Nonviolent Communication

Sometimes you hear about a thing over and over, until it seems mandatory to follow up. So it was with Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a process created by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. First I learned that a yoga center offered NVC training sessions. Then I heard of a book group studying Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Then a nonprofit’s director told me everyone in her organization is committed to NVC principles.

And this weekend, Trade School Indy offered an NVC class. All I needed to trade was a bundle of dried sage, which we have aplenty. That plus two hours on a Sunday afternoon seemed a reasonable investment. Off I went to finally check it out.

I learned that NVC is more than a nonthreatening communication style. It’s also a way of taking responsibility for yourself. As I practiced the formula (Observe, Feel, Need, Request) while role-playing a conflict, I sensed I was standing on solid ground. I hate confrontation, but NVC makes me view conflict as an opportunity to deepen relationships.

Communication Art Prize, by Fellowship of the Rich, via Flickr Commons

Communication Art, by Fellowship of the Rich, via Flickr Commons

Rather than asserting control over others through demands, manipulation, or bargaining, NVC is all about building connection over time. The idea is that we all have universal basic needs. Our feelings indicate whether these needs are met or unmet.

NVC “has been used between warring tribes and in war-torn countries; in schools, prisons, and corporations, in healthcare, social change, and government institutions; and in intimate personal relationships.” (Is there hope for the Central African Republic, where Muslims are fleeing “ethno-religious cleansing?”)

Mosque and church, by Jonathan Gill, via Flickr Commons

Mosque and church, by Jonathan Gill, via Flickr Commons

I may not be able to do anything about religious wars and other horrors, but I can create more peace in my daily interactions. Here is a (totally hypothetical) confrontation following NVC’s formula:

Observe: I notice there’s a used QTip on the back of the sofa. (Note the passive voice, a writer’s anathema! But useful in this instance, to neutralize the tone.)

Feel: I feel annoyed and disgusted. (Claiming my own feelings instead of the judgmental,“This is a gross habit. You are so inconsiderate!”)

Need: I need a clean environment, and I need consideration. (I’m struggling with how to state this. So much more satisfying to say, “I need you to not leave your medical waste out for me to find!” Any NVC ninjas in the house? Please coach me.)

Request: Would you be willing to throw your QTip away when you’re done?

In NVC’s highest expression, we request connection instead of a behavior change. “Could you tell me how you feel about this?” or “Would you be willing to spend a few minutes talking this through?” But I’ve cut to the chase above, while still (hopefully) avoiding triggering defensiveness in the hypothetical second party.

One of the women in the class called the method “disarming,” at least in role play. I’m curious to try it in real life. It seems to take a lot of hard thinking, even in the simplest of conflicts.

What about you: What tools have you found beneficial in creating peace and building connection?

2 thoughts on “Nonviolent Communication

  1. I have been living ‘the roommate lifestyle’ now for almost 10 years with several different friends I have noticed ‘the used Q-tip’ experiences are part of the deal…the challenge is to be equally aware of my own sub-par expressions of self. It is quite a trade off. Confrontation is a trade off too…and an art. This class sounds really helpful!

  2. Pingback: Lessons from the Ecovillage | Shawndra Miller

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