An Introduction to Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a compassionate, honest way of communicating that aims to foster genuine connection and understanding.  It provides a simple four-step process that helps us to express our feelings honestly and communicate our needs clearly, whilst still maintaining a connection with the other person.

It would be impossible to talk about everything that NVC is in just one blog post. This is merely an introduction!  If you imagine NVC as a body with all the different parts - bones, organs, muscles, fascia, etc - this blog is presenting the skeleton that holds it together, the bare bones!

Developed by Marshall Rosenberg over a period of 30 years,  it uses the term “nonviolence” as Gandhi described it, meaning our natural, innate human state of compassion.  We may not think of the way we talk as being “violent”, but our words have the potential to cause hurt and pain.  NVC offers the opportunity to recognise destructive patterns of communication that we might not be aware of and understand how our words can connect with or distance us from others.

NVC is based on two assumptions.  Firstly, we are all born as compassionate human beings who share the same basic needs.  Secondly, shame, blame, and judgement are learned behaviours which we use when our needs are not being met.

A Framework For Honest, Authentic Communication

NVC provides a framework to help people to express themselves clearly and intentionally and also to hear others with empathy and respect.  For many, this is a new style of communicating and it can be very transformative in their relationships.

The Four Basic Components of NVC

When we practice NVC we focus our attention on the following four areas:

1.  Observations

These are specific and neutral statements about what you see or hear someone doing that is not meeting your needs.  This is done without labelling or evaluating the other person. You can think of an observation as a photo that you take with a camera - it’s just recording of a moment, without any meaning attached to it.

For example:  
😟“You’re always late!” is a criticism.

😀“When you arrive later than we had arranged…” starts a non-judgemental conversation.

2.  Feelings

As we practice NVC, we learn to express how we are feeling in relation to what we are observing.  Again, this is done without blaming or shaming in any way.  When we are able to name our feelings, it becomes easier to understand our unmet needs behind those feelings.

For example: 
😟“You make me so angry when you are always late!” 

😀”When you are late, I feel frustrated.”

3.  Needs

The third component of NVC is expressing our needs in a particular situation.  Our needs demonstrate what our values are.  They are the source of our feelings, especially when they are unmet.

For example:
😟”Why can’t you just get here on time?”

😀”I need to plan my day.”

4.  Requests

These are positive actions that you would like someone to take that would help to support your needs. They are not demands!  They need to be specific and actionable and free of blame or manipulation. NVC requests focus on what you do want, not on what you don’t want.

For example:
😟“I’m not going to meet up with you again if you are late one more time.”

😀“Would you be willing to text or ring me if you are running late for our meetings in the future?”

What Does NVC Look Like In Real Life?

Let’s look at the two conversations above as a whole now:

😟“You’re always late! You make me so angry! Why can’t you just get here on time? I’m not going to meet up with you again if you are late one more time.”

😀“When you arrive later than we had arranged, I feel frustrated.  I need to be able to plan my day. Would you be willing to text or ring me if you are running late for our meetings in the future?”

Can you see how the second example uses the NVC framework to allow the person to express their feelings and needs honestly without shaming or blaming and offers a concrete solution to solve the conflict?  Which conversation do you think will help to constructively meet the needs of the person speaking and offer an opportunity for a genuine connection between the two people?

NVC can also be used to show appreciation for positive behaviour.  For example, a mother could say to her child:  

“When I see you helping around the house (OBSERVATION + PREVIOUS REQUEST), I feel happy (FEELING) because you are contributing to keeping our home organised and clean. (NEED)

Transform Unhealthy Patterns Of Communication

NVC is used around the world to assist people with developing self-compassion and creating a deeper connection in their relationships.  It is also used very effectively in schools to improve students’ social-emotional skills and to foster respect and conflict resolution in workplaces.

Compassionate communication helps us to recognise and value everyone’s innate humanity as it opens our hearts and minds to honestly and meaningfully connect with ourselves and others. 


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