What is Nonviolent Communication?
Nonviolent Communication can be elusive to define, and that is perhaps because it can be approached and absorbed on several different levels: as a conflict resolution tool; as a support for personal growth; as an empathy process; or to facilitate social change.
NVC as a conflict resolution tool
On its simplest level, NVC is a set of tools that help us to resolve conflicts more effectively. Many of us are culturally habituated to focus our attention on judgement, blame and diagnosis of self and others, especially when we are in conflict situations. Focusing our attention in this way often results in increased tension, conflict and even violence.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a simple, profound and learnable process that trains us to focus our attention on a different place – the powerful human needs, such as respect, understanding and safety, that are the motivation for everything we do and say. When we focus our awareness on our and others’ needs it facilitates deep understanding of self and others. Communicating from this place opens up possibilities for flexible and creative solutions to even the most entrenched conflicts.
“Every judgement and criticism is the tragic expression of an unmet need.” – Marshall Rosenberg, creator of NVC.
NVC as a support for personal growth
Many people find the emphasis on human needs immensing supportive of self-understanding. NVC also helps us to transform judgements about ourselves into our own feelings and needs. NVC used in this way is a valuable tool for personal growth.
NVC as an empathy process
NVC can also help us to help others understand themselves. The quality of empathy that emerges when we listen to others with our focus on the feelings and needs that are alive in them can be deeply nourishing for them. In some respects NVC can be seen as an evolution of the explorative work of Carl Rogers (a teacher, friend and mentor of Marshall Rosenberg) on the theme of empathy. NVC builds on Rogers principles of unconditional positive regard, empathy and honest self-expression.
NVC as a tool for social change
When we explore NVC more deeply, we see that humans are most happy when their needs are met. We also see that one of our deepest needs is to contribute to the needs of others. And we come to see that we can only really meet our own needs when the needs of others are also being met. This emphasis is born out in the vision of the Centre for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC):
The Center for Nonviolent Communication pursues the vision of a world in which
– everyone values everyone’s basic human needs and lives from a consciousness that connects with the universal life energy and natural oneness of all life
– where every individual embraces self compassion
– where people joyfully and compassionately contribute to each other and resolve conflicts peacefully
– where the systems and structures we create in economics, education, justice, healthcare, peace-keeping and other areas across our global interdependent community reflect that consciousness and evaluate their actions against their contribution to life and the human needs they ultimately serve
[NVC is] language, thoughts, communication skills and means of influence that serve my desire to do three things: 1) to liberate myself from cultural learning that is in conflict with how I want to live my life. 2) to empower myself to connect with myself and others in a way that makes compassionate giving natural. 3) to empower myself to create structures that support compassionate giving.” – Marshall Rosenberg, Lausanne Switzerland, September 2003
The Intention of Nonviolent Communication (NVC)
When using Nonviolent Communication we focus our intention on creating an empathic connection through which everyones needs can be met by mutual giving from the heart. Whilst we may not always achieve this, if we can maintain our awareness on this intention when interacting with others, we are more likely to reach mutually satisfying outcomes. The four ingredients of NVC can help us to ground this intention in reality.
The Four Main Ingredients of the NVC process:
When using NVC we focus our attention on four ingredients of communication:
1. Observations free of evaluations and judgements
2. Feelings straight from the heart
3. Needs, values and longings that are causing our feelings
4. Requests expressed clearly in positive action language
We can focus on these four ingredients in three different ways:
- To connect with and understand what is going on inside ourselves (self-empathy);
- To express what is going on inside ourselves to others (honest self-expression);
- To connect with what is alive in others (empathic connection).
The Nonviolent Communication process is a continual dance between these three modes.
The Uses of Nonviolent Communication:
- Self empowerment
- Understanding others
- Conflict resolution
- Stress reduction
- Bridging cultural differences
- Harmonious relationships
Power over vs Power with:
Many of us are uncomfortable with the word ‘power’. This may be because power is often used in our world to dominate and control – to have ‘power over’ others. When using Nonviolent Communication (NVC), we seek ‘power with’ – in other words, to use our abilities and resources to get our needs met, whilst at the same time respecting the needs of the other people we are engaged with. In the long run, power with respect is the only way that we can truly meet all our needs. Culturally and globally we are currently at a crossroads. We need to make the transition from a domination style of interaction with others (and also our environment) to a partnership style of interaction. Nonviolent Communication provides a language and methodology to help make this transition.
About Marshall Rosenberg (1924-2015), creator of NVC
Himself a victim of racial violence during his youth, Marshall Rosenberg was pre-occupied most of his life with the answer to two questions. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to act violently and exploitatively? And conversely, what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature even under the most trying circumstances?
Not satisfied with the answers to these questions from his training in clinical psychology, Marshall Rosenberg searched more widely. His explorations included the study of religion and anthropology, and the work of other psychologists, including Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Albert Ellis.
The Nonviolent active resistance of Mahatma Gandhi was a key influence on the work of Marshall Rosenberg and his use of the term ‘Nonviolent’ is a reference to Gandhi’s use of the word ‘ahimsa’.
“I use the term Nonviolent Communication™ as Gandhi used it – to refer to our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from our heart. While we may not believe we are ‘violent’, our words and thoughts often lead to pain for others and ourselves.”
– Marshall Rosenberg (creator of NVC).
Called upon to help resolve conflicts during the period of desegregation in America in the 1960’s, Marshall Rosenberg worked in the field of conflict resolution for the rest of his active life, until a few years before his death in February 2015. Gradually over the years, his distinctive approach to conflict resolution and communication evolved. He supported people from many countries, including Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Serbia, Croatia and Sri Lanka. He also worked with people from many backgrounds, including police, street gangs, serial killers, teachers, students, counsellors, couples, business representatives, and religious groups.
Marshall Rosenberg chose the name Nonviolent Communication to refer to Gandhi’s philosophy of ‘ahimsa’ or ‘nonviolence’. Marshall shares Gandhi’s belief that true peace between people is achieved only when violence has subsided from the heart, to be replaced by compassion.
About the Centre for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC):
The Center for Nonviolent Communication was established by Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of NVC, in 1984 to share the skills of Nonviolent Communication worldwide.
Currently more than 200 trainers from the CNVC are providing training in more than 65 countries. Recent reports from the CNVC suggest that approximately 250,000 people are receiving training in NVC annually.
To find out more about NVC visit the website www.cnvc.org
View online video clips of Marshall Rosenberg on our NVC Online Resources page.
“We should all be grateful to Marshall Rosenberg. He provides us with the most effective tools to foster health and relationships.” – Deepak Chopra
“The principles of Nonviolent Communication taught by Dr. Rosenberg are instrumental in creating an extraordinary and fulfilling quality of life. His compassionate and inspiring message cuts right to the heart of successful communication.” – Anthony Robbins