A Research Paper By Wendy Sadd, Life Coach, NEW ZEALAND
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) As a Tool for Creating Self-Awareness and Effective Communication
Four years ago, I attended a 5 day Life Coaching training and one of the participants in the training presented a brief account about Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I had never heard of it and it piqued my interest. On returning home, I went onto YouTube and searched “Nonviolent Communication” and immediately found an amazing amount of information regarding the principals and decided I wanted to learn more. A few months later the universe heard my call and presented me with the opportunity to attend a foundational NVC workshop. Since then, I have attended numerous NVC workshops and training and these have helped to deepen my practice and as a result, my communication has improved, my self-awareness has improved because I have a greater understanding of my needs and values. I no longer react when I feel triggered because I can go inward and explore the needs and values that are not being met, and then I get to choose what I do next, rather than react, which is so often counterproductive. I know myself a lot better than I did and my relationships have improved.
NVC has helped me to be more compassionate to myself and others and has shaped me into a better human being and those qualities help me to be a better coach. I believe that self-awareness is a critical first step to becoming a valuable and effective coach and that Non-Violent Communication provides a framework for increasing self-awareness, staying out of judgment, improving listening skills and communication skills.
About Nonviolent Communication
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) was originated by Marshall Rosenburg (1934-2015) over about 40 years, as he dedicated his life to understanding what separates us and what connects us, what brings us to violence and what brings us to resolution and peaceful co-existence.
Nonviolent Communication is the integration of four things:
- Consciousness: A set of principles that support living a life of compassion, collaboration, courage, authenticity.
- Language: Understanding how words contribute to connection or distance
- Communication: Knowing how to ask for what we want, how to hear others even in disagreement, and how to move towards solutions that work for all.
- Means of Influence: sharing “power with others” rather than using “power over others”
Many of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgements rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing. Marshall B Rosenburg
NVC is based on the assumption that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and empathy and that people only resort to violence or behavior, that is harmful to others when they do not recognize or know about more effective strategies for meeting their needs.
The assumptions underlying NVC are as follows:
- All human beings share the same needs/values
- Our world offers sufficient resources for meeting everyone’s basic needs/values
- All actions attempt to meet needs/values
- Feelings point to needs/values being met or unmet
- All human beings have the capacity for compassion
- Human beings enjoy giving
- Human beings meet needs through interdependent relationships
- Human beings can change
- Choice is internal
- The most direct part to peace is through self-connection
Practicing NVC Involves Having the Following Intentions
- Expressing from the heart
- Receiving with compassion
- Prioritizing connection
- Moving beyond “right” and “wrong” to using needs/values-based assessments
Choice, Responsibility, Peace
- Taking responsibility for our feelings
- Taking responsibility for our actions
- Living in peace with unmet needs/values
- Increasing capacity for meeting need/values
- Increasing capacity for meeting the present moment
Sharing Power (Partnership)
- Caring fully for everyone’s needs/values
- Increasing capacity for needs/values bases sharing of resources
- Protective use of force.
NVC – The Process
There are four components of NVC:
- Observations – The concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being
- Feelings – How we feel about what we observe
- Needs – The needs, values, desires, etc that create our feelings
- Requests – The concrete actions we request to enrich our lives
All of these aspects of effective communication are necessary when you are playing with non-violent communication and it essentially looks like this.
If you and I are roommates and we live in a house together and you like leaving your dishes in the sink, because that is just what you do and I don’t like your behavior, a violent way of communicating to you would be: “You left your dishes in the sink again” Sigh and seriously, I’m not your mother” There is violence in that. Violence is judgment, blame, and criticism. I am essentially saying something is wrong with your character when I speak to you that way. That way of speaking invites offense, resentment, and judgment back, and that creates a dynamic that is unhealthy, unproductive, disconnecting, and is unlikely to give me what I want.
Every criticism, judgement, diagnosis, and expression of anger is a tragic expression of an unmet need. Marshall B Rosenburg
When applying the NVC process the dialogue would go like this “ When I see those dishes in the sink, I feel upset. I feel upset because I have a deep need for the common area to be clean. Would you be willing to put your dishes in the dishwasher”?
Deconstructing the dialogue in respect of the NVC process looks like this:
The dishes in the sink are an observation. I am talking about the facts. I’m not saying that you are a slob, I am saying when I see the dishes in the sink, I feel upset.
This approach reflects what is going on with me, there is no judgment about the other person and therefore the chances of me getting my needs met are a lot higher than if I said like this “Oh you are such a slob, would you please do your dishes”
I was never taught what actual feeling words are, and most of the people I know were never taught that either. Essentially feeling words are in the body, so it’s how you are experiencing the situation in the body.
Non-feeling words are in the head, they are thoughts, judgments, and evaluations.
All negative feelings stem from unmet needs, so when I am sharing my need with you, I am hoping you will feel a little bit of compassion for me and that you will agree to my request.
This approach is about what is going on with me, I am not making the other person wrong, I am not blaming my feelings on the other person. I am owning my feelings, understanding the unmet needs that are creating the feelings and then I am choosing to request the other person.
The objective of Nonviolent Communication is not to change people and their behaviour in order to get our own way: it is to establish relationships based on honesty and empathy, which will eventually fulfill everyone’s needs. Marshall B Rosenburg
NVC in Coaching
I believe NVC provides an excellent framework for releasing judgment and creating connections. The ability to release judgment and create safety and connection with a client is an essential part of the partnership between coach and client.
Also, a lot of stuff that people bring to a coaching session has to do with other people. Often this will have something to do with a conflict between one or more people.
Conflict is “the struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands” – Merriam-Webster.
People need to have conversations to get past what is happening and NVC can provide a framework for having effective communication to resolve conflict, preserve the connection, and create win/win situations. It’s been my experience that when conflict arises between people they don’t always know the “how-to” to create a resolution, and as a result, they will often avoid, withdraw, blame or criticize, and those behaviors are rarely productive.
NVC can also help us evaluate ourselves when we have been less than perfect. When we are internally violent to ourselves it can be difficult to be genuinely compassionate to others.
We can use NVC to evaluate ourselves in ways that engender growth rather than self-hatred. Self-judgments
As a coach, if you can become familiar with this practice it could be helpful to introduce the NVC framework to your clients and step them through the NVC process step by step, and then get them to write it down. Many of us have no idea how to do this, I know I didn’t until I learned about it, and then I had to practice it.
Now if I need to have a difficult conversation, I study what is going on. I sometimes have to get my list of feelings out and then my list of needs/values to help me get clarity.
It’s helped me to break old unproductive patterns. I’ve become more self-aware because I can connect to my feelings, needs, and values. I have improved my emotional vocabulary. I can navigate difficult conversations without damaging the connection. I’ve learned to appreciate what triggers me and others. I’ve learned to transform my anger before it leads to behavior that I will regret. I know how to use empathy to let others know they are heard, which is often all that is needed to transform conflict into a powerful connection. Implementing the practice of NVC into my life has had a positive impact on my personal and professional growth and I wish I had known about the process years ago.
I think every coach would benefit from reading “Non-Violent Communication – A Language of Life” by Marshall B Rosenburg, Ph.D. It’s a very useful framework for helping people to connect to themselves and others and will improve the quality of personal and family relationships, professional and business relationships and can create positive cultural shifts in the world.
The process of NVC is a powerful process for transforming conflict into connection and helps us to be conscious about the impact of how we think and how we use language in everyday conversations with others and with ourselves. Words can either connect or disconnect us from others and in a world where everything happens through relationships, tools that can help us stay connected in relationships are valuable to learn and practice.
This applies not only in the world of coaching but in:
- Intimate relationships
- Organizations and institutions
- Therapy and counseling relationships
- Diplomatic and business negotiations
- Disputes and conflicts of any nature
Marshall B Rosenberg Ph.D., 3rd Edition, 1st Printing, September 2015. “ NonviolentCommunication “ A Language of Life. A PuddleDancer Press Book.
NVC Feelings List
NVC Needs/Values List
The Basics of Nonviolent Communication DVD 1 Part 1