Taking the War Out of Our Words

written by Terri Harmon, July 2004

Sharon Ellison has written a book called “Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication”, a book which has inspired me so much I include her work in the classes I teach, and I am organizing a workshop locally for her in September. Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC) is similar to the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model in encouraging us to take responsibility for our own experience, and to bring awareness to how our choice of language can either create connection or create and escalate defensiveness. For those of you who are also NVC fans, I find PNDC enhances my ability to create connection with myself and others.

Sharon lists six types of defensive reactions that prevent Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC): Surrender-Betray, Surrender-Sabotage, Withdrawal-Escape, Withdrawal-Entrap, Counterattack-Justify, and Counterattack-Blame. She also spells out ways in which we frequently misuse questions, statements, and predictions (consequences) in ways that create defensiveness and interfere with connection and getting our needs met. I found in reading about the defensive patterns and reactions that I was more clearly able to identify defensive patterns in myself and others (I tend towards the withdrawal escape patterns). I use this awareness to bring me back to asking about the underlying feelings, needs, and requests.

While the NVC model focuses on observations, feelings, needs, and requests, the PNDC model focuses on the use of questions, statements, and predictions. Questions are used to gather information in a curious and neutral manner. How often have you experienced people using questions to express their own opinion and entrap others? (Ex. “Why do you insist on doing it that way?”) Statements are open, direct, and subjective – this is where we express our observations, conclusions, and reactions. A defensive use of statements, one of my particular pet peeves, is stating opinion as fact or trying to convince others to agree. (Ex. “They are evil-doers, and it is our moral imperative to set them straight.”) Predicting consequences and setting protective limits and boundaries are an important component of PNDC. (Ex. “If you continue to smoke, I will leave in order to take care of my well-being.) PNDC distinguishes between using a consequence non-defensively, and aggressive uses of prediction to coax, punish, or falsely threaten others.

If you are interested in finding out more about Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, you have several options. Sharon Ellison has a website, www.pndc.com, with articles, summary sheets, examples, workshop dates (including phone conferencing) and more. She has her biography and partial client list posted there, and you may find you are connected to organizations she has already worked with. “Taking the War Out of Our Words” is available through the website, and you may call me at 432-8302 as I keep several copies on hand.

I would enjoy hearing from individuals who are interested in attending, so I can get a feel for whether we will have 10 or 100. If you are interested in supporting the organization of this September series, I would love to hear from you. And if you are interested in networking or collaborating on how to bring PNDC, NVC, mediation and similar tools into our schools and parenting groups, I would love to hear from you. I have a local Creating Connection email newsletter I send out periodically listing NVC related classes and practice groups, including my own classes on Living Compassion. You are welcome to join this free email newsletter, and to post your related events. I frequently get asked for information and support on using these tools with parenting, in the schools, and in the community. If you would like to be a reference or a collaborator, give me a call. I would enjoy connecting and seeing how together we can help meet the needs for more peaceful community.

Terri Harmon, MATP, MHROD, moved to Penn Valley 4 years ago from the bay area, where she worked in the corporate world for 18 years in computer programming, systems analysis, and project management. She is delighted to be living in Nevada County and sharing her passion for communication and relationships that work for all.