Nonviolent communication (NVC) is a practice and approach to communication based on the basic values and principles of nonviolence. The formal framework developed by clinical psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s and 70s. NVC emphasizes deep listening, intention, and ownership for one’s own needs, feelings, and requests. We asked WellSet instructor and self-worth coach Aubree Henderson to break down the benefits of NVC and offer practical ways to use this method in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others in the workplace, our relationships, and beyond.
Q: Why is nonviolent communication so important?
In the words of Rosenberg, with NVC "we are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others."
Q: What does "violent" communication in the workplace look like?
I love this question. We often think of violence as physically harming people, but violent communication happens all the time in the workplace. Some examples of violent communication include blaming others, making moralistic judgments, putting others down, or making demands of others.
Q: Why do people struggle with maintaining NVC? What do your clients and students typically find most challenging?
Honestly, I think the toughest thing about NVC is that it's not the norm in our culture! Particularly at work in a capitalist society, we get so focused on results and outcomes and profits that we lose the element of humanity. NVC is not necessarily the most efficient practice because it inherently requires us to slow down and listen! This can be challenging when we are also facing pressure to produce results and get things done quickly.
"Nonviolent communication invites you to hone your skills of observation and really tune in to your own experiences in a way that allows for a much more mindful way of living."
Q: How have you seen NVC benefit the people you coach, in work and personal relationships?
Q: What are the components of nonviolent communication?
Beyond being a very useful communication tool, NVC is truly a worldview shift. This means it has tons of great applications and can yield amazing results in all areas of life. I have seen individuals use NVC to transform a hostile relationship with their partner into a more tender and loving one. Many of my clients use NVC to see how they are making assumptions and creating stories about what the people in their life think about them without ever once communicating about it with those people directly! It is also an incredible tool for anyone who wants to be more present in any setting with other humans. NVC invites you to hone your skills of observation and really tune in to your own experiences in a way that allows for a much more mindful way of living.
Observing the situation, dynamic, or interaction, identifying the feelings that arise as a result of the situation, understanding the needs being expressed through the situation, and expressing a clear request for what you. need.
Q: Can you give an example of applying nonviolent communication in the workplace?
Yes! Let's say you scheduled a meeting with a colleague, and they didn’t show up (observation). When they didn’t show up for the meeting, you felt frustrated and wondered if they even value your time (feelings). You need your colleague’s time and attention on this project, and to know that they value your time and energy (needs).
After identifying your needs, make a clear ask that will help to restore balance and move toward those needs being met (request). The clearer and more specific you can be, the better. In this scenario, your request might be: "In the future, please let me know in advance if you are not able to make it to our meeting.”
Q: How can we observe clearly, without skipping ahead to the feelings?
Stick to the facts! Making direct, concrete observations about the situation you are in will ground you first in the tangible context of the dynamic before exploring your inner world. Then pause to acknowledge the emotions, sensations, and thoughts that this situation brings up for you. Don't rush this step either: Acknowledging the emotions that are activated helps to validate your experience and prevent impulsive action.
Q: How else can we hone our nonviolent communication skills?
Which principles of nonviolent communication (observation, feelings, needs, requests) are you already practicing consistently in your life? Which would you like to practice more consistently? The more aware you are of the component(s) that don't come as naturally to you, the more you can give yourself the time and space to reflect before reacting to a situation that would benefit from NVC!