What’s Compassionate or Nonviolent Communication (NVC)?

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 Nonviolent Communication

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.

Ways to learn and practice Nonviolent Communication

This book uses NVC a lot. There is a whole chapter on tools for wellbeing and compassionate communication (with examples relevant to eating disorders) HERE.

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.

I learned a lot of NVC at a time I couldn’t go off to courses. There are some good books[i], blogs[ii], and some great videos[iii] on the internet.

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/

[ii] Miki Kashtan’s blog, ‘The fearless heart’, always provides food for thought: http://baynvc.blogspot.co.uk

[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

[iv] I learned much of my NVC learning from recordings of courses at NVC Academy and its associated NVC Marketplace. Some of the introductory course recordings are free.

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2 Replies to “What’s Compassionate or Nonviolent Communication (NVC)?”

  1. An example of this style of communication using natural language during a hysterical anorexic episode would be most helpful.

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