Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions.
NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in a given situation.
As NVC replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimized. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness, and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart.
NVC is more than a process or a language. It is an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking.
The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative. Let’s focus the light of consciousness on four areas—referred to as the four components of the NVC model.
First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like.
Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated, etc.? And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified. An awareness of these three components is present when we use NVC to clearly and honestly express how we are.
In Marshall’s first example, a mother might express these three pieces to her teenage son by saying, “John, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the rooms that we share in common.” She would follow immediately with the fourth component—a very specific request: “Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine?”. This fourth component addresses what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives or, as Rosenberg says, would make life more wonderful for us.
Thus, part of NVC is to express these four pieces of information very clearly. As we keep our attention focused on the areas mentioned, and help others do likewise, we establish a flow of communication, back and forth: what I am observing, feeling, and needing; what I am requesting to enrich my life; what you are observing, feeling, and needing; what you are requesting to enrich your life.
It is important to keep in mind that NVC does not consist of a set formula, but adapts to various situations as well as personal and cultural styles. The essence of NVC is to be found in our consciousness of these four components, not in the actual words that are exchanged.
- The concrete actions we are observing that are affecting our well-being: “When I (see, hear)…”
- How we feel in relation to what we are observing: “I feel…”
- The needs, values, desires, etc. that are creating our feelings: “Because I need/value…”
- The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives: Would you be willing to…?”
Adapted from Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg, PuddleDancer Press