Nonviolent NZ Communities

Bringing Authentic and Compassionate Communication to Individuals, Communities and Organisations 

Based on the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg and the Centre of Nonviolent Communication and

Daniel Goleman and Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations

More about Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent communication (NVC, also called compassionate communication, or Giraffe language) is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s and 70s.

NVC often functions as a conflict resolution process. It focuses on two aspects of communication:

  • honest self-expression (defined as expressing oneself in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others) and
  • empathy (defined as listening with deep compassion).

The aim of NVC is then to steer the conversation back towards the needs, feelings, and perceptions, until the discovery of strategies that allow everyone´s need to be met. 

The reasoning is that from a position of mutual understanding and empathy, the participants will be able to find ways to meet their needs without compromising their opponent´s.

NVC advocates that, in order to cultivate a deeper understanding of each other, the parties should express themselves in objective and neutral terms, (preferring factual observations about feelings and needs) rather than in judgmental terms (such as good versus bad, right versus wrong, or fair versus unfair).

Formal NVC self-expression follows four steps:

  • Making neutral observations devoid of interpretation or judgment (e.g. “I see two pairs of soiled socks under the coffee table, and three next to the TV.”).
  • Expressing feelings without justification or interpretation (e.g. “I feel irritated”).
  • Expressing needs drawing from a list of fundamental human needs (e.g. “I need and value order and cleanness in the rooms we share.”).
  • Making clear, concrete, feasible requests (e.g. “Would you be willing to put your socks in the washing machine?”).

In response, the listener may build empathy with the speaker by responding with reworded versions of the speaker´s own statements (“I hear you saying that...”), thus confirming for them that they have been heard and understood.

NVC requires listening carefully and patiently to others, even when the speaker and listener are in conflict.

The two modes of use of the NVC model are:

1) Empathy, including both self-empathy, and empathy for another.

2) Honest self-expression, including “please” (request) and “thank you” (gratitude). 

The empathy process practiced in NVC is sometimes called “deep listening”. It involves the listener connecting with the essential core of an individual´s experience and offering a kindly energy of presence. The empathy process offered by NVC is often referred to as “giving empathy.” It is more accurately a procedure that supports the development of true empathy.

This process involves listening for, and sometimes guiding the other person towards describing:

1) Observations as to what happened

2) Feelings evoked, sometimes guessing what feelings might be, if the other is (for example) in blame mode.

3) Needs both met and unmet, although the unmet needs are most likely to be provoking the feelings involved.

The name “nonviolent communication” refers to Mohandas Gandhi´s philosophy of ahimsa or nonviolence. Unlike Gandhi, Rosenberg endorses the use of protective force – the use of force to keep injury from occurring, so long as it is not punitive, i.e., force applied with the intention to punish or harm someone for a past deed. Rosenberg says the desire to punish and the use of punitive measures only exists in cultures that have moralistic good/evil worldviews. He points out that anthropologists have discovered cultures in many parts of the world in which the idea of someone being “bad” makes no sense. He says such cultures tend to be peaceful and do not rely on punitive force to correct maladaptive or harmful behaviours. One example of such a culture is the Semai people in Malaysia.