Matthew Tift talks with Yvette Erasmus about building healthy relationships at home and work with nonviolent communication (NVC), including:

  • An overview of NVC
  • The difference between "street NVC" and classic NVC
  • The ethics of NVC
  • Bringing NVC into the workplace (in stealth mode)
  • How accepting the present moment might needs for safety and security in the world
"In any given moment, there will be some of your needs that are being met and there were always some needs that are not being met. The goal is not to be attached to them being met. The goal is to be in alignment with the wisdom that is moving through your system." —Yvette Erasmus

This Episode's Guest

Yvette Erasmus, PsyD. LP

Headshot of Yvette Erasmus

A practicing, licensed psychologist, Dr. Yvette Erasmus offers educational programs for putting compassion into action. Her joyful, loving, and down-to-earth approach complements an extensive training in mind-body medicine, somatic experiencing, diversity and inclusiveness, nonviolent communication, and integral-relational-cultural psychology.

Transcript

Transcript

Matthew Tift:
It's August, 2022, episode 24. Yvette Erasmus on building healthier relationships with non-violent communication. Welcome to Hacking Culture, exploring practices and technologies that contribute to well-being. Hacking Culture is sponsored by Lullabot. And I'm your host. Matthew Tift.
Matthew Tift:
My guest today is Yvette Erasmus, a teacher, writer, psychologist, and consultant. She was born during apartheid to white south African parents, and she has lived in Malawi, Germany, and Beverly Hills. Yvette has a master's degree in education and a doctorate in clinical psychology. I was first introduced to Yvette by my wife who had been attending Yvette's non-violent communication classes and my wife and I have also both attended Yvette's classes together to learn about non-violent communication and lots of other good things. So thank you so much for coming onto Hacking Culture Yvette.
Yvette Erasmus:
Oh, it's my pleasure. I love doing things like this. Thanks for having me.
Matthew Tift:
Recently, you were asked what you do and you followed up by saying, you'll answer that question differently, depending on who you're talking to, what mood you're in, and that you think of yourself as a teacher, as well as someone who likes to help other people to love themselves. So what have you been up to these days?
Yvette Erasmus:
I think probably what I would say these days is I run a lot of educational personal development programming online, teach a lot of classes. I have a membership, right? And so I'm on calls with groups of people weekly working on how we make a huge paradigm shift in our own psychology, right? How we dismantle domination cultures and how we create cultures that are really partnership-oriented, collaborative, co-creative, high trust, high belonging. What do those cultures look and feel like? So I teach about that and then what ends up happening is I end up doing a lot of personal sessions at group coaching with people who are really wanting to take those tools and apply them in their lives because it always sounds good in theory. And then you go home and you meet that family member and you're like, wait, what, how does this work again? So that's mostly what I do. I teach a bunch of tools and principles and then I help people apply them in their lives.
Matthew Tift:
Some people like to just put somebody in a box and classify them and say, she's a therapist, she's an NVC teacher, she's a teacher or whatever it might be. And to some extent, it seems like you resist the labels. And I love that.
Yvette Erasmus:
Yeah. The labels are so reductionistic. It's like, if you pick the label you like, I can be your teacher. I can be your psychologist. I can be your therapist. I can be your consultant. What are you needing? And let's just go from there.
Matthew Tift:
So then from there, it comes down to what have you been doing? And you've been busy. You have a number of online groups that you run, you do individual therapy, and each of those different modalities has a different group of people attending in some cases and also a different goal with that. So your therapy group is very different from your weekly NVC group. Could you talk a little bit about those different modalities?
Yvette Erasmus:
For sure. So I think it's helpful to think a little bit about what kind of container you are creating because each one of those has a slightly different intention and purpose for the two or three or four, however many people are attending, right? So for example, the high test, most healing-oriented container, relational container is therapy. You start, you do a lot of, you have an intake, you are asking a lot of questions from a broad range of areas in a person's life to get a quick assessment. And then it's weekly long-term work. Usually with the intention of healing something, processing something, supporting someone, in moving through a trauma, moving through an addiction, working with an eating disorder, trying to metabolize depression through their system, whatever that is. There's a clinically significant distress. It's interfering with functioning, and we create a very tight relational container with a lot of privacy and confidentiality and intensity, in order to begin getting at whatever it is that is needing to change in the person through the relationship.
Yvette Erasmus:
So that's the most intense, most private, most high dosage for change kind of containers, the therapeutic container. Then I do a lot of teaching. And so I have like the Wednesday morning call that I just run for free every single week. Anybody we have people pulling in from all over the world, it's a quick Q&A, it's a much looser container. It's different people every week. It's much more intellectual, we're not opening deep emotional wounds. We're really doing a lot of road-mapping. It's a little bit more cognitive roadmap consultative, and people get some, just quick advice, a little insight and unpacking of something just enough to go back and play with these principles in their lives and then come back the next week for some community, celebrating the wins, sharing the struggles.
Yvette Erasmus:
That's a really open and loose container. It's free, you can show up when you like, you can leave when you like, we're not doing deep healing work. And then there's everything in between those two things. Sometimes people who come to learn from me want to set up a one-on-one session because they don't understand something, they're confused. They don't see how something applies to X, Y, Z situation. Now we're not doing deep long-term healing work. It's a little bit more like having office hours. It's like being a professor at the university and teaching something, and then the students coming in and being like, okay, wait, when are your office hours? I need help applying this. So I do a lot of office hours and that's actually the work that I enjoy doing the most these days.
Yvette Erasmus:
I love it when I look at my calendar each week and there's people that I've never met before, who heard me teach this or that on the next thing. And they want help figuring out X, Y, Z, it's a little bit more solution-focused. It's a little bit more applying of principles. It's a little bit more thought partnering, collaborative thinking together. And sometimes it's about deep empathy. Sometimes it's about meeting people's needs to really be seen and heard and to get a sense of self-understanding, but it can cover all kinds of different things. So yeah, lots of different things. And then I have retreats and then I have a membership program where people meet every Monday night and it's then the same kind of community and people are doing deeper practice. So there's something for everyone. I guess, as I say all of that to you, I'm like, I really like variety, don't I? I like having a lot of different things going on.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah, that's quite evident. And I think one of the reasons that I know about you and your work is because you have offered these practices in-person as well in my community. And I think it really comes through in your teaching, how much you enjoy sharing these with people? And I appreciate that quite a bit.
Yvette Erasmus:
Yeah. Well, thank you.
Matthew Tift:
You're welcome. Part of the reason I had you on is because I've been exploring various tools and techniques that people can use to help try and create some control over their life, hacking the technology to make it do what they want it to do. And that is part of this open source mentality sharing, and having a sense of personal freedom. And someone might look to something like yoga or therapy or Tai chi or meditation. And one of the techniques that you know quite a bit about is nonviolent communication. Could you just give us a brief introduction to nonviolent communication?
Yvette Erasmus:
Absolutely. So it was started by Marshall Rosenberg, he was a clinical psychologist who wasn't getting the results that he wanted in therapy, and kind of, just to use your word, kind of hacked therapy and said, you know what it comes down to, this is what healing comes down to. It comes down to four key distinctions, and how we use our intention and our sense, our attention and how we speak and listen to one another. And he boiled it down to a very simple communication model that highlights four key distinctions, everything evolved from there. And once you start playing with them, you realize that there's actually a lot more to it than it seems, but the central intention of nonviolent communication is to create a quality of connection between two people. So that it's more likely that both people's needs can be met. And then how do we do that?
Matthew Tift:
That sounds like a good point to bring up right away, is that some other practices like say yoga or meditation, we might think of as a very personal practice, whereas it seems like one of the defining characteristics of NVC is being in communication with another person. You might not sit and practice NVC alone, on a meditation cushion.
Yvette Erasmus:
Well, I don't know. I think you would find a range of opinions on that one. I mean, I think those of us who've been studying and practicing for a long time. I hear a lot of people saying, the first five years of practice are all internal. It's actually the way we're speaking to ourselves and listening to ourselves that forms the foundation of what we're then able to bring to another person. So I would say a lot of people who come to non-violent communication, are coming because of an issue or a conflict in a relationship that they have with another person. That's usually what brings people in. They want to find a better way of saying it, a better way of hearing it, very often people are like, if I could just get through to them, if they could just understand, or if I could just understand them better. And then they find this communications tool and they're like, oh, this is it. I'm just going to start doing this. And then unfortunately, because in the initial stages, you learn a formula, and the formula is very awkward.
Yvette Erasmus:
And then they start going back into their relationships and they start using this formulaic language and it turns other people off. And then nobody else, they all develop an allergy to the nonviolent communication. And it's really because you sort of in your early stages, you're so earnest about trying to get the language right. And that can be so disconnecting actually for the people in your lives. And so very often I'll say to people, the very first relationship we work on is the relationship with yourself, and what you start becoming aware of when you start working with the tools of NVC, at least this was true for me, is it helps us see the way in which we've each been indoctrinated into a domination culture. And it's a little bit horrifying. At least it was for me when I first discovered, the amount of control tactics, domination tactics, power over, power under tactics that I had internalized, and that I saw as a normal way of being with other people.
Yvette Erasmus:
And when you get this contrasting way of being, it's pretty deep, it actually becomes pretty deep work on the inside to start shifting into what Marshall Rosenberg would call a non-violent consciousness. So the point of the communication model is actually to develop within the individual a non-violent consciousness. And when you're in deep practice, your language sounds natural. It sounds how other people will speak, that it is infused with a nonviolent consciousness that permeates the entire interaction and makes it go very differently. But along the way, people begin speaking in very awkward ways. And there's a learning curve.
Matthew Tift:
You could say something like, when I hear people talking, using the four part NVC formula. I feel that's the first one, disconnected from the person who's using this language because my need for authenticity feels unmet. And I could make a request that they don't use this formulaic way of talking.
Yvette Erasmus:
Exactly, exactly. And even saying it that way. I mean, we can giggle about it. It's funny. It sounds so stilted and so awkward. And if we can hold that, this attention on, what am I observing, what am I feeling? What am I needing? What am I wanting? If I use those four questions as a way of orienting my consciousness, it fundamentally changes what I bring into the relational frame. And what I'm bringing, if I'm bringing a lot of demand energy, or a lot of forcefulness, versus a lot of flexibility and flow, regardless of the content, I'm going to have a deep influence on how that conversation goes. So just beginning to pay attention to those data pieces, observations, feelings, needs, requests. Even if I don't use the formulaic language, that's really what we're going for. We're going for a shift in our way of being with one another, a way of being that is more relational, more open, more emotionally safe, more emotionally nourishing.
Yvette Erasmus:
One that is more attuned to what each person in that conversation is actually longing for, desiring, wishing for. It's a model that allows us to really sit with our pain and somebody else's pain in a less reactive way. It helps us take things less personally. We start seeing through when somebody is quote, unquote, attacking us, we hear that really differently. And so it becomes actually quite grounding and quite liberating. And it helps you keep your heart open to yourself and other people eventually instead of shutting down into our self-protective systems, which is our default, when things don't go well.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah. I seem to recall, and again, this is a few years ago, so I'm not sure if you still use this phrase, but you had talked about street NVC versus classical, or I can't remember the other one, but I remember the phrase street NVC stuck in my head.
Yvette Erasmus:
So I think, for people who really get involved in the whole non-violent communication communities and transformation movements, one of the metaphors that Marshall Rosenberg used to use to try and have a symbol for two different kinds of language is he would use the symbol of jackal and the giraffe. And so jackal language was then shortcut for domination-based, judgmental, evaluative control talk. And so in an NVC community, you'll hear people referring to jackal speak or letting your jackal go for a run, which basically means you just get some space to vent and be judgmental and let all of the more quote, unquote violent language emerge. But the giraffe, biggest heart of every land mammal, and Marshall Rosenberg likes to think of nonviolent communication as the language of the heart. So he used the giraffe as a symbol.
Yvette Erasmus:
And so when people begin practicing in the communities, they refer to them as like little baby giraffes, like as we're trying to begin to do this shift in consciousness, or like a little baby giraffe, just learning the language of the heart. And so giraffe language is speaking more formulaically, really focusing on observations, feelings, needs, request, and really listening through the lens of what is this person noticing, feeling, needing and requesting. Because they're usually not saying that, they're saying a lot of other stuff, but you're listening for that. So we have to think about that as speaking giraffe. And then that evolved into street giraffe or street NVC, which is like once you stop staying true to the formulaic model, which is like, when I notice, then I feel, and it meets my needs or it doesn't meet my needs, and my request is, when we get out of the formula and we re-naturalize it, so we simply say something like, yeah, I feel super delighted when you massage my back. Thank you so much for doing that.
Yvette Erasmus:
A more natural way than when you apply a certain kind of pressure. I feel a lot of delight and it meets my needs. I mean, like it's so off-putting. So we talk about that as street giraffe. It's often like the thing you take out into the world is street giraffe, it's naturalized. You're using language that other people can connect with. The point of the model is to connect. And if your use of the model is creating disconnection, abandon the model, use street giraffe, use normal language, use naturalized language that people can connect with and really go for the consciousness, the intention, the energy you're bringing more than the specific language that you're bringing.
Matthew Tift:
It brings up all kinds of ideas for me. One, this is probably a model that's used in lots of other areas of life. And okay, since we're on Hacking Culture, if you learn a new programming language, you might learn these very formulaic kind of ways of programming to learn how the language works. So you would figure out how to structure a computer program and write these programs that you would never use, or maybe you would use something kind of like it, but then you would tweak it and make it applicable to whatever the situation is. So to me, yes, I do giggle a little bit at using the formula, but I probably would do the same thing if somebody just copy and pasted some basic coding into some project where that wasn't really appropriate.
Yvette Erasmus:
Yeah, exactly. I think it's a beautiful metaphor. I think it's very much like that. At least in my own experience with the model, it's like unprogramming, some default scripts that got installed in my childhood, beginning to go through and find them, and then neutralize them and replace them with an upgraded way of perceiving and speaking and thinking. And generally my language, I think in my real life is pretty natural and pretty normalized, but I think in my work, perhaps I'm a little bit more when I'm doing a lot more demos, I'm a little bit more true to the model. It depends on the situation.
Matthew Tift:
Sure. Now I do think there's one big difference in the comparison I just made in that it seems like a lot of people that come to NVC are coming because they want to communicate with people. They want to learn how to do this because either they're trying to solve a problem, I suppose that's the reason most people might come to that or they've heard it's cool, and, a hip thing to know. So it seems like a difference with programming is there might not be that fundamental aspect of, I want to connect with another person. And that seems also important that like the whole nature of a nonviolent communication is trying not to manipulate people, not to control them, not to try and lure them into doing what you want them to do.
Yvette Erasmus:
Yes. Well, what we're trying to do is establish relational conditions with so much safety and trust between two people that we relate to one another from a place of natural giving, not duty or guilt or coercion, or should or have to. And when we get some of those things out of the way, I think the vast majority of the time, I think there are some exceptions to this, but the vast majority of the time we are wired for connection and contribution, and we feel good. We're mammals, we want to be connected and interdependent and contributing to one another's well-being. That's actually our natural way of being, but all kinds of cultural norms disconnect us from this natural way of being, and keep us really in our minds and in our strategies and in our interpretations and really disconnected from a lot of the innate wisdom that we're born with.
Yvette Erasmus:
And so this model is also a way of helping us reconnect, not necessarily abandoning all the other things, the good adaptations we have for the cultures we live in, but filling it out a little bit more with more choices and more ways of being than the self-protective, defensive, egoic, jockey for position, look out for number one and the people who are just like me, it helps us evolve a little bit out of that stage of development into something a little bit more inclusive and a little bit more interdependent.
Matthew Tift:
Do you think of nonviolent communication as ethical or of values framework?
Yvette Erasmus:
Yes, I do. I'll speak about this more personally in terms of how I interact with it. I don't want to speak for everybody in the nonviolent communication community or any of the certified trainers. Everybody will have their own, but I think in terms of an ethical framework, some of the underlying assumptions that people like when they're studying nonviolent communication include things like cultivating a world that works for all people, really honoring people's freedom of choice, and their own sovereignty to choose their own path, to define who they are, to get so self-connected with themselves that they're living in alignment with their intrinsic motivations. However, those show up for that individual. Another ethical principle would be one of shared power. That we try not, like in terms of our relational positioning, we don't believe in going one up, we don't go into grandiosity and narcissism where I met more than everybody else.
Yvette Erasmus:
And therefore I get to impose my will and my values and my preferences on everybody else. So we move out of that and we also bring ourselves up from shame. We don't sink down into shame where we go, oh, well, I'm just worse than everyone else. And I can't do it and I'm not as good as, so there's this place of shared humanity and shared power that we are reaching for in our inner being. And that is grounded in a sense of really deep self-connection with the life force energy, as you understand it, as it lives in you, as you experience it, and then developing really attuned language to be able to express to you what's happening in me, so that you can see who I am as accurately as possible. And for me to be able to hear you and receive you and your aliveness and your uniqueness and the ways that you may be really different from me, and also ways that you may be very similar to me, where I'm really receiving you and your terms, not through all of my projections and agendas and filters.
Yvette Erasmus:
And so as you start doing this work, we often begin to discover how much violent domination programming, distorts our perceptions, leads us to project onto other people, all the ways if we're constantly trying to use other people as objects to meet our needs instead of other subjectivities to be in relationship with. And there's also, I think for myself, I used to have this like distrust of the innate, like people are essentially not trustworthy because they're only looking out for number one. And while that may be really true within domination culture and capitalism, sorry, but like even in some of the economic structures we have, and it really pulls for a certain kind of psychology and a certain kind of violence and disconnection in the human psyche. And when we begin shifting that into a different way of being, a different way of understanding, seeing, expressing, listening, a non-violent way of being with each other, we create conditions.
Yvette Erasmus:
And now we're back to relational containers. Those relational containers actually activate our attachment system, our connection system, our trust systems, our interdependent systems. We begin wanting to do things for one another because we enjoy it, not because we have to, and because we're really in touch with life energy, as it's moving through us, and we're attuned to the present moment and what will actually help move things forward. We're not constantly shaming, blaming pathologizing, criticizing, micromanaging. It's exhausting. This other way of being, the more I move away from it, the more I'm like, how did I ever survive in that? It's so tiring, and it creates so much suffering. I think I went through a few rabbit holes there, but does that give you a little bit of the ethical, the values, the assumptions underneath the practice?
Matthew Tift:
Absolutely. The practice of NVC on the one hand, it could seem simplistic. People might make fun of it, and you start somewhere-
Yvette Erasmus:
People make fun of it a lot. There's a lot of making fun of it. Yes, go on. Sorry to interrupt you.
Matthew Tift:
Marshall Rosenberg also used puppets right for the jackal and the giraffe.
Yvette Erasmus:
Yep.
Matthew Tift:
That probably added to it a little bit.
Yvette Erasmus:
It's very hokey, very, very hokey.
Matthew Tift:
It's very hokey, and yet I've seen, in my personal life, you've taught in various locations that are just a few miles from my house and I've seen people benefit from it. And it helped me get over the hokiness to see how much it was benefiting people. So we can use it in our personal lives, but we can also use it at work, right. This is something that we can use in any aspect of life. And you just mentioned when people have agendas or the influence of capitalism, and those things are very much present in a workplace where we have agendas. We have maybe, at Lullabot, we have clients and they have needs and their needs are different than the needs we talk about in NVC. So could you talk a little bit about how people might bring this into the workplace?
Yvette Erasmus:
Yeah, absolutely. I bring this in stealth mode into the workplace all the time. So I do quite a lot of consulting and I never ever bring up the words non-violent communication. So it all comes through in stealth mode. And this is how we do it. It's really very basic stuff. It's about helping people at work, not get so hijacked by everybody else's feelings. So we just develop a feelings literacy. So if somebody's upset and you say to them, it sounds like you're really angry and frustrated, that can help begin to calm the nervous system. So just basic emotional intelligence, being able to name a feeling helps everyone in the room begin to re-regulate the feeling. So this can be effective when somebody is freaking out about something in the room. So we can talk about the importance of emotional literacy. And then we can talk about the importance of really looking for people's needs underneath whatever business objective we're trying to solve.
Yvette Erasmus:
So sometimes the conflicts and the gridlock that we get into are sort of try, and language that I use with corporations is like the language of positions, versus interest. And in nonviolent communication, we would call that strategies versus needs, but in a business environment, if we talk about what is your position on something and what is the interest you're trying to serve? That's just the language that is more naturalized for that kind of setting, but it's pointing to the same exact material. So one of the things that I'm saying to people all the time is, use the language that works and stay grounded in the consciousness that you want to be in, but don't expect everybody else to speak your preferred language. You're going to be more effective, if you can speak French to French people and German to German people, and corporate speak to corporate speak people, but the content of what you're saying and the message you're bringing can all be the same in all of these languages.
Yvette Erasmus:
So don't get so precious about needing to use the quote, unquote right word, because there's not going to be such a thing, and then the last one, it's very easy in a business environment to say, let's stay solution-focused. And when you're bringing something forward, bring suggestions for a solution, something proactive, something that would work, something that is doable. There's nothing about that that doesn't work really well in a business setting. But now if I'm coming in, I'm like, okay, so we're going to learn about nonviolent communication. And you're all going to talk about your feelings and your needs and just making requests. And that is not the right packaging for that context and that setting, but the skillfulness and the capacities that we're learning to be effective in a variety of settings, they're universal. How does that sound to you?
Matthew Tift:
It sounds like you're talking about a slightly different street. So you have street, NVC, you go down your business street and it's different from walking down your neighborhood street.
Yvette Erasmus:
It is, you want to adapt it to the context you're in.
Matthew Tift:
I sense that street NVC was more than what I had understood it to be before.
Yvette Erasmus:
What did you understood it to be?
Matthew Tift:
I seem to understand it in terms of how there was this more formulaic version of NVC, and that what you were teaching was a slightly different version that resonated more with you, that you felt was really useful and maybe a slight differentiation from a classic version or may maybe Marshall Rosenberg's version, it was sort of Yvette's NVC.
Yvette Erasmus:
Well, I think that's also true. So I think that piece is not untrue. What I think you're referring to is classical NVC, is when anybody who is learning non-violent communication is really intentionally practicing through the formula. What am I noticing? What am I feeling? What am I needing? What am I requesting? And then getting very precise in their language to get that stuff more online. And then in the listening part, it's asking, are you feeling this? Are you needing this? Are you wanting this? Are you noticing this? It's really like weightlifting in those four questions over and over again, to strengthen the neural networks so that we can have access to that way of perceiving and speaking more quickly, because what we quickly have access to because it's so over-practiced is what I think about you, what I think is wrong with you, what I think should be happening, what I think must be happening, how you should be different, how I should be different, what your fault is, what my fault is, that comes very naturally.
Yvette Erasmus:
And so we're trying to make a different default network, right? So to get there, what you'll find in traditional practice is people speak classical NVC in order to, that's like going to the gym and lifting the weights. I use the consciousness of non-violent communication in all of my work, but I personally have a preference. I mean, and you've heard it even today, in using it lightly and using it for the spirit that it was intended to serve and much more about the spirit of things than the letter of things. Sometimes when you're learning a new language, you actually want to find a teacher who's going to tell you the exact grammar and what order the words should go in and what the correct way to speak classical Arabic for example is, and you learn the quote, unquote right way.
Yvette Erasmus:
And once you've got that down, then you're allowed to go and ad lib and speak street slang. And that's not my preference. So when you are working with me, I usually tell people if you like that, if you want that kind of classical training, go and work with a certified non-violent communication trainer who really enjoys walking people through that stage of learning. But if you've already learned a lot of non-violent communication and you're struggling to apply it and naturalize it, that's where I can help you a lot more. I am much better at helping people get into the spirit of it and make the relationships work with a much broader... I have a much wider range of what I consider to be nonviolent language than the pure communication model. And that's really where I'm working from a lot of the time. How does that land on you hearing it like that?
Matthew Tift:
That lands well. When you ask me questions, I'm very aware of how well you are at doing this to anyone.
Yvette Erasmus:
It's so internalized. I don't even realize I'm doing it, but...
Matthew Tift:
It's a way of respecting the other person and finding out more and digging in. And I think about a lot of this in terms of how I approach meditation, which we might use slightly different language. A lot of it, this seems like it comes down to the same sort of goals, same sort of ideals in terms of wanting to connect with other people, but also to go within, to try and figure out our own biases, how we might be affecting others in a negative way, whether we call that violent communication, either way, nobody really gets a lot out of saying, you should do this, you should do that in any context, there is one aspect of this though, like the needs aspect seems to go almost against what people would do in a meditation context where they're letting go of their needs. Just in a meditation group yesterday, we were doing a little phrase where we said, the moment is perfect, whole, and complete. There's nothing that should be needed. There's nothing wrong with this perfect individual moment. Could you talk a little bit about the needs aspect of NVC?
Yvette Erasmus:
Well, I would say in what you're describing, the way I hear that is, yeah, what a beautiful practice. It really meets people's needs for acceptance of things as they are and presence and compassionate witnessing, and a sense of safety and security in the world as it is. And I imagine that a practice like that is satisfying and relieving of stress and maybe helps our nervous system down-shift, meeting needs for homeostasis in the body. So the way that we think about needs or the way that I work with the needs is that every single thing that we are doing is an attempt to meet a present moment need. And it's really just an awareness of what needs am I meeting, or trying to meet by the thing that's happening in the now. Now again, in the early stages of non-violent communication practice, people get obnoxious and we love them anyway, all of us get obnoxious to a certain degree, but what happens is they discover the language of the needs.
Yvette Erasmus:
And all of a sudden you have these people who've learned, they're now so empowered to know what they need, and they obnoxiously go to everybody in their lives. And they're like, but I need empathy, but I need support. I have a need for, I have a need for, and they've suddenly, they're reclaiming their needs, but they're still using other people as an object to meet their needs. And there's still a lot of this, like therefore, now that I know that I need it, I'm entitled to having my need met. And so there's another layer of suffering that's going to get kicked up as we work our way through that. But ideally, where we're trying to get to is very in alignment with what I think you're describing, the sense that all is well as is.
Yvette Erasmus:
And in any given moment, there will be some of your needs that are being met, and there will always be some needs that are not being met. And the goal is not to be attached to then being met or unmet. The goal is to be living in alignment with the wisdom that is moving through your system in the same way that when I'm feeling hungry, I'm aware of the fact that I have a need for fuel, and for my own well-being, the sooner I tune into my need for fuel, the more aligned my strategies are going to be with what my body is actually needing. But do I have to have food the moment that I know that I have a need for some fuel in my system? No. And can I wait a long time? Yes. And are there many different ways that I might meet that need? Yes.
Yvette Erasmus:
So all of our needs are that way. The problem happens when someone's like, I have a need for affection, can you hug me right now? And then if you don't want to, that creates conflict in the relationship. Okay. So now we need to do the next level of work around that. You can have a need for affection, that need can remain unmet and your well-being can actually still be intact. So it's really about giving people sort of wider windows of tolerance, and much more settledness in an understanding of what's happening inside of me and much less dependence on very particular conditions being in place for you to have a sense of well-being.
Matthew Tift:
If somebody is feeling unhappy, or somebody is feeling like they want to improve their well-being, why do you think they might choose NVC versus say yoga, therapy or mindfulness-based stress reduction, meditation?
Yvette Erasmus:
Oh, I have so many answers to that question. Here's where I want to go. What are the benefits of NVC? I can definitely tell you, but why would one person choose one thing over another has to do with different tools, meet people in different places in their journey, and different temperaments are simply going to have preferences for different ways of being and learning. Like, if you just think about the wide variety of human beings out there, some people really love math and science. Some people really love poetry. Some people, like in the same way, I think, think that there's a very wide range of healing modalities out there. And each person is going to pick and choose the ones that are most aligned with their temperament, with their way of being, with their preferred way of learning. And so at, in that sense, I wouldn't say that there's really any benefit over one or another.
Yvette Erasmus:
It depends on what suffering you're trying to address, and whether that tool is working for you. So that's the main thing. The second thing is, I do think that nonviolent communication or any kind of communication models or things like talk therapy, those kinds of tools are well-suited for people who have a lot of verbal intelligence. People who like words, people who like talking. And I don't mean like necessarily extroversion and introversion because I actually lean very, very introverted, but I love words. I love language. I was an English teacher for a long time, right? I just have a way of interacting with the world through words and language. It's one of my loves, so communication models work really well for me. My daughter is not a word person in the same way, she's a body person. She loves yoga.
Yvette Erasmus:
She loves going out and walking. She has other ways of regulating and being in communion with herself. And they're not necessarily as verbal as mine. So in that sense, I would say, if you're verbally oriented and you're doing work, that involves a lot of speaking and listening, this kind of communication model can absolutely shift your consciousness, help you with a massive paradigm shift, alleviate a lot of suffering in your life, help you connect well with other people, help you feel the world in a way that you're not feeling so unsafe all the time. Your sense of safety becomes much more about your self-trust that you can handle what is coming up in other people.
Yvette Erasmus:
So it's very empowering model, and it also activates quite a lot of personal growth and capacity-building when you start playing with it with a lot of depth, but it's not everybody's preference. Not everybody wants to learn and grow in that way. And so I wouldn't say that it's necessarily for everybody. I of course think the spiritual aspect or the energetic, what's the word I want to use? The consciousness aspect of the model, I think are absolutely universal, but the language part of it is going to be a stronger preference for some people over other people. What do you think about that?
Matthew Tift:
Well, I think there seems to be a lot of focus on the language aspect without talking as much about some of the other aspects. A lot of people listening might be using a software called Drupal and there's a community around that. And then the community at one point, went through some challenges with people, the Drupal Association held some listening sessions, and they said that if you want to participate, you have to use the key principles of nonviolent communication. There's very much a practical aspect of it as well.
Yvette Erasmus:
Yeah. I love that about it as well. It's very much about including all voices, about all people mattering, about honestly expressing what's going on inside of you, having the language to be both honest and kind, direct and gentle. So really bringing together truth-telling, with care for the impact that may have, and then listening generously and graciously to how other people, it's listening for what people mean instead of necessarily how they say it. So it's about having a lot more graciousness around the delivery and really tuning into what they're trying to say, instead of getting reactive to how they're saying it.
Matthew Tift:
I like that. Responding rather than reacting.
Yvette Erasmus:
I love it. I love it.
Matthew Tift:
One of my colleagues knew that I was going to be talking with you. She said, I wish others in my life adopted NVC without a huge educational load on my part. Any advice for introducing the concepts to loved ones or coworkers?
Yvette Erasmus:
First of all, I have a lot of empathy with this. I wish also that the rest of the world would just learn it so that I can stop teaching it all the time. And I wish all the people in my life would learn it. So let's go another layer. I ask myself, okay, what do I mean by that? If everybody else was speaking NVC, this is a strategy. What needs of mine would get met? I'm longing for more ease, I'm longing for more harmony, I'm longing for more shared responsibility. Maybe I'm longing for communication and relationships where there's an infusion of empathy, emotional nourishment, deep listening, experiences of being seen and known and heard and really understanding one another. I want to get at this longing that I have, which I'm sort of playfully saying, I wish everybody else could do this.
Yvette Erasmus:
And this person is saying this too. First I'm going to get really grounded in the deep longing that I have. And then I'm just going to ask myself, what do I feel inspired to do about my own longings? And if I'm finding in myself that I'm beginning to find the education piece burdensome, then I can stop doing that. I can give myself permission to not do any more of the education piece, and then ask myself, well, then what choices do I have? And this is like the worst onset ever, but I'm still going to say it. And I know that this isn't usually what people want to hear, but essentially non-violent communication is about learning how to love the world as it is with no demand that anybody else be any different. And the work is all internal. It is all about how I am having compassion for myself, how lonely I'm feeling, how much I'm longing for deeper connections.
Yvette Erasmus:
And then looking at the conditions that I have, and finding ways of meeting those needs. When I don't want to educate anybody else, that's okay, they don't have to learn it, but how am I going to get my needs met anyway? And how do I take responsibility for it? So that's one tack that I would say is like, there's just this reorientation to when you start loving people as they are, they will come your way more often than not. Some people won't, and then you just grieve that, you grieve that they're in a different place and you honor their journey and you bless them where they're at and you make yourself safe and approachable and easy to relate with, but you let them choose. It's like taming feral cats. You can put the food out on the back porch and you put the water out and then you've got to back off a little bit and see if they come.
Yvette Erasmus:
And if they come, you can start developing a relationship and then there's a back and forth. But if you go chasing after the cat, you're going to be so exhausted. And that's a little bit how it is, with trying to bring NVC. So what I'll often say is, it's much more about living into it and inspiring people to ask you. So don't bring it unless you've been invited. Don't bring it in the explicit way, unless someone is asking, that's not satisfying to a lot of people. So then I often get the next question, but what if I want to introduce them to it, or what if I want to... And then, there's all kinds of ways we can bring it. We can say, like I will sometimes say to people, if it's in a dialogue and somebody is giving me a lot of advice, instead of saying, well, I wish you could just empathize more.
Yvette Erasmus:
Instead of criticizing them, in that moment, you can say, oh, it seems like you're really wanting to contribute to my well-being. And I really appreciate the advice, the attempt at meeting me. I'm realizing that the thing I'm actually longing for is a deeper connection with my feelings. Can you help me come up with some words that might capture what I'm actually feeling, because I'm feeling disconnected from it. That way you're just gently asking someone to help you with the thing you're longing for more of, without educating them at all, without telling them that they're doing it wrong, without teaching them anything. But you're getting really grounded and going to bat for the thing you're really longing for in that moment. And you're asking for what you want. And you're asking for what you want in a way that lets them say yes or no, and you're going to be fine, but gives them an inkling of picture and idea of what it might feel like to contribute to you in a different way.
Yvette Erasmus:
So on the ground. And this is one of the things we do on Wednesday mornings all the time is people will call in with exactly stuff like this. How do I talk to so and so about blah, blah, blah. And then we'll do some role playing. And then we'll come up with some scripts, and then we'll tweak the scripts because not every script is going to work for every person and some people really don't want to be patronized. So you've got to move the script a little bit, into much more questions. And some people, you'd want to adapt it for who you're speaking to, but how's that as the starting answer, I wish your colleague was here because then I would ask her, what's the next question that comes up having heard that? Because usually there's more underneath it, there's something more specific, but maybe she'll come to Wednesday morning call and we can have a conversation live.
Matthew Tift:
Perhaps.
Yvette Erasmus:
Yeah.
Matthew Tift:
I feel happy when I hear you giving people choicefulness in your Wednesday morning groups to allow, if some people want to talk and be there for those follow-up questions, they can do that. If they want to just show up and say, I don't want to listen. I just want to ask my question or I don't want to have to talk anymore. That there's all kinds of space for that, you provide that every week, people can learn a lot more from you.
Yvette Erasmus:
Yeah. Thank you. I do want people to feel safe and sort of full permission to show up in whatever way they enjoy the most. There are never any "have-tos" on these calls. So I just feel really known when I hear you say that, I'm like, oh good, my intentions are landing accurately. That feels good.
Matthew Tift:
Well, I appreciate the work that you do.
Yvette Erasmus:
Thank you.
Matthew Tift:
I just wanted to ask you one more question. What is one practice or technology that you would recommend to someone if you had to choose one that would help contribute to their well-being?
Yvette Erasmus:
Oh, well it would obviously be non-violent communication. Yeah, for sure. It's the thing that underpins all of my work. And if the communication model is too, if that's too big, here's the slice that I would say the practice, the one small practice would be asking for what you want, with no attachment to getting it, getting very, very clear on what would help in this moment right now and giving yourself permission to ask for the things you want and be okay with nos, let people say no to you, but don't let the anticipated no, keep you out of touch with what you're really wanting, really honor that and harvest the wisdom of that and the energy of that. So I'd start there and then you can mushroom from that practice.
Matthew Tift:
Wonderful answer. I connected with that on many levels. So thank you very much for that. And if listeners want to find out more about you, it seems like they can do a lot, pretty much everything through your website at yvetteerasmus.com, right?
Yvette Erasmus:
Yes, they can. And they can find me on YouTube, which is also a very easy way to get to know the work.
Matthew Tift:
Anyone listening can go to your website, find out about your Wednesday group, sign up and-
Yvette Erasmus:
Yes-
Matthew Tift:
Ask their own questions.
Yvette Erasmus:
Welcome you with open arms. Yeah. It's a great community. I mean that Wednesday morning group has people from calling in from all over the world. It's a lovely, lovely community of very openhearted kind people. So, yeah. Everyone's welcome.
Matthew Tift:
So Yvette, is there anything else that we haven't discussed today that you would like to mention?
Yvette Erasmus:
No. I mean, my mind goes into 12 new things, and nothing all at the same time, the conversation never feels like it's over, but it feels like a good place to pause.
Matthew Tift:
Indeed. So thanks again so much for taking the time. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your ideas about NVC and connecting with other people and being a good human being. So thank you so much Yvette.
Yvette Erasmus:
Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Matthew Tift:
Thank you so much for listening and for spreading the word about Hacking Culture to your friends, family, and coworkers. If you are interested in topics such as yoga, meditation, and well-being, please subscribe to my newsletter at matthewtift.com/newsletter. Hacking Culture is produced at Lullabot. The theme music is from the Open Goldberg Variations. Thank you for listening.
 
 

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