Communication is Key


In previous blog posts I have mentioned nonviolent communication (NVC). It is something that comes up regularly within client sessions, but what is it and how can it help you?


Communication through listening

Nonviolent communication is a technique based on the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg and the Center for Nonviolent Communication. The intention of nonviolent communication is to listen deeply, to yourself and others. This deep listening will help you to discover your own deep needs, the needs of others and the depth of your compassion. Nonviolent communication is designed to meet the needs of every person. This makes it a beneficial tool for all relationships.


There are four components to the nonviolent communication model.


ObservationsCommunication through observation


This is an observation, free from judgement, of something that does not benefit your wellbeing. Consider anything that you notice negatively affecting your wellbeing an observation; a memory, spoken words, physical actions, thoughts etc.





What do you feel? It is important to refer to the emotion or physical feeling. Try to avoid the use of verbs that direct blame, such as disrespected, attacked, unappreciated.




Communicate a Request What do you need or value? Your needs motivate you and sustain you. If you are using nonviolent communication in a workplace setting the need is relevant to the business.  Communicating in a nonviolent way avoids referring to specific people, actions, or things.




Base requests on what you want not what you do not want. They should be achievable in the present, clear and concrete.  


It does not matter what order the four components come in, providing they are all there and as per the explanation.


An example


Parent to child

Observation: It was such a busy day yesterday and I noticed at the end of it that you had tidied up all your toys before going to bed.

Feelings: I felt so relieved.

Need: Sharing responsibility is important to me.

Requests: Would you organise drinks for everybody while I dish up the dinner?


An example

Sibling to sibling

Feeling: I felt frustrated this morning,

Observation: I could not find my favourite top that you borrowed last week.

Request: Would you please have it washed and back in my wardrobe tomorrow.

Need: I want to trust that I can wear it next time I choose to.


When should I use Nonviolent Communication?


nonviolent communication

Nonviolent communication is popular in conflict resolution, relationship counselling and political negotiation. However, it will benefit you every day if you can use it when you think and communicate. You will find a clarity in your understanding of your own self. A greater recognition of your own needs. Alongside increased insight into the needs of others leading to greater relationships.



The connection to mindfulness

compassion through communication

A primary component of mindfulness is nonjudgement. Our society encourages us to judge, compare and make demands. By bringing nonviolent communication into your internal dialogue you can contribute to living in a non-judgemental mindful way. Communicating in this way, internally and externally, allows yourself and others to understand clearly exactly what you want and why. There are no feelings of judgement, shame, or threat. Your relationships will gain more depth as you inquire within and seek to understand the true needs and feelings of those around you.


The benefits


As you adapt your relationships in this meaningful way you will notice changes in your communications. Resentment is big in relationships when we find ourselves meeting the needs of others but not having our own needs considered. As you explore NVC and start expressing your needs and requests clearly, you will feel surprised at how easy it is for them to be recognised and met.


The people around you may learn from you, if they do not there are techniques you can put in place to help them clarify their needs and requests without going down the blame road.


Marshall RosenbergMarshall Rosenberg said that he does not hear what people think of him, rather he connects to what they are feeling. He tells a story of visiting a refugee camp. On his arrival he noticed piles of tear gas cannisters that had been shot in during a riot the previous night. Written on the cans was, ‘made in the USA’. Upon hearing his American accent one refugee called him a murderer. Rosenberg said he tried to hear, “What is the guy feeling?” and continued the dialogue,


MR: “Sir are you furious, are you needing a different type of support from my country than you are getting?”


R: “you’re dam right, we don’t have sewerage, we don’t have housing, why are you sending these dam weapons?”


MR: “and that makes it clear why you’d be so aggravated if you don’t have these basics and you get these weapons sent over here. I can see that your needs are for some other kind of support.”


R: “You know what it’s like to live under these kind of conditions for all these years?”


MR: “You’d like me to understand how desperate it can be for just one day let alone for many years”.


Don’t listen – HEAR

internal sparkRosenberg said, “he hears what was alive in the guy”. Notice Rosenberg did not respond to the accusation of him being a murderer. He tried to hear what was going on for the man. Through his style of communication Rosenberg gained the man’s trust. The refugee felt cared for and at this point was able to start to hear Rosenberg when he spoke.


Using NVC Rosenberg expressed his own feelings of frustration and fear. He had travelled a long way to be there to offer something and feared not be listened to after being labelled “An American”. At this point the man asked Rosenberg, “What do you want to say to us?”


The result of this visit was a nonviolent communication school set up by Rosenberg in the refugee camp. You can watch the interview with Marshall Rosenberg here.


You will find that communicating in this way prevents you from incorrectly interpreting the words of another. In my therapy room I have situations in which a client reads me messages they have received and asks me what they mean. I suggest that they go back to the person and ask the person themselves what they mean. Using NVC as per the example above eliminates assumption and misinterpretation.


When someone cannot communicate



NVC is not fool proof, you may find yourself in an abusive relationship with someone that does not have your best interests at heart. In this situation please reach out for support in managing the relationship.


Rosenberg also speaks about using force when vocal communication is not possible. He gives an example of witnessing a person being punched in the face. There was no time to talk, so he used force to restrain and prevent a second punch. Rosenberg is clear that there was no desire to punish or punch back. Rosenberg did not believe in punishment to make people suffer and explains punishment involves judging someone as evil.


How can I start?


I recommend these NVC feelings and needs cards. You get 62 feelings and 62 needs cards, designed like playing cards. They can be used with anyone who wants to develop their emotional and needs literacy. There are instructions included on how to use the cards with others or alone.