- Nonviolent Communication
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) (also called Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication ) is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s. NVC often functions as a conflict resolution process. It focuses on three aspects of communication: self-empathy (defined as a deep and compassionate awareness of one's own inner experience), empathy (defined as listening to another with deep compassion), and honest self-expression (defined as expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others).
NVC is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence or behavior that harms others when they don't recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs. Habits of thinking and speaking that lead to the use of violence (psychological and physical) are learned through culture. NVC theory supposes all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs and that these needs are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that if people can identify their needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround these needs, harmony can be achieved.
While NVC is ostensibly taught as a process of communication designed to improve compassionate connection to others, it has also been interpreted as a spiritual practice, a set of values, a parenting technique, an educational method and a worldview.
- 1 History and development
- 2 Applications
- 3 NVC Theory
- 4 Research
- 5 Relationship to spirituality
- 6 Relationship to other models
- 7 Responses
- 8 Organizations
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
History and development
Nonviolent Communication training evolved from Rosenberg’s search for a way to rapidly disseminate peacemaking skills. NVC emerged out of work he was doing with civil rights activists in the early 1960's. During this period he also mediated between rioting students and college administrators and worked to peacefully desegregate public schools in long-segregated regions.
According to Marion Little (2008), the roots of the NVC model developed in the late 1960s, when Rosenberg was working on racial integration in schools and organizations in the Southern United States. The earliest version of the model (observations, feelings, and action-oriented wants) was part of a training manual Rosenberg prepared in 1972. The model had evolved to its present form (observations, feelings, needs and requests) by 1999. The dialog between Rosenberg and NVC colleagues and trainers continues to influence the model, which by the late 2000s, placed more importance on self-empathy as a key to the model's effectiveness. Another shift in emphasis, since 2000, has been the reference to the model as a process. The focus is thus less on the "steps" themselves and more on the practitioner's intentions in speaking ("is the intent to get others to do what one wants, or to foster more meaningful relationships and mutual satisfaction?") in listening ("is the intent to prepare for what one has to say, or to extend heartfelt, respectful attentiveness to another?") and the quality of connection experienced with others.
Rosenberg's work with Carl Rogers on research to investigate the components of a helping relationship was, according to Little, central to the development of NVC. Rogers emphasized: 1) experiential learning, 2) "frankness about one’s emotional state," 3) the satisfaction of hearing others "in a way that resonates for them," 4) the enriching and encouraging experience of "creative, active, sensitive, accurate, empathic listening," 5) the "deep value of congruence between one’s own inner experience, one’s conscious awareness, and one’s communication," and, subsequently, 6) the enlivening experience of unconditionally receiving love or appreciation and extending the same.
Influenced by Erich Fromm, George Albee, and George Miller, Rosenberg adopted a community focus in his work, moving away from clinical psychological practice. The central ideas influencing this shift by Rosenberg were that: (1) individual mental health depends on the social structure of a community (Fromm), (2) therapists alone are unable to meet the psychological needs of a community (Albee), and (3) knowledge about human behavior will increase if psychology is freely given to the community (Miller).
Rosenberg’s early work with children with learning disabilities is noted as showing evidence of his interest in psycholinguistics and the power of language, as well as his emphasis on collaboration. In its initial development, the NVC model re-structured the pupil-teacher relationship to give students greater responsibility for, and decision-making related to, their own learning. The model has evolved over the years to incorporate institutional power relationships (i.e., police-citizen, boss-employee) and informal ones (i.e. man-woman, rich-poor, adult-youth, parent-child). The ultimate aim is to develop societal relationships based on a restorative, "partnership" paradigm and mutual respect, rather than a retributive, fear-based, "domination" paradigm.
Rosenberg has identified Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration for the NVC model. Rosenberg’s goal has been to develop a practical process for interaction rooted in Gandhi’s philosophy of "ahimsa" which translates as "the overflowing love that arises when all ill-will, anger, and hate have subsided from the heart."
Rosenberg has used Nonviolent Communication in peace programs in conflict zones including Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Serbia, Croatia, Ireland, and the Middle East including the Occupied Palestinian Territories. ( p.212) The approach also has been used in projects of restorative justice, bringing prisoners, victims of crime, police and other interested parties together for healing and reconciliation. NVC is recognized by the government of Israel and several NVC training schools have been founded there.
NVC has been applied in organizational and business settings,   in parenting,    in education,     in heathcare,  in addressing eating issues,  in prisons,    in mediation,  and as a basis for a children's book , among other contexts.
NVC has been combined with HeartMath meditation to form a practice called BePeace which serves as a peace building and social and emotional skill building curriculum being taught in public schools throughout Costa Rica, in the U.S. and in other countries.
Nonviolent Communication holds that most conflicts between individuals or groups arise from miscommunication about their human needs, due to coercive or manipulative language that aims to induce fear, guilt, shame, etc. These "violent" modes of communication, when used during a conflict, divert the attention of the participants away from clarifying their needs, their feelings, their perceptions, and their requests, thus perpetuating the conflict. The aim of Nonviolent Communication is then to steer the conversation back towards the needs, feelings, and perceptions, until the discovery of strategies that allow everyone's needs 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 in a way that works for everybody.
NVC trainers Inbal and Miki Kashtan characterize the assumptions underlying NVC as:
- All human beings share the same needs
- Our world offers sufficient resources for meeting everyone's basic needs
- All actions are attempts to meet needs
- Feelings point to needs 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 change
- Choice is internal
- The most direct path to peace is through self-connection
The Kashtans further offer that practicing NVC involves holding these intentions:
- Open-Hearted Living
- Expressing from the heart
- Receiving with compassion
- Prioritizing connection
- Moving beyond "right" and "wrong" to using needs-based assessments
- Choice, Responsibility, Peace
- Taking responsibility for our feelings
- Taking responsibility for our actions
- Living in peace with unmet needs
- Increasing capacity for meeting needs
- Increasing capacity for meeting the present moment
- Sharing Power (Partnership)
- Caring equally for everyone’s needs
- Using force minimally and to protect rather than to educate, punish, or get what we want without agreement
Communication that blocks compassion
NVC suggests that certain ways of communicating tend to alienate people from the experience of compassion: ( ch.2)
- Moralistic judgments implying wrongness or badness on the part of people who don't act in harmony with our values. Blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticisms, comparisons, and diagnoses are all said to be forms of judgment. (Moralistic judgments are not to be confused with value judgments as to the qualities we value.) The use of moralistic judgments is characterized as an impersonal way of expressing oneself that does not require one to reveal what is going on inside of oneself. This way of speaking is said to have the result that "Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others need and are not getting."
- Making comparisons between people.
- Denial of responsibility via language that obscures awareness of personal responsibility. It is said that we deny responsibility for our actions when we attribute their cause to: vague impersonal forces ("I had to"); our condition, diagnosis, personal or psychological history; the actions of others; the dictates of authority; group pressure; institutional policy, rules, and regulations; gender roles, social roles, or age roles; or uncontrollable impulses.
- Demands that implicitly or explicitly threaten listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply.
- A premise of deserving, that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment.
NVC invites practitioners to focus attention on four components:
- Observation: the facts (what we are seeing, hearing, or touching) as distinct from our evaluation of meaning and significance. NVC discourages static generalizations. It is said that "When we combine observation with evaluation others are apt to hear criticism and resist what we are saying." Instead, a focus on observations specific to time and context is recommended. ( ch.3)
- Feelings: emotions or sensations, free of thought and story. These are to be distinguished from thoughts (e.g., "I feel I didn't get a fair deal") and from words colloquially used as feelings but which convey what we think we are (e.g., "inadequate"), how we think others are evaluating us (e.g., "unimportant"), or what we think others are doing to us (e.g., "misunderstood", "ignored"). Feelings are said to reflect whether we are experiencing our needs as met or unmet. Identifying feelings is said to allow us to more easily connect with one another, and "Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts." ( ch.4)
- Needs: universal human needs, as distinct from particular strategies for meeting needs. It is posited that "Everything we do is in service of our needs."
- Request: request for a specific action, free of demand. Requests are distinguished from demands in that one is open to hearing a response of "no" without this triggering an attempt to force the matter. If one makes a request and receives a "no" it is recommended not that one give up, but that one empathize with what is preventing the other person from saying "yes," before deciding how to continue the conversation. It is recommended that requests use clear, positive, concrete action language. ( ch.6)
There are three primary modes of application of NVC:
- Self-empathy involves compassionately connecting with what is going on inside us. This may involve, without blame, noticing the thoughts and judgments we are having, noticing our feelings, and most critically, connecting to the needs that are affecting us. ( ch.4)
- Receiving empathically, in NVC, involves "connection with what's alive in the other person and what would make life wonderful for them... It's not an understanding of the head where we just mentally understand what another person says... Empathic connection is an understanding of the heart in which we see the beauty in the other person, the divine energy in the other person, the life that's alive in them.. It doesn't mean we have to feel the same feelings as the other person. That's sympathy, when we feel sad that another person is upset. It doesn't mean we have the same feelings; it means we are with the other person... If you're mentally trying to understand the other person, you're not present with them." ( ch.5) Empathy involves "emptying the mind and listening with our whole being." NVC suggests that however the other person expresses themselves, we focus on listening for the underlying observations, feelings, needs, and requests. It is suggested that it can be useful to reflect a paraphrase of what another person has said, highlighting the NVC components implicit in their message, such as the feelings and needs you guess they may be expressing. ( ch.7)
- Expressing honestly, in NVC, is likely to involve expressing an observation, feeling, need, and request. An observation may be omitted if the context of the conversation is clear. A feeling might be omitted if there is sufficient connection already, or the context is one where naming a feeling isn’t likely to contribute to connection. It is said that naming a need in addition to a feeling makes it less likely that people will think you are making them responsible for your feeling. Similarly, it is said that making a request in addition to naming a need makes it less likely that people will infer a vague demand that they address your need. The components are thought to work together synergistically. According to NVC trainer Bob Wentworth, "an observation sets the context, feelings support connection and getting out of our heads, needs support connection and identify what is important, and a request clarifies what sort of response you might enjoy. Using these components together minimizes the chances of people getting lost in potentially disconnecting speculation about what you want from them and why."
NVC lacks significant "longitudinal analytical research"  and few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of NVC training programs. To date, there has been little discussion of NVC in academic contexts. Most evidence for effectiveness of NVC has been anecdotal or based on theoretical support.
Allan Rohlfs, who first met Rosenberg in 1972 and was a founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, explains a paucity of academic literature as follows:
Virtually all conflict resolution programs have an academic setting as their foundation and therefore have empirical studies by graduate students assessing their efficacy. NVC is remarkable for its roots. Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. (clinical psychology, U of Wisconsin) comes from a full time private practice in clinical psychology and consultation, never an academic post. NVC, his creation, is entirely a grassroots organization and never had until recently any foundation nor grant monies, on the contrary funded 100% from trainings which were offered in public workshops around the world. ... Empirical data is now coming slowly as independent researchers find their own funding to conduct and publish empirical studies with peer review.
NVC has reportedly been involved in producing dramatic changes in forensic psychiatric nursing settings in which a high level of violence is the norm. NVC was adopted, in combination with other interventions, in an effort to reduce violence. The interventions were said to reduce key violence indicators by 90 percent over a three year period in a medium security unit, and by around 50 percent in a single year in a maximum security unit.
Relationship to spirituality
As Theresa Latini notes, "Rosenberg understands NVC to be a fundamentally spiritual practice." Marshall Rosenberg has, in fact, described the influence of his spiritual life on the development and practice of NVC:
"I think it is important that people see that spirituality is at the base of Nonviolent Communication, and that they learn the mechanics of the process with that in mind. It’s really a spiritual practice that I am trying to show as a way of life. Even though we don’t mention this, people get seduced by the practice. Even if they practice this as a mechanical technique, they start to experience things between themselves and other people they weren’t able to experience before. So eventually they come to the spirituality of the process. They begin to see that it’s more than a communication process and realize it’s really an attempt to manifest a certain spirituality."
Rosenberg further states that he developed NVC as a way to "get conscious of" what he calls the "Beloved Divine Energy".
Some Christians have found NVC to be complementary to their Christian faith. Many people have found Nonviolent Communication to be very complementary to Buddhism, both in theory and in manifesting Buddhist ideals in practice.
Relationship to other models
Marion Little examines theoretical frameworks related to NVC. The influential interest-based model for conflict resolution, negotiation, and mediation developed by Fisher, Ury, and Patton at the Harvard Negotiation Project in the 1980s appears to have some conceptual overlap with NVC, although neither model references the other. Little suggests The Gordon Model for Effective Relationships (1970) as a likely precursor to both NVC and interest-based negotiation, based on conceptual similarities, if not any direct evidence of a connection. Like Rosenberg, Gordon had worked with Carl Rogers, so the models' similarities may reflect common influences.
Researcher Havva Kök notes an overlap between the premises of NVC and those of Human Needs Theory (HNT), an academic model for understanding the sources of conflict and designing conflict resolution processes, with the idea that "Violence occurs when certain individuals or groups do not see any other way to meet their need, or when they need understanding, respect and consideration for their needs."
There is little published critique of NVC, however, researchers have noted that NVC lacks an evidence base beyond the copious anecdotal claims of effectiveness and similarly lacks discussion in the literature of the theoretical basis of the model.
Chapman Flack, in reviewing a training video by Rosenberg, finds the presentation of key ideas "spell-binding" and the anecdotes "humbling and inspiring," notes the "beauty of his work," and his "adroitly doing fine attentive thinking" when interacting with his audience. Yet Flack wonders what to make of aspects of Rosenberg's presentation, such as his apparent "dim view of the place for thinking" and his building on Walter Wink's account of the origins of our way of thinking. To Flack, some elements of what Rosenberg says seem like pat answers at odds with the challenging and complex picture of human nature history, literature and art offer. 
Flack notes a distinction between the "strong sense" of nonviolent communication as a virtue that is possible with care and attention, and the "weak sense," a mimicry of this born of ego and haste. The strong sense offers a language to examine one's thinking and actions, support understanding, bring one's best to the community, and honor one's emotions. In the weak sense, one may take the language as rules and use these to score debating points, label others for political gain, or insist that others express themselves in this way. Though concerned that some of what Rosenberg says could lead to the weak sense, Flack sees evidence confirming that Rosenberg understands the strong sense in practice. Rosenberg's work with workshop attendees demonstrates "the real thing." Yet Flack warns that "the temptation of the weak sense will not be absent." As an antidote, Flack advises, "Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others," and guard against the "metamorphosis of nonviolent communication into subtle violence done in its name."
Prof. Ellen Gorsevski, in assessing Rosenberg's book, "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion" (1999), in the context of geopolitical rhetoric states that "the relative strength of the individual is vastly overestimated while the key issue of structural violence is almost completely ignored." Gorsevski further asserts that Rosenberg's recommendations about paraphrasing are contraindicated by John Gottman's research identifying "negative mind reading" as a communication tactic that leads marriages to fail.
The Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC), founded by Marshall Rosenberg, has trademarked the terms NVC, Nonviolent Communication and Compassionate Communication, among other terms, for clarity and branding purposes. CNVC certifies trainers who wish to teach NVC in a manner aligned with CNVC's understanding of the NVC process.
While CNVC offers some trainings, most Nonviolent Communication trainings are offered by trainers either acting independently or sponsored by NVC organizations which are allied with but with no formal relationship to CNVC. Some of these trainings are announced through CNVC. There are numerous NVC organizations around the world, many with regional focuses.
- Alternatives to Violence Project
- Marshall Rosenberg
- People skills
- Restorative justice
- Teaching for social justice
- Active listening
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