Criticism doesn’t work, NVC can work

I am perplexed.  Why is it that when we want to get a change of behaviour from a fellow human being we condemn, criticise and blame?  What makes us think that these behaviours will create affinity with our fellow human beings and get them to give us what we want?

As a human being I want to get along with my fellow human beings- especially those that are in my inner circle.  Not only do I want to get along I want people to like me.   I want to be included not excluded. I want people to think highly of me.  Even that is not enough I want affinity even intimacy with a select few. That means I want to close the emotional and the physical gap between me and the people that matter to me.

If I am a normal human being what do I do – automatically?  I judge. I criticise.  I condemn.  Who do I criticise?  The people closest to me – family, friends, neighbours, colleagues etc. What does that get me?  Distance – the one that is criticised withdraws, sulks, becomes aggressive or waits for the day that he can pay back in kind.  Why does that happen?  Most human beings are fragile: even without being aware of it we are constantly looking for approval, we detest being put down and we strive to avoid or punish those that put us down.

It strikes me that if I want to create affinity with another human being then the tools to use are acknowledgement, praise and saying ‘thank you’.  These tools are particularly important if there is any distance in the relationship and I want to reduce that distance. Only when the distance is closed is the time right to ask for what I want in a way that works.   Marshall Rosenberg has developed such a method: NVC – Non Violent Communication; he has written a book called Non Voilent Communication.

So why is it that whilst excellent communication methods exist to bridge the gap between me and you, you and I continue to use the tried and tested methods that create greater distance and greater enmity?

I forgive you as I get that I do not often / always practice what I preach.  Can you grant me what you grant yourself often – forgiveness and acceptance?

Why can’t ‘I’ see and act on what is so obvious to others

Despite being ill – we think it is the flu – my wife made her way to the nearest John Lewis store yesterday.  After parking she had to carry a large, heavy cardboard box containing a Dyson vacuum cleaner through the John Lewis store, make her case and get a refund.  The task was not yet finished. She then drove over to Costco and bought her chosen replacement and drove back home.  All in all she spent some four hours doing this – whilst being quite ill.

That is not all the effort that went into it.  She had spent several hours on Friday evening working out what Dyson vacuum cleaner would make a suitable replacement.  This task was tedious and done whilst she was ill – she did not enjoy doing it.

To summarise: my wife has spent some six hours replacing her recently purchased Dyson and the new one is sitting in our hallway (unpacked).  And she has done all this whilst she is ill with the flu.

Let me provide you with some context to make sense of the story that I telling.  We have on old Dyson that worked well for several years.  Our decision to replace it was not because it did not work, it was because it had become difficult to use and store as a bit of it – a plastic bit – had broken.  That prompted by wife to take action and buy a new one from John Lewis in the first week of September.  When she unpacked it my eldest son pointed out a glaring weakness of this new model:  the plastic bit that had made the old model difficult to use was looking even more flimsy on the new model.  So he shared his view with his mother and advised her to take it back and get a different model – one that can better take the knocks of life. My wife dismissed his concerns.  On that day or several days later, I made the same observation and advised my wife to take it back: “It is going to break that is clear.  What is uncertain is when.  I suspect that it will be earlier rather than later so I suggest you take it back.”  Or words to that effect. My wife acknowledged that the plastic clip on part did indeed look weak.  And she did nothing.

Now this is what I find interesting.  At least three of us told my wife that the product had a design flaw; she acknowledged that the clip on part that had failed in the old Dyson looked even weaker on the new Dyson; and she did nothing.  In the end she was forced to act because the part we expected to fail broke in less than four weeks; the dyson is normally used once or twice a week.  Why did she ignore what was visible, predictable and had been predicted?

At a broader level why is it that ‘I’ fail to see and act on what is so blindingly obvious?  I suspect that the answer is along the lines of:

I would have to take action – expend energy in dealing with the situation at hand and I may not want to do that right now; and

The story I make about the action that is needed – how much effort it will take, how difficult / unpleasant it will be etc; and

I’d have to acknowledge that I had made a mistake and that causes me emotional upset as I question my judgement, I question my fitness, I am diminished in my own eyes – the story I make about myself.

In my experience it is stories that I make – story about what needs to be done  AND the stories that I make about myself – that stop me doing what we know needs to be done.  So the access to doing what needs to be done is simple – give up the stories or better still make up stories that inspire me to take action.

If you want family then remove the tv

The tv broke down some days ago.  I was delighted as I had been hoping that it would break down and I could access to using the living room – my favourite room for reading, talking and just relaxing.  For one of my children – the oldest – the world had suddenly caved in – he is addicted to watching tv.  For the youngest – it is a survivable pain.  And the middle one – who is used to entertaining himself – is not that bothered.

Here is what I have noticed:

  • we talk a lot more with each other and we laugh a lot more;
  • we play games with each other;
  • the children help with household chores – like cooking meals;
  • the children spend more time in their bedrooms doing private activities like reading or drawing;
  • the children go outside more – like taking walks;
  • there is a lot less fighting in the house as there is less to fight about; and
  • I feel at home again.

I am quite clear that introducing or removing television from the home is a revolutionary act.  With it in the house, it becomes the most important thing and the people in the house become slaves to it.  By removing it, our family – all of us – have became creators, authors of our lives.  And we work much better as a family.

The joy of being on the court

Today my wife and I made our way to the tennis court.  After warming up we found that the tennis played us.  Yes, the tennis played us and we both loved it.  There were lots of rallies, lots of smiling, laughter and in my case joy.

Here are the insights that came to me:

a) By simply focussing on the tennis ball, the tennis just happened effortlessly;

b) Whilst I was focussing on the ball my internal chatter stopped and I lost myself = therefore, “I” = internal chatter;

c) A big part of my energy, enthusiasm for life and self expression is playing racket sports and tennis is the sport that leaves me nourished;

d) I simply have not been giving me – the player – the opportunity to play and the cost has been giving up access to joy;

e) On the court I felt at least 10 years younger, put differently the tennis took ten years off my age!

So I am counting on myself to play tennis, badminton and/or table-tennis every week. And it is a great opportunity to get closer to my children and wife!

What did you enjoy about your day?


I was playing the game of Three Questions & Three Answers with my daughter Clea.  When I asked the first question, Clea said something interesting: “Daddy can you ask me a different type of question?  Like what three things did you enjoy about your day today?”.  Fantastic!

What I got from this is that a key part of living well is to enjoy life.  To enjoy walking, to enjoy talking, to enjoy being with our friends, to enjoy seeing the beauty around us, to enjoy listening to friends, to enjoy touching, to enjoy feeling and so forth.

So whilst it is important to be grateful for what we have, to contribute to a better world for all, to learn about ourselves and our world, to consciously focus on what we can be proud of about ourselves, it is also important to approach life with an attitude of enjoying life and living.

Thank you Clea for enabling me to get present to the wonders of living and the importance of enjoying life.  You have shown me a blind spot that is very much a part of Eastern upbringing:  the foregrounding of duty and the backgrounding of enjoying life.

And I will be expanding the game of Three Questions & Answers to include the question: What Three Things Did You Enjoy About Your Day Today?

This post is related to the following posts:

The Game of Three Questions & Answers

The Resistance to Playing the Game of Three Questions & Answers

My original face is playfulness

I have been swimming in Zen Buddhism since my days at university over 20 years ago. One of the Zen type questions is along the line of “What is your original face?”  Up until now I have struggled to understand the question and I have also struggled to answer the question.

Yesterday I was in the kitchen with my wife.  At that moment I had no worries, no concerns, no upsets, no desires, no ambition – in fact no thoughts at all.  Being in that state I found myself clowning around.  In the clowning around I felt totally at home, totally at peace, and joyful.  My wife noticed my lightness and my good naturedness.

This morning I have an answer to the Zen question of “What is your original face?”  My original face is playfulness – lighthearted playfulness.  I suspect that it is the same for my fellow human beings.  When we are present without thoughts of the past or thoughts of the future then we are light and playful, naturally.

The thought that occurs to me is that my wife and children have have felt the most affinity to me when I have been lighthearted and playful; I also like myself the most when I am being lighthearted and playful.

This may be why I enjoy spending time with toddlers:  they tend to call my original face into being.

Resistance to Playing the Game of Three Questions & Answers

This post is related to an earlier post: The Game of Three Questions & Answers

I have had a go at playing The Game of Three Questions & Answers with a number of members of my inner circle.  Interesting.  The people who have high self-esteem are happy to play the game, if it is missed for a day they ask to play it.  Then there are people who simply refuse to play it.   Why?  Because they have low self esteem or low self confidence.  They are not proud of themselves.  They do not believe that they have contributed to a better world.  They do not believe that they have learned anything worth learning that day.  When they play the game they do not look for an opportunity to lift themselves up and play a bigger game.  Instead they use the game to beat themselves up.

This makes me think that the reason that many of us do not play a version of The Game of Three Questions & Answers is because we would rather not look ourselves in the mirror.  If we looked ourselves in the mirror then we may not be proud of what we see.  And we would see the need to change but we do not have the will to make the necessary changes.  Instead we prefer not to look so that we can pretend that we are OK whilst secretly thinking and feeling we are not OK.

I cannot help but think that what I am writing about applies to individuals, families, organisations, institutions and societies.