Reflecting on the Words “I feel…”
In tonight’s NVC Community of Practice we were discussing the distinction between an observation and an evaluation. We bounced around a bit but then got into some deep discussion around the common cultural practice of starting a sentence with “I feel…” then of course following it up with something that is definitely not an emotion and very often is an evaluation of another person. The statements that are started with the words I feel run the gamment. “I feel like you are always angry.” “I feel attacked.” “I feel as if you’re the only one who ever gets to decide.” “I feel fat.” “I feel it’s best if we don’t watch tv.” All these “I feel…” sentences and absolutely no emotions. There is nothing in there that represents the speaker’s internal state. Thoughts, evaluations, inferences about others, and opinions but no feelings.
Our dialogue ventured into the why of this phenomenon. We jumped back and forth with a few participants remarking that they had specifically been taught at work to use “I” statements. Others reflected that this seemed to be a relatively new way of speaking and noticed it most in the last seven years or so. But why, why has our society so quickly adapted to using this way of speaking? Many remarked it was like hedging your bets, not stating your true feeling as if using that language of “I feel…” was less confrontational or makes your statement somehow less able to be argued with. You can almost hear a colleague saying, “I know you don’t think that but I just feel like you’re a jerk when that happens. That’s just how I feel about it.”
Driving home I found myself reflecting on this. “I” statements are something that are being taught in classes, college level classes, communication workshops, psychology classes and yet they simply miss the fundamentals that nonviolent communication (NVC) offers. Speaking from your I and owning your opinion is absolutely crucial but if you aren’t able to connect with your feeling (true feelings as in emotions) and needs you are likely to miss the connection moment and continue to struggle. In the meeting I had joked, they should have brought in NVC with my friend who said she was taught “I” statements at work. The more I thought about it the more I realized “I” statements are a start but without the nonviolent communication method of separating evaluation from observation and feelings from thoughts the “I” messages just don’t go far enough. Deeper still even when our language is peaceful and we own our message with a clear I if our words don’t match our internal intention we still won’t achieve authenticity. Sometimes words that aren’t inherently judgments are used as such.
The journey towards more compassionate communication is a long reflective one, more than a year and a half into our community of practice I still draw new insights each evening. Thanks to all who join in the reflection and I look forward to continuing to deepen our practice.
I feel everyone should go to NVC because it’s the best thing ever. After fun nonviolent communications community of practice meetings, I feel energized, because my need for learning and reflection is met. I hope you will continue to practice with us and others will continue to share themselves.