as a “yes,” it is not an NVC request and we have lost sight of NVC altogether.