Looking beyond words


How do Nonviolent Communication and Sociocracy help us in our personal relationships, be it with the spouse or with our children? Sanjeevani Pandit writes at length about her own experiences and explains how these tools have helped her to connect, first and foremost, with herself, in a deep, meaningful way.

“But it is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said. You are hurting yourself. There is no way I can take this personally.”
– Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

I love words. Words can make or break a relationship. For me words and the manner in which they were said mattered for the longest time. If the right words were not being used, my triggers around them were immense. Why cannot people just say what they want to instead of saying “but that’s not what I meant” as an after thought. My judgments surrounding the lack of vocabulary in a person, more so in the English language was a cause of lot of heart-burn for me and still is sometimes my pain around communication.

My education had taught me how to have a good vocabulary, a good diction and a good understanding of how to put the two together to form coherent sentences.

What I was missing was the ability to go beyond the words, understanding what’s deeply important for others in the words they use, or the feelings and needs behind them. More so I could miss it even more when I was in conflict with some one. I was also not having words in my vocabulary that helped express what mattered to me deeply and which could have made my connection better with others.

Learning with my partner
I am grateful to my relations with my close ones, which helped me understand my patterns and gave me an opportunity to work on them and grow along the way. My marriage has been a wonderful learning space for me and has helped me move towards a more holistic understanding of human connectedness. In my journey with my partner I experienced a big shift from assuming that only one person’s needs can be met at a time to recognising that each one’s needs are equally important and can be held and met in the same space. For example, my partner and I had an understanding that whenever he was going to be delayed at work, he would call me up and inform. Somewhere this agreement got lost and there were a couple of times when he did not inform. My reaction was of judgment and blame and I felt exasperated and angry. In that moment I thought that I was not important enough for him. We had just begun dabbling with NVC and taking some responsibility for my feelings, my needs, my concerns, my desires was still an unchartered territory. As I walked into NVC, not blaming my partner for how I was feeling helped me move away from the judgmental space of he does not care and opened up the space to hear his concerns in making the call. To see each other in conflict and to see the beauty of need of the other person has taken time, but well worth the loss of the paradigm of right and wrong. It’s a journey which can be challenging, but is still worth the effort.

I have developed my muscle for looking and digging deep under words after I became a mother. NVC is a wonderful tool that has helped me grow leaps and bounds in this direction. NVC helped about observations without interpretation. When I observe, it keeps me grounded in the now. It has taken some amount of practice to keep interpretations at bay or I am some times able to differentiate between my interpretations and observations. An example of an observation is a spilled glass of juice on the carpet. The interpretations can lead to a lot of judgment about how my child is clumsy and is not being careful. But staying grounded in the observations keeps it at spilled juice and does not take it as a character defining action for the person who had no intention of spilling the juice.

Now my four-year-old is very clear with his words and ‘yeses’ and ‘nos’. He has a lot of big emotions and even at this age acknowledges that there are sometimes he cannot explain it in words but has some form of feeling in his body. But when he says “ I hate you mom.”, for not giving him a knife to play with, I have tools like NVC that help me look beyond these words to the loss of choice that my child might be experiencing. Now I am able to hold both my need of safety and my child’s need for choice together without having to make anyone right or wrong. This helps us in creating more compassionate and effective strategies.

Embracing guilt with self-empathy and mourning
Guilt is a free boarder in most of us. There have been times when I have yelled at my children and felt a tinge of guilt. One afternoon I was involved in a one-sided shouting match with my older son. I was on my way to the guilt trip, till my friend Shammi who is a NVC trainer and practioner, very gently asked me if I could recognise and hold my need behind my actions…I was stumped for a second before I gathered myself to debate the topic in my head. It was a new profound way of looking at my beautiful need of care, even in an action that looked challenging to me or I was feeling guilty about. I have found that feeling guilty and self-bashing lead me to no place other than depression and loss of self-esteem. But seeing myself through the beautiful process of self-empathy gives me the space to come to a more connected understanding and newer awareness. The very same incident also taught me the power of mourning. Mourning the fact that my need for connection with my child was not being met when I was yelling at him. It did not make me a bad mother. It was just a strategy that was not working for me.

Trying to live with word awareness each day….
I have grown up in an environment where words have meant a lot specially those that were spoken harshly…. Some of those hurtful words have lasted a lifetime for me, created deep wounds that I have still not healed from. This has caused a lot of damage and bitterness even in my relationships. After developing this awareness, I decided to lead my life with connection parenting. I am deeply conscious of the choice of words, and wish to be respectful in my conversations with young people, even as young as three-year-old is very important to me, as trust and respect comes at the top of the list. I do this as I also don’t want them to experience deep wounds from my unconscious use of language, as I have picked up growing as a child. Besides, as my own NVC skills grow, I wish one day I am able to full understand the needs of those adults who said harsh words so I can come to peace with those challenging experiences.

Living together with consent
Another beautiful communication setting for our family is consent-based decision making circle, which is inspired by Sociocracy. In this process an idea is presented and all our opinions are heard.The understanding is that if someone has an objection to an idea, it is looked upon as wisdom. We all enjoy the beautiful inclusive process, a part of Sociocracy and are gifted with a wisdom that is magical. This is a magic of having individuals who feel safe and valued irrespective of their age and experience. We had one such beautiful process we followed to talk about my 10-year-old’s birthday celebrations. My boy decided that he wanted his birthday a little different. As gifts, he requested his friends to bring in something hand written to share like their favourite poem, story, joke, anecdote anything that is precious to them. The whole experience of planning the party was very heart warming as all of us worked towards hearing and understanding each others perspective specially when it was a concept that was different from the norm.

It has been relatively easy to make a move to communicate with respect and non-judgment with children and strangers. When it comes to my other intimate relationships, parents, husband, siblings, it is a completely different ball game. Initially NVC sounded very alien and very inauthentic to say the least. The process got me entangled as I was not able to stay and sound authentic inside as well as outside while still staying integral with the process. What has helped with this is a step-by-step approach of first connecting with my own self and my needs and then if comfortable enough in my own shoes connecting with the other person. In this journey, the awareness of looking at the humanness, of the other person as well as my own, is grounding and has helped me look at conflict with a renewed interest and understanding.


Sanjeevani Pandit

Sanjeevani Pandit is an unschooling mother of two boys aged 10 and 4. She explores various facets of life through NVC, Connection Parenting, Bach Flower Essences, Sociocracy. She has been using these tools actively with friends and family. She and her partner Shekhar use the principles of NVC to connect as parents to their two children as well as partners in their relationship.