NonViolent Communication and Communication Skills


Communication is the backbone of human relationships—not only our relationships with one another—but even more crucially, our relationships with ourselves.

While communication skills are an important part of intimate relationships, strong communication can contribute to wellbeing, empowerment, and connection in every area of our lives.

When we’re able to communicate our basic needs and compassionately understand those of others, we can begin to create more meaningful connections, a more grounded sense of who we are as individuals, and a greater sense of mastery in our lives.

One benefit of effectively communicating our needs and feelings is that we can become more collaborative and less adversarial in the way we relate to others (and ourselves), decreasing power struggles, destructive conflicts, abuse, and violence.

Psychologist, Marshall Rosenberg developed his theory of Nonviolent Communication—or Compassionate Communication to address these issues and to reform communication as we know it.

He believed that all human beings are compassionate and empathetic at their core and that we only resort to harmful communication and behaviors when we feel threatened that we won’t get our own needs met and/or are unable to understand others’ needs clearly.

By being open about our individual needs and empathizing with others, destructive conflicts, or “violent communication,” can be avoided.

This can create a greater sense of emotional safety within relationships and can improve our ability to relate vulnerably and authentically.

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Four Components of NVC

The four main components are observation, feelings, needs, and requests.

  • Observation: It’s important for us to recognize hard facts (what we are able to see, hear, touch, etc.) of a situation in a neutral way rather than offering our personal take, opinions, or interpretation. So often, when using “violent communication,” we communicate critically rather than just observing what’s happening. By contrast, NVC invites us to “observe” neutrally rather than “evaluate” critically.
  • Feelings: NVC encourages the practice of separating raw feelings from thoughts in order to help us connect with others and ourselves more deeply. Connecting with our feelings allows us to become clearer about our own inner lives and helps engender empathy from others when they observe our feelings on a human level.
  • Needs: Using NVC, we practice recognizing our basic human needs as opposed to prescribing what actions need to be taken by another person in order for our needs to be met.
  • Requests: NVC advocates for making requests rather than demands. According to Rosenberg, NVC requests have 3 characteristics:
    1. They’re stated in terms of clear and positive action, rather than asking someone to refrain from doing something.
    2. They’re specific and actionable in the present moment.
    3. They aren’t demands: the other person can say “no” without being afraid of being punished as a result.

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How to Start Practicing NVC

In order to implement NVC in our lives, we need to make changes on three key levels: within the self, between others, and within groups or societal structures.

How do we get started?

There are three distinct modes on how to apply Nonviolent Communication to your everyday life.

  • Self-empathy: We are encouraged to connect with how we are feeling internally without judgment, even our painful feelings such as sadness, insecurity, or anger. It’s also important to recognize our needs and whether or not they are being met.
  • Receiving empathically: This means connecting on a deep level with another person and recognizing what they need and feel. Even if we don’t share the same feelings as another person, being able to understand where they’re coming from is empathy in its truest form.
  • Expressing honestly: When we express a need, NVC suggests we express a feeling along with it. This approach helps us take responsibility for our own emotional experience and makes it less likely that others will feel blamed.

Implementing NVC into our everyday lives will take practice and time, just like any other skill.

NVC isn’t just used in personal relationships. In fact, it can be a powerful way to approach communication in business settings, mediation, parenting, legal matters, education, and healthcare, just to name a few.

Nonviolent Communication not only changes the words we use but it can shift our entire way of being, which is why it’s often considered a spiritual approach as well.

This is what founder Marshall Rosenberg had to say about the relationship between NVC and spirituality.

“[NVC] is really a spiritual practice that I am trying to show as a way of life… Even if they practice this as a mechanical technique, they start to experience things between themselves and other people they weren’t able to experience before… They begin to see that it’s more than a communication process.” -Marshall Rosenberg

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  1. Center for Nonviolent Communication
  2. Book: Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

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