Before describing the system of communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg, known as Nonviolent Communication (NVC) or Compassionate Communication, I want to describe the most common form of communication, Violent Communication, a system of communicating we are all taught to use and one that is practically guaranteed to result in significant conflicts and fighting when communicating with others.
What is meant by “violent communication”? It refers to any type of communication with others that uses statements that are intended to hurt, manipulate, seduce, persuade, scare, guilt trip, etc. others, in order to get them to do or say what we want them to do or say. In other words, we do not just tell the other person what is true about us and then simply ask for what we want, but rather we try to “stack the deck” so that they wind up agreeing with what we are saying or doing what we want them to do, not because this is their free choice but because we are manipulating them into saying or doing what we want. We might threaten them by suggesting that if they don’t do what we want, we will cause harm to them in some way. We might suggest they are bad if they don’t do what we want them to do, i.e., make them feel guilty if they don’t do what we want. We might seduce them by promising to do or give them something they want if they do what we want them to do. We might fool them into believing that what we want them to do is best for them, when we know that it is not. We might scare them into believing that if they don’t do what we want, negative consequences will occur to them (not necessarily caused by us).
As you read about these forms of violent communication, you might be thinking that you do not use these forms of communication and/or that it is a horrible thing for me to say that these forms of communication are normal ways of communicating for most people. All I ask is that you start paying attention to how you talk to others and how they talk to you and see if you can find these various forms of violent communication occurring. The word “violent” is not restricted to physical violence, although physical violence and the threat of physical violence are also widely used to get people to say or do what we want them to say or do (for example, a child might be hurt physically when he does not do what his parents want him to do. This is often called “discipline”. In a domestic violence situation, a husband might physically hurt his wife if she does not say or do what he wants her to, or threaten to hurt her if she does not say or do what he wants her to. This is often called “love”). These also are forms of violent communication, but in this posting, we will focus on verbal and nonverbal forms of violent communication that do not involve physical violence.
In situations in which violent communication occurs, we want to get what we want from another person more than we want them to be free to choose what they think will make them happy. If we want them to be free to choose, we would not have to manipulate them to do what we want them to say or do, but rather we would simply ask for what we want and they would be free to say yes or no to our request without suffering such negative consequences as anger, disapproval, withdrawal of affection, or revenge.
What does Marshall Rosenberg propose as an alternative to violent communication? I want to recommend three sources of information about NVC. First, he wrote a book called “Nonviolent Communication”. Second, on You Tube you can find a series of 10 videos by Marshall that are called his “San Francisco lectures”. Thirdly, there is an excellent 22-minute video by Kat Green on You Tube called “Nonviolent Communication for Beginners/How to NVC”.
NVC has four major components, or steps. In the first step, we learn to describe the event or situation we are responding to in a way that is objective, so that both we and the person we are communicating with, can agree on the description of what happened. For example, we could say “when I got home today, you told me that you were angry that I did not pick up the coffee at the grocery store on my way home from work, and you said it loudly” and the other person could agree that this is what happened. In this way, we both know what we are talking about when we describe our feelings and wishes in regard to the incident. Examples of descriptions that are not as objective might be “when I got home you just jumped on my case and started screaming at me before I could even sit down”, or, “when I got home, you started bitching at me, as usual, making me sorry I even came home”.
In the second step, we tell the other person how we feel, usually just using one feeling word, such as angry, hurt, anxious, confused, miserable, scared, joyful, etc. It is important that we not use phrases such as “I feel that you …” or “I feel like you …” because these are more like accusations about what the other person did than saying how we feel. In the same way, we do not use single words such as the following: “I feel … rejected, abandoned, fooled, etc.” because these are also accusations about what the other person did and are not feelings.
The third step in NVC is the hardest for most people, because instead of blaming the other person and their actions for how we feel, we acknowledge that our feelings are caused by our own unmet needs. For example, we say that we felt hurt because our need for kindness and affection after a stressful work day was not met. In other words, it was not what our partner said to us so loudly that caused us to feel hurt but rather our own unmet needs inside. If we were someone with different needs, such as a need to be left alone, we would not have felt hurt by what our partner said (although our unmet need for alone time after work might have led to our feeling angry). It is important to realize that saying “I am hurt because YOU did not meet my need for kindness and affection after a stressful work day” is a form of violent communication, aimed at making the other person feel bad about what they did or did not do. Just because we have an unmet need, does not mean the other person is the only person who can meet that need, so that they HAVE TO meet our need, or else.
The fourth and final step in NVC is to state in objective language what we would prefer to receive from the other person in a similar situation, but state it in such a way that the other person can feel free to say no to our request (not demand) or suggest an alternative action they would be willing to take. For example, “when I get home from work, I would like for you to smile and give me a hug before anything else is talked about”. Not, “I would like for you to be nice to me”, as this is not an objective description (there are many different ideas about what “ being nice” means).
To continue learning about NVC, feel free to look at the book or You Tube videos mentioned earlier in this posting. It is the best communication system that I have ever encountered or practiced, by far, and it really helps to create a more peaceful life for ourselves.