Non-violent Communication (NVC)

NVC is one of the preferred linguistic methods of elicitive conflict transformation, since it helps supporting a series of crucial processes for peace, embedded in a framework where language is more than a mere tool of rational communication. To briefly present NVC here, we rely on Marshall Rosenberg’s (2005; 2013) concepts.

NVC is a process-oriented method that seeks to create a natural and authentic connection of hearts for the speaker, as well as for the listener by focusing on a simple four step:

  • observation
  • feelings
  • needs
  • request

The challenge is to communicate in a way that creates empathic listening and honest speaking to engender a mutual desire to give from the heart. Despite its simplicity, NVC is more than a prescriptive, mechanistic and modern method. In fact, for Rosenberg (2005, 8) the “essence of NVC is to be found in our consciousness of these four components, not in the actual words that are exchanged.”

NVCRosenberg distinguishes between giraffe and jackal language. The giraffe language arises from the heart and consciously aims for entering in contact with one’s and the other’s feelings and needs in a compassionate manner. Jackal language, on the other hand, is life-alienating in the sense that it blocks us from feeling compassion both for ourselves and others, for example by making moralistic judgments, making comparisons and denying responsibility for our own feelings. 

At the basis of NVC stands the desire to liberate language from moral dualisms and their executors, which Rosenberg identifies in the expressions ‘should’ and ‘have to’. Rosenberg suggests self-observation as the primary method for overcoming such language that blocks compassion: Observe yourself - what is alive in you? How might your personal quality of life improve? What would enrich your life? 

The NVC Process

1. Observation

What is actually happening in a situation?

  • What am I observing others as saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching my life?
  • Simply state what people are doing, whether I like it or do not like it.
  • The challenge is to articulate observations without judgment, to be able to observe without evaluating and be as specific as possible with the behaviors and conditions that affect me.
2. Feelings

When I observe this action, how do I feel?

  • Do I feel hurt or scared? Do I feel joyful or amused? Etc.
  • Find here a useful list of feelings
  • The challenge is not to confuse feelings with thinking, to be able to identify and express those internal feelings without blaming, criticizing, judging or punishing others.
3. Needs

Which needs of mine are connected to the feelings identified?

  • Are my needs being met or not met in relation to what is happening or how I am feeling?
  • Find here a useful list of needs
  • The challenge is to connect with those human needs/values, for example sustenance, trust, understanding, that help me in the process of self-discovery to find out which needs, values and desires are creating my feelings.
4. Request

Which concrete actions do I request in order to enrich my life?

  • What do I want?
  • Which actions might fulfill my needs?
  • The challenge is to make a true and specific request of what is wanted (not what is not wanted) and avoid making a demand, an attempt to motivate the other person based on fear, guilt, shame or obligation. Requests to the contrary, seek to motivate out of compassion. 

NVC is compassionate communication when we express ourselves and when hearing others. Therefore the NVC process necessitates both parts: the honest expression by the speaker and the empathic reception of the four components by the listener. In any intervention and facilitation both these processes come together to play a crucial part in the elicitive worker’s ability for resonance. As speakers, “instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting” (Rosenberg 2005, 3). As listeners, we try to connect compassionately with the speaker, especially if this is a party making use of jackal language. Nonviolent listening requires active listening, also a sincere listening with one’s entire being.

NVC can be put to use in a myriad of situations, for example, when trying to find out the needs that might disclose the thematic emphasis on the conflict episode. Likewise, confronted with parties who find themselves in highly conflictive situations, probably being aggressive or unfriendly, using NVC as some sort of translation mechanism can help the elicitive worker listen to what the hurt or angry party is feeling and so tune into his/her perception of the situation, to the parties’ feelings and needs and so transform the communicative situation. 

For more on the NVC basics, visit Rosenberg’s Center for Nonviolent Communication website: http://www.cnvc.org/