Making it easy to say YES: Using NVC to Make a Request….and Be Heard

 In Nonviolent Communication (NVC), Parent Peacefully

When you ask someone something, of course you want them to say Yes.

Whether it’s a birth class or my Parenting and Partnership: Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Series, there are incredibly important times in our lives when we wish to ask someone to do something with us that feels valuable to us and our family.

I hear mothers wanting to have these difficult conversations with their partners around homebirth, couples or family counseling/coaching, diet and lifestyle and more. They are going to their partners and asking for something that is deeply valuable to them and their family. These are big moments where the tides of emotion ride high and needs loom largely over the choice and chance for connection.

Though we want a YES, we often set ourselves up for a NO through the language we use in the asking.

In those moments, and in all smaller ones that happen daily, like the example below, it is a relief to know that the NVC path to connection is the same.

  1. Give the person or your partner some empathy. What might they be feeling and needing?
  2. Speak your own truth about your feelings and needs.
  3. Make a clear request. (See Video)

[Self-empathy is a valuable first step before this process, as my brief video in this post expresses.]

Conversations happen every day between partners in which one partner would like to ask, “are you willing to do this thing that feels important to me?”

A “Day-to-Day” Example

In “Jackal,” our commonly used language

When are you going to put up the gate? It’s been months! I spend all day running up the stairs to get the baby when I’m trying to take care of food and the house!

Clear message: I want the gate up.
Possible messages received:

  • You are making life hard for me.
  • You are not doing it right, or at the right time.
  • You are not contributing.
  • You are not doing enough.
  • You are wrong.
  • I am losing it. Over a gate.
  • Meet My Need!
  • You’re not meeting my needs!!!
In “giraffe” NVC language:

I am guessing you might be feeling tired from your work week and maybe overwhelmed from the list of tasks that need doing at home. I will feel more able to keep our daughter safe and more able to care for our daughter and our house at the same time when the gate helps me manage her on the stairs, especially when I’m cooking on the stove. I would like to put up the gate this Saturday. Are you willing to go to the playground with the children on Saturday morning while I put up the gate?

Possible message received (especially if our partner is used to hearing demands from us or others): You are wrong.
Clear Message: I want the gate up. I understand that you have challenges from working outside the home all week. I want to protect our daughter. I struggle to cook, clean and keep our child safe if she can get up the stairs by herself when I’m not looking. I am willing to help you help me meet my need.

If the first attempt to make a request for something to get your needs met does not go well (if our request is heard as a demand):

With our common “jackal” version of language…

The conversation would most likely be over before it began as our partner’s ears would most likely close upon detection of blame and defenses rising. Any giving that was done in this moment would be from an unwilling place, out of obligation or for all the reasons other than wanting to meet your need willingly from the heart.

While this language approach may solve the need of the gate (safety), the opportunities to meet all the other needs and build connection are lost. It begins to feel like “It’s either you or me in this, babe” and either we get to “win” at the expense of our partner or we “lose” by choice or by “game rules” — either way we all feel unpleasant feelings, including our child who receives more behaviors stemming from needs that continue to go unmet. Ouch. This hurts.

We can use our “giraffe” language (NVC)…

The chance for connection is still alive. We still have their ear and space to pour on a bit more empathy. We are able and/or to clarify that we are requesting and not demanding: “It sounds like you are worried that I’m angry about the gate, and I was frustrated. And I know I said things when I asked before out of frustration that I don’t think were helpful or kind. Right now, however, I am wondering if you are willing to help me to keep our daughter safe and care for our house by taking her to the playground on Saturday morning or some other day in the next week while I put up the gate.

In this approach, connection is nurtured. Clarity is deepened. Empathy is exchanged. We are partnering in this, and that is clear in the language.

What we get when we do connect, using NVC to make a clear request:
  • mama gets her need for support, safety, and cooperation met in addition to feeling heard and connected
  • daddy gets his need for connection, love, contribution, and fun met in addition to feeling heard and acknowledged
  • daughter gets her need for connection, love, joy and learning met in addition to seeing her parents work through hard feelings (like the one’s she has) to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs

It is easy to say YES to the playground now!

Everyone — mother, father, child, the whole family — come away feeling connected, cared for, loved. Wow….This feels gooood….. “I might try that again next time I need something.”

And your Parenting and Partnership journey in NVC continues towards connection, love and joy…together.


Go deeper into NVC and nurture connection, love and joy for yourself and your family:

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