Do you ever feel like you speak but aren’t heard? As social creatures, our most natural desire is to connect with others. Language is the most accessible tool for communication for many (though some might favor communicating through touch, sounds, writing, or other mediums). Unfortunately and inevitably it can be tricky at times!
Read on to discover a few quick methods to improve how you communicate with others in any area of your life using research-backed methods of resonant language and nonviolent communication.
If you are looking for some simple tools to communicate more effectively, this study might be of interest to you.
In a 2020 study of nearly 2,000 people, findings showed that use of “you” in communicating with others resonated more with the recipient. The research study found that “... a subtle linguistic device that frames an idea as applying to people in general, rather than to a specific person or moment, was associated with enhanced feelings of resonance in both naturally observed and experimental contexts.”
Resonance is defined as “the ability to evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions” (Merriam Webster).
When your words resonate with someone, their reception is experiential versus passive. Bring to mind your favorite author, speaker, or just a great story teller you’ve encountered. They are able to paint an image, evoke a memory, or create a feeling - they create resonance with the audience. The research study explains resonance further, by describing how, a “generic-you invites the addressee to take a sentiment that is situated in a specific context and consider how it may apply to them”. If you want to be heard better by those around you and enhance reception and engagement a simple change from a sentence like “my day was absolutely wild” to “I have to tell you how wild my day was” is likely to increase resonance in your message with that person. Pretty manageable!
Consider another theory of highly-effective communication techniques, nonviolent communication (NVC), founded by Marshall Rosenberg. NVC is defined as “a communication tool with the goal of firstly creating empathy in the conversation… the idea is that once there is empathy between the parties in the conversation, it will be much easier to talk about a solution which satisfies all parties' fundamental needs” (Kashtan).
The purpose of communicating is often to have one’s needs met - whether that’s talking with an employee at the grocery store, or discussing your desired plans for the weekend with a friend or partner. When your needs aren’t being met, you are more likely to have a disagreement, conflict, or otherwise communicate in a way that harms yourself or others. NVC is closely related to “positive language”, which is a method of focusing on what can be done in a situation, and the options available versus what can’t be done, or to focus on the obstacles.
There are 4 primary steps in a communication: observation, feeling, needs and requests in the NVC model. According to the Center for Nonviolent Communication’s Self Guide, the steps are as follows:
Pulling from NVC methods, instead you would observe and recognize the situation without judgement, such as labeling this person is as inconsiderate (perhaps this is their way of unwinding after a stressful day, and they forgot about your early rise), notice your feelings of frustration, recognize your need for restful sleep isn’t being met, and make a subsequent request that the other person can do to address it.
Using NVC, the communication might instead sound something like “I noticed you just started a movie which I can hear from my bedroom. I’m feeling frustrated as I have an early commitment and want to make sure I get a good night’s sleep. Would you be willing to use headphones, or watch the movie with me tomorrow night instead?”
A message like this eliminates judgment and shame from the conversation and gives the other party involved awareness of what you need and information on how to address it.
You might be thinking, “this seems like a lot of steps.” However, as most things in life, with practice it becomes more natural. Check out the WikiHow guide on NVC, which has some great practical examples of NVC in action.
Your verbal communication is a big part of shaping how you navigate the world around you and are critical in your view of self, in your relationships, and in having your needs met. The next time you engage with someone in conversation consider pulling out some “yous” to enhance resonance of your words - even if a brief exchange at the store. When you notice yourself getting activated (feeling uncomfortable/troubling emotions) in an interaction with someone, think about the 4 steps of NVC and try your hand at communicating with the intention of not causing harm.
Developing habits for high-quality communication takes practice like anything else.
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