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A guide to difficult conversations (dave-bailey.com)
1829 points by davesuperman 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 400 comments



I’m generally a good conversation participant, but this week has made me second guess myself.

My father-in-law is currently hospitalized after his heart stopped this weekend. He’s currently in an induced coma. Brain damage is a foregone conclusion at this point and they’re unsure if he will ever regain consciousness.

My wife and I happened to be on vacation in Costa Rica when this happened. We hopped on the next available flight and were at the hospital 21 hours later.

Because we were unavailable, my younger brother-in-law was given Power of Attorney. This “power” went to his head within minutes. He’s now decided that he is the sole arbiter of information. Nobody but him is allowed to talk to the doctors or ask questions.

I spent over 2 hours with him trying to talk it through. I never insulted or condescended him. My goal of the conversation was to allow his sister (both are the patients children) to participate in conversations with the medical staff.

At the end of the 2 hours, he attempted to assault me so I left. I felt like a failure. I’ve never not been able to talk someone down from an irrational position before.

I think I subconsciously used some of these NVC tactics, but failed miserably.

Is there an online course one can take on having these difficult conversations? I need to up my skills.


Don't give up on your brother-in-law. He's making seemingly irrational decisions but look at it from is point of view. His father may be dying. Regardless of his relationship with his father, this is a very difficult thing to go through. And then he suddenly has a lot of responsibility placed on him. He's having to answer questions he's never been asked before much less having given much thought to. He's being told things that he may not understand well or at all (medical and legal). His power trip probably stems from feeling like he needs to be "the man of the family" and be strong for everyone else to the detriment of himself. He likely feels like he'd be perceived as weak if he reached out and asked for help, when that's actually the number one thing he needs to be doing right now.

My recommendation would be make some space for the way he's acting and let him know you and his sister love him regardless, know how difficult this must be, and are there for anything he needs and then, don't say anything else. Don't provoke him. Let him come to you. He may not and if he doesn't, then accept that there is nothing else you can do that won't make the situation worse. But it's just as possible that simply listening to him if and when he talks, almost playing into his power trip, may actually open him up to sharing more information with you.

We humans are such strangely paradoxical creatures sometimes. :) Good luck and I wish you and your family the best.


Instead of making space, what are your thoughts on OP leveraging these perceptions to find common ground? E.g., "We understand that we need you to be the man of the family, and appreciate that you have stepped up to be strong for all of us. We would like to support you in doing so and feel that our greatest assistance would be in helping to facilitate communications for you. Is this something you're able to allow?"

Such a communication should probably come from someone other than OP since he's on bad terms following the assault. Thoughts?


This is speculatively projecting a lot of thoughts and feelings on the brother-in-law, which is quite patronizing. It also awkwardly uses overcomplicated words and overcomplicated passive grammar.

Try reading the linked blog post again, and hold up your proposed question against each of Dave Bailey’s suggestions.


>This is speculatively projecting a lot of thoughts and feelings on the brother-in-law, which is quite patronizing.

Isn't that what negotiation is about, when dealing with someone who won't effectively communicate their thoughts? Speculating the wants/needs of that person and addressing them directly? This isn't something I'm making up, I've just read it in "Never Split the Difference". The book was written to address situations just like OPs.

The example sentence structure was meant to be paraphrased. I was hoping for critique on the subject matter not the grammar. I feel uncomfortable turning OP's anecdote into a hypothetical anyway so I'll back off.


> "We understand that we need you to be the man of the family, and appreciate that you have stepped up to be strong for all of us. We would like to support you in doing so and feel that our greatest assistance would be in helping to facilitate communications for you. Is this something you're able to allow?"

That's corpo-marketing style. The angle is to coerce the other in a corner and he'll see it coming from a thousand mile and react badly to it.

> "We understand that we need you to be the man of the family,

That's exactly the problem and what OP don't want/need. They want to communicate with the medical and legal staff. They don't need him to be the man of the family, they need him to approach this as a family. They need him to let them be family and they need him to be family.


The key is not to speculate, but to figure out how to ask so that you can have a discussion about what they feel and need.

You have a theory, but even if you are a good people reader, and even if you are mostly right, you are very likely to be wrong in many small but important ways. I'm sure you can recall instances where someone was right about you in general but wrong in small ways that really mattered to you.

Even if you have a guess, ask instead.


If someone asked me your proposed question, I would think they were trying to passive-aggressively manipulate me, and I would feel resentful and angry. YMMV.


>Isn't that what negotiation is about, when dealing with someone who won't effectively communicate their thoughts?

No, negotiation is the process that happens when you and the other party have decided you want to work out a mutually acceptable agreement. The other person in this situation has not decided to do that, and so the trick is how to get the him to that point. I think Zelphyr's approach would be a lot more likely than yours to have that effect.


It's not covered in the post, but NVC also stresses figuring out what motivates other people and asking them about it in a non-threatening way (similar template), so I think this is very apropos.

I'd say this part is even more difficult than the stuff in the post, and requires serious empathy.


>This is speculatively projecting a lot of thoughts and feelings on the brother-in-law, which is quite patronizing.

The most powerful and influential communicators/connectors I've encountered in my life essentially only ever do this. I suppose the nuance is that they treat every person as an individual, so (on a semi-subconscious level) spend their first interactions profiling the individual so they understand their motives. I liken it to boxers learning their opponent's range and rhythm (only less combative).

I suppose what might be patronizing though is projecting thoughts onto a stranger from afar (like on this thread) though presenting some projections as an example of one possible thought pattern that may need to be handled can be useful IMO.


I think it can be done in a much simpler way: "What do you need?" If he says, "nothing" then you reply "Ok. Let me know if that changes. I'll help in whatever way you want." and then move on. He's not going to budge right now, but he might in the future. You've planted a seed with him that you're available. He might never reach out. There's nothing else you can do that is productive but accept that.


But it sounds fake. For one thing, am I wrong to assume that relatives don't actually appreciate the son [in law] being the man of the family? At this point aren't they really suspicious of his psychology? And another thing, do we even know the son perceives masculinity that way? It seems like an odd mistake to make if you're wrong.


>For one thing, am I wrong to assume that relatives don't actually appreciate the son in law being the man of the family?

OP is the son-in-law. The man who has power of attorney over OP's father-in-law is the son. Unless I am misunderstanding your post. It would absolutely be an odd mistake to make if wrong though.


Sounds super patronizing. Especially using "We" article in that context.

Directly saying "I appreciate that you have stepped up to be strong for all of us. Can we help?" seems better.


Indeed we are an odd species at times. Thank you for taking the time. I will be sure to let him know that we’re here for him, regardless of anything else.


I've often seen families get particularly hostile when an in-law involves him or herself with the death or illness of a parent. It doesn't matter whether you're right or what approach you use. They're likely in one of the worst times of their life, and they're not going to be receptive to negotiation tactics.

Why is your wife not having this conversation?


Unfortunately they’re both terrible to each other. Always have been, likely always will be. Even in relatively stressless situations they end up at each other’s throats in seconds.

The family (not my wife) asked me to talk to my brother-in-law about this because nobody else could get through to him.

I totally agree I’m not the right person to get in the middle. There’s just nobody else willing or able to.


If this is the situation, I would not be so hard on yourself. It seems like there's a lot of history and emotional trauma that would need to be resolved before any progress would be feasible. If this is indeed the situation, getting your wife involved in the process could make it worse, not better. Imagine all the fights they'd have with so much on the line, when they'd have so many fights before when there wasn't much on the line. You just walked into an impossible situation and did your best. You probably would have done better if you were a sympathetic complete stranger with whom your brother-in-law had zero emotional history (and even if he had zero emotional history with you, he certainly had a lot with your wife and probably subconsciously viewed you as her proxy).

edit: Thinking about it, I think the only thing I'd be able to say in that situation is something like this, just be supporting, not judgmental, not trying to convince him about anything: "Hey man. I'm really sorry this is happening. I know that things are hard right now. If there's anything I can do to help you or the situation, let me know, and I'll do it. How are you yourself? Do you need to talk with anyone about how you're feeling? Let me know if I can help, I'll be right here, OK?"


You’re right. I will call today without any agenda or goals. I really do want to be there for him. Nobody should have to take this on alone.


> The family (not my wife) asked me to talk to my brother-in-law about this because nobody else could get through to him.

I am a stranger on the net but your first priority is your wife and your relationship with her. Be very cautious with demands from the family even if well meaning. Protect yourself and your relationship with your wife.


I second this comment. If the wife has not asked for the intervention, the first obvious question is, why not? That's something that needs to be cleared up with the wife before anything else is done.


When going through a similar event, I was able to find resources at the hospital that helped a lot. In life and death situations they often have patient advocates on staff. I was able to reach out and had a patient advocate, either a nurse practitioner or doctor, that helped sort out the communications. A lot of the stress came from doctors' reluctance to put things in simple terms. The patient advocate was able to basically come in and say, "Look, they can put a pacemaker in, but your loved one only has 12% heart function and is still dying." It was received differently than a family member saying it. After all, their job is to advocate for the best interest of the patient. Ours actually got pretty angry with the doctors for how things had been allowed to progress. Hospitals usually have grief counselors and social workers as well. Just getting the brother extra support might be enough to open him up.


If this is the background, then your failure with your brother in law was probably inevitable, but trying was important for maintaining and improving your relationship with the rest of the family.

If you had just said, "forget it, it won't work," and not tried, the outcome for your wife would be the same, but everyone else would also be mad that you didn't try.


I hadn’t looked at it that way. I appreciate this viewpoint. Does make me feel a little better about the situation. Thank you!


> The family (not my wife) asked me to talk to my brother-in-law about this because nobody else could get through to him.

This is probably a central part of the problem: you're the worst person to have the conversation, and you were brought in because everyone else failed, so he was primed against the subject matter. You started in a hole you had no hope of digging out of.


> The family (not my wife) asked me to talk to my brother-in-law about this because nobody else could get through to him.

This is a very tough situation and I don't think it was any lack of skill on your part that made you unable to get through to your brother-in-law this time. I don't think the world's champion hostage negotiator could have done it on the first try.

I'm a little unclear on one aspect, though. You say your goal is to get your brother-in-law to allow your wife to talk to medical staff. But the family not your wife is asking you to talk to him? Yet they're not asking for anyone else, other than your wife, to be able to talk to medical staff? If there are aunts and uncles, presumably some of them are siblings of your father-in-law, as closely related as his children and with as much right to be involved in medical discussions as your wife has. Yet they're not trying to get themselves involved in the process? Only your wife?

(Also, as I commented elsewhere in the thread, if I were in your position, I would not want to take this on unless I was sure my wife was OK with it. I can totally see that she might just not want to have the discussion herself because of her history with her brother; I just would want to be sure that she was OK with what was being done.)


If there are aunts and uncles, presumably some of them are siblings of your father-in-law, as closely related as his children...

A technicality: Not sure in the USA, but over here that's not correct. Relation is measured in grades being those the basic parent-child "distance". So you're related in the first grade to your parents or children, but in the second grade to your siblings (1 grade distance from you to your parents, another one from your parents to them) so, unless the father in law has a living parent, no one is more closely related to him than his children.

So for lack of a better way of understanding, I would just ask a lawyer.


That's a tough situation. It's good that you tried.


>I've often seen families get particularly hostile when an in-law involves him or herself with the death or illness of a parent.

Definitely. The husband of my sister trying to insert himself - it felt so wrong at the gut/instinct level. I just felt at the gut/instinct level that he has no voice - no "standing" - in that situation. While it was expected and predictable feeling, its actual strength was a bit surprising. Note that in general I have nothing against the guy, and we're good with the sister.

GP> I spent over 2 hours with him trying to talk it through.

You just wouldn't get it with me. I'd just have no reason to waste all that time and energy with somebody who have "no standing" in the situation.

GP> I never insulted or condescended him. My goal of the conversation was to allow his sister (both are the patients children) to participate in conversations with the medical staff.

did you really think that your supposedly nice conversational skills would be more powerful and effective than a lifelong relationship, whatever complicated it may be, between the brother and the sister? Talking about insult and condescension ...


You mentioned being unable to get any information from hospital staff. Did your brother-in-law explicitly instruct them for some reason not to provide any information to other family members?

How exactly was he granted power of attorney? Was your father-in-law capable of signing a power of attorney when he was initially hospitalized, or had he signed a POA or healthcare proxy beforehand? If the latter, did it assign multiple agents and specify any restrictions on how they make decisions? For example, was the brother-in-law listed a successor to someone else in the agreement or are they co-agents? Getting a copy of the agreement will take very little billable time for any attorney. Given that time is probably a factor, and from how entrenched the attitude you've described is by now, it's unlikely that you or the family will be able to talk your brother-in-law into backing down in any reasonable timeframe. Your first step is to get a copy of the power of attorney agreement and go from there.

Speaking to an attorney might seem like an aggressive step in such a precarious situation, with the potential for long-term consequences for the family dynamic. On the other hand, as difficult as it might be to hear, you're probably already at that point. Were your father-in-law to pass away without the rest of the family even being able to hear what's happening from a medical standpoint, painful as it may be to contemplate, it's highly unlikely that anyone in the family is going to be willing to forgive your brother-in-law for it. Appearing to go around him to get a copy of the agreement might be seen as a betrayal, but it's probably going to be less problematic in the long run than the status quo.

I've seen families that have been permanently torn apart during end-of-life decision-making. Be that as it may, some manage to heal. Eventually. I hope that yours will be one of the ones that does so.


The questions that should follow now that the rest of the family is now available are "Who had the authority to grant this to him, do they have the authority to revoke it, has the rest of the family spoken with this outside authority, and what else can be done?"

There has to be some sort of provision for dealing with situations like this, because this is far from the worst possible outcome. (e.g. "Great, $social_worker, you've now granted power of attorney to the person who lives with dad because dad was the only person able to get him to remain in treatment and on his medications, but who hates the rest of the family.")


You can find a lot of Marshall Rosenberg lectures and even full workshops on YouTube.

An important part of the nvc practice is to give up attachment to outcome. Making a true request means that there will be no negative consequences if the answer is “No”. It is possible that your wife’s brother was triggered partly because you insisted (if you did), maybe he needed autonomy, solitude, to feel that he matters, to grieve, to rest.

I teach NVC and often use a small yellow book called Communication Fundamentals by Jean Morrison.


I can not figure how to buy it :( :(

Only one website seems to have it, but shipping only to Australia :(

Any ideas how to get it??


I was curious, too, and after some Googling, I found it here:

http://www.groktheworld.com/communication-fundamentals-2nd-e...

Looks like they ship just about anywhere.


Yes that’s where I got it.

I love this little book, because it focuses on the basics without getting heady.

When I teach I use it for drills.

Get it and:

- start rewording in giraffe, esp. harsh internal dialogue

- then start using “everyday” language to say the same things

- remember that intention and alignment come become technique. Without them technique becomes a minus, not a plus.


thanks, you‘re awesome!


Firstly, in my experience with the medical system, which is sadly a great deal more than I hoped for my life, it's hard having multiple people communicating with medical experts. Information gets lost, doesn't get recorded, gets misinterpreted, misfiled, forgotten. Having multiple people asking questions at different times means someone never has the full picture of what's going on or is getting relayed or potentially misinterpreted information. It is absolutely better if one person is always present for conversations with doctors and nurses, even if his sister or you are also present. This way someone is guaranteed to have all the information and nothing gets lost or forgotten. You can all make decisions together, but only if you all understand all of the information at hand.

In my experience with grieving people, which is also extensive, don't try and take over, often people try to manage their grief by managing the situation. Taking that away from him takes away his coping mechanism. I don't know your family and I can't speak for your situation, but if it were me, I wouldn't try and inject myself. I would keep this absolutely as simple as possible:

"Hey, we're here for you. Thank you for stepping up and managing all this, I know it's almost impossible to keep track of what's going on with doctors coming and going constantly. What can we do to help?"


That is such a sad situation. I can tell from the language you used that you and your wife must be quite upset with your brother-in-law. And he is clearly very upset and expressing it in a way that's making a difficult time even more difficult. He also had to take on a terrible responsibility when he was the only person available.

It might be that there's nothing you can do right now to get him to see things through your eyes. Maybe all you can do at the moment is work on self-kindness, forgiveness and patience on your own and prepare for how to mend the relationship in the future. I have seen these rifts in my own family never heal, so I hope that they will in your family.


Sage words. I’m sorry that you’ve also been through these family disconnects. It’s heartbreaking.

I will work on myself to forgive and hopefully we can be a family again in the future.

Thank you for taking the time.


I wouldn't be so hard on yourself. The family is in a very difficult spot right now and people all cope and behave differently.

I'd recommend the book Never Split the Difference which was written by a former hostage negotiator. From what I learned from that book, anchoring his emotions and asking How questions might have helped you. Why questions are accusatory and put people on the defensive, often leading to escalation.


Thank you for the recommendation. I did use Why questions and probably should’ve avoided those. I’ll check out this book.


There may be deep-seated and long-standing resentments playing out here, due to insecurities and perceived differences in status. It's possible your brother-in-law has also never held a position of power or authority. No amount of conversation on your part may fix it as a large portion of the problem is the source (i.e. you). It may be best to back off and let your wife handle it. He's her brother after all. Work through her to get your message across.


Of course we tried that first. My wife tried, their uncle tried, their cousins tried. I was the last resort.

I agree that it’s best now to back off. There’s nothing else I can do. It hurts me to see my wife in additional pain because she’s not allowed to talk to the medical staff herself. She has medical training and is likely to understand the medical “Mumbo Jumbo” better than anyone else in the family.


I’m not sure I understand how it is impossible to talk to the medical staff, even if the brother still holds power of attorney. They won’t tell her anything about her dads condition without it?

She doesn’t want to do it because her brother would freak out?


HIPAA, I imagine.


I was present for the last few days of my grandmother’s life, as were all of my aunts and uncles.

Under severe stress, several of them reverted to basically their childhood personalities and relationships with each-other. It surfaced a bunch of half-century-old petty resentments and roles, which was quite surprising for me as an observer who was born 25+ years after their childhood.

Try to cut your brother in law some slack. He’s having a hard time.


Sorry to hear.

Check out Crucial Conversations (https://www.amazon.com/Crucial-Conversations-Talking-Stakes-...). It's a framework that I've found immensely helpful.

If interested, I do recommend you read the book, but you can still get something out of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFaXx3pgaxM (it's a summary masquerading as a review).


Yeah, the book is really good. But also only useful in really exceptional situations. (Speaking about workplaces, only in a toxic workplace there is use for it.)


As somebody that has this specific discussion regularly, I find that framing it as a group has helped in circumstances similar to yours. Framing it this way to your family and the health care team may help.

“This decision is so difficult, let us share this burden with you. If we have to make a decision to remove life support, you shouldn’t have to make that decision alone. If we decide the massive costs of long term life support which may drain the estate, we should make that decision together.

Dad would trust that we as a family would come together and make these tough decisions together.”

People go through various stages of mourning so sometime just time helps.

Remember that the family’s job is to be your Dad’s voice. What would he want?

Events like this bring out the worst in everybody. These are just a few strategies that have worked for me in the past. Good luck.


I'm sorry to hear that, must be a really difficult for time for all of you. I doubt there's anything you could have done differently to get a better outcome. When people are in such weird situations, there's no "guaranteed method" to help. They're having a shit time, and they want to take it out on people - and you were there.


I found this book very helpful in several difficult conversations over the years - https://www.amazon.com/Difficult-Conversations-Discuss-What-...

It has quite practical advice as well as a framework helping one navigate.


Thanks for the link. I will check it out.


Sometimes you have to realize that there is no way to solve such a situation. I think the best situation in this case is to resolve it through the court system. It's incredibly hard to convince people to give up power on their own unless they have a certain disposition, there's no disincentive in doing it, or there's no consequence to them when keeping it. They need to be given a clear consequence if they don't.


>> It's incredibly hard to convince people to give up power...

When I read that I thought the word power was important. The OPs brother-in-law is probably feeling a lot of things, one of which may well be "powerless" in the face of what is happening with his father. I'm not sure what involving the court is going to do in this case - for the patient or the interpersonal issues.


It's probably the only way to get rid of his power of attorney.


If I were to start a conversation with him, I would initially focus on two things: I would recognize his value and dedication and I would get to know him better. I don't know his name, but I'll call him Ben. I would probably start like this:

"Ben, I know this whole thing is very hard on you, but let me say I think you're doing a great job. No matter what anyone says, you're here for your father. That means a lot and I am sure your father would be proud of you for that. Not only that, but when the hospital asked you to step up and take on an important responsibility (power of attorney), you did it without hesitation. You're a loyal son and a gentleman.

"How are you getting along? Have you ever experienced something like this before? [Wait for the answer and talk about it. Let him talk about his experiences for a while and choose to go in more depth about a particular experience.] What was it like to go through that? Did everyone turn out OK?

"Listen, Ben, I'm here for you. I want you to keep the power of attorney because you've demonstrated your loyalty. Can we work together to figure out what it means to have power of attorney? I'm not too experienced with it, but I know attorneys in general have certain responsibilities to communicate with their clients and I'm sure something like that applies here. You've taken on a responsibility to communicate what's going on and I want to help you fulfill that responsibility.

"I know your family has been hard on you, Ben, so I want to help you by communicating with them for you so you can focus on the more important things. Again, I'm with you every step of the way, so let's figure this out together. We're going to get through this."

As you work with him, always be on his team. Never his superior nor subordinate, but always his peer. Navigate together.


This is a family issue so it would have been your wife’s job to deal with this. As an in-law you are often an outsider when it comes to these issues.


I agree in principle and I hate being put in the middle of this. I responded to some other similar comments on this sub-thread but the short of it is that I was asked to do this by the family (not my wife) because nobody else can get through to him.


I think you were in an impossible situation so there is no need to beat yourself up. Keeping observe and another opportunity for an intervention or steering things may come up later.


My younger brother became irrational and physically hostile after our father's death, to the point where I had to leave the house for a couple days.

My understanding is that it is somewhat normative for children of the recently deceased to get into confrontations.


No conversation technique will enable you to always get what you want. I mean, if such a technique existed the other part could also use it, right? The guide is not about how to win a conversation, just about how to have it.

Your state that "the power went to his head" and he is "irrational". That is pretty judgemental! But looking at your story from the outside, he is the son with the dying father and you are an in-law trying to wrestle control of the situation and get access to medical information and perhaps influence critical decisions.

No amount of conversation skill is going to make you closer related than the son.


Death, sickness, and financial windfalls each bring out the worst in most of us.

Don't take it personally, the failure here isn't yours.


I think there's an idea that you can heroically 'push through' in situations like that, but in my experience that's simply not how people change their ideas/behavior.

People change slowly.

You set forth the idea, you make your case quickly (e.g. the '40 word' guideline in this article) and you don't apply pressure. You can make clear the gravity of the situation if needed, but coercion, rhetoric, etc. will just work against you when people feel defensive. If you need someone to come closer to your point of view, you need to make room for them to do so.

Giving space like this is hard, and it often seems like nothing is changing, but this approach is a lot more powerful than you might think.

Obviously you don't have the luxury of time, but the reality is that you can't force the issue. 2 hours sounds miserable, for both of you, and it's only adding to his agitation. He may very well be making terrible mistakes, but they're his to make.

I'll tell you this: there's a reason he doesn't want your wife there. I bet you he feels undermined, antagonized, or otherwise unsupported by her (justified or otherwise), and wants to focus on the difficult decisions ahead.


"Because we were unavailable, my younger brother-in-law was given Power of Attorney."

I don't understand this. IANAL, but recently had to figure some of this stuff out. PoA is granted per the wishes of the grantor. If your FIL is incapacitated, who granted the PoA?

I think your wife is certainly within her rights to see the actual PoA.

I am not advocating lawyering up or pushing hard for clarity.

I am saying that it might be worthwhile to figure out what's what, explore options. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Like who and how decides about DNR, end-of-life, etc.

Further, it's good practice. Talk to your kids, next-of-kin, whoever. Figure this stuff out ahead of time. For everyone's peace of mind.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_of_attorney

My family has a long tradition of planning ahead for this stuff. Even so, we recently scrambled to update my mom's paperwork to better reflect the current situation. Just in case. Having that clarity helped. Prevented a bad situation from getting worse and got us all back to rowing together.

For comparison, my SIL's family hasn't done anything, won't talk about it, and last year was a total shitshow. Also, my sweetie's family hasn't done anything, won't talk about it, the inevitable happened, and now it's a shitshow.

--

Ask about any available resources, social workers, counseling. They can help navigate this stuff.


Death and illness in the family is particularly stressful and there is no amount of NVC tactics that are up to the task. Your brother in laws protective instincts have kicked in and you will not be able to talk to him rationally until he feels out of danger. Just relax until the limbic system dies down, let your bother in law know you want to help, and then have a calm NVC conversation with your brother in law.


This is awful. But in the end, it takes two, and you can only control your side of the conversation.

I had a similar experience in my last divorce, doing every possible thing to make the negotiations non-confrontational, win/win, etc. My wife's stance was "I get everything", and no amount of kindness, reasoning, or patience could move her. (As you might imagine, the result was a trail of destruction, for me and her both.)

I take some solace in this Buster Scruggs quote: "Misanthrope? I don’t hate my fellow man, even when he’s tiresome and surly and tries to cheat at poker. I figure that’s just a human material, and him that finds in it cause for anger and dismay is just a fool for expecting better."


I'm sorry to hear about your situation, that sounds particularly challenging.

I've found this book very helpful at facilitating communication and it might be of help: https://www.amazon.com/Say-What-You-Mean-Communication/dp/16...


Thank you for the link. I will check it out!


I think you may like the book "Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It" by Chris Voss. There are pretty insightful tricks there for dealing with extreme situations (the guy used to be a hostage negotiator for FBI).


I find this scenario strange. Why is your wife not interfacing directly with her brother? Why are you even involved in these discussions during this obviously challenging situation? It might be better to step back and support your wife and not insinuate yourself into the higher level aspects of the situation. You're only increasing the conflict. "Blood is thicker than water" is very true. And you just received a good lesson on that from your brother in law. Put your wife before everything else. If things get even worse you'll be the scapegoat at the end. Guaranteed.


I have been in almost the same situation for the last two years. It's my mother that nearly died, her husband who now has power of attorney and uses this as an excuse to prevent us from even trivial medical information. It's far worse than just that actually. Worst battle I've ever gone through. Through careful emotional chess I now have won the peace, but he still won't tell us what medicines she is prescribed. It's an emotional trigger for him, a challenge to his leadership. You can't win against people like this because when they experience loss it makes them even harder to deal with.


Its heartbreaking when these things happen.

All I can say, is for anyone reading this, if you do not have a will, medical power of attorney, and medical advance directive set up - do it now. Spare your loved ones this kind of confusion and hurt.

After you create these, make sure to tell your loved ones what your expectations are. You need to pick someone to have medical power of attorney who will defend your wishes. You also need to file your directive with your local hospitals and care providers.

This may be a difficult conversation, but not having it can cause many more problems.


First you need to digg deep to see things from his perspective and acknowledge to him that it is how he is feeling, then the conversation will open up more. (Empathy), next try and restart the conversation by apologizing and ask a question that gets him to say no, so he feels he is in control. Then follow it up with an open ended question like “what is your sister supposed to do?” because he felt some sense of control from the previous question, he may concede something on his own. Make sure you prepare the questions and not wing it.


I don’t know your brother in law, but what I can say is that the alternative isn’t better. I went through almost the same thing last year where my father suffered a heart attack and ultimately ended up in a vegetative state. Me, my sister, and my mother had different schedules, and we asked the same questions all the time. The doctors and social workers lost their patience all the time repeating themselves. In hindsight, it would’ve saved a lot of heartache and arguments with staff had we assigned 1 person to be this arbiter of information.

Just my 2c


Propagators of those techniques also tell you that sometimes there is no help. I.e. completely irrational positions or mindsets, as well arguments that are already set with hostility.


The book https://www.amazon.com/Just-Listen-Discover-Getting-Absolute... may help you.

It is written by a psychiatrist who trains FBI hostage negotiators. Which is about as targeted as you can for hard conversations under difficult circumstances.


leeslaminen says:

"Because we were unavailable, my younger brother-in-law was given Power of Attorney."

If what you say is true, then get a lawyer and request that the court transfer POA to you or your wife, whomever was specified in his papers or in the law by default. Now that you _are_ available, the court may transfer POA to you.

Let this be a reminder to those reading that, when you assign POA you might also wish to designate whom you DO NOT wish to be assigned POA, in case the first-listed assignees are not available, resign, or later removed somehow.

Too bad you didn't let him assault you: that would have made it much easier. You could have charged him with assault and used it as evidence in the POA hearing or simply as leverage to force him to yield.

Alternatively, if you can find grounds, you can question the original POA document and have it nullified.

All in all it sounds as if, in addition to having irritable in-laws (who doesn't?), you simply didn't get your way and are angry about it. So either lawyer up or learn how to deal with "No.".


> Too bad you didn't let him assault you: that would have made it much easier. Simply charge him with assault and use it as evidence in the POA hearing.

Sometimes its best not to further aggravate family arguments. This situation is currently recoverable, filing charges will forever change the relationship.


JohnSully says:

Sometimes its best not to further aggravate family arguments. This situation is currently recoverable, filing charges will forever change the relationship.

In most such situations it may resolve the matter to the benefit of a wiser or more socialized party, does little additional harm and merely cements and documents a longstanding situation that has little or no chance of being changed. It also provides documentation and a basis for future litigation if necessary.


Under extreme emotional stress such as this situation people act irrationally. The brother may come to his senses and relent as he has time to calm down and reflect. If charges are pressed it becomes extremely unlikely this will happen. Further it does harm, it will dramatically affect the life of the brother if he is convicted.

Deescalation is not emotionally satisfying but it does work.


JohnSully says:

"Deescalation is not emotionally satisfying but it does [sometimes] work."

FTFY

but you may not agree.

JohnSully, you are an optimist. As in

"this is the best of all possible worlds." -the early Candide in Voltaire's Candide

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Best_of_all_possible_worlds#Cr...

Like the older Candide I am a pessimist and my personal experience is that:

a)Roughly a third of people are either simply nuts (insane, partially schizophrenic, manic-depressive, etc.), have significant character flaws (greed, dishonesty, vice, short temper, addiction, etc.), hold far-fetched ideas that bar them from thinking clearly or are too dim-witted to do so. In any conflict or decision, they will never agree to most anything.

b) Half of people are amenable to reason but require a significant effort in both time and expense to gain agreement. No decision will ever take less than a week.

c) A final one-sixth of persons will see a presented beneficial resolution for both parties _and_ will act thereupon almost immediately.


I've seen the result of "filing charges" during a time like this and let me tell you family relationships are especially fragile, and can easily evaporate completely after the remaining parent dies.


It's easier for care teams in this situation to speak to one person. I suppose your wife (if she felt up to the task) could have asked if your brother needed relief, but 21 hours in an emergency is a very long time and being the only one on deck for 21 hours is a very stressful circumstance.


My friend had recommended to me a book called Difficult Conversations: https://www.amazon.com/Difficult-Conversations-Discuss-What-...


I’m sorry you went through this. Are you okay?

I’m encouraged to hear you’ve used NVC, since I have learned it, too, but it’s also educational to see in certain situations even that can have its limits.


As someone with many brothers and sisters, how is Power of Attorney determined? Just curious.


I have no idea about what happens in the moment but it is best determined long before a situation like this arises. My mom is an RN and has seen first hand the need to have this set up prior to a serious situation happening. I have health care power of attorney for her instead of my dad or sister because she believes I'm more likely to follow her wishes around extreme measures being taken or being put on life support. I hope I'm never put in that situation but if it happens the whole family has already talked about what she wants and I'm the person with HCPOA.

It's a hard conversation that most people desperately try to avoid but if you haven't already set it up (especially if you're married or have kids) you should set a goal to do that this year. There are lots of simple guides online to help you put something in place or you can hire a professional to guide you if you have a more complicated personal situation.


I'm really sorry to hear about your father-in-law.

Obviously, time is short, but there are two "trunk" books to be read when you're able: Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone and Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury, both of the Harvard Negotiation School. They are the gold standard and most other books on the topic are pale imitations. I used to believe that I was great at communication and bad at negotiation, but the opposite was true; DC has literally changed my life more than any other non-fiction book because the most important outcomes in our lives are the result of the most difficult conversations.

Your brother-in-law will eventually need to be forgiven for acting like a maniac, and you should anticipate that he will quickly transition into doubling down on the insanity because it seems less humiliating than admitting that he was acting like a tool.

Before the healing, however, you do have a problem to solve (or possibly, not). The first question is for you: is your brother-in-law making good decisions unilaterally? Is it possible that he's trying to protect his father from your wife? Don't be mad at me for asking. It could be possible that you should let him continue, as things are already stressful and perhaps having one person in charge is okay.

But let's assume that he's not making great decisions. What you need to figure out pronto is that when someone is upset, it's almost never what they say they are upset about. If your wife is pissed at you for missing dinner again, chances are that (unless you have an eating disorder) she's not worried that you're hungry. She feels disrespected, lonely and insecure about her marriage. So, if your brother-in-law says he's upset about X, the single most productive thing you can do is engage in creative empathy and figure out what he's most likely upset about. He's likely terrified of being abandoned by his dad, or perhaps is having a crisis of unresolved things that could never be said. He could be feeling powerless. The fact that he's the youngest might be manifesting as insecurity. (After all, why did you mention his age as relevant?) Perhaps he is terrified of death and seeing his father in this state is forcing him to confront his own death. I don't know what his deal is; just that it's almost certainly not what it seems to be.

As for the negotiation, here are some helpful suggestions straight from Getting to Yes: first, be prepared. It doesn't hurt to write down some of the following and maybe even practice it. Second, start every negotiation with a negotiation about the negotiation; "do you have a minute? I need to talk to you about what's happening". Third, be aware of what you want and what he wants, but also be mindful of what he is willing to accept as a compromise in combination with what you are willing to accept as a compromise. Fourth, you will both win better outcomes if you negotiation from your interests rather than a position. Why do you want what you think you want and is there another way we could possibly satisfy both of our interests?

It's critical to convey that someone does not have to lose in order for you both to win. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdA2wecb4k0 for a further summary.)

A power move is to bring in a trusted but removed third-party expert to help with a difficult negotiation. It's important that this person is impartial and not arguing for either side or else the brother-in-law will rightfully feel attacked.

Finally, don't be so hard on yourself. I am proud of you for attempting to be productive using whatever techniques you have in a time of stress. Best of luck.


Why was it you having the conversation and not your wife?


You may need to talk to a lawyer.


People go full retard in hospitals and hospice. You're probably just facing more emotional intensity than you're used to.


His father is dying and you're some asshole that's fucking his sister who's trying to intrude on the situation.

Clearly I don't actually believe that, but it's helpful to start understanding the dynamic by internalizing the other guy's point of view.

In this situation the right approach is to walk away, you can't and shouldn't try to get between someone and their father in a moment of crisis. His sister has standing, you don't. She has to step up and deal with it, or not, at her discretion.


> some asshole that's fucking his sister

You mean his brother-in-law and family right? Can we stop framing sex between loving couples as violence or somehow unrelated to family.


This is a valuable post. I have not taken an NVC course before, but I have done a lot of work in negotiations, writing, and was brought up to use this style of communication.

One thing I would be interested in either from the OP or someone with experience with NVC, is how you recognize when you are being patronizing. Much of this communication style is the artifact of an implied power relationship, where the speaker already has the power, or is asserting power.

In negotiations, there is the idea of appealing to shared principles and interests, and NVC can be a way to depersonalize the issue to focus on that. But the example of handling, "No," with empathy is to directly personalize the issue and address feelings, vs. the negotiation view which would be to ask, "if no, given we agree on X, let's leave my perceived solution aside for a moment and find out how we get X."

I think empathy in business can often be zero sum, where it is just an expression of sympathy for someones lack of power in the situation, that is both psychologically horrible, and destroys value. I call that approach of fabricated empathy "seduce and smother," which is common in organizations today.

This article provides an essential and valuable tool. However, this difference between empathy and principle, is that an accurate interpretation of the distinction?


"how you recognize when you are being patronizing"

That's a good point. I'm fairly adept at recognizing when someone is trying to negotiate with me based on some kind of taught methodology. Because most of what's taught is counter to how you would do it naturally...thus it stands out.

Once you recognize it, the natural reaction is to feel like you're being manipulated with some technique.


I think part of it is that the observation needs to be genuinely objective rather than veiled evaluation.

For example, when I did tech support I would occasionally get chat messages from my supervisor along the lines of:

"Hey, I see that you closed out Ticket #XYZ without any resolution or response sent to the requester."

(waits for response)

(waits for response)

(waits for response)

...and it would make me furious, regardless of whatever the situation was.


Is it even possible that that could not be an evaluation? I've been on both sides of that exchange, and it never even occurred to me that pointing out a ticket wasn't properly filled out was an evaluation. The ticket itself is often the only proof you actually did your job, after all.

Personally, if I'm on the receiving end of that, I'd rather the boss say, "please update this ticket with X and Y" rather than making an "observation." It can't be condescending nor manipulative since that person is plainly exercising their authority. And you can generally resolve problems with an instruction by pointing out that it won't work, or it conflicts with others, etc., which avoids it getting personal.

(This may be why I rarely had these issues in the military, and noticed that many veterans report a great deal of confusion when they get into civilian life because "nobody knows their lane.")


If I did that, there would be an implicit "I'd like to know why" on the end of it, with the understanding that there might be a very good reason. But now that you point it out, I could see how that could come across as a criticism, too.


"Is there something you want me to do?" is a slightly less hostile way of saying "Get to the point."

"The petitioner did not make a request upon which relief can be granted." might set off a snark detector, and "The ticketing system already automatically notifies the requester that their ticket has been closed." might inadvertently imply that the supervisor does not know how to do their job.


My habitual response to these sorts of messages has been to just affirm the statement.

> "Hey, I see that you closed out Ticket #XYZ without any resolution or response sent to the requester."

> "yes" / "yup" / "indeed" / "true"

It's an effective way to sidestep having to pay attention until the person comes up with an actual question or request.


"That is a true statement." is one that is frequently used around here. It sounds very engineer-y, and has no inflectional or emotional connotations whatsoever. It's about as sterile as a SYN-ACK packet. I heard what you just said, and evaluated it for correctness. Current computation completed, and ready for additional input.


That wouldn't bug me at all. People who totally respect me would ask me that. "Why didn't you put a resolution on Ticket XYZ?" blames me. "There is no resolution on Ticket XYZ" states a fact and lets me offer an explanation of why I do that kind of thing. Or, like as not, investigate how I closed the ticket by accident or assigned it to someone else who closed it. There are usually lots of good explanations and if you can't even raise the subject without getting mad, you miss those opportunities to not screw up. Maybe I thought no one cared about the resolution and this teaches me someone does look. It's a positive thing to do IMO.


At the same time, if it comes from a place of genuine concern, even unnatural communication can be empathetic. I once asked for help on an online forum, and one person responded with something along the lines of "I don't know how you feel, but if that happened to me I'd feel terrible". In the moment, it felt very carefully crafted, but the care with which the words were chosen really amplified their impact to me.


I've been in that scenario and NVC still worked. In that case the person I was talking to felt anxious when I practiced NVC in our conversations because they needed freedom: to think their own thoughts and make decisions etc.

I asked if there was some way I could speak to them that would help them meet their need for freedom. Then we both laughed and the situation defused.


Great question.

I use NVC frequently to people with a lot more power than me, and I'd actually suggest NVC is actually about putting yourself (and your needs) on the same level as those of the person your speaking with.

The fundamental premise is that fundamental needs are shared by all humans... and the ideal strategy is one where all needs are met.

So, you can avoid patronising someone by truly seeking to understand the other person's feelings and needs without judgement and taking those needs seriously. Again, easy to say, hard to do.


That's the key I think. Appreciated. By putting your universal needs on the same level (not your "self"), you are in effect appealing to principle, so there is likely a great deal of alignment between the methods as described. Looking forward to reading up more on this. Thank you.


Hey, just wanna point out your commenting style is tremendously good. Somehow each one has all the ingredients of a great comment for a discussion. Thanks for the effort!


That's a kind observation. If I worked for you that would be really satisfying to hear...

This is why it's important to be conscientious about spirals of passive aggression with this communication style. Mastering it is mastery, trying is, well, doing it wrong. Great thread.


"I use NVC frequently to people with a lot more power than me ..."

Examples? I'm struggling to understand how one could "frequently" have to use NVC with "people a lot more power".

Having to do this frequently itself is a problem with the organization, right?


Any conversation involving appreciation or a request can benefit from the principles of nvc which can be made in natural language.


Constantly relying on "observations" is incredibly patronizing and I've gotten away from it outside of very formal reporting / performance improvement plans / firing someone.

In my current line of work (and previous one, finance), if you cite observations as the main way of communicating, the other person is just going to cut you off and tell you to hurry the fuck up and tell them what they did wrong.


I'm sorry, I don't understand. If someone says to me "Three of the numbers in the report were inaccurate" (an observation) that's a lot more helpful to me than "Your work is sloppy" (an evaluation). Did you have something else in mind?


"3 numbers were inaccurate" (great job, that's way below average)

"3 numbers were inaccurate" (just an FYI for next time, no big deal)

"3 numbers were inaccurate" (and I am annoyed that I had to deal with the consequences, please ensure it doesn't happen again)

"3 numbers were inaccurate" (but I understand the pressure you were under and the volume of work you had, so I don't see it as an ongoing problem)

"3 numbers were inaccurate" (and I see it as part of an ongoing, worrisome pattern of sloppy work coming from you, and I expect you to correct it)

Sometimes the recipient of the message really does need the speaker's evaluation, not just the bare factual observations, to put the message in proper context. "My order took 4 days to arrive" is a lot less useful than "Thanks, my order only took 4 days to arrive" or "I had to wait a whole 4 days for my order to arrive".


This is addressed later in the article. The whole formula is: "3 numbers were inaccurate. I feel frustrated because I keep having to [deal with the consequences]. Would you be able to [double-check all calculations from now on]?"


I don't see the purpose in sharing that I'm frustrated. Is it supposed to make the recipient feel bad?


It's because NVC has taken away the natural way for people to express frustration, which is by being short with the other person.

Personally, I don't get it either. No one I'm frustrated with seems to understand that if I tell them in an unhurried, matter-of-fact way. They may say that they prefer me to express frustration that way, but it gets no results. I don't see the appeal.


NVC is most effective if you share your feelings in an authentic and vulnerable way. This isn’t the same as being in the feeling (ex getting angry or frustrated) or staying them in a matter-of-fact way.

The magic of NVC comes from the recipient empathizing with the person making the request.


"This isn’t the same as being in the feeling"

I genuinely have no idea what this means. What are you trying to say here? So I can be in any feeling except frustration when I'm conveying that I'm being frustrated? This sounds like snake oil.


I feel like this also speaks to having to know your audience. Some people you have to tread lightly with. You might think you're being patronizing but to go any harder would cause them put up a major wall. Others just want you to lay it right out for them and not sugar coat it in any way.

And, in fact, people can be different in different scenarios.

In a work scenario I'm going to respond best if you're bringing up something I need to improve in a constructive way, with feedback that is actionable on my part, and doing so fairly dispassionately. "Hey Z. Here's what happened and how/why it was incorrect. Here's how you can make up for it/do better next time. No harm, no foul as long as you do better in this one area and keep rockin' it everywhere else."

But I need my wife to tread more lightly for some reason. Being dispassionate would be perceived by me as uncaring in that scenario.


Trying overly hard to make something seem more objective is in a sense an obfuscation of what you really think. Sometimes you need to cut the BS and tell people what's actually on your mind.

In my experience there are two types of coworkers: those that respond well to BS (read: couched language) and those that don't. You just have to recognize who is who.


People observe different things and even then, weight the memories of those observations differently. There are many who employ a barrage of "factual" observations. These are unavoidably biased even as the speaker attempts to pan the feelings out.

Often a speaker doing this feels that the sheer number of data points makes their strategy (that they will argue for shortly after finishing their list of observations) all but inevitable. People who have interacted with such arguers get understandably defensive when shown a barrage of facts painting them a certain way.

In the presence of a pattern of behavior, one example followed by every means necessary of keeping the offender on your side while building a strategy should be enough if the pattern is real and the offender has good intentions.


Great point. Growing up my mom must have read some book about how to comfort kids. She would always say “It sounds like you ...”. For example: “I hate my teacher.” Would receive a response of “It sounds like you are upset with your teacher.”

As soon as I was old enough to recognize the pattern it became an infuriatingly depersonal way to be talked to. Sometimes the lack of “umm, like, just, kind of, etc.” will reveal speech as inorganic and make the whole thing seem false. After awhile it’s hard to even relate to someone who speaks to you like that as a person.


It's called "active listening" and it's a powerful technique. There is no need though to sound dry or to avoid fillers when you are "actively listening". It's really not depersonal at all. Your mom was probably trying to comfort you but she failed to find the right tone.


The responses need to scale with the level of the kid. A response that is fine for teaching a 4-year-old to recognize their emotions might end up sounding scripted and pro forma to an 11-year-old.

Step #1 in this kind of conversation is to listen attentively to the other person. Trying to acknowledge someone’s feelings is much better than denying or ignoring them, but if the kid is obviously getting frustrated/annoyed at the response, then the parent needs to adjust what they are saying and doing. (Yes, this is hard.)

In particular, if the kid is very heatedly angry and the parent calmly tells them “it sounds like you are upset”, that can be incredibly frustrating. If the mom had said “Your teacher must have really pissed you off!” (or whatever) the kid might have felt more understood and been willing to elaborate.


Sounds like she was using it as a technique to calm you down/try ad change how you feel (best intentions manipulation) vs a way to understand you and be close with you.

The words by themselves can feel empty and patronizing.


The example doesn't sound manipulative at all. It sounds like she's calling attention to the underlying emotion that's driving her child to hate the teacher. Being able to recognize that is key to actually understanding why you do things. Hate is not an emotion, it's an evaluation of the teacher, and to behave like an adult you need to recognize why you have that evaulation.


I disagree. The example sounded like an attempt to manipulate the emotion by providing a mechanical response. It sounds a bit like a memorized technique applied without the underlying alignment necessary for true empathy.

NVC practice aims connection, not changing the other person’s emotional state. Thus the term manipulationnin my response.


Sure, restating what someone just told you about how they are feeling "What I hear you saying is ..." can start to sound mechanical.

But consider the alternative: most people never actually get any acknowledgement of their thoughts and feelings. They are fully expecting to just be ignored and responded to with the argument that the other party was building in their head while they were talking.

The Mom was preparing GGGP to expect people to give a sh*t when he speaks, he just hasn't realized it yet.


Again, I disagree. The owner of the emotional response is fully qualified to judge it. Dismissing this as “not getting it yet” is not something I agree with or let slide.

His own response was annoyance and disappointment with the mechanical approach. He did not experience connection and he did not feel understanding. That’s pretty much the perfect example of empty words vs true connection.


Not denying responsibility is essential to NVC.

It's patronizing if you have made your mind and only involve others into discussions to get support or ease them into going along and accepting. "I have to do X, I'm here to listen how you feel about X and empathize with you." is not real NVC. "Have to" is denying responsibility to outside conditions.

NVC is best used when you have to do something and have a problem and are willing to communicate it to others as way to learn and find a solutions..


That's always been one of my biggest questions about NVC, it seems to assume two parties with equal power. But that's seldom precisely true, and in some cases _very_ not true. It's not clear to me how that effects the method and how to account to for it. I wonder if people writing on NVC have written much on this.


NVC is often taught in a quite cerebral way which indeed may result in “proper nvc structure” conversations which are unfortunately emotionally disconnected and thus patronizing because they lack emotional alignment.

When I teach NVC I focus on finding a sincere space of care which always starts with self empathy. I was taqught as a language practice but I find it most productive to teach it as a body/emotional/somatic/language practice as the language becomes fake without full alignment.

Empathy as defined by M.R. In his nvc work is “I know what’s alive in you and you know that I know.” That’s it. There’s no other outcome.

Many business use fake empathy as manipulation. There’s no sincere interest in understanding, just a technique to try and make people less mad. South park’s skit on Comcast workers was spot on with this.


I think that is the main by-product of these things is forced empathy and introspection. It is too easy to get caught in one's head and this forces things to get structured and analyzed so they can be externalized.


It's funny because few things make me seethe like someone talking to me in this way during a high stress moment. The artifice is transparent and if the conversation is tense the tone is quite easy to read as condescension. I'm hardly dismissing NVC as a tactic, just that when done poorly it's worse than simply being direct.


> I'm hardly dismissing NVC as a tactic,

But...you should be. The entire problem you relate is about NVC as an insincere, indirect tactic (most likely, to avoid an ultimatum in a situation where the speaker isn't seeking mutual understanding and accommodation but submissive compliance.) NVC as a tactic relied on an implicit lie about the relationship which forms the context of the communication.

As a honest tool in a relationship where the parties actually care about each others feeling, NVC is a useful communication tool for addressing that mutual concern. As a tactic in relationships where that isn't a mutual concern, and especially as a top-down tactic in a relationship where the speaker would not have the concern that is being called for in the listener, where it is a passive-aggressive way of framing commands, it's obviously toxic and manipulative.


You know, I was about to write a retort that disagreed vehemently, but I re-read and I think you’ve changed my mind.

In the presence of a power imbalance, combined with a lack of mutual respect, I think you’re absolutely right that NVC style observations are worse than a direct command. If there’s no explanation that would lead me, the more powerful person, to change my mind about the behavior, then offering conversational space for it is disingenuous.

I personally try to avoid situations where my direct managers, or my direct reports, don’t feel mutual respect, so I don’t think a power-imbalance is enough in and of itself to invalidate observation-request style discussions.

As it happens, if there’s no power imbalance, but also no mutual respect, I still tend to prefer NVC style communication; but I’ll admit that’s just a personal choice, it’s just a tool in the toolbox, and I tend to reach for it first, because I like the outcomes better. If my counterparty obviously hates it, “let’s get real” is next in the list.


Nothing poisons my respect for a manager faster than NVC style communication when they’re not actually listening to me, they’re merely trying to manipulate my emotions: it shows a deep contempt for me, as a person, and a view of me as a piece of equipment to be maintained rather than a partner in a collaboration.


Seeing through someone's half-assed attempts to use woo woo management strategy pablum is unquestionably infuriating. They don't have the integrity to just be wrong... they have to wrap it in passive-aggressive management talk. And then they do THAT poorly.

Meanwhile, putting in effort or even naturally just being someone that wants to empathize, find common ground and work towards a compromise is noble. When paired with good communication strategies and frankly when practiced through experience, you end up with highly likeable leaders who are the people you turn to in difficult times.

Don't hate the people who mean well but haven't learned to communicate like a pro. Save your anger for the people who are full of self-serving lies that don't even bother to manipulate you successfully because they don't really care how you feel.

The next time someone deploys Inexperienced Manager 101 aka "the shit sandwich" on you, ask yourself if they are malicious or just ignorant. It could be that they are just trying and failing.


Based on just this comment alone, your username is fitting :).


> most likely, to avoid an ultimatum in a situation where the speaker isn't seeking mutual understanding and accommodation but submissive compliance.

THIS IS IT!

This is exactly what the problem is with this bullshit; when it's not actually constructive, it's disingenuous. When you're not trying to come to a better understanding, you're trying to drag someone by the nose, it gives you a way to avoid the actual problem/conversation.


Thank you for this.

I was taqught NVc as a quite cerebral language practice but I find it most productive to teach it as a body/emotional/somatic/language practice as the language becomes fake without full alignment.

Ultimately, use it as a tool to move the focus to what’s alive and what’s common in all participants. It is not a negotiation tool or a manipulation tool.


I agree wholeheartedly. But, I feel it is sometimes extremely difficult to understand if the opposing party seriously cares or is just manipulative.


This is a good insight. NVC by itself is insufficient, you must also understand yourself and what you need, and you need to understand that regardless of how the conversation goes, if you do not get what you need, the underlying issue is not addressed and the conversation isn't over.


I supported my girlfriend throughout her grad studies to become a therapist. A huge part of her studies were in NVC. Even though I didn't go to school with her, I spent a lot of time with her classmates.

Nearly everyone's conclusion, after 3 years of being deeply embedded in NVC, was that they hated it. And for the same reasons you describe.


I imagine this is an awful lot like developers hating svn and telling people not to use it.

Yes, there are better options, but most people are manually copy/pasting files into backup folders before making big changes.


Is there something else her or her classmates recommend?


What are some good alternatives then?


Which of them became good therapists?

I know programmers how hated parts of school and are bad programmers. And some who are great programmers...


That's not really a reasonable question to ask. Even if I were still connected with those people, I'd have no idea how to rank their skills as professional therapists?

I can, however, speak to my girlfriend's skills. She's incredible. And when she talks about NVC, she's far less charitable than OP.


It takes time.

It's only after you have a few big unrecoverable screwups in life, will some of this stuff make more sense.

You are better off being aware and not understanding its value, than not being aware at all of NVC.

Once you hit an issue where you find yourself automatically avoiding things, attacking someone or defending yourself and producing all kinds of misery, just remind yourself that there is another tool available. And then pick up the book. You will find value.


^ This is what NVC does. Notice how this person is attempting to sound authentic, genuine, helpful, and hopeful.

But also notice that they are very subtly positioning themselves as someone who has learned some Very Big Life Lessons, whereas who they are talking to has not. And then they close off. With small sentences. For. Dramatic. Effect.

See how wise they are?


I'm not sure I follow. From my minimal understanding NVC is about expressing how things make one feel rather than telling someone else the direction in which their life will go. kodz4's comment didn't mention the word "I" and was all about "you". Thus I don't see what it has to do with NVC at all. Can you explain?


It was about NVC because that was explicitly the subject. It doesn't use NVC (which isn't really applicable to the context), though; the grandparent's reasoning seems to be:

1. kodz4 is advocating NVC

2. kodz4 is being arrogant and condescending;

3. Therefore, NVC makes you arrogant and condescending,

4. And so, finally, you should reject the recommendation to use NVC.


I think I understand what they were saying above, and I don't think it's the interpretation that dragonwriter makes in a sibling comment.

They weren't saying that kodz4 was using NVC. They were saying that the problem they have with NVC is that it has the potential to come off the same way that kodz4's comment has the potential to come off.

They were saying that kodz4's comment felt disingenuous to them because it asserts their opinion that NVC is good by stating it as fact, and that they would eventually realize this "fact" only once they have "a few big unrecoverable screwups in life" (thereby implying that since they don't like NVC, the only explanation is that they have never experienced such things in life).

The implication is that the reason for their disagreement on the value of NVC is because those who value it have learned more from life than those who don't value NVC.

And yet, the comment is worded empathetically, starting with, "It takes time." And it ends with the advice, "And then pick up the book," which could be interpreted as veiled condescension since it again assumes the person hasn't read the book, because if one knew the information contained in the book, there's no way they could disagree.

It re-frames the discussion of two alternate opinions, as an assumption of fact versus "haven't yet learned the fact." This is disingenuous, since it assumes one side must have more information than the other, instead of acknowledging the possibility that each side just has different information.

And I think they were simply saying that this disingenuous re-framing of discussions to further one's own goals or opinions in hopes the other side doesn't recognize the disingenuous re-framing of the discussion, is something that NVC and kotz4's comment had in common.

In the same way that the person using NVC may not be doing it disingenuously though, so to might kodz4 realize they're treating their own opinion as a fact. But that may also be the problem with such forms of communication, that they have the potential to be interpreted as disingenuous even when they're not.


I noticed I started taking NVC seriously only after my 'very big life lessons'. I had heard about NVC and never found any great reason to think about it deeply or apply it until my own screw ups. That is all I was trying to convey.


I have the same reading as the other person: that the implication of your comment is people who don’t agree with you are just ignorant.

I too have experienced big, unrecoverable losses: several were caused by manipulative people thinking NVC or similar allowed them to force resolutions to their misconduct by manipulating others’ emotions, while never engaging in direct discussion.

Many of these discussion frameworks are most often used by toxic and manipulative people, so they become associated with that behavior — though the framework itself is neutral to good.


Oh I see...thanks for that. I was wondering why there was so much hostility. Makes sense.


This back and forth actually shows part of what's difficult with applying NVC: when a statement is made, another hidden meaning may be inferred by other participants in the conversation, even if such meaning was not intended or even considered by the speaker. It's worse given that some people specifically do say the same types of things with ulterior motives, so it isn't entirely unreasonable for other people to come to the conclusion that you are doing so as well.

This would work better if both parties practiced NVC, as they may reply with what your comment made them feel and that would help clarify the confusion. But it's going to be hard to find that type of situation given that NVC is not quite that widespread, so the NVC happening on only one side of the conversation truly make it difficult.

So we have to either be very careful with our wording and be aware of all possible misinterpretations, to make sure our wording only says what we want it to say, and/or we have to keep clarifying ourselves until our true meaning is clear and confirm with others what they've understood, which can be awkward. No wonder NVC is hard.


[flagged]


Whoa. Please don't take HN threads further in the direction of personal attack or name-calling, regardless of how bad another comment was or you feel it was. That makes this place worse, both obviously and subtly: obviously because it increases ill will and steers toward flamewar; subtly because it deprives readers of information you might have been able to convey.

If you want to post something like this, the thing to do is not stop with the initial version of the comment but iterate further: take out the personal swipes and replace them with detailed, neutral information about what you noticed. Then we all can learn something. If you don't want to do that, that's fine, but in that case it would be better not to post anything.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Beg pardon. I generally refrain from posting comments like that, but this one was too hard to resist.


Clarify. What didn't you like about my comment?


I did not like that in your comment you have assumed your opponent to be less experienced and less aware than you are just because he disagrees with your opinion.


I went to a course on how to negotiate with people delivered by a hostage negotiator for the (British) police that basically agreed with what you say.

The key they said was to work out what the person's motivation was and then adapt your communication to suit what was appropriate.

The general rule was to (at least appear to) match the emotional intensity of the person you were talking to. If you're negotiating with someone who's ready to jump off a bridge, rational argument and NVC is not as likely to help as an emotional appeal to their underlying concerns.


The book “Never Split the Difference” was recommended on HN recently:

https://www.amazon.com/Never-Split-Difference-Negotiating-De...


Very good book (audiobook is very well done).

It's a great balance of story-telling and teaching. He teaches some simple rules then provides examples of how he actually used to practices to get the results he wanted.

Also, none of his suggestions felt fake or pandering. Just small tweaks to how you word and approach things can have a huge impact without necessarily being an expert.


What I've found - in high emotion situations people need express that emotion before they start listening, and they need to know that emotion is being heard.

This is tough. Sometimes people need a lot of prodding to start expressing a strong emotion because it invites judgement. It's kind of the end of artifice - 'this is who I am and what I'm really feeling'

Also, I find it exhausting to deal with high emotion.

But once that's over with, folks are more open to hearing the 'feeling statements' and observations.

--------------------

And can't resist old NVC joke -

Person 1 - "I'm really mad! This is so unfair!"

Person 2 - "I FEEL your anger"

Person 1 - "Everything's so chaotic, I don't know what to do!"

Person 2 - "I FEEL your confusion"

Person 1 - "I've got a lot of shit going down in my life!"

Person 2 - "I FEEL your shit going down!"


I think the one underlying thing that differentiates whether a person sees this as "fake" and ineffective or profound and valuable is one underlying attitude: whether you believe that the other person does or does not genuinely want to help you and whether you genuinely want to help them.

I like to think of NVC a little differently than most people. It is not a tactic or a strategy, it is a reframing of the problem in your own mind. Instead of the thinking "how can I get this person to do what I want" you should instead be thinking "I need something and can this person help me?". One is manipulative, the other is collaborative.

What I have found is that the person you are enlisting for help may actually have a better idea than you on how to solve the problem than you do. But for this to work, you genuinely need to believe that the person on the other side of the table wants to be a good person. If you don't believe that then you tend to see this as a way to manipulate them and it comes across in your words and actions.


That's a very valuable comment.


Presenting this communication pattern as an effective "one size fits all" method is a pretty bad idea.

You have to "know your audience." This means you need to know your employees, bosses, or colleagues as people and work to understand what motivates them. This is challenging, risky, and requires an opening of the mind to not just understand different psychologies but to accept them as viable alternatives to your own.

NVC communication will be very effective for some and thoroughly ineffective for others, and if you know your audience you'll know which is which.

I'm an example of the latter: I absolutely despise the NVC communication pattern because very few people actually speak like this and when they do so it's an obvious deviation from their status quo. It feels fake because it is, and it feels fake because I know the pattern. It's like when I get "feel/felt/found"[1] from a salesperson...I know what they're doing and it's not going to work.

[1] http://www.tomhopkins.com/blog/presentation/the-feel-felt-fo...


More than anything, I'd say it feels threatening. I wonder what would happen if an employee said to the founder: "I've noticed this and that. I feel frustrated. I request that you do something. Can you please recap what I just said so it's clear you understood?"


I honestly cannot connect the feel/felt/found with NVC.

>I absolutely despise the NVC communication pattern because very few people actually speak like this and when they do so it's an obvious deviation from their status quo.

After learning NVC, and then observing people who are effective at destressing others in the work place, I've found most speak like this. What's more, while it felt artificial in the book, no one in real life even notices.


>You have to "know your audience." This means you need to know your employees, bosses, or colleagues as people and work to understand what motivates them. This is challenging, risky, and requires an opening of the mind to not just understand different psychologies but to accept them as viable alternatives to your own.

I agree, but the trick is how to get them to be open with you about what is going in their mind, and I think NVC is a good way to get that to happen. But I would also add some people are sociopaths (or are stuck in a situation where they have to act that way), and NVC won't work there.

I absolutely despise the NVC communication pattern because very few people actually speak like this and when they do so it's an obvious deviation from their status quo. It feels fake because it is, and it feels fake because I know the pattern. It's like when I get "feel/felt/found"[1] from a salesperson...I know what they're doing and it's not going to work.

NVC is for when you genuinely want to respect both your own needs and those of the other person, which is not at all true for the salesman case.


The artifice is absolutely transparent, especially when it comes to business relationships, particularly employer-employee relationships. They are short-termist, interchangeable, and besides, the employer is a psychopath. Everyone has internalized that fact, and then they insist you express your feelings! It doesn't get more preposterous than that.


That's not how I see it. Yes, the employer (the organization) may be psychopath but I am not interacting with an organization while having a difficult conversation. I would be interacting with a manager or a colleague or someone who reports to me. These are human beings who are not psychopath. These are also not short-termist. Sure, we would all change jobs sooner or later but I would sure like to maintain good relationships with them and hopefully work with them again in future. So it makes a lot of sense that while talking to them I talk to them with some empathy which I think they deserve.


I am a huge fan of NVC, and I agree most people are not psychopaths. Unfortunately, organizational structures can be such that decent people are forced to behave like psychopaths, and I don't think that NVC, at least not by itself, can fix that.


Part of communicating is also building a relationship. I should know if you respond to blunt and direct and lean more in that direction when communicating with you.

I have worked on remaining calm in high stress moments. In certain situations it drives my wife nuts that she is stressed/excited and I'm calm looking for a solution. What I learned is to reflect back some of her excitement from a stressful situation, but not quite to her level. This then calms her down.

Is it easy? No. Do I manage to do this 100%? I wish. Is is manipulation? I don't think so. It's building a relationship to better communicate. Too often people think about communication as what I say and not what do people hear and also say.


Glad to see someone else with the same issue. I've never thought about "putting on" a bit of stress as a way to calm her down. I suppose it's because they feel like they're in the wrong for being the only one who is expressing stress/excitement?


I think it might be something about the shared mental state and bonding... maybe releases serotonin and/or oxytocin - kind of a "monkey grooming" type thing.

I noticed this one time when I was in college: I had come home on a break and couldn't relax, I was super stressed out and felt generally bad. I went over my best friend's house down the street, bitched to her about some small stuff that had annoyed me that day, she mirrored me and I INSTANTLY relaxed. I remember it 15 years later because it was such a marked effect.


I don't think it's about feeling wrong, but more if someone is super calm it feels patronizing to the excited person. It is like their emotion or problem is not important.


I've sort of used NVC, but I put a lampshade on it:

"Look, fuckery abounds, and it's not time to pass judgement because I'm not ready to be hung, drawn and quartered myself. So for now, let's deal with the facts and only the facts: ..."


this a great response to so many situations. avoiding sugar coating turds and fubaridness is key to being a good boss. Acknowledge the fubar situation - let the team chime in - then get back to facts and actions.


I've experienced that artifice too, and it's unsettling. It's as if the NVC is adding an additional layer of inauthenticity on top of regular old inauthenticity.

The real skill, it seems to me, is to be able to know what one is feeling, stay connected to it, and take responsibility for it, especially in high-stress situations. If you can't do that, techniques only make things worse. And if you can do that, maybe you don't need so much technique.

(Not to dismiss NVC though. NVC is very interesting. But I have found it much more interesting and compelling to watch how Rosenberg did it than in the limited cases where I've run across it in the wild.)


I won't lie... NVC is really, really hard to achieve. But sometimes it's worth risking making mistakes to achieve your goal.


These three examples:

>To a co-founder: ‘When you said, “I’m not happy with your work,” to me in front of the team, I felt embarrassed because it didn’t meet my need for trust and recognition. Please, could we set up a weekly one-on-one session to share feedback in private?’

>To an investor: ‘I haven’t received any responses from the last three monthly updates. I’m feeling concerned because I need input. Please, would you mind getting back to me with responses to my questions in the last update?’

>To a teammate: ‘You arrived 10 minutes late to the last three team meetings. I am frustrated because, as a team, we have a need for efficiency. Please, could you help me understand what’s happening?’

I have two problems with them. They're pretty passive aggressive and focus on feelings instead of consequences. Going one by one:

>To a co-founder: ‘When you said, “I’m not happy with your work,” to me in front of the team, I felt embarrassed because it didn’t meet my need for trust and recognition. Please, could we set up a weekly one-on-one session to share feedback in private?’

It gets the problem wrong. It's very unlikely the problem is a lack of opportunity for co-founders to provide one on one feedback. The solution is one that no one really wants and wouldn't fix the issue. The problem is the co-founder poorly choosing words and poorly choosing the venue to deliver them. I also don't think it focuses on the right negative consequence. The negative consequence is being undermined in front of subordinates. Not to mention the relationship dynamics. Co-founders should be equal and it's not really the place of one to be "not happy" with the other's work.

I'd say something like:

‘When you said, “I’m not happy with your work,” to me in front of the team, it undermines my authority and the way it's phrased is inappropriate. I want us to be able to give each other feedback, but it's important that it happens at the appropriate time and respectfully.

>To an investor: ‘I haven’t received any responses from the last three monthly updates. I’m feeling concerned because I need input. Please, would you mind getting back to me with responses to my questions in the last update?’

This one is a bit odd because typically updates don't require responses. That aside, if it's something you need input on:

"Can you please weigh in on X? We can't do Y without your go ahead and it's causing Z problems. I understand that you have a lot on your plate, but this is important and we need an answer by next week."

>To a teammate: ‘You arrived 10 minutes late to the last three team meetings. I am frustrated because, as a team, we have a need for efficiency. Please, could you help me understand what’s happening?’

This one is super passive aggressive. Your intention is to communicate a problem but instead of just doing that this is asking a question. I think this example shows the problem most clearly. These should be statements and not questions. I mean, do you really want or expect an honest answer to the question? Because it's probably something along the lines of "I think these meetings are a waste of my time".


> >To a teammate: ‘You arrived 10 minutes late to the last three team meetings. I am frustrated because, as a team, we have a need for efficiency. Please, could you help me understand what’s happening?’

> This one is super passive aggressive. Your intention is to communicate a problem but instead of just doing that this is asking a question. I think this example shows the problem most clearly. These should be statements and not questions. I mean, do you really want or expect an honest answer to the question? Because it's probably something along the lines of "I think these meetings are a waste of my time".

+1 to this. I get the point that the OP was trying to make and think it's valid, but the specific phrasing provided would likely cause more harm than good in many cases. Specifically, it comes across more as "you better come up with a good excuse or you're in trouble" than "I care about you and hope everything is OK, and am here to help if there's a fixable problem at the root of your lateness".


I don’t get it. There are two (harsh! Direct!) statements, followed by a relatively low-emotional-intensity question. So the “these should be statements” angle doesn’t make any sense to me, they’re already statements. Are you expecting people to just say “cut it out”, with no conversational room for a discussion?

I think it’s true that many people would prefer to get scolded in silence, but in actual fact, what the other people involved in a rude behavior that needs to stop need, is for you to discuss it with them. If there’s a need for discussion, I don’t see how this approach would cause more harm than alternative ways of insisting that the rude person discuss their rudeness.


>I don’t get it. There are two (harsh! Direct!) statements, followed by a relatively low-emotional-intensity question. So the “these should be statements” angle doesn’t make any sense to me, they’re already statements. Are you expecting people to just say “cut it out”, with no conversational room for a discussion?

Depends on the situation. A reliable employee that suddenly starts showing up late would get the "Is everything ok?" talk. A perpetually late employee on there last strike would get the "cut it out" talk without a lot of need for discussion. The point is that you need to pick one. A "cut the crap but is everything ok?" message doesn't work.


Depends on how you deliver the lines. I can easily imagine saying this with sincerity and without anger. It sticks to facts, it doesn't make any judgments about them or their intent, it invites them to share their side of the story.

It is also pretty direct and far from passive-aggressive behavior in my opinion.


>It is also pretty direct and far from passive-aggressive behavior in my opinion.

The message is "Stop being late for meetings because it's making the team ineffecient". That's an 'aggresive' statement but you're delivering it in a 'passive' way because it makes it look like you're asking to see if everything is ok.

If you want to deliver the "Stop being late" message then say that.

If you want to ask what's going on, then do it without pointing out the problems they are causing.


>and focus on feelings instead of consequences.

Agreed, and I think an unintended consequence of 'focusing on feelings' is that it basically ensures that future interactions will also be all about feelings. (ie. we get more of what we reward)

As an aside: Early in my career I had a manager who was really tough. He was quick to point out problems and was very direct in his language. At first I hated it and was fairly intimidated by him. However I noticed a few things: It was never personal, no personal language was used. It was always factual and consequential. Second, he was good a making decisions and sticking with them. In the end I enjoyed working with him because I knew were he stood on virtually every issue, so it was easy to adjust my work to his expectations.

Next in my career, I worked for a very very different manager. She was very nice, but passive aggressive. That was actually not much of a problem, but her biggest fault is she didn't like making decisions. She would refuse to commit and want everything to be as fluid as possible. In the end, I hated my time there. I normally felt that any meeting with her was totally pointless because she refused to produce any actionable decisions from the meeting. It may sound like a dream job to some to have a boss that "never tells me what to do", but after a year or so it becomes a soul-grinding nightmare.


I don’t think your definition of passive aggressive matches with mine. None of those engagements read as even slightly passive aggressive to me.

Passive aggression is about saying one thing, but doing something that doesn’t match your words. All of these examples are about stating what you perceive as facts, then stating what you’d like to go differently.

I think many people use “passive aggressive” to mean “you said something in a way/tone/phrasing that irritated me”, and by that definition, I can imagine anyone getting annoyed by any of these: the recipient is being put in an uncomfortable position.

But being put in an uncomfortable position is the whole point, here; the situation demands it.

I’m very receptive to the idea that NVC has an emotional tone that frustrates people, but I think it’s very inaccurate to call it passive aggressive.


It's passive aggressive if the person doesn't really give a shit about the underlying cause and just wants the tardiness to stop. Putting on fake empathy is disgusting. If they actually do care that's great and hopefully it comes across as genuine.


>It gets the problem wrong. It's very unlikely the problem is a lack of opportunity for co-founders to provide one on one feedback. The solution is one that no one really wants and wouldn't fix the issue. The problem is the co-founder poorly choosing words and poorly choosing the venue to deliver them. I also don't think it focuses on the right

I don't know - to me that was clear from the statement.

>When you said, “I’m not happy with your work,” to me in front of the team, it undermines my authority and the way it's phrased is inappropriate.

This is what NVC calls an evaluation. The other person can simply disagree about it undermining the authority.

There's a reason negotiations books (not just NVC) emphasize talking about how you felt. It is because few ordinary people would deny your feelings. The cofounder is not going to jump in and say "No, you did not feel embarrassed". It is, however, very easy for them to say "You're overreacting. People know you're the boss. Nothing is being undermined."

Also, your phrasing is clearly blame oriented. That'll automatically set up the defenses.

>Co-founders should be equal and it's not really the place of one to be "not happy" with the other's work.

Even before I read the NVC book, I started telling people "should is not in my vocabulary" (I told my last manager this). And not surprisingly, it's a "forbidden" word in NVC (with a few exceptions, of course). In my experience, should statements make conversations go downhill. Should is often a lazy word. It is often used as an excuse not to explain something. My former manager had a habit of "The team should ..." and "An employee should ...". The team often disagreed, but without her giving a well thought out rationale that people could discuss, there were just should statements. It is intellectually lazy.

(And of course, in reality, many cofounding relationships are not equal).

>I mean, do you really want or expect an honest answer to the question? Because it's probably something along the lines of "I think these meetings are a waste of my time".

I'm surprised you say this, given how often I've been through this and observed managers go through this. One of my former bosses had a meeting with our team and a team across the globe who dialed in (one meeting with all of us in the "room"). Few people from our team attended. So after a few weeks, instead of expressing frustration, he said he noticed many people weren't attending, and inquired as to why. And he did get variants of "waste of my time", but since he was inviting in his query instead of complaining, he got valuable feedback on why it was a waste of time. As a result, he alone met with the remote team, and then would summarize the outcomes of the meeting to our team during one of our other meetings. It also allowed for a better time for the remote team since there were fewer people to satisfy.

There have been plenty of times where using the NVC style for people who are late to meetings has resulted in fruitful outcomes. Sometimes the person who is late has stuff going on with his health, and we move the time to accommodate his medical needs. In my experience, telling someone he is always late and needs to shape up under these circumstances will usually mean he will never express why he is late.


>This is what NVC calls an evaluation. The other person can simply disagree about it undermining the authority.

>There's a reason negotiations books (not just NVC) emphasize talking about how you felt. It is because few ordinary people would deny your feelings. The cofounder is not going to jump in and say "No, you did not feel embarrassed". It is, however, very easy for them to say "You're overreacting. People know you're the boss. Nothing is being undermined."

It's true that people are less likely to openly disagree with your feelings but that doesn't mean they agree with you. So yes, a person is unlikely to say "No, you did not feel embarrassed" but that doesn't change that they're actually thinking "You're overreacting. People know you're the boss. Nothing is being undermined". It depends on what your goal is. In a negotiation you want them to sign the deal and you don't really care about their true feelings. With a co-founder relationship you want them to express their true feelings. The point isn't to manipulate them into doing what you want. The point is to get to the root of the issue and resolve it.

>So after a few weeks, instead of expressing frustration, he said he noticed many people weren't attending, and inquired as to why.

So he didn't do what the article said he should do:

"I am frustrated because, as a team, we have a need for efficiency."


I'm confused about what you are saying, because the word "undermined" was introduced by you. The article suggests saying

> ‘When you said, “I’m not happy with your work,” to me in front of the team, I felt embarrassed because it didn’t meet my need for trust and recognition. Please, could we set up a weekly one-on-one session to share feedback in private?’

Are you suggesting that the other party would think "You're overreacting. People know you're the boss. Nothing is being undermined"? If so it sounds like it would be an evaluation on their part, and I guess it would be dealt with as such.


It sounds like you're missing the point entirely. I think you have a lot to learn from this style of communication.

>I'd say something like: ‘When you said, “I’m not happy with your work,” to me in front of the team, it undermines my authority and the way it's phrased is inappropriate. I want us to be able to give each other feedback, but it's important that it happens at the appropriate time and respectfully.

Okay, but that's very similar to the way it's originally phrased, but it makes a mistake because your definitions of "undermines my authority" and "inappropriate" might differ from those of your cofounder. By using the universal needs of trust and recognition, you avoid that miscommunication. Your cofounder might ask in response, "How was that inappropriate? I didn't think it was." What do you reply? "It didn't meet my needs of trust and recognition"?

>Your intention is to communicate a problem but instead of just doing that this is asking a question. I think this example shows the problem most clearly. These should be statements and not questions. I mean, do you really want or expect an honest answer to the question? Because it's probably something along the lines of "I think these meetings are a waste of my time".

I think this analysis shows your problem most clearly. The problem is communicated (with statements, even!): the teammate was 10 minutes late three times and it is negatively impacting team efficiency. The question at the end is purposeful, and to just assume that you already know the answer completely defeats the purpose of communicating. YES, the answer should be honest! Maybe there's a legitimate unknown problem. Asking a question instead of making another statement would clear this up. And if the answer is "I think these meetings are a waste of my time", that's even more valuable! You can then communicate about how to waste less time, whether that's changing the style or frequency of the meetings, excusing that particular person from the meeting, or canceling it all together.

Your analysis of these examples is just baffling to me. Complete backwards and missing the point.


Can you please not cross into personal swipes in HN comments? Your comment would be fine without those bits.


It's possible to do NVC well, and it's possible to do it poorly. It makes me wonder if this means that NVC is not inherently more useful. (ie, other methods may of communication may also be useful, and so NVC can't be called an inherent good.)

Someone using NVC can still be forceful and rude. I'm struggling with how to describe this. I suppose all it does it remove unrestrained emotion and moral blame from the interaction. Unrestrained emotion and moral blame are not a given. (ie, they may not be injected into a conversation, even if NVC is not implemented) And further, I suppose, it's possible to push somebody around and refuse to listen to their concerns while employing NVC. For example, under the guise of empathy a boss may "feel" your perfectly valid concern, equivocate it to the concern of others in the room, and then simply ignore your recommendations. It's possible that your recommendation was actually best, but instead of understanding the value of your idea, the boss has simply made sure not to trample your emotions.

I can think of plenty of situations where I don't care if someone tramples my emotions, but I'd be pretty distraught if they adopted a flawed idea, or couldn't understand why one idea was superior and another was inferior.

[edit]

Just to clarify, I think I talked myself into a conclusion I feel comfortable with. Empathy is not inherently useful. An approach that focuses on the feelings a person might demean them (since their feelings are not actually so fragile) while also equivocating all the ideas in the room. (all ideas might not be created equal, but it is necessary to treat everyone -- and their feelings -- with the same respect.)


> I suppose all it does it remove unrestrained emotion and moral blame from the interaction.

That's not all it does, and is arguably opposed to something important it does. It keeps honest emotion in and displaces the injection of description of “thoughts” that are really rationalizations for emotional responses.

OTOH, in formalized transactional relationships, the assumption of mutual concern for the emotional state of the other that it rests on is not given.


> I can think of plenty of situations where I don't care if someone tramples my emotions, but I'd be pretty distraught if they adopted a flawed idea, or couldn't understand why one idea was superior and another was inferior.

Could you share some examples?


Almost any situation where we're trying to design a functional solution to a technical problem. I actually used to have a phrase for this: "You can't build a rocket ship with emotions." If my goal were really to successfully build a rocket ship (as noted in the maxim) then I'd be delighted to be proven wrong. Every correction would get us closer to our goal.

Alternately, if someone were interested in empathizing with the team and protecting egos, we might navigate towards a worse solution. One which took into account everyone's feelings, instead of a cold calculation of method and results.


You seem to be conflating "delivering criticim" with "hurting feelings", and I don't understand where that's coming from. Would you be delighted to be proven wrong if for every mistake your boss or peer told you that you were an incompetent idiot who doesn't belong on the team? Would that make you want to do more work? Would that make you feel comfortable proposing an idea that you aren't 100% sure ir correct and already known to your teammates to be correct?

Nothing about respecting teammates and their emotions says you have to accept their pull request.


I think this is a fair criticism, and I agree that if my boss publicly called me out and insulted me, I'd be pretty discouraged. I might not have made my point very well, but I certainly didn't mean to imply that being outright caustic was ok, either. I only meant to say that it's still possible offend and arrive at the wrong decision by employing NVC.


There is no contradiction between the two. You absolutely can emphathize with team and protect egos while also discuss efficacy of solutions or correctness.

It is not even hard. Just keep it factual instead of using words like "stupid", "shitty", "crap" or passive aggressivity. Discuss issues before they become big. Listen when they disagree with your assessment - they might have reasons.

I already met enough people who claim to criticise while actually venting their emotions and settle scores with those they dislike.


That's an interesting maxim. Do you think NASA ran the Apollo program by ignoring the emotions of everyone on the project? If it didn't, should it have?


I just think this is more of pendulum sort of thing. You can go too far in either direction. If I'm erring at all, it's because I've been in circumstances where a complex project suffered due to social agreement.

But for certain, you could go too far in in the other direction: completely ignoring everyone's emotions.

Specifically, if you're in an environment that's swung too hard in the direction of totally ignoring people's emotions, then my advice probably sounds awful.


Programming can be done well, or poorly. Speaking English can be done well, or poorly. Agile methodology can be done well, or poorly. Cooking can be done well, or poorly. The possibility that something can be done poorly is not a strong argumetn that the thing should never be done.


You're right about the tone. If someone has not sincerely committed to believing the NVC framing of the problem is accurate then the tone comes off as incredibly condescending. You have to believe that the emotional component of the issue is a real problem and not just that you're caring about the emotions of other's as a chore to get what you want.


>...and not just that you're caring about the emotions of other's as a chore to get what you want.

Which is also a tool used by narcissists, if I remember correctly.


NVC isn't a deescalation technique, so its' not that surprising that you've observed that. It is a communication technique, to make sure a message gets through without baggage attached.

In a sense, someone using NVC for deescalation and resorting to the actual formula of Saw [x], felt [Y], request [Z] is likely to not be very good at NVC. People who are really good at that style of communications are going to separate it out so they tell you needs up front, well before you need to know about them, make requests at the moment they want something, and then observations as things become apparent. All 3 at once usually means a surprise has emerged.

There is a pretty basic tell here - it isn't at all obvious why you'd be seething if someone observed a fact, felt strong emotion about it and bought it to your attention, even in a high stress situation. So either you've misinterpreted something (possible) or they aren't communicating - they are pressuring (pretty likely). It isn't called Non-Violent Get People To Do What You Want and trying to use it that way isn't going to work.


Do you have an example of a specific situation in which it felt artificial?

Perhaps I'm missing something, because I'm not familiar with NVC. After reading the article, it seems that having empathy and curiosity are necessary for NVC to work, and if someone doesn't approach it that way, then they aren't really engaging in NVC.

In these comments, there seems to be many people who dislike it, and I'm wondering why. If someone in a powerful position, like my boss, sought me out to discuss something and expressed empathy and wanted to find out why I did something the way I did, I would feel impressed and appreciated.


I think some of that internal seething is because of previous experience where you might have ended up losing control or power and you are able to see through to what might happen if the other party is not truly empathetic (i.e. trying to get towards a common shared goal vs using this tactic as yet another way to get what they want). Unfortunately the conclusion is that it only will work if the other party then handles the subsequent resulting behavior nicely (whatever that "nicely" might mean -- you shouldn't end up feeling having given up or lost something).


I agree with what the article says about needing a concise opener for a difficult conversation, and for that the madlibs-style script may be useful, but beyond that opener I think more natural language will come off as more genuine. I think the article may be in favor of this as well, as its kind of framed as NVC helping to get a hard conversation started instead of putting off forever.


I suspect sampling bias. When you're upset, direct confrontation can be upsetting too! NVC isn't a perfect magic trick that always works, but that's not enough reason to dismiss it.


I’m not sure why you’re getting downvoted, this is my reading, as well.

People hate being called to task. In many ways it makes it harder for me, in my distress, when the person pointing out my flaws does so in a way that doesn’t leave a lot of room for me to blame others for my failures, or to blame others for my distress.

So the actual experience of NVC (regardless of whether it’s wielded as a subtle tool of manipulation) is often very frustrating.

The only way the recipient of an NVC confrontation will perceive the experience as positive is if the recipient legitimately cares about the person calling them to task, AND also cares about doing better next time.

In the absence of these prerequisites, the recipient will just be annoyed that they weren’t able to get away with whatever they did.

But the recipient’s annoyance doesn’t seem to me like an indictment of the conversational tactic. The point of NVC is to hold people’s feet to the fire; people complaining that having their feet held to the fire is uncomfortable doesn’t seem like a reasonable critique.


Having read through this I think NVC is leveraging power dynamics and social conditioning to leave the victim helpless to fight back. This is essentially something out of a sociopaths tool box.


Meh, anything labelled "non-violent" is bound to be an ineffective waste of time. Pass.


The formative years of my career were spent as a software engineer at Microsoft where communication was direct and sometimes harsh. Code reviews could be particularly harsh with comments like "this code is bad because..." or "this is unreadable." At first it was really hard, but eventually my skin got pretty think. I even came to love the efficiency of direct communication in programming.

When I became a founder, the communication style I had developed as an engineer DID NOT work for communicating with other disciplines like sales, marketing or customer success. At first I thought it was the people I hired just being overly sensitive. After some time I realized that it wasn't them, it was me. I needed to unlearn many of my engineering communication habits and adopt a different style.


It's an anti-pattern to call abrasiveness an "engineering" habit. It's an orthogonal axis. "saying things are 'unreadable' or 'bad'" is not efficiten -- that's not actional feedback. Skip the "this code is bad", and the unsupported univeral claims of "unreadable" (obviously the author and the compiler could both read it, and get directly to the point of your concern with the code -- this code has a logic bug, or is inneficient, or you can't follow the changing state or don't know what this variable refers to, or what have tou.


I agree. I think talking about code is a critical skill, but not everyone has a strong practice of doing it. When I was first learning to code I never had anyone to talk to about my code, so I didn't get to learn the vocabulary until later.


Microsoft of the 90s/early 2000s was a much different place then it is now. The closest example today would be a trading floor (but not quite as aggressive). It took a certain type of person to do well there - but if you survived your first few months the open communication was amazing. You were allowed to express negative emotions instead of pretending everything is great all the time. If you thought a decision was bad you could say so.

There's nothing quite like seeing someone who rarely gets angry say, "If we don't fix this we might as well not fix another F'ing bug ever again" to make you reconsider your triage decision.


But Satya Nadella is a big NCV fan he has really turned Microsoft around in recent years. Maybe that style worked for a while, but it became very dysfunctional. I recall a famous cartoon with the organizational structures of Apple, Oracle, and MS, and the MS one had everyone pointing guns at each other.


I don't claim it was perfect, and Ballmer wasn't the right fit to lead that type of organization. The culture came from BillG himself, his favourite line being "That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard in my life". But BillG would listen to you if you were right, you just had to fight back. The company modeled its culture on that example.

Again it was a different time, place, and culture. Its not the right thing for Microsoft right now. But I do dislike when people talk as though it as pure abrasiveness for abrasiveness sake. People talked that way because they cared and were invested. It was a nice time and I remember it fondly.


Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft for a few years now, has changed the company culture and his interest in Nonviolent Communication has been a part of that.


I strongly disagree.

Sales, Marketing, and CS people are perfectly capable of handling direct conversation, if it’s done with genuine respect and a desire for mutual benefit. Your approach, based on some of your examples, sounds outright dismissive and disrespectful.

I’ve spent time around lots of engineering leaders and lots of their CS, Sales and Marketing teams. The good engineering leaders recognize that those people excel in many ways they never will, and have genuine respect for that, and ask more questions about their approach. The bad ones think they know everything, treat complex issues like a code review, and carelessly dismiss their work when it’s not what they would’ve done.

I think using one of these strategies probably changed you as much as it changed them.


At the risk of getting a lot of heat for this, I find this type of thinking more of a plague that has cast its ugly web on tech as a whole. An analogy would be anti-something drugs to damp down people who are hyper, might have ADHD and have so much energy and short attention span. As a society if we try to normalize all things and people we're only left with the mediocrity almost by definition and boring middle of the bell curve. This type of communication damps down powerful human interaction that a lot of us are capable of in favor of a much more passive style of communication and muted way of making a point so you don't offend anyone immediately. It's ok if they're offended later because they thought about what you said and read what NVC is and then found out what you "really" meant to tell them, but didn't have the audacity to say it. If we were to truly believe points made in NVC (dogmas?) that would probably be even worse as we would be modifying the way our brain was evolved to reason about things and may be making an un-natural change that may have drastically negative individual and societal impacts in the future.

If my manager tells me "You arrived ten minutes late to the meeting this morning" I would have to be an idiot to think next time he's not going to fire me if I'm late so this is more passive aggressive and nerve racking than if he just told me "don't be late or else!"


It seems like your line of reasoning implies that threats are a necessary part of being an adult in the working world. And that's just not the case. That should never be the case.

This style of communication isn't angled at 'normalizing' anything. It's meant to give you a framework to identify what the real problem is, to communicate it clearly and efficiently, and to work with the other person to move past the problem. If you don't say exactly what you're trying to say, and someone later 'found out what you "really meant to tell them' - you 100% did it wrong.

It's not a way to get out of having a difficult conversation. It's a framework to help you remove your personal beliefs, remove values judgments, and instead rely on the facts of the situation.

Your whole post comes across as you believe, genuinely believe, that being awful to other people via threats is a natural human state of being.

It isn't.

If my boss ever told me "don't do 'x' or else", it would be the last day I ever worked for that a-hole.


Did I misread his post? It read to me like he is saying the complete opposite: That the example in the article sounds more threatening than just being genuine.


That was just a tongue and cheek example to make my point clear ie. direct communication in favor of passive aggressiveness. I'm not advocating for threads, I think you found a straw man.


The original post was not intended at teaching the reader how to make a passive aggressive conversation effectively. It was actually about making honest and direct communication without biases and preconceptions. The whole post, to me, was about how to not jump into conclusions about the other person.


"powerful human interaction"

- don't be late or else!

Yes that is the language of power that that a lot of you are capable of. And a lot of people with power don't want others to try to mute the power they have gained.

Nvc is not about power, it's about emphatic connections with other human beings, nothing more, nothing less.


I learned about Non-Violent Communication at a programming conference when the speaker said: "If you want to be a better programmer, read this book"

Such a game changer in my pull request comments and life.

Non-violent Communication is not easy, it takes continuous practice.

I even blogged on each chapter: http://redgreenrepeat.com/2017/05/12/nonviolent-communicatio... and still feel I can improve my communication, especially when I get emotional.


I'm curious, if NVC goes for indirect instead of direct conversation.

I was working in an American company (I'm German) and had to learn to adapt to the style of being too nice (in my opinion). E.g. an "it might be better to do it like this", wasn't really meant as a weak suggestion, but a strong one. Something completely counterintuitive to my German mindset. I took it as a "might" and was met with negativity that I didn't exactly follow the "suggestion".

I much prefer language being direct at work. Treat the subjunctive as what it is: expressing uncertainty, not politeness.

I know however that many people, especially outside of Germany, prefer the indirect language, even though they learned to understand it with the same meaning as the direct speech.


Memory suggests NVC has some pretty nasty things to say about people who "suggest" things and they later turn out to be orders. Heading 4 of the fine article is the relevant one, bit it actually gets Requests vs. Demands wrong based on the telling of it I heard.

My understanding based on a YouTube video I watched many years ago is that a request is either fulfilled or not fulfilled, and that is the end of it. A demand is backed up by some sort of threat, like threat of a negative reaction. The key was that to distinguish a request from a demand was impossible based on the language used. It was only detectable by the reaction if you don't act on it.

So, ironically "Go get me a beer" can be a request but "do you think it is a good idea to open the window?" might be a demand, depending on what happens on a flat "No".

Nothing in NVC says you have to be nice, and I'm not sure it takes a position on direct or indirect. But a negative response from not following a suggestion is exactly the sort of violence that NVC is trying to avoid.


>Memory suggests NVC has some pretty nasty things to say about people who "suggest" things and they later turn out to be orders.

I believe it is: If you make a request that is denied, and you are upset about it, then it wasn't a request, but a demand disguised as one.


I must strongly disagree. NVC stressed the importance of specific observations — genuinely, I can't see how you can be more direct than that.

Most people never get to specifics and stop at generalities. That would be my definition of indirect.


It is a specific suggestion based on the language used. However it was found to be a specific demand. Super passive aggressive.


I definitely prefer the direct style when it comes to features, tasks, and deadlines. If someone is too indirect then they are more likely to bury the lede, not mention the deadline or a critical dependency, etc.


I like your blog but it is very hard to find the chapter 2 review. I noticed other interesting articles but I have to go one by one using http://redgreenrepeat.com/pageXXX/ I would consider having better way to navigate through all your posts.


Yes - definitely something I have to improve on. I got the blog going with jekyll and kept focusing on content.

Send me an email and I'll send a list of links and/or PDFs for you:

andrew_at_redgreenrepeat.com


When [you use NVC on me], I feel [patronised] because I'm needing some [respect as a fellow human being]. Would you be able to [drop the insincere MBA bullshit and treat me like an adult]?


I never heard of NVC until today, but I'm realizing many of the "fake" people I've communicated with in my business career have been using this type of speaking, and it makes sense why they couldn't give me direct answers - they were hyper-focusing on how their reply should be crafted as NVC instead of simply answering my questions.

It's infuriating when you are simply trying to get something done and the other person is more concerned with the alignment of their spoken words than actually giving you the information you need. Just tell me what I did wrong so I can fix it ffs.


That's most likely an over usage of NVC. I can see how this format of conversation could be useful for difficult conversations. Applying it to all your professional communications not only seems like a lot of effort and burdensome, but for the reasons you mentioned, might actually be counterproductive.


That's really the worst. When people copy and paste something like NVC insincerely. It's not a "tool" that you "implement" in your speaking style.

But, when people are taking on things like this at first, it is awkward. I remember my first one-on-ones as a manager were super awkward, because I hadn't internalized a sincere way of doing it, I was following a recipe I learned on a podcast. And, for someone to learn to be a good manager, there's likely to be some awkward recipe-following along the way. We're all learning as we go.

I think for things like NVC there's the stated technique, and then there's the art of it. The art takes a pretty major shift in mindset for a lot of people, and managers can still be in very high-level roles while still being super insincere robots, usually because they're really good at other stuff.


It's a guide, and once it's been used a few times the language can be adapted to sound more like your nature voice but still conveying the same information.


> "once it's been used a few times the language can be adapted to sound more like your nature voice"

My natural voice? Is that my violent one?


Yes, this NVC is just like what a lawyer use to attack others.


As someone who has never heard of NVC, I recall echos of such tactics in the language a former teammate employed at work. However, nobody found him sincere or honest. Instead, he cam across as mechanical even though it was clear that he was trying to foster a transparent and open environment. There was always a disconnect between this noble goal and the hostility he made everybody feel when he talked with them.

I think this proposed quote from the article represents it well:

>To a teammate: ‘You arrived 10 minutes late to the last three team meetings. >I am frustrated because, as a team, we have a need for efficiency. >Please, could you help me understand what’s happening?’

This comes across as very aggressive. First off - they are peers. The author makes a power grab by immediately painting the coworker in a negative light. I don't put a lot of stake in hierarchies, but I am sensitive to power dynamics. If I were witnessing this, I would immediately see that author conquered the high ground. This puts the coworker on the defensive from the get go.

Second - it's fair to assume the coworker simply had back-to-back meetings. But now the coworker has to explain this in the author's terms.

The conversation feels hostile and I don't believe the author has his peer's interests in mind.

Instead the author should trust that peer has a good reason for being 10 minutes late and talk through a strategy that can help the peer arrive on time. But the author needs to give something away.


I don't get it. What part of that question is aggressive? Arriving late is a fact. The author requests helping him understand what's happening -- not an unreasonable request, unless you think that author magically understanding the situation without any communication counts as reasonable. The author feels an emotion -- again, not unreasonable because emotions are private and are not a choice. The author does not give an evaluation, so it sounds like you think having the emotion is the evaluation.

It sounds like you expect people to give you the benefit of the doubt all the time, without needing to expend any effort communicating.


> It sounds like you expect people to give you the benefit of the doubt all the time, without needing to expend any effort communicating.

I am saying there should be a culture of trust. What do you lose by trusting that your peer coworker did not intend to be late? If you don't trust your peers, you will create a hostile environment where everyone is on the defensive.

I trust that my former coworker did not intend to raise tensions by interrogating his peers and I trust that he really thought he was helping and creating a culture of radical transparency.

I agree that arriving late thrice is a fact. Calling it out can be done in a fair and neutral way.

Where I disagree is that as peers we have the expectation for a full explanation for banal coworkers actions. I have seen this exact scenario play out with my former coworker.

> "can you help me understand why you were late?" > the cross team sync ran 10 minutes late and I needed to present - i notified slack) > "could you have left the meeting early?" > No, i needed to present and I was at the end. > "could you have reordered the meeting?" > No, other people also needed to present and were late to meetings. . . .

What a pointless conversation. Nothing of value is gained!

Instead, we can trust our coworkers - ask to diagnose the problem and help work towards a solution.

"hey, _____, you have been late to the last three meetings, and we need to have you present. I am frustrated that we have lost 30 minutes of the team's time. Can we sync up after to adjust our timings so this works better for everyone?"

Here, we make clear that we are going to do a blameless postmortem to find a solution. I don't need to know exactly why my coworker is late, all I want to understand is if there are process inefficiencies that we can fix.

I trust my coworker, first.


> I agree that arriving late thrice is a fact. Calling it out can be done in a fair and neutral way.

Boss: Bob! Good you're here looks around the room we were all waiting for you.

Johnny: Sorry Bob I got hungry waiting so I ate your donut.


It seems that you read some implied blame in the question about understanding what's happening. I believe this implication is the problem, and may or may not actually exist, depending on the speaker and listener. A valid interpretation of the same question is that it is asking for a blameless postmortem to find a solution, which may only be inferred by the listener if they understand the speaker to not be blaming them.

Am I off base on any of this?


And I think it’s so easily improved by just not sounding like a robot manager: “Hey, is 1pm not a good time for the team meeting? We had to wait for you the last few.”

The formal-speak sets off most people’s “I am being disciplined” alert right away.


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