November 14, 2019

3 Things I’ve Learned using Non-Violent Communication in Uncomfortable Conversations.


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“You’re Asian, you should work here.”

Almost eight years ago I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant with some college friends. As we sat down, my friend blurted out, “Riza, you’re Asian, you should work here!”

Baffled, I didn’t know if I should have made a big scene over how offensive that was or just stay silent. At that time, I didn’t have the necessary communication skills to dialogue about how that comment made me feel. So, I took the less courageous route and gulped my unsaid words with my hot tea.

I was completely speechless and had nothing to say for the remainder of the time. 

We’ve all been there. 

We’ve been at a place where something is said unexpectedly and we get caught off guard on what to say next. 

And then, when we have had time to process what just happened, a stream of tangible emotions and fervent responses arises. 

Over the years, I have been learning more about non-violent communication and how to use it. Here are some things that I have learned after that situation and gaining the necessary tools and resources to become a better communicator

1. Make it clear on what is being said. 

Here are some examples of questions to gain clarification: 

>> It seems that this comment about my race and where we are located is appropriate to say in this moment. Do you believe this is true?

>> I am unaware of what you’re attempting to imply. Can you explain more by what you mean?

>> What is it you’re trying to say about the relationship between my race and this restaurant?

>> It seems like you feel entitled to say such a comment and not think this could be received in a hurtful way. Is that true? 

Regardless of what the response will be, you will get one of three answers: they will deny, they will affirm, or they will correct the statement. No matter what they say, you will then ask follow-up questions from a place of more clarity and curiosity. 

2. Do not reply with a statement. Reply with a question. 

You can ask these questions with the idea of bringing more gentle awareness:

>> Would you say things like this to others, too?

>> What impact are you hoping to have by making these comments? 

>> Did you really suggest that I should work here due to my specific race? 

>> Do you enjoy making a comment like that? 

3. It’s not about teaching someone. It’s about gaining awareness in our human experience.

The outcome of an uncomfortable conversation is not to “win” or “educate” others. The outcome is to bring more awareness of what is being said, how that could affect someone’s feelings, and why it is important to pinpoint things that make us uncomfortable

Using non-violent communication is an ongoing practice, and it should always be practiced in a safe place where you can role-play these scenarios. The reality is, we only can have the conversation in the present moment. Therefore, the more that we can practice, the more that we can show up presently and confidently at any given time.

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