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Alternative Narrative

What is non-violent communication?

What is non-violent communication?

“All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently, those people deserve to be punished” – Marshall Rosenberg, Non-Violent Communication: A language of life.

The turbulent world we live in tends to accept violence as a norm. The World Health Organization defined “violence” as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation”.  I am still wondering about the word “intentional” in this definition. Is every manifestation of violence wanted, conscious and intentional? Violence does not only mean fights, physical abuses, crimes or wars. Violence can also be thoughts, words, sentences, gestures, facial expressions… This becomes a way of life: in some situations, we “forget” to act empathically towards ourselves and towards the people around us. It can be unintentionally, but still affect our relationship, our work, and our inner peace.

Marshall Rosenberg, who has observed this phenomenon from the 60’s to 2015, created a new way of communicating, called “Non-Violent Communication”, (NVC). The goal of NVC, which he also called “language of life”, is to transform our old patterns, habits and automatic reactions into a more respectful way of communicating, especially with more compassion and empathy. For him, practicing NVC would modify our everyday existence, and the world we live in into a more peaceful space, focusing on what is happening right here and right now. It invites every being to connect or reconnect with him/herself, to be able to recognize his/her own feelings and needs and try, with empathy to guess the ones of all persons concerned. The NVC is based on ten key assumptions and gives concrete tools to put these following assumptions in practice. It offers skills to create connections of compassionate giving and receiving, especially by differentiating observation from evaluation, differentiating feeling from thinking, connecting with the universal human needs and values, and clarifying and expressing what we want.

As already mentioned, NVC basically reports on four components, which are Observation, Feelings, Needs, and Request. The observation part consists of noticing concrete actions and moments, without evaluating or judging the situation. The second step to the NVC process is to distinguish emotions, physical sensations and feelings (for example passion, joy, shame, worry…), and to differentiate those from thoughts. After this state, it is essential to understand one’s needs. Indeed, everyone has needs and values which contribute to his/her well-being (for example, protection, support, love…). These needs are a key, they are nourishing life. The last round for NVC, is to present and express concrete requests (for example with the model “I would be willing to”…). These requests, which should not be expressed as demands, are supposed to fulfill both my needs and the needs of the person I am communicating with. The needs of others should be as important as mine. 

Marshall Rosenberg gives the tools to carry out these four components. It is summarized into three parts, which are empathy receiving, self-empathy and honest and clear self-expression. First of all, there is a difference between “sympathy”, which means “to feel for” and “empathy”, meaning “feel with”. The first step of NVC is to connect with life, and with the person(s) face to us, rather than trying to fix a problem or a situation. Indeed, the empathic receiving is the ability to put ourselves into another’s shoes in order to guess his/her feelings and needs. It is not about comforting this person or trying to give her advice and suggestions, but more about listening silently and connect with her.

This “connection” is not only to find with the person we are dealing with but overall with yourself. It is indeed necessary to live in the now and here, and not to look at the past or at the future, in order to feel and be aware of what is happening in our own body. For example, we experience different feelings whether our needs are met or unmet. The honest self-expression consists of expressing myself clearly and honestly, either my feelings, my needs or my requests. Express clearly the request of what I need would enrich my life, and it is a way to enable better communication with others. That is the basic model for NVC. Now, what could be a threat to Non-violence? What could hinder NVC? Rosenberg wrote “Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need”.

In fact, it exists what he calls a “disconnecting language”, which happens most of the time inside me. Diagnosis (for example labeling), Blaming, Punishing, and Demands are the most important examples of disconnecting language. So many of us have been trained to express judgments and labels which drives us away from compassion.

Founded on consciousness, the NVC is a Life-Long Learning. For enjoyable interactions, it is preferable that our needs are met by the communication. The more my needs are fulfilled, the more I feel alive and conscious. The goal of NVC is also to get what we want, for the reasons we will not regret later on. It aims to transform a language of criticism, blame, and demand to a language of needs and compassion. It is about finding connections that get to meet the needs of all concerned. It is a good tool to start dealing with certain situations, for example, to respond to disconnecting language, such as blaming or moralistic judgments, without attacking, and without taking hostile messages personally. To sum up, the theory and methodology Marshall Rosenberg studied and developed could be a tool to promote a culture of peace, both on a small personal scale and on the largest scale.

Elise Giroud 

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