I’m writing today’s wellness post on non-violent communication (NVC). Given the heightened stress and tension we have been experiencing, learning about nonviolent communication may help us work to treat our friends, family, and others in our lives with increased compassion. However, I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that those fighting racism and injustice should use nonviolent communication in that pursuit, nor is this message meant as a way of policing anyone’s reaction to generations of violence and oppression. NVC is a tool you can use when you want to communicate with compassion – it is not meant to be the only tool in your communication toolbox.
The basic premise of NVC, which was developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, is that all violent communication is an expression of unmet needs. The model is used to both:
1. Express yourself without putting blame or criticism on another
2. Receive information about yourself from others without blame or criticism
NVC involves 4 core elements: Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests. Expressing yourself using NVC is the easiest place to start. Think about what you observe that is triggering your emotional reaction, state how you feel, state the need or value that is being unmet that causes or relates to this feeling, and end with a concrete request. For example, my partner is sometimes forgetful of things I’ve asked him to do. My usual way of responding to him is to get upset and question why I have to be in charge of remembering everything. Instead, I should probably say something like, “When I see that you haven’t done things you’ve agreed to do, I feel disappointed because I need and value having shared responsibility within our marriage. Would you be willing to do [task you agreed to do] before the end of the day?” Note that each portion of underlined text represents one of the four elements of NVC and that they come in order.
Receiving information from others about yourself can be trickier because they aren’t usually using the NVC model described above. In this case, you’re going to hear what someone is saying to you and reflect back their observations, feelings, your need (that is causing conflict), and requests. For example, imagine that one of my students says something like, “You’re SO unreasonable!! Every time I make even the smallest mistake you jump all over me and nothing’s ever good enough!!” I could respond by saying something like, “When you hear me being critical of a mistake it makes you feel unappreciated for all of the hard work you are doing, because I [irrationally] need perfection. Would you like it if I was more appreciative of times when your work has been done well and more mindful of the language I use when mistakes have been made?” As with the previous example, the underlined portions of text represent each component of the NVC model. NVC is more complex than what can be taught in an email, but if this has piqued your interest, check out the website for the Center for Nonviolent Communication (https://www.cnvc.org/), which provides training in NVC as well as a comprehensive listing of books and articles relevant to NVC.