Thursday, 23 October 2014

Suffixed Communication

I got introduced to the term Nonviolent Communication at a LICH meetup. A motley group, LICH is Literary, Intellectual & Cultural Hub meetup which meets twice a month, at Banjara Hills and Madhapur. For the 5th August meet, the organizers had brought Shammi Nanda, who talked about nonviolent communication. Until I attended this meeting I had no idea that such a thing as nonviolent communication existed.

It had rained earlier in the evening. The pleasant weather and cool breeze in the partial lit open space of Houz Coffee & Resto was a perfect backdrop for a vibrant discussion involving cheerful chirpiness that abounded throughout the discussion. Shammi Nanda has a serene almost yogic feel about his demeanor. In his interactions he reminded me of Yogendra Yadav.

He introduced himself saying that in the past he was involved in film making. He had personal and health issues and has been promoting nonviolent communication (NVC) through workshops.

NVC is a set of communication techniques that lets you use thinking and language so that our means are achieved in a practical and peaceful way. It was propounded by Marshall B. Rosenberg in his book Nonviolent Communication. Shammi told briefly about the principles of NVC and also distributed copies of the book to the group.

The most powerful takeaway I had from the session was this question: What are the other person's needs? When you interact with anyone, think about this question and then the empathy it provides will surely guide the conversation on to very compassionate and meaningful lines.

The first thought I had when I was listening to Shammi was, is this all about dialectics applied to communication? I asked about it. He said that yes, dialectics does come up in their discussions and briefly talked about it. Of course, he did not nail it down well.

My idea about dialectics is not in the Hagelian sense that it is about motion and process, and how it is applied to society. I was thinking more about the classical philosophy definition of dialectics, which as Wikipedia says, "is a form of reasoning based upon dialogue of arguments and counter-arguments, advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of such a dialectic might be the refutation of a relevant proposition, or of a synthesis, or a combination of the opposing assertions, or a qualitative improvement of the dialogue." Because the initial words of Nanda about NVC sounded similar.

Marx took dialectics from Hagel, applied it to historical materialism and screwed the world. That was the next thought I had. I even blurted it out, but then I felt I should not have said it. Anyways, I still have the vague-ish feel that NVC is dialectics applied to communication.

One would wonder how many other communication suffixed terms are there? You know, like leadership is suffixed to so many words and you have terms like Transformative Leadership, Authentic Leadership etc.

The very first book that came to my mind on this suffixed communication is the book Quiet Leadership by David Rock. I had read it long ago, and decided to look up. The book does not use any communications-suffixed phrase. But it is centered around language and communication. You'd be surprised if you thought the book Quiet Leadership was about communication skills. In fact it is about transforming performance at work.

Performance improvement through a different communication style and methodology makes the book an interesting and value-adding read. The author details six steps, that you would have to follow. They are: 1) Think About Thinking 2) Listen for Potential 3) Speak with Intent 4) Dance Toward Insight 5) CREATE New Thinking, and 6) Follow Up. If you notice, two of the six steps are about communication.

There are sub-steps and plenty of examples within each step. If I had to pick one excerpt as a key take away from the book it is this : ' What Quiet Leaders do? To put this simply, it means asking questions with the word "thinking" in it. A great question to start might be "How long have you been thinking about this?" Then you might ask something like "How often do you think this each day?" Followed by "How important do you think this thought is?" then "How satisfied are you with the amount of thinking you have given this issue so far?"
I call these types of questions "thinking questions." These are one of the most useful tools I have ever found for improving performance.'

Another example of suffixed communication is from Dale Carnegie Training, whose one-day workshop, 'Step Up to Leadership' I had attended a decade ago. In the section called "Outstanding Communication," they state a set of principles. I will mention a few here : * Begin with praise and honest appreciation. * Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly. * Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. * Talk in terms of the other person's interests. * Use encouragement. * Make a fault seem easy to correct.

My next encounter with suffixed communication was "Assertive Communication Skills for Professionals," a training program given by Carol Price. She is an international trainer on various management topics. I have the audio cassesttes (wonder !) of that course. In the first tape, she sets the tone by defining the 4 communication styles:
---- 1. Passive: self protection through avoidance
---- 2. Aggressive: uses anger to get results
---- 3. Passive - aggressive: avoids direct confrontation
---- 4. Assertive: expresses thoughts directly, but in a way that respects the opinions and feelings of others

Now that I have covered Quiet Leadership (which at the core is communicating about thinking), Outstanding Communication and Assertive Communication, I leave it to you to find out if there are more such interesting and worthwile communication frameworks available. Coming back to the session, I had a question: Is NVC applicable to people-people conflicts or internal conflicts too? Shammi said it can be applied to both.

So, the talk veered to internal conflicts and the session ended with people telling their personal situations and seeking inputs on how the framework of NVC could be utilized to address those situations. The circumstances the group put out ranged from mid-life crises to dilemmas like whether to do a job or do something that interests you, whether to continue to work in Hyderabad or go back to native place to pursue the passions etc. Shammi answered them on a case-by-case basis. As people were talking, he also showed us the choice of words that came naturally but were indicative of a desire to be sympathetic and helpful. This last part was very invigorating and uplifting.

Instead of having a negative outlook at life and the world, proper communication regardless of the framework you choose imparts an ability to reshape our conversations and give a fresh direction to sustaining the meaning and purpose of life. It would require the courage to be quiet, assertive, nonviolent in communication which, in itself gives a delightful touch to our everyday life.

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