Compassionate Communication, or Nonviolent Communication, or NVC (all trademarked terms for the same thing) is a framework originally devised by Marshall B Rosenberg, which continues to develop worldwide through the Center for Nonviolent Communication and its network of Certified Trainers. The approach has been used, and continues to be used, in conflict resolution in war-torn zones, and is just as suitable for ordinary family interactions.
NVC is mostly a set of principles. There are skills to learn and practice and formulae to guide you, but it’s best to think of these as stepping stones to developing a compassionate mindset.
Although Marshall Rosenberg is a psychologist, NVC wasn’t intended to be a psychotherapy, though it’s expanded in that direction. It’s not a religion, though it seems to integrate well with people’s spiritual aspirations. It provides a helpful structure to organise our thoughts, make sense of our feelings, communicate with clarity and make decisions in line with our values. It helps us move on when we’re stuck, supports us when we’re in distress, and opens up highways to a full and rich life. It helps us take responsibility for ourselves, empathise with others, and communicate clearly, assertively, and of course, with compassion. Sometimes it goes as deep as the deepest psychotherapy, and it can be as grounding as any meditative practice. But it can also be a tool to say, ‘Bullshit!’
In other words, for me, it does everything that matters, except cure my allergy to cats.
Principles of NVC
Nonviolent Communication places an emphasis on what it calls ‘needs’. It defines needs as fundamental, life-enhancing, and universal to all human beings. We have basic physical needs, as well as qualities or values that deeply matter to us. NVC posits that we live and communicate better when we hold our needs as well as other people’s with care. We seek to meet needs, but there is also a place for mourning unmet needs (leading to acceptance), and celebrating needs that are met (awakening gratitude).
NVC assumes that we are all compassionate by nature and that behind every action is an attempt to meet a need. Needs drive the wonderful things people do to live to the full and care for others. But when people are unaware of their needs, when they don’t trust that their needs matter to others, or when they choose ineffective strategies to get their needs met, their actions can be tragic or violent.
Another principle of NVC is that our thoughts and feelings come not from the world does to us, but from how we respond to our needs being met or not met. Thoughts and feelings give us precious indications about what needs, and so we become attuned to them and welcome them in (our own and other people’s) without judgement.
The main components of the NVC framework
In this book I frequently use aspects of NVC. I outline the framework here for your reference.
The NVC dance takes place when we have an intention to communicate with authenticity and compassion, to truly connect, heart to heart.
Quite often it starts with an awareness of our reactivity or self-talk. In this book I refer to this as the ‘chatterbox’ and in NVC judgements and interpretations are sometimes called ‘jackals’. This animal was chosen to complement the giraffe, which symbolises the values of Nonviolent Communication because it has a huge heart and thanks to its long neck, can see the bigger picture.
Here are the main steps of the NVC dance:
1. Observations (what are the specific facts; what exactly is happening; I notice my thoughts and my bodily sensations; I notice my chatterbox interpretations and notice how they differ from actual facts.
2. Feelings (emotions, such as happiness or sadness as well as signs from your body, such as calm or tense).
3. Needs (universal, life-enhancing human needs or values, from the physical to the spiritual; for example nourishment, safety, affection, growth, fun, purpose).
4. Requests (a strategy I propose to meet my needs and your needs – a ‘No’ means we continue the process, rather than use blame or criticism or forsake our needs).
We can address these components in any order, and – especially if the answer to our request was ‘No’ – loop back and dance around as necessary.
Three zones of the NVC framework
Listening to people with compassion is only one part of NVC. I can also express myself, telling the other person what’s going on for me and what I want. And at the basis of all this is a third zone: an internal place of self-empathy.
The NVC process is not linear and orderly. You dance between the three zones, and within each zone you can hop about between observations, feelings, needs and requests. You can miss steps if it helps you concentrate on needs and requests, and the whole thing may be done using the words that come naturally, or with no words at all.
Ways to learn and practice NVC
This book uses NVC a lot and I’m hugely grateful to Shona Cameron, Certified NVC trainer, for checking the relevant chapters. If you’d like to learn more, find courses or groups or Certified Trainers world-wide, or if you’d like to make a financial contribution towards NVC, go to the Center for Nonviolent Communication on www.cnvc.org.
Certified NVC Trainers don’t just run courses: they can also support you with much-needed compassion in one-to-one sessions in person or by phone or Skype. I’ve come to find this more effective than any form of psychotherapy I’ve tried.
You can also join telecourses using phone or Skype, or subscribe to online recordings of courses[iv].
[i] The first and main book on NVC is Marshall Rosenberg ‘Nonviolent Communication. A language of life’ http://amzn.to/12tH0u3
More books to get you started: ‘Being Genuine: Stop Being Nice, Start Being Real’ by Thomas d’Ansembourg, translated from French. http://amzn.to/15cYRY7 and ‘Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Cooperation’ by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson: http://amzn.to/12meKNT. Also anything from Puddledancer Press: http://puddledancerpress.com/
[iii] You could learn straight from the horse’s mouth with this video of a workshop Marshall Rosenberg gave in 2000. Three very instructive hours. http://tinyurl.com/d8syz3g. Or you could get a flavour of NVC in international conflicts through this video interview of Marshall Rosenberg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dpk5Z7GIFs