Non-Violent Communication

This post shares some from learnings from a recent training session in Non-Violent Communication with Laurence Kershen QC and Search for Common Ground at St Ethelburga’s Centre.

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is a method of communication that reduces conflict by taking away the judgemental elements of language that can raise defences and trigger division between parties.

It essentially allows you to place your felt experience in a neutral container that can be passed on to someone without them feeling blamed, threatened or needing to defend themselves.

The inner aspect of NVC involves learning the listen and speak in the language of needs – What is the hidden need behind what this person is demanding?, What needs do I have that are making me feel this way?

How does Non-Violent Communication work?

NVC follows a deceptively simple structure which when practised overtly can feel a bit formulaic and unnatural at first, but in time becomes internalised, allowing you to naturally be more sensitive to needs and strip out judgemental language from your speech.

This kind of learning follows the four stages of competence where one begins by not being able to communicate nonviolently, but also not knowing that they are doing so (unconscious incompetence), progresses to become aware of NVC but unable to do it (conscious incompetence), intentionally adopts and practices it (conscious competence) and then eventually adopts it as a natural way of communicating (unconscious competence).

The NVC practice itself is made up of four stages:

1. Observation
Making a clear, judgement-free, matter-of-fact statement of something that has happened. For example, I notice there is no loo roll in the bathroom … is an observation, whereas, I notice you have forgotten to buy loo roll againcontains small evaluative judgments likely to raise barriers to communication.

2. Feelings
Expressing a feeling or feelings that arose at the time of the observation. Again these must be stripped of evaluative judgement so terms that refer to core feelings such anger, sadness, vulnerability are helpful, but terms that carry interpretive context, such as disappointed, upset, bullied are not, as they carry subtle accusations within them.

It’s also helpful to avoid suggesting that the observed behaviour “caused” the feelings as this is can be read as a sort of blame – instead, try to make them distinct: when this happened, I felt this … (rather than it made me feel this … for example).

3. Needs
Identifying the need that underlies the feelings you have experienced. This is where the transformational work of NVC takes places as it encourages us to look beneath our surface emotions into the often complex fabric of needs beneath. It is important to distinguish a need from a desire; we might want to feel listened to but that may be because we have a need to be connected and accepted for what we are.

4. Request
Making a request of the other to help you meet your needs. For a request to be effective it needs to be positive, specific and actionable – so please put your phone away in your room during dinner is better than please don’t keep checking your phone when we’re together.

It’s important to remember that this is a request for help, not a demand or an attempt to control. A good way to tell the difference is to ask yourself whether you could accept no for an answer, if not then it’s a demand, not a request.

What NVC might look like:

To express a difficulty you are having with someone …

When you didn’t wash up after breakfast this morning I felt angry and frustrated because I have a need for cleanliness and shared effort. Would you be able to clean your breakfast bowl tomorrow before you get ready for work?

To check in with a difficulty someone seems to have with you …

When you left the room and loudly shut the door during my phone call just now were you perhaps feeling annoyed or frustrated because you have a need for attention and to know that I value our time together? Would it be helpful for me to let you know beforehand if I’m expecting an important call and to otherwise switch my phone off when we are together?

Slides and exercises from the day:

Scannable Document on 25 May 2017, 13_53_48

Marshall Rosenberg, NonViolent Communication:

Marshall Rosenberg, YouTube lecture:


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