“You don´t love me anymore!”
“Knowing me, knowing you, it´s the best I can do”, they sang in 1977, the four Swedish artists probably better known as ABBA. And yes, perhaps that is the “best” we can do in order to create and nurture caring relationships. In fact, I wouldn´t necessarily know what “loving you” really means until I know you better. Acts of love mean different things to different people, and many of us might have heard the torturous phrase “you don´t love me anymore!”, without any hint at what stimulated this outburst of sudden detachment… “How am I not loving you?” Or “what would help you understand that I truly do feel love for you?” (In NVC we might consider “love” more as a need or a feeling than as an action.)
A couple of weeks back I called some of the members in NVC East (Norway) to connect and ask them about what they might want us to do as an organisation this year. In one of the conversations, a lady said she was slightly critical of certain concepts in NVC and mentioned other concepts she had found equally useful. We chatted for a while, and I very much enjoyed listening to her and her ideas. A few days later she sent me an e-mail, thanking me for the conversation, confirming that she had now paid her membership fee (yay – bonus!) and making more references to the complementary works on nurturing relationships she had mentioned earlier.
Then, at the end of the message, there was another paragraph. She said that I had used her first name quite a few times in the conversation (since I have their full names on the membership list), and that had made her feel uncomfortable. She hadn´t wanted or known how to tell me when we were chatting, and she still wanted to express it somehow. To her it seemed like an invasion, overstepping boundaries, and she had an association of salespeople who call and use her first name to sell her anything that she really doesn´t need. She further said that she wasn´t quite sure what her unmet needs were in this situation, but perhaps her need for “respect”. And when her need for respect were met, she would perhaps also enjoy a more authentic connection.
At first, I felt terrible. Here, the “NVC trainer” was given such “awaful” feedback after what was supposed to be a nice, welcoming and inclusive conversation! How could I stimulate such feelings in our members…? Me, the “gentle” Gert? I took some time away from her e-mail, reflecting. And it also became very clear to me that she was probably wanting respect, perhaps even ease and consideration, acknowledgment. We had never spoken before, and so when I – a “stranger” to her – used her name, she felt uneasy, uncomfortable and perhaps very surprised. When I had managed to self-empathise with my own intentions and needs, it dawned on me. We had been trying to achieve the exact same thing – mutual respect and connection. And we had used very different strategies… I smiled.
Same need, different strategies
I am not sure whether it is because I have lived abroad for many years and “lost touch” with some of the Norwegian (“more careful?”) ways, and** I also know that I use people´s first names quite a lot to generate connection and to show acknowledgement, consideration and respect. And in this case, as I was trying to help her meet her need for respect and connection (and my own), I was doing the very opposite! To me, this is the very crux of the matter in communication and NVC. We all have the same needs, and what differs is our preference of ways in which we try meet those needs. Just as there are different preferences with regard to signs of love, “Respecting you” is not necessarily the same as “Respecting me”. So perhaps “knowing you, it´s the best I can do”, as ABBA reminds us. Maybe then I will understand how you would like to have your needs met when I want to connect.
And yes, I like your assumption. I did not use her first name in my response to her. Not even once…
**I try to use “and” as much as possible, even when it seems odd. This is because I find that “but” often rejects the entire notion of what I just said. I like “both and….”