Nonviolent Communication – a vision of humanity
by Luiza Ștefan (member of the Asociația pentru Comunicare Nonviolentă din România)
Marshall Rosenberg (1934-2015), the American psychologist that founded, taught and spread Nonviolent Communication (NVC) worldwide, said he did not invent something new, but only gathered existing wisdom and put it into a newly structured frame. Like the water lily in the swamp, his gift for humanity started to form as he grew up in a racist environment, witnessing and suffering from humiliation, segregation and fights: "Growing up as a kid, I couldn’t stand to see people torment other people" he wrote. Through these experiences he developed a "kind of awareness of suffering – why do people do this – and particularly, why does it have to happen to me?" (Marjorie C. Witty (1990) Life History Studies of Committed Lives, Vol. 3, Chapter 7, page 717, "Marshall Rosenberg", UMI Dissertation Information Service, Ann Arbor, Michigan, taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Rosenberg).
As a counterpart, in his family he received and saw “heaps of love” (his words). Hate and love, rejection and kindness, spiritual roots from Buddhism, the civil rights movement of 1950s and 60s USA, humanistic psychology of Carl Rogers, Gandhi’s model of succeeding to transform powerless in peaceful and efficient action: all these sources of inspiration melted into and through one another and have become integrated by Marshall Rosenberg within the Nonviolent Communication approach. "All that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries about consciousness, language, communication skills, and use of power that enable us to maintain a perspective of empathy for ourselves and others, even under trying conditions." (Marshall B. Rosenberg taken from www.cnvc.org).
What is Nonviolent Communication
The simplest definition of NVC, in the author’s words: “a way of communicating that leads us to give from the heart”, “a language of life”, “a language of compassion”. The benefits of using it? We become more grounded in our “natural state of compassion” and this helps us to (re)create better quality relationships in families, at work, in affairs, in education, in communities and in any conflicts, from our daily life to the political issues. “Better quality relationships” means relationships built on authenticity and self-expression, mutual respect, trust, cooperation, contribution, freedom, responsibility.
Essentially, Nonviolent Communication is a way of thinking and speaking that sustains with compassion the life energy in us, between us and for all of us in society, in nature and in the world. As a thinking way, it proposes to discover, understand and put into action these underlying principles about human nature:
All human beings share the same needs and the needs are sources of life, vitality and humanity.
We try to meet our needs as we can, in our best possible way, in every moment, through every action we do or we do not do.
All kinds of violence are the tragic expression of unmet needs.
All our needs can be met in peaceful ways for which there are many strategies.
Some ways of thinking and speaking create blockages in communication and prevent our access to very important needs and hence to the sources of inner vitality and power.
Our feelings result from our needs, whether they are met or unmet.
Every person has rich inner resources and receiving empathy from others can help to access these internal resources.
The natural tendencies of human beings are to give and to receive empathically, to serve life, to contribute to the well-being of self and to the well-being of others.
Human beings have the free will; we are not responsible for all that happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to what happens.
These underlying principles guide the process of speaking and the 4 steps technique. The 4 steps are: OBSERVATIONS, FEELINGS, NEEDS, REQUESTS. For every step, there are important distinctions to understand and practice, in order to be more accurate and present in the communication. Examples of distinctions:
OBERVATION/vs/THOUGHTS and INTERPRETATIONS of situations and people’s behavior.
In other words, when we look inside us and when we talk with ourselves or with others, it is more probable to have a good and life-enriching communication if we concentrate on what are the observed facts and the triggers, the feelings, the important values (needs) and what concrete actions and strategies we can ask in order to meet the needs. This process can be used in three directions:
In our inner dialogue: we bring awareness inside: about the triggers, the emotional reactions, the needs and the strategies we could use to meet our needs.
In expressing ourselves when talking to others: we speak authentically about our feelings and needs and offer our truth without blaming or trying to manipulate others.
In listening to others: we receive with empathy what others say, connecting with their feelings and needs and being curious about how we could contribute to their life.
In conclusion, this language of feelings and needs and this care for taking the own responsibility and for requesting, create more possibilities for understanding and finding solutions to conflicts. Instead of using the habitual way of blaming and judging, labelling and separating people in good/bad, manipulating and threatening, NVC proposes mediating and searching for the common base (what we observe, what we feel, what we need and what we request).
3.NVC and peace
Marshall Rosenberg became more than a psychologist with a humanistic view and practice, he chose to quit his private practice in order to spread NVC. He crossed his country and other continents, worked with people in various environments, taught NVC in a playful and respectful manner, mediated, opened minds and hearts in many difficult contexts: schools where segregation was still a challenge, within prisons, in organizations in conflicts, war-zones as Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Russia, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Serbia, Croatia. He was a peacemaker and he was awarded several prizes for his work. He founded The Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) which now is a “global organization that supports the learning and sharing of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), and helps people peacefully and effectively resolve conflicts in personal, organizational, and political settings” (www.cnvc.org). In present, more than 600 certified trainers from 55 countries in the world continue Marshall Rosenberg’s dedication to spread NVC. Also, people that are not certified but passionate about NVC and committed to keep the guidelines from CNVC can share their knowledge, passion and hopes for a peaceful world. In Romania, there are in present three certified trainers and three recommended to be certified soon, as well as a growing community of people interested in spreading NVC.
NVC in present
CNVC is active in offering various resources and opportunities to grow awareness of NVC in the world. It organizes every year several International Intensive Trainings (IIT) – these are 9-day residential and experiential workshops for developing fluency in Nonviolent Communication. Like a foreign language, NVC is most easily learned when through immersion in an environment where that language is spoken. This kind of immersion happens at IIT where participants from all over the world spend time in community, together. They practice NVC - attending workshops run by experienced trainers, some of whom have also met and worked with Marshall Rosenberg - but also socializing, observing, talking about their feelings and needs, solving conflicts, exercising making clear requests, and generally sharing “what is alive” in them (this expression is commonly used between NVC participants).
Why is NVC important in our time? From my point of view, NVC can help at the individual or personal level, but also at the social level. As one of the trainers at IIT UK 2018 said: “social change begins in every interaction.” In other words, the more we are, on a personal level, responsible and aware of our communication and of what is alive in us, the more we can contribute to the well-being of our families, friends, team-workers, colleagues and communities. Understanding, empathy, connection, joy, and courage in individuals influence the atmosphere in the societies we live. We all share a strong and deep need both to belong and to contribute, and we all need skills to overcome systemic blockages toward doing so, especially in these times of loneliness, insecure future and alienation from nature and from our fellow human beings.
1. Marshall Rosenberg – „Nonviolent communication: A language of life”, 3rd edition, 2015 PuddleDancer Press
2. Marshall Rosenberg – “Comunicarea noviolentă – un limbaj al vieții”, 2015, Ponte publishing house
3. www.nonviolenta.org – website of the Asociația pentru Comunicare Nonviolentă din România
4. www.cncvc.org – website of the Center of Nonviolent Communication, founded by Marshall Rosenberg