Nonviolent Communication: a pathway to connection
“What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart:
— Dr Marshall Rosenberg, Founder of Nonviolent Communication
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) was developed by Marshall Rosenberg.
It is grounded in Ghandi’s principles of non-violence and provides a valuable approach to support communication and human connection. The purpose of NVC is to Contribute to the Enrichment of Life (for you, for me, for our relationship, for our organisation, for all). It has broad applicability within all human relationships, including business, family, friendships and community interactions.
The foundational ideas behind NVC is that all humans have needs. Human needs are universal. Whether it be for shelter, care, rest, autonomy, security, intimacy, connection or love. Needs are not connected to people or actions, they are not ‘strategies’. Our feelings are related to our needs. When our need for care is not being met, we may feel sad. When our need for connection is being met, we may feel joy. When our need for rest is not being met we may feel irritable.
Our feelings and needs guide our behaviour. Our behaviour results from the strategies we choose to take to meet our needs. No matter what we do, we are always acting to fulfil a need. When I eat that second piece of chocolate cake, I may be prioritising my need for pleasure over my need for health. Any time someone interacts with us, they are also fulfilling their own needs. If they choose to support a crowdfunding campaign, they may be meeting their need for contribution. If they call us when we are ill, they may be meeting their need for care. Here are some more examples of feelings and needs.
When we understand our needs, we can see that there are actually a lot of different strategies we can take to fulfilling our needs. We can take back our power and see that we have choice in how we choose to fulfil our precious needs, rather than dogmatically clinging to one strategy. NVC allows us to connect with our own feelings and needs, and the feelings and needs of others. We can create win-wins rather than arguing over singular strategies.
NVC uses the metaphor of a Jackal and Giraffe to describe two different ways of speaking and thinking. Jackal speak is speaking from judgement and blame. Jackal speak uses labels, guilt, reward/punishment, good/bad, right/wrong. Giraffe speak involves speaking from the heart and taking responsibility for our own feelings and needs. (Giraffes have the biggest hearts out of any animals!). When we blame, judge, accuse others, according to NVC we are speaking violently. The recipient feels blamed, gets defensive and can not listen effectively. We lose connection and the ability to authentically communicate. In NVC, there is no judgement, no good/bad so Jackal thinking is OK! A Jackal is just a Giraffe with a language problem. Our Jackals provide a pathway to understand what our true needs and feelings are BUT it’s a good idea not to use Jackal speak when speaking directly with our loved ones!
NVC wants you to first connect with yourself so you understand your own feelings and needs before making requests of another. Requests are strategies to meet our needs. There are infinite strategies to meet our needs. Often we get trapped in life, thinking there is just one. Requests are not demands. People can say no to your requests, and according to NVC you need to be OK with that. We would only want the other to do what we ask joyfully, or we will pay for it later. NVC brings freedom, through the understanding that there is more than one strategy you can take to fulfil your needs. By understanding your own needs and those of the people in your life, you can better understand how to make each other’s worlds more wonderful.
Empathy is also an important part of NVC. NVC asks that you have empathy for yourself and others, and listen to others with Giraffe ears, without judgement. When we listen with empathy, the other feels heard. Having empathy for others, helps us see that others are behaving in ways that meet their own needs and when you can understand your needs and their needs you are more able to come to agreements that meet both your needs. NVC offers a useful framework for connection and dialogue, OFNR.
Observations — The thing we observed that may have triggered us minus evaluation and blame. Observations are specific. For example, ‘I noticed that you left your trainers on the lounge room floor this morning and that you did this yesterday as well.’ A violent way of saying this would be: ‘You left your smelly trainers on the floor of the lounge room again. You always do this. Do you think I am your maid?’
Feelings — Feelings are physical sensations in your body and are present all the time. There are no good or bad feelings. They are messengers pointing to your the need not being met.
Needs — Needs are universal and not connected to actions or people. They are underlying stimulus for our feelings. By opening to needs we open to a number of possibilities to meet the need.
Requests — A strategy to meet our needs. They are most effective when they are Specific, Right New, and Doable. A request is not a demand. Then other person can say no. Requests can be negotiated so that they fulfil both your needs.
An example of a non-violent request:
‘When you left your trainers on the lounge room this morning, I felt disappointed and stressed as I have a real need for order and tidiness in the shared spaces in the house as it helps me to feel calm. Would you be willing to take your trainers with you when you leave the lounge room or leave them by the front door when you come in? This would really help me to feel more relaxed at home.
An important side note: NVC is about creating connection with others. If NVC is causing disconnection. Drop the NVC.
NVC provides a really powerful way to communicate, connect with others and self. It has broad applicability for human interactions in a multitude of contexts. Google NVC, there are a lot of online resources available. When communicating with someone about something that has caused uncomfortable feelings for you, try NVC. Next time you are feeling triggered, check out an NVC feelings and needs list and ask yourself ‘what feelings are alive in me, and what precious need is not be getting met? What strategies/requests may support me to get my needs met?’
Gratitude to Shari Elle — NVC trainer for informing parts of this article.
Some links if you would like to learn more:
> 10 minute video clip of Marshall Rosenberg explaining NVC
> Marshall’s book, Living Nonviolent Communication: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation
> Marshall’s audio book Nonviolent Communication : Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values on Audible.