Recently we celebrated Valentine’s Day. What comes to mind for you when you think of Valentine’s Day? Love? Candy? Flowers? Romance?
Let’s dig a little deeper. What is underneath love, candy, flowers, and/or romance? How about deep connection with another person, as well as caring, curiosity, and sharing your own heart’s truth? How can we nurture these aspects of compassion in our everyday lives?
One approach that resonates deeply for me is called Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I think that is because I feel it in my body, as well as know it in my head. Before we explore nonviolent communication further, let’s consider what constitutes ‘violent communication.’
If “violent” means acting in ways that result in hurt or harm, then much of how we communicate—judging others, bullying, having racial bias, blaming, finger pointing, discriminating against others, speaking without listening, criticizing, name-calling, reacting when angry, using political rhetoric, being defensive or judging who’s “good/bad” or what’s “right/wrong” with people—could indeed be called “violent communication.” In other words, violent communication creates distance between people.
Nonviolent Communication: What It Is and How to Implement It
So, what is Nonviolent Communication? It’s the integration of four things:
- Consciousness: knowing how to support living a life of empathy, care, courage, and authenticity;
- Language: using words that contribute to connection rather than distance;
- Communication: being present to ask for what we want, to hear others even in disagreement, and to move toward solutions that work for all;
- Influence: sharing “power with others” rather than using “power over others.”
And why would we want to use NVC? It helps us do three things:
- Increase our ability to live with choice and meaning.
- Connect empathically with self and others, to have more satisfying relationships.
- Support sharing of resources so everyone is able to benefit.
What does NVC look like? How does someone use it?
There are four steps to guide our use of NVC. Some people read a book or take a class, then effectively put these four steps into practice. Other people go to weekly or monthly practice groups to regularly practice the steps. Think of it like going to a gym, trying to build new muscles to speak and listen in new ways. Just like any skill, it can feel awkward in the early stages of learning how-to!
Here are the four steps to NVC:
- Observe without judging. Express information without evaluating it as right or wrong. For example, instead of yelling and reproaching, a teacher might simply say to his student: “Mr. X, you have interrupted me three times.” Notice that there is no evaluation, just factual observation of exactly what you saw or heard.
- Express feelings. Hidden emotions are usually at the heart of failed communication. They often disturb and sabotage communication from within and cannot be resolved because they are not known to the other person. Express your feelings without judgment. In our previous example, that would translate into, “I feel upset when I cannot finish my sentences.”
- Clarify your needs. The teacher would then continue by saying “It’s important for me to have your attention and to be treated with consideration.”
- Express specific requests based on your feelings and needs. After clarifying what your feelings and needs are, finish by making a specific request. For instance, “I’m asking that you let me finish the presentation and that you make your points at the end. Would that be acceptable for you?”
So simple, yet so hard sometimes. Yet, when implemented, the effects of these approaches can be dramatic.
Nonviolent Communication for Organizations
NVC can also be applied to organizations! People make up organizations, and the culture of a company affects employees’ willingness to be supportive and cooperative.
It’s possible for systems to be set up in ways that encourage collaboration and cooperation, using clear statements of shared purpose, and telling employees what work and actions contributes to, hence providing for a sense of meaning.
Four organizational systems can be considered using a NVC dimension, thereby regarding peoples’ feelings and needs with compassion.
- Decision making – how decisions are made and managed.
- Feedback – moving from incentives and penalties to an opportunity to learn to work together with creativity, enthusiasm, and productivity.
- Conflict resolution – transforming conflict into learning what people care about, and uncovering the underlying problems conflict symbolizes. Conflict represents unmet needs, which can cloud the ability of an organization to generate the most effective solutions. The prerequisite here is that conflict is normalized as normal and healthy, not something to be avoided.
- Resource allocation – a subset of decision making which highlights the need for clarity around how resources are allocated, offering employees the bigger picture, thereby encouraging increased willingness to cooperate.
NVC can be embodied in us individually to dramatically change how we connect to our very own self and to other people. It can also be integrated into an organization’s process and procedures to stimulate the creative support of employees.
Many Internet & YouTube resources on NVC exist. Of particular note:
Center for Nonviolent Communications
Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg
“NVC in the Capital NY Region” (a local group offering classes and practice groups)
HWFC Members and NVC Facilitators in the Capital Region:
Jan McCracken & Philomena Moriarty
Facilitator of NVC: Steve Andersen