When you have been aggressive, you can still make amends

nonviolent communicationWhat do these famous people have in common?

Billy Connolly, Mother Teresa, Adolph Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, Idi Amin, Martin Luther King Jr., and Maggie Thatcher :


The power to influence many people has always fascinated me. Many of these people are great speakers and can say things that draw our attention. I imagine leaders, teachers and parents would like more of this skill.

Power can be defined as having the capacity to take effective action to meet needs. Effective action entails having both material and emotional access to strategies to meet needs.

There are 2 types of power I know of:

The traditional world of power, at its core, has the capacity to coerce others to give us what we want even if it doesn’t meet their needs. Within the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) framework we call this power-over.
In NVC we also recognize and cultivate another form of power we call power-with: the capacity to meet our needs in a way that allows and invites others to meet their needs. The practice of NVC seeks to build a basis on which we can increase our power-with others.

Talking to a colleague yesterday I was mentioning Billy Connolly and his recent sad news about his illnesses and my colleague said ‘that’s like me’!
and I hoped he wasn’t referring to Prostate cancer …
Nope, he was referring to being aggressive.

One of the synonyms listed in the dictionary under aggressive is assertive. I remember many people I have worked with wanting to be assertive. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can assist us with assertiveness and adds another skill of compassion for self and other. As I see it, assertiveness without compassion is just sticking you heals in or standing your ground and that is easy, we do it all the time by judging others instead of being curious about someone’s story. Instead of hearing the needs underneath what they are saying.

…..Back to my colleague, he then stated with a little disappointment that he was aggressive just a moment ago.
My colleague was talking to a friend and his colleague sidled up and stood in front of them, waiting for one of them to look up so there would be a gap in the conversation and they could say hello.  My colleague invited this person to join them and after continuing for only a minute another person was standing next to us and my colleague then feeling exasperated, said with ‘the hand’ …‘I want this to be a closed conversation’ and continued talking.

I guessed what was going on for him– ‘is dealing with an interruption tricky especially if you are sharing something personally meaningful to you?’.  ‘Yes he said exactly!’

Meanwhile these two people, looking stunned, had walked away. Problems arise after smoothing it over and sometimes can simmer in the background then you collect the next piece and ignore it, then you have a nice collection of ill feelings towards someone. It’s hard to know how to begin a conversation with someone once this happens.

As I see it, when he wanted a closed conversation he may have been wanting to respect the time that the other parties had offered as well as his own. If he offered an apology he may be admitting fault or wrongness. Instead he could express his regret without admitting any kind of wrong doing and have another chance of saying what he really wanted to say in the first place.
He could have said ‘I noticed after I said this is a closed conversation I am now regretting that sentence and I really wanted to minimise distractions, keep my train of thought on contributing to the people I was talking to in this small group’. If you are around in a few minutes I will come and find you, would that work?

I offer a different sort of apology where when someone detects that another has been offended or when you  notice that icy air floats in to the room, you could say ‘When I said XXX, I noticed your response and was wondering if what I said had stimulated any concern/pain/sadness for you? Then listen for their response. Most people are not used to having someone notice their reactions and truly want to know how they are in that moment AND actually care enough to hear a response.

A key premise of NVC is that human beings share the same basic set of needs. Aside from the obvious ones, such as air, food, and shelter, other common human needs are autonomy, respect, expression, fulfilment, empathy, closeness, mutual recognition, inspiration, and meaningful contribution. NVC distinguishes between needs and strategies. Needs are timeless, abstract, and common to all people. Strategies, on the other hand, are the almost infinite array of actions, thoughts, objects, resources, and plans we use to try to meet needs.

NVC is based on the recognition that human needs are not in conflict with each other; only strategies can be in conflict. Through ensuring that both parties hear and connect fully with each other’s needs, we look together for strategies that would meet as many of those needs as possible for all parties involved. See picture below.

conflict zone


Consider a School teachers statement that her students “need discipline and structure.” Here she is actually describing her strategies to meet her needs which, though unnamed, most likely would include her need to contribute and to connect to others in ways that will make a difference. When her students move around in class, make noise, make faces, or joke with each other, these are their strategies to try to meet their needs, perhaps for finding more meaning and satisfaction in their experience of school, or for greater autonomy in making choices about their time.


NB: For a free 20  minute Discovery Session, email me at [email protected] or call me direct on 0406 930 699 to discuss further.

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Glyn Conlon

Workplace Communication Specialist at Keystone Skills
Glyn has 20 years experience in the personal development field and more recently Compassionate Communication (NVC) and Workplace and Assessment training. She also has 18 years experience in organisations with an understanding of consumer needs and perception.

Glyn is passionate about communicating the truth with care. She realised an unclaimed source of her own energy is when she can free herself from guilt. Once this freedom is reached she found she could think and communicate more simply and clearly with the courage to ask for what she wanted. Glyn now enables others to more easily have their message heard and the listener more readily agrees to their requests.
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