Living in the Success Zone

By Holly Michelle Eckert

For many NVC newcomers, noticing and expressing your own needs can be revolutionary. And while this brings a new level of exciting engagement with life, it can also bring an awareness of an overwhelming number of unmet needs! I feel my child tugging on my skirt, and I notice my need for autonomy. I hear the phone ring, and I long for peace. I see your dirty dishes in the living room, and I need greater order and beauty.

As the list grows over the course of the day, I may become confused about when to express these unmet needs. If I were to express every one, there would be no time for anything else!

The “Success Zone” is an easy-to-use tool that can help us decide when to seek interpersonal resolution.

To use the tool, think of a situation in which you are unclear about whether or not to share your honesty. Then rate your desired level of connection with the other person involved on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no connection at all, and 10 being the closest connection.

Next, rate your willingness to reveal deeper levels of truth — your willingness to express vulnerability–on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no willingness and 10 being complete willingness to reveal everything.

If the two scores are 0, 1 or 2 numbers apart, you can easily find yourself in the Success Zone. The depth of your honesty is aligned with the connection that you wish to create.

The Repressed Zone

If your desired level of connection is more than two numbers higher than your expressed vulnerability, you will find yourself in the Repressed Zone. When you’re in the Repressed Zone, you feel lonely and unfulfilled because of a lack of closeness. You may long for this closeness but not know how to achieve it.

To move from the Repressed Zone to the Success Zone, start risking more honesty. Reveal your vulnerability. Tell the story under the story. Disclose your feelings, needs and requests. And, of course, open your ears and heart toward listening so that the other person may become more honest as well. This exchange of honesty will engender the closeness that you are seeking.

The Divulging Zone

On the opposite extreme of the Repressed Zone is the Divulging Zone. You are in the Divulging Zone when your willingness to be honest exceeds your desired level of connection by more than two points on the scale. When you’re in the Divulging Zone, you are revealing a deeper level of vulnerability than the relationship can handle. You feel drained and exhausted, getting little return for all your efforts.

However, if you don’t actually want a close connection with this person, your self-expression is better directed elsewhere — toward yourself. The key to moving from the Divulging Zone to the Success Zone is resolving conflicts internally. By connecting with your judgments, feelings and needs in a journal or simply in your own thoughts, you relieve the pressure of the unmet needs. This practice of self-empathy gives you more interpersonal energy to invest in the relationships that really matter to you.

So rather than spending your day confused about when to express your honesty, you can use the “Success Zone” to invest the perfect amount of energy at each opportunity. Thus you will use your growing skills to create fulfilling connections at all levels.

Holly Michelle Eckert is the author of Graduating From Guilt, as well as a certified trainer with the global Center for Nonviolent Communication and the NVC Academy. Since 2001, she has worked with thousands of participants in her Radiant Relationships seminar series, led women’s retreats, facilitated organizational mediations and provided communication coaching for families and individuals. In 2008, Holly founded the Nonviolent Communication Training Center of North Seattle.