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I usually try to live by and follow non-violent communication (NVC) principles in my interactions with others. I don't always express myself following a "Observation / Feeling / Need / Request" pattern, but I do follow a few values of NVC: absence of judgement and power relations, trying to fulfill equally my and my interlocutor's need, etc.

There are times though where the need is to have a conversation about an abstract subject e.g. politics, and there is a need for exchanging opinions.

I end up throwing away NVC as being a bit useless there because the nature of the communication isn't ending in a request, but rather in exchanging subjective point of views about somewhat common observations.

This can all happen very well. But this can result in exchange being a bit more violent to each other's beliefs than if we spoke about a concrete subject. It's not always only on my behalf, but also on my interlocutor. I hear or say things like:

We should do X ... No, this isn't true because ... This opinion on this is flawed because ...

Because I can be hurt by this kind of discourse, and because I feel bad about hurting people also, I developed a very avoidant behavior toward these situations. I usually pretend not having an opinion to the point I'm close to convince myself I don't. I don't like being disagreed with, maybe more than most people, but I also certainly don't enjoy being told or implied "I'm wrong" to think the way I do. In the long run, I avoid more and more situations and more and more people.

Are there communication techniques to tone down verbal aggressiveness in exchanging point of views?

Hopefully this would help me applying and encouraging use of a way to communicate that's mutually respectful.


In particular, I'm thinking of techniques dealing with opinions that are asserted as true and/or can be viewed as offensive.

For example, my opinion is that God doesn't exist. I am free to express that, but some people would be offended if I asserted that as true to them.

How as a believer you would express respectful disagreement, and possibly express being hurt by my assertiveness also?

  • I am not sure this one is answerable. You say "abstract subject", but I would rather say the topic of politics is one where there is an assumption of "objective truth". E.g: there exists, objectively, one optimal way to make policy or law. It is the same for other topics, religion, some times even science (although science shouldn't care about objective truth, IMO...) The problem is that NVC tries very hard to remove all referances to objective truths from itself. Everything is subjective. I feel, I need, I think... I don't think it is possible to express politics in such a language. – Stian Yttervik Feb 28 at 13:27
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    @StianYttervik It may be part of the answer but isn't there a way to express things you saw and you think in a way that's respectful for contrary experience or belief ? "I saw I think" because this whole objective truth thing make me uncomfortable. If you believe the answer is "No, there isn't such techniques" and argument why I could also take it for the answer for this. – Arthur Hv Feb 28 at 13:48
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    I will consider it some more, a frame challenge answer requires some more research and attention - and perhaps someone of a different mind than I will also chime in with a proper answer in the meantime. I'd like to see if someone does have some techniques as you request, it would certainly be valuable to know. – Stian Yttervik Feb 28 at 13:56
  • @StianYttervik I'd say politics is definitely an abstract subject, because most political choices aren't going to impact your daily life. People tend to be focused on the ones that will impact their lives and the ones they're afraid will impact their lives. Also, while it's possible there may only be one objectively optimal way to make policy and law choices, it's clear that most people involved in politics don't even care about a good way to make policy, let alone the most optimal. They care about the one that gets them what they think they want. – Ed Grimm Feb 29 at 17:54
  • Thinking about this more, I'm not understanding why the NVC process doesn't work. Isn't the result of the discussions you're talking about supposed to be a request for the whole of whatever body is to be subject to it? – Ed Grimm Feb 29 at 18:15
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Yes, there are communication techniques to tone down verbal aggression in exchanging points of view. These techniques are of necessity mutually respectful because respect is the only thing that humans consistently respond to positively. However, in my experience, even these techniques do not work one hundred percent of the time. The reason: Humans are not robots.

Humans want what they want when they want it because they want it. This being the case, I personally find it helpful to evaluate the situation before engaging. I ask myself questions along these lines:

  • Is this conversation on an intellectual level I enjoy?
  • Can I learn something from this conversation, or contribute something to it, i.e. will it be productive for my life?
  • Will this conversation end peacefully with all parties feeling heard and respected?

If the answer to these question is Yes, I will engage. However, for the answer to be Yes, the people involved will be the kind who respond to respectful communication techniques meant to tone down aggression.

Toning Down the Aggression

I'm looking at The Basics of Nonviolent Communication TM and Common Logical Fallacies (pdf). I think NVC is going to accomplish your goal if you combine this with the tools provided in Logical Fallacies.

Identifying and avoiding being drawn into logical fallacies in emotional debates is a huge step in avoiding the kind of situation you described. For example, there is no such thing as a "flawed opinion."

Opinions are subjective. We all have a right to our own opinion. This does not mean that anyone else will agree with this opinion. People who disagree don't have a right to call it "flawed," however. Logic can be flawed but not opinions. Logic is objective, about principles, how facts work together to make the world go round. Flawed logic is faulty logic that doesn't work; the gears are jammed. There is no such problem with opinions because they are just ideas inside people's heads.

Knowing this difference can enable you to find the correct response to lower aggression. If you are with the kind of people I would choose to be with, NVC will work. Using NVC, inform the person of their logical fallacy.

Applying NVC in Decreasing Aggression

The first step in decreasing aggression in the conversation is to decrease aggression in oneself. From "The Basics of Nonviolent Communication":

NVC uses consciousness, language, and communication skills to create a framework from which you can:

  • express your feelings and needs with clarity and self-responsibility;
  • listen to others’ feelings and needs with compassion and empathy;
  • facilitate mutually beneficial outcomes for all parties involved.

To be mutually beneficial for all parties involved, it can help to remind oneself that the other person has a valid reason for their opinion, even if that opinion is based on faulty logic and incomplete information. Without judging the person harshly for their "wrong-headed ideas," one can compassionately fill them in on what they are missing, all the time keeping in mind that one is merely human and may also be missing an important point. Before doing that, it may help to find out on what their opinion is based.

Here are compassionate things people have said to me in an attempt to get at faulty underlying thinking:

  • Can you explain why you think/say that?
  • I can see why you would say [premise] but I'm not sure why you conclude [whatever I thought would inevitably follow].
  • Let me see if I correctly understand. [Repeat what they think I'm saying. I confirm, or correct if they have it wrong.] I can see where you're coming from but [correct my thinking, which may require a lengthy conversation to fill me in on information I was unaware of, along with reading recommendations].

That opens conversation on the topic of disagreement in an agreeable manner. It may turn out that the person with the "faulty logic" or "wrong opinion" was not completely wrong at all, but had insight/concerns on an angle not previously considered. This NVC approach allows you to change your position without taking accusations of "being wrong." Together, the group of conversationalists can discuss the issues peacefully.

As stated in the opening of this answer, we are human and do not respond one hundred percent as desired at all times. Possibly some members of the conversation group will need a lot more time to think things through before they can accept some of the new propositions brought to light. They may have to "sleep on it" more than one night. It may even happen that someone decides to change sides. People have the right to do that, difficult as it may be on friendships and family ties. In the principles of NVC, we realize that for them it may be a matter of personal integrity. But so is it for us; we disagree on too a deep level to compromise.

At that point, it must be decided whether or not friendship can continue on another basis despite this disagreement. However, because of NVC, we do not also have to deal with feelings of anger, shame, and hatred. This makes it much easier to find a basis for continuing friendship in other interests and areas of life.

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  • In order to improve the answer I think I need to improve the question first. I'm "well versed" but I'm also human and don't always wear my giraffe suit. Back in the time asking the question I think my problem is expressing I have negative feelings toward an opinion (up to really feel offended by it) that is not always easy to explain. I think you are right to point out NVC is actually what I'm looking for here, as a mean of express myself, but also to listen to others. – Arthur Hv Mar 3 at 3:47
  • I think you missed the point about "flawed opinions". What if someone has opinion that can be proved to be objectively incorrect? – Piro says Reinstate Monica Mar 3 at 8:47
  • Thanks to both comments, I was able to add a significant piece to my answer so that now it feels "finished." – Sarah Bowman Mar 3 at 9:47

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