Nonviolent communication

by Anna Finlayson and Daren DeWitt

What is Nonviolent communicationSM?

NVC is a powerful tool for peace and partnership, urgently needed for a less violent, more caring world.

Raine Eisler, The Power of Partnership

Nonviolent Communication is a tool to help us communicate and connect with others, as well as connecting more deeply with ourselves. NVC is simple to grasp and can be applied immediately and effectively. It is particularly helpful in three situations:

  • When we are in conflict with another person, NVC can help us resolve conflicts peacefully and effectively
  • When someone is upset or in emotional turmoil, NVC is a powerful tool to support listening, understanding and empathising with them
  • When we are confused, unsure, overwhelmed or angry, NVC can help us clarify and connect with what is going on inside ourselves, and then work out what to do about this.

NVC and conflict

I believe the techniques of NVC can literally change the world.

Jack Canfield, Chicken Soup for the Soul series

Unresolved conflict is extremely costly on all levels – personal, societal and global. Conflict itself is inevitable and healthy – it is part of being human. It is how we deal with conflict that leads to fear, alienation and enormous suffering.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a practical means of reliably making the shift from a disconnected way of dealing with conflict, one that makes matters worse, to a way of maintaining empathic, compassionate connection, whatever the circumstances. When focusing attention in the way NVC recommends, there is a quality of presence that brings about unexpected beauty, depth, understanding and healing – even the most entrenched conflicts resolve.

It is a universal tool that has been found to be effective in all types of conflict situations – from minor conflicts between friends and work colleagues to major conflicts between warring tribes. It is also effective as an empathy tool, to support listening and understanding.

Cooperation versus control

We say that NVC supports a partnership cultural style of relating to others rather than a domination cultural style. This approach to communication emphasises and facilitates willing cooperation as the motivation for action, rather than fear of punishment, desire for reward, guilt, shame, blame, coercion or threats. In other words, it is about getting what you want for reasons you will not regret later. The techniques of NVC support you to make conscious choices about how you will respond, whether you get what you want or not. It is definitely not about tricking people into giving you what you want.

NVC – intention and ingredients

There are two dimensions to NVC:

  1. An intention – to connect empathically with oneself and others
  2. A simple process that encourages us to focus on four key ingredients of our experience and communication.

Four key ingredients

In nonviolent communication, we communicate clearly about four areas of our experience. These four key ingredients of NVC are only truly effective in our communication when we stay within the intention of NVC:

  1. Observation – free of evaluations and judgments
  2. Feelings – straight from the heart
  3. Needs – values and longings that are causing our feelings
  4. Requsts – expressed clearly in positive action language.

In the pages below we will explore each of these ingredients in more detail and give examples of how to use them in everyday situations.

The three modes

NVC can be used in three ways:

  1. To connect with ourselves (self-empathy)
  2. To express ourselves
  3. To connect with others (empathy).

Read more about these three modes here.

The origins of NVC

Every judgment and criticism is the tragic expression of unmet need.

Marshall Rosenberg

NVC was originated by Marshall Rosenberg, a psychologist who found himself mediating between angry groups during the period of desegregation between blacks and whites in the USA in the 1960s. Over the succeeding decades, his unique approach to conflict and communication evolved. In the 1980s he founded the Centre for Nonviolent Communication (www.cnvc.org), which now has trainers active in more than 65 countries around the world. See Want to know more?.

Marshall Rosenberg suggests that there is nothing new in what he is sharing – it has all been said by other people in different ways and at different times. If this is true, he has at least put this message together in a unique way that has a real contribution to make to our world in these troubled times of societal, international and environmental conflict!