Non Violent Communication

Every word we use is an opportunity to connect with ourselves and the world around us. It’s an occasion to express what we’re truly feeling and wanting in the moment and to connect with that same energy in others. Similarly, words have the power to catalyze conflict and disconnection. Our spouse informs us that we’re lazy, someone yells at us in traffic, or we internally berate ourselves for feeling angry. These moments came seem like the antithesis of flow and connection. Yet they are also telling us something else, something much deeper and beautiful.

According to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) method, every “difficult” expression we experience, either from ourselves or someone else, is simply a tragic expression of an unmet need. Our spouse calling us lazy because they’re really needing support for the work that they’re wanting to accomplish, and perhaps some more equality in the sharing of household duties. The person yelling at us in traffic because they’re feeling stressed and wanting to get home, and that internal voice of our own simply reflecting our own deep need for peace and ease through its demand that we shouldn’t feel angry. So in essence, Rosenberg is suggesting that by translating “difficult” messages and learning to communicate in a needs based language ourselves, we can transform conflict into connection.

NVC is a language that is based on seeing all needs as being equal and stepping away from the dichotomy of right and wrong. Consider your last argument. I’m guessing that it came from the place of disagreeing about the value of something. You might have said that democracy is better than a dictatorship, or the environment is more important than material goods etc. The other person might have disagreed and tried to persuade you that you were wrong and they were right. What did that feel like for you?

When I argue a point I feel tight in my belly and chest, frustrated and disconnected from myself and others. Rosenberg suggests that this results in a large part from focussing on strategies rather than connecting with each others’ needs. The person who values dictatorships might be wanting more control of their country, potentially to prevent bloodshed and conflict. The person who values materialism might be wanting freedom and autonomy. Whatever it is, by connecting with needs instead of the strategies for meeting those needs, we can bring greater understanding and ease into our conversations. The NVC model is based on the assumption that all human beings share the same fundamental needs for things like love, friendship, freedom, joy, beauty, connection, sharing, safety, peace, ease, kindness, playfulness, fun etc.

In the next blog, I’ll discuss the four main components of NVC: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. I’ll also describe how NVC can be used to facilitate connection when there is no conflict.

Chris Rowe

PhD Candidate in Psychology

Chris will be offering a series of courses at Port Moody Integrated Health using the Nonviolent Communication system this fall.