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Nonviolent Communication

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Please note that while there are books and publications about 'Nonviolent Communication', we owe the teachings and wisdom of this practice to indigenous communities across the globe. Nonviolent communication is not universal because each individual is uniquely impacted by privilege and oppression. It is a tool to consider in understanding and connection with others.

“While we may not consider the way we talk to be ‘violent,’ words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or ourselves.” — Marshall Rosenberg

Nonviolent communication can teach us to hear our own needs and the needs of others more deeply. This practice offers a structure to reframe how we express ourselves and how we hear others so that our words can be conscious responses based on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting.

Nonviolent communication is the practice of four steps:

  • Observations

  • Feelings

  • Needs

  • Requests

There are two sides to communication, listening and expression. Think of a figure eight, or the infinity symbol; one side is listening and the other is expressing. The two sides are part of one loop that is connected and interacting.

During NVC, we practice expressing ourselves with honesty and clarifying what we are expressing, while offering respect and empathy with our attention to others.

It is helpful to be aware of our feelings and our needs. This Feelings Inventory is a list of words we use to express a combination of emotional states and physical sensations. Feelings we have when our needs are being met are often different from feelings we have when our needs are not being met.

CNVC Feelings Inventory
Download PDF • 108KB

For example, when we say "I feel bad about that," the word bad could mean scared, self-conscious, guilty, frustrated, or any number of other emotions.

When we are experiencing emotions associated with unmet needs, this Needs Inventory can help us identify and communicate our unmet needs. This list is an incomplete list and is a starting point for facilitating understanding between people.

CNVC Needs Inventory
Download PDF • 55KB

When we are expressing needs, we often have trouble identifying the basic human need that is not being met and instead communicate the strategy for meeting the need. For example, "I need you to pay attention," versus "I need connection right now."

After observing what is going on within ourselves, expressing our feelings, and identifying our needs, we can make requests for those needs to be met.

We can practice nonviolent communication as individuals, in families, in the workplace, and any other space where we communicate. Every relationship and environment has unique limitations to communication, including dynamics of power and privilege. When we communicate with another person, we do not always start from the same place and the values we hold are often different. These differences are vital to consider, acknowledging that nonviolent communication is not universal.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.

-- Rumi

Nonviolent Communication Resources out there to support you.

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