Originally, this webpage started out in 1995 as this short list of discouraging words with the following admonishment: "You don't want to say these to your children, or anyone else for that matter!"
* Shut up!
* Shame on you
* Don't be a baby.
* Stop whining.
* Be nice. (gives the message that child is not nice.)
* Here, let me do that.
* Hurry up.
* Be quiet
* Be careful.
* Why can't you get grades like your big sister's?
* I'm paying so much for your education. And now such low grades!
* What are you going to school for, just to each lunch?"
It is easy to expand upon the above list of discouraging words and phrases, in fact so easy, that it led to my realization that much of our language is inherently and unconsciously discouraging, depressing, violent and life-alienating, preventing us from really connecting with each other in a genuinely authentic way. Much of what we say to each other is very judgmental, and no one likes to be judged. But it is much more than judgment alone. For example, Holley Humphrey, gives these additional examples of communications which discourage us from connecting empathically with others (Rosenberg, 2003, pg 92):
Advising: "I think you should..." "How come you didn't...?"
One-upping: "That's nothing; wait'll you hear what happened to me."
Educating: "This could turn into a very positive experience for you if you just..."
Consoling: "It wasn't your fault; you did the best you could."
Story-telling: "That reminds me of the time..."
Shutting down: "Cheer up. Don't feel so bad."
Sympathizing: "Oh, you poor thing..."
Interrogating: "When did this begin?"
Explaining: "I would have called but..."
Correcting: "That's not how it happened."
In NVC (Non-Violent Communication, a method of communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg) we speak of "the 4 D's of disconnection" to help remind ourselves of four more categories of life-alienating communications which disconnect us from our compassionate nature and lead us to behave in more violent ways (Leu, 2003, pg. 66):
Diagnosing (judgment, analysis, criticism or comparison): "What is wrong with you is that you are ..." "The problem is..." "I know what's wrong with you." "I know you need to lose weight..."
Denying responsibility: That's not my responsibility.""I had to." "The boss ordered me to do it." "Company policy." "It's the law.""I drink because I am an alcoholic." "
Demanding:"I demand to see your supervisor!" "It is your duty and obligation.""If you don't comply, I am going to..."
Deserving: "I deserve this!""You owe it to me."
I just did some brainstorming by myself and with my NVC practice group here in Hawaii and came up with even more categories. Email me if you would like to add to this list, or help provide some more examples in each category:
Accusing: "You are lying."
Arm-twisting, convincing, cajoling:
Blaming:"It is your fault."
Comparing:"He did it better than you did." "I am not as pretty as she is."
Competing: "Ha ha, I won!"
Defending:"But I didn't do it." "But, I was only trying to help."
Double bind: "Were you ever fired?" (A favorite question on employment applications. Answer 'yes' and you don't get the job, answer 'no' and you will get fired for lying.)
Giving permission: "I'll let you do this."
Hurrying:"You are taking too long. Hurry up. We are going to be late."
Incongruence between words and feeling:
Jumping to conclusions: "Duh!"
Labeling: "She's a bitch." "I cannot do that because I am in Special Ed." "What an asshole."
Laying a guilt trip: "After all I did for you?"
Manipulating:"If you love me you would..." "Unless you marry me, I am going to commit suicide."
Misrepresenting: "Second one is free."
Name calling: "Dumb" "Stupid" "Klutz"
Putting down:"You are a jerk."
Presuming: "I understand."
Reassuring: In response to: "How could I be so stupid." "Nobody is perfect. Don't be so hard on yourself."
Rigidity: "It's always been done this way." "It's tradition."
Shaming:"Shame on you for..."
Shoulding: "You should..."
Surveillance: "I'm watching you." "Please be aware your call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes."
Taking credit for work done by others: "
Threatening: "If you ever do that again..."
After reading through these many examples, you may not agree with all of them. The point I want to make is that by first making a connection with the other person you are communicating with is more likely to achieve the result you are looking for. Rather than starting off your conversation with advice and turning off the other person, listen empathically without judgement until the connection has been made. Once connection has been made, then if the other party wants advice, make a request of the other party to determine whether they want to hear what you have to offer. And, if you are on the receiving end of advice, which we so often are, rather than getting upset, see it from the other person's point of view, that they want to meet a need of theirs, to be helpful. And one more point about advice, as offered by my dear friend Roxie Berlin: "It's free, and you don't have to take it!"
Feelings associated with disconnected communication: Fear, guilt (I made a mistake), shame (I am a mistake), anger, loneliness, pain.
Feelings associated with connected communication: Joy, peace, happiness, care,
If so much of what we are saying so easily to each other right now is discouraging and disconnecting, then the question arises as to what can we say instead that would be more encouraging and connecting. I am writing a companion page to this, but actually, I'm finding it much more difficult to do. They say that the language we grow up with prepares us for the society that we are going to live in. Our language of judging, advising, criticising, manipulating, "shoulding" etc, is one of coercion, control, and domination, of the many by the few in power, creating a hierarchical system, otherwise known as a domination system. The language spoken in such a system is designed to keep us obedient, docile and separate from each other and thereby powerless. You have heard of the old adage: Divide and conquer. Personally, I find it very difficult to say how I am feeling and what I am needing, and this is because I was raised by our society to be some kind of interchangeable part in a vast money making machine, where my feelings and needs are not important (self denial). And if I am some kind of interchangeable part, I live in fear because my employer can easily replace me. But if I am raised differently, and do not conform to the norm, then I am also fearful, because now I will not fit into the machine and then I will not have a means of support and livelihood. I'm subject to the ultimate form of control, the "double bind". Unfortunately, we all learn to speak this language from birth, and so all this alienation happens completely out of awareness. We accept our loneliness as being the natural state, when it really is not. But this insight may only be the tip of an iceberg. Imagine this: that we are not aware of and may never be aware of the extent to which our language limits and constrains our very way of thinking.
Key principles of NVC,
Praise versus encouragement,,
Activities that disconnect: TV , passive forms of entertainment, competition, suppression of feeling.
Leu, Lucy (2003) Nonviolent Communication, Companion Workbook, PuddleDancer Press: Encinitas, CA, pg. 66.
Rosenberg, Marshall B. (2003) Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, PuddleDancer Press: Encinitas, CA, Chapter 2, "Communication that blocks compassion."
Rosenberg, Marshall B. (2005) Speak Peace in a World of Conflict, What you say next will change your world, PuddleDancer Press: Encinitas, CA
Last updated 7 February 2005
Copyright © 1995-2005 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.