"To thine own self be true" - William Shakespeare
The practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) suggests making requests in the form "are you willing to ______ ?" In attempting to answer that question, how do you know if you're truly willing to do something? Where do you look for your personal truth? And how do you know when you've found it?
To make it even more challenging, what if someone is asking you to do something for them? And, what if you're not clear and the other person wants an answer right now?
This post explores the intricacies of answering the question "am I willing?" in a way that's congruent with one's internal landscape (in integrity).
Why should you care about accurately answering "am I willing?" ?
Appeasement in this context is the tendency to go along with whatever is being asked -- placating to the request out of duty, obligation, fear, guilt, shame or to buy someone's affection.
If you say "yes" to something and inside you're really a "no", you're going to experience turmoil in the form of discomfort, regret, tension, anxiousness, or just a feeling of being sick to your stomach. In a way, saying "yes" when you're internally a "no" is a kind of violence to yourself. Viewed that way, why would you do that?
In the culture in which I grew up, I was encouraged to be "selfless" -- i.e. to meet the needs of others at the expense of my own. In fact, selflessness was seen as a virtue, especially when being asked by someone in a position of power. People who didn't comply were labeled as "selfish" -- which implied that meeting ones needs resulted in other people's needs were not going to be met -- i.e. it assumed that there was a winner and a loser.
In using NVC as an antidote to "selfishness", Marshall Rosenberg encouraged people to be "self-full" -- to make choices with the full awareness and consideration for the needs of everyone involved, making win-win solutions more likely. Part of the ethos of NVC is the acknowledgment that needs include interdependence as well -- e.g. it brings me joy to contribute to your well-being, to contribute to a better life for all of us.
There are times when you end up saying "no" when you really want to say "yes" -- having you feel frustrated and disappointed. Usually when this has happened to me, I was following some external cultural norm and said "no" out of fear, guilt, or shame. The result is a lost opportunity that likely won't come around again. Sigh.
If you're not sure, give yourself time to find your personal truth
I used to instinctively react with an enthusiastic "yes" to most requests with little thought or consideration for my needs.
After getting a little more self-awareness, there was a time when I froze -- I didn't say anything, giving blank quiet stares to the other person because I wasn't comfortable being authentic. I was torn inside, wanting to say "yes" out of consideration for meeting their needs, while simultaneously wanting to be true to myself. I hadn't yet acknowledged the value of my own needs, and how important it is to "put on my oxygen mask first" in order to fully participate in life.
Now, I pause to give myself time for introspection into what's true for me. If someone else is making a request of me, I might say: "thanks for asking. I'm not clear with my answer. How about I get back to you later?"
"Thanks for asking. I'm not clear with my truth. I'll get back to you once I have a clear answer."
What's the impact of my answer?
Sometimes, knowing what's true for you is easy and the impact is low:
- would you like a glass of water?
- would you like to have coffee with me?
- would you go to this meetup together?
- would you like lasagna for dinner?
- would you work overtime this weekend?
Let's say, someone asks you "would you be willing to tell me what you heard?" and the answer you're intuiting for yourself is "no", that you'd prefer to switch it up to be heard. It's important to acknowledge that your energy has shifted -- i.e. that your need for honest expression is up. While you might choose to wait a little while longer before voicing it to the other person, you can at least give yourself empathy in the moment for the energy shift, and plan when you'd be ready to voice your new preference to switch up the conversation.
Other times, getting to your personal truth is not straight forward, especially when there are many desirable choices or there's high potential for impact on day-to-day living and on other people's lives. Here are a few examples:
- would you like to get married (or divorced)?
- would you be up for moving (out of state) to work for us?
- should I go public with the fraud that I've witnessed?
- should I quit my stable job, and follow my passion?
Sometimes one's truthful answer is not obvious, and careful consideration is suggested. We will be identifying our universal human needs for more clarity. Our needs represent our inner-most motivations in life, and help us navigate making the choice that makes life the most wonderful at the least cost.
In order to demonstrate a NVC self-empathy process of discernment, I'm going to use the following scenario:
Example: Am I willing to register for a week-long nature immersion workshop through Animas Valley Institute?
What part of you is willing? Identify and Boldface needs met by saying "yes."
Example: I'd like to learn more about myself in relation to nature (self-connection, learning). It would also give me perspective to help people attending my courses in finding wholeness, and would help in the sustainability of the Earth and the survival of humanity (contribution).
What needs are not met by saying "yes"?
Example: The workshop does cost money and time, and I'm wanting to use my resources efficiently. There is also a cost of transportation to get me to the workshop; if by air or by car, there's a cost to the environment (sustainability).
What part of you is not willing? Identify needs met by saying "no."
Example: As I look at the 40 tasks or so in my "Business To Do" list, saying "no" would enable me to get them done ~ effectiveness. I would be able to continue the schedule I announced to registered participants to my classes (integrity in keeping agreements), and have some consideration for their ability to learn and plan effectively for how they will use their time. Also, I attended 3 other workshops totaling about 14 days worth over the previous 2 months (balance); I haven't had the time to fully integrate the learning from those workshops (growth). In considering that my business could use focused attention to further develop new programs and materials -- i.e. my creativity and my ability to contribute to a better world would be enhanced by saying "no".
What needs are not met by saying "no"?
Example: It's a lost opportunity, as they only offer this workshop a couple of times a year (ease, movement).
Hold space for all of your needs... Listen
I've found it helpful to leverage the Heart-Canvas for a visual representation of needs. For example:
- Clear gems show needs met by saying "yes": self-connection, learning, wholeness, sustainability, survival, contribution
- Red gems show needs not met by saying "yes": efficiency, sustainability
- Blue /Green gems show needs met by saying "no": effectiveness, integrity, consideration, balance, learning, growth
Holding space involves going over each of the needs, and tuning into the heart energy they point to -- perhaps remembering times when the need was fully met, or imagining it. For example, the following comes up when tuning into these needs:
- Self-Connection: when this need is met, I feel at peace and relaxation throughout my body. My mind is still, I am present to my current experience and fully aware of my surroundings. Sometimes, self-connection is accompanied by clarity of thought and action; I'm more likely to tune into creativity when I am self-connected. I notice that I am best able to get there after extended physical movement, such as through yoga, ecstatic dance or while on a hike.
- Contribution: I've expended some energy to contribute meaningfully to life and other people's well-being, and I feel joyful. Sometimes I receive feedback that what I did contributed to someone personally, giving me some reassurance that I'm on the right path. Being in tune with my need to contribute has shaped the direction of my career and how I am supported by my community.
You are invited to do the same in your own words for each of the needs you identified; you're encouraged to use your imagination without limit. Become familiar with the life-energy behind each of the need words, making it easier for you to reference a life experience with a word or two from the inventory list.
As you listen to all of your needs, does a new strategy materialize?
Example: Given that the workshop isn't until February (2.5 months away), what if I focus on getting a sufficient number of my "Business To Do" tasks done by the end of this month (efficiency)? That would allow me to also be clear on my availability with prospective participants (consideration, integrity). Would I be willing to register for the workshop (learning, contribution), while clearly understanding their cancellation policy? I can re-evaluate my participation at the end of December to the last day to cancel my workshop registration (balance, effectiveness, sustainability).
Make your decision, clearly express your "yes" or "no" -- make the most of it!
Example: For now, I'm a "no" for attending the nature immersion workshop. Am I willing to get all my "Business To Do" tasks done by the end of the year?
Summary: Am I willing?
In this post, we explored the request "Am I willing?" from the perspective of needs met by saying "yes" and saying "no" with the stated desire of having my answer match my personal truth. Getting clear with my personal truth and the "best" answer that makes life wonderful isn't always easy.
Sometimes, the best answer is "I'm not clear with my truth. I'll get back to you once I'm clear."
Situations where the answer has a high potential for impact deserve a careful consideration of our needs. Identifying needs is helpful because they represent our intrinsic motivation -- i.e. needs words summarize and point to a life-energy in us seeking fulfillment. Identifying our needs met for "yes" and "no" answers separately helps us to discern the full scope of our personal truth. As we hold space for our needs, we might come up with new solutions that satisfy many of our needs. Formulate a strategy, and write it down in the form of a question: "Am I willing to __________ ?" Create specific tasks to implement the strategy.
If a strategy that's sufficiently satisfying (in meeting needs) is not forthcoming, continue responding with a "no" and repeat this process until you find clarity, your energy shifts and new possibilities emerge.
It takes practice and sometimes a little help from our friends to identify universal human needs, which is one of the foundational skills in Nonviolent Communication (NVC). The Heart-Canvas is a great way to learn the language of feelings and needs.
Consider joining one of the practice groups that I host that are listed on
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