Introduction to NVC (Nonviolent Communication)

If you're speaking, speak with intention to communicate in these four areas, and if you're listening, focus attention on understanding what the speaker is indicating in these four areas:

1. Observation - In a purely factual way, without judgment or evaluation, what happened?

2. Feeling - What is the speaker's emotion about what happened? (If you're the speaker, what's your emotion?) Paul Ekman has researched universal, cross-cultural emotions. His work identifies 17: amusement, anger, contempt, contentment, disgust, embarrassment, excitement, fear, guilt, happiness, pride in achievement, relief, sadness, satisfaction, sensory pleasure, shame, and surprise.

For beginners, a good, memorable starter list is these four: mad, sad, glad, or scared. Are you -- or is the person you're listening to -- feeling mad, sad, glad, or scared? These are the basic four, and in most cases one of these four fits.

Try to avoid a common temptation: to disguise a judgment about some other person as an expression of your feeling. For example, "neglected," "abandoned," "betrayed," "disrespected," don't count as "feelings" in the NVC sense. This is because the emotion that's present is being mixed with judgment about some other person who is alledgedly guilty of the neglecting, abandoning, betraying, or disrespecting. Watch out for those "-ed" words -- they tend to indicate a mixture of emotion and judgment about someone else. Instead, seek to identify JUST the emotion. Sticking to Ekman's list is generally good practice.

3. Need - In the context of NVC, we're not talking about something you'll die if you don't get. Rather, we're talking about a "universal attractant." It's a "need" if it's the sort of thing that everybody enjoys getting from time to time -- if it's universal. Forget about distinguishing between "need" and "want." Instead, the relevant distinction is between "need" and "strategy." Nobody needs pizza, but we all need food. Getting some pizza is a "strategy" for meeting the food "need." Once you've clarified that a particular desire is a "strategy," ("I want a red Ferrari"), then the question arises what need the strategy meets (ease, respect, self-expression are some possible needs here). This way of approaching issues invites us to open-minded consideration of alternative strategies for meeting our needs. In other words, once we see what we want as a strategy, and have then identified what need the strategy is designed to meet, we are psychologically prepared to think about whether other strategies would meet the need as well or better. (Or whether we can make our peace with simply not having that need met for now. Remember: Needs do not HAVE to be met. Even the food need can be happily left unmet by someone on a hunger strike for a cause they deeply believe in. It's just that humans are built to feel certain attractions, whether we might decide, or be able, to satisfy them or not. The things that all humans want are called "needs.")

Marshall Rosenberg has identified a list of needs -- i.e., universal attractants -- that is quite comprehensive, yet manageable -- he lists 77 needs in 11 categories. SEE HERE.

4. Request - Is there something clear and do-able that the speaker (or you) wants to ask for? The key distinction here is between a "request" and a "demand." The difference has nothing to do with what language is used or how polite or gentle the expression is. Sometimes you can't tell from hearing it or expressing it whether it's a request or a demand. The litmus test is: If the answer is 'no,' will the speaker (or you) be upset? The level at which a 'no' answer is perturbing is the level at which demand was present in the request. Sometimes it's a little; sometimes it's a lot. NVC is a way of relating to people in which the attempt is made to identify all "demand energy" that may be present, and, insofar as possible, let it go.

This approach to communication is called "nonviolent" in recognition that violence is any thought, word, or deed that treats a being like an object or diminishes a being’s sense of value or security.

The most significant contributor to the development of NVC and the founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication is Marshall Rosenberg, whose work in NVC began in the 1960s. The best introduction remains Rosenberg's 1999 book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

The website for the Center for Nonviolent Communication: www.cnvc.org.

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