Don’t Be Nice, Be Real (review)

I just finished Kelly Bryson’s Don’t Be Nice, Be Real, (B&N) which is by a fellow who studied with Marshall “Nonviolent Communication” Rosenberg. He’s a family therapist and has spent some time teaching NVC in other countries, and is involved with alternative communities in San Diego.

I definitely got some valuable stuff out of reading this. He teaches NVC, but he’s a pretty different person than Marshall Rosenberg, so you get his own take on it, which is helpful. His emphasis is much more on NVC in love relationships than Rosenberg’s book is. He likes to play around with cute wordplay a lot more than Rosenberg. He does even more sharing of personal stories than Rosenberg, I think, and they’re often very powerful & touching.

It was really interesting to hear story after story of somebody trying to use NVC in a variety of life situations, and it was especially useful to read Bryson’s emphasis on how to do NVC badly. Doing it out of a feeling of moral obligation, for example, or doing it with a specific agenda for what you want to get out of the other person’s behavior. Bryson talks a lot about NVC as a form of enlightened selfishness, and while I’m not entirely happy with that verbal formula, with all its Libertarian-capitalist associations, it was a good counter-perspective to viewing NVC as some kind of saintly path.

The difficulties for me were when he gets off on a rant. He spends a lot of time criticizing segments of culture in very general and entirely negative terms — he goes off on institutional religion, on Western “Dominator” society as a whole, on psychotherapy and psychiatry, and it seemed so know-it-all and judgmental (and hard to credit, because he repeats a lot of really dubious factoids, like the “rule of thumb” story) that it got hard for me to take.

But then he would drop in a story from his own life, and I was back right there with him. And the last chapter, which was about hope for creating change in culture, really was inspiring. So it was worth slogging through the rants.

Overall I’m glad I read it; I liked it; I’m not sure I would have liked it so much if I hadn’t read Rosneberg’s book first to put it in perspective.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Be Nice, Be Real (review)”

  1. A variety of things from support groups to “intentional communities” (commune type dealies). He’s had a lot of contact with the German Zegg community and discusses them a lot.

  2. I haven’t read it, but it sounds like reading Bryson’s book is pretty much like talking with a friend — alternately giraffe- and jackal-speech, huh? In another communications framework, it sounds as though he’s purposefuly bringing “coyote” (Trickster) energy to the discussion with his ideas about “enlightened selfishness.”

    But as I said, I haven’t read it. I’ll have to see if I can get a copy of this one, maybe from my trainer, who I think has taken some training with Bryson.

    Thanks for the review.

  3. Someone sent me the review of my book someone here wrote on this blog. I really liked it! Even the “negative” stuff. The honesty felt refreshing, definately “not nice”. Thanks for taking the interest and time to do it. Greatfully,
    Kelly Bryson

  4. Kelly, I’m glad you liked the review. I’m grateful for the book and hope more people will read it from reading my review of it!

  5. I have reread Don’t Be Nice Be Real (DBNBR) 3 times and given it to friends. It is both exasperating for the reasons you give and deeply insightful. When I give the book to friends I tell them to let go of what they might think of Bryson’s persona. For me one of the key messages of DBNBR is to be genuine in every situation: short cuts for the sake of comfort take you on the wrong path and you, and those around you, will ultimately suffer. Bryson has led a painful life, especially in his childhood. His struggles show. He’s a like an enthusiastic geologist who looks at the sheared cliff next to the road. A little wildly he notes how the forces of nature curve and twist rock into a crazy pattern you might not even notice. I don’t know the guy. I saw DBNBR on a table at an NVC practice session and the title struck me as the key to a former partner’s “problems.” I began to read the book and my focus almost immediately turned where it truly belonged — inward. It’s one of oddest books I have ever read — and I treasure it.

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