Non-Violent Communication

May there be peace in the north,

May there be peace in the south,

May there be peace in the west,

May there be peace in the east,

May there be peace throughout the whole world.

– Call to Peace in druid ritual

As part of my spiritual tradition and practice, prayers for peace, within and without,  are common.  What is peace? Is peace simply the absence of violence or is it something deeper, something more?

In this blog I plan to write about the topics that I’m thinking about, learning from and/or engaging with.  I am a member of a Toastmasters club and for my next speech I am going to talk about Non-Violent Communication. NVC is a communication model developed by Marshall Rosenberg.  I was introduced to it less than a year ago during a college class.  I found it completely fascinating at the time and over the last year I have read more and thought more about it. As a subject and a skill, it has been life changing.  In writing about it, I have discovered that there’s a reason authors take whole books to explore the subject; this is a very basic explanation.

Spoken communication is in two parts: speaking and listening. Both parts are active.  The nvc model can be used both in speaking and in listening.

There are four key elements to a non-violent statement: observations, feelings, needs and requests.

A skillful observation is made without judgments. It is an observation of reality.  This is difficult to do.  A lot of the way we speak to each other contains judgments, reproaches and criticism. “You’re always leaving the milk out” becomes “I’ve just been in the kitchen and I notice that the milk has not been put back in the fridge”.

Feelings are emotions.  There is a very wide range of human emotions. The most basic are fear, anger, sadness and happiness.  My general understanding of an expression of an emotion is that it cannot be simply replaced with the verb ‘to think’.  For instance, ‘I feel rejected’ is an emotional statement. You cannot simply say ‘I think rejected’ or even ‘I think that I have been rejected’. They are loaded observations of reality. They say nothing of my feelings.  ‘I feel sad. I feel rejected’.

Needs are universal to living things.   Examples of needs are the need for warmth, shelter, safety, freedom, growth, food and affection.  Needs are either met or unmet in any situation. We might not always be conscious of our needs being met or not.  I would say that very few people can identify their needs and communicate that to other people. It was this element of the NVC formula that really blew my mind when I started to apply it to my own life. Speaking my mind clearly and authentically I had to take stock of what my own needs are and be able to communicate it.

Requests are made of other people and ourselves. All communication carries a request. Sometimes it might simply be a request to be heard or a request to talk and be light hearted.  A skillful request is not a demand. It does not have consequences.  A request is an offer and looks for and gives the other a chance to respond.

An example statement, taken from the original “you always leave the milk out” could be:  “I’ve just been in the kitchen and I notice that the milk has not been put back in the fridge.  I feel frustrated and annoyed when I see it left out. I have a need for cleanliness and tidyness in my home.  I would like for you to put to milk away after you use it. How does that sound to you?”

The second part of communication is listening.  When the speaker is skilled in nvc, they are clearly communicating their observations, feelings, needs and requests. We are not all so skilled. The skilled listener is looking particularly for two things, feelings and needs, that they can reflect back to the speaker to ensure that they have been understood.

“My boss is treating me very unfairly!”

“Are you angry because your need to be treated fairly at work is not being met?”

Asking an active question in this way, invites the speaker to consider their own needs and how they are being met or not.

Violence is an extreme and unhealthy way to communicate that a need is not being met.  This is in no way to excuse the violence or the perpetrator but to move beyond blame and retribution.  So what is peace? I believe peace is integrity in the world. Peace exists when our needs are met.  For our individual needs to be met we need to first identify them and then to ask for them. Peace isn’t something ‘out there’, it comes from an active engagement with life, with our requirements and conditions.

Exploring NVC has brought me into an active engagement with myself, my intimate relationships and with the world.  I hope to write more on this topic in the future. For now, there are several fantastic books on NVC in print. Those that I have read are listed below and I invite you to explore further.

Rosenberg, Marshall. Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life

Rosenberg, Marshall. Speak Peace in a World of Conflict

D’Ansembourg, Thomas. Being Genuine: Stop Being Nice, Start Being Real


2 thoughts on “Non-Violent Communication

  1. Dearbhail says:

    Thank you for sharing.. how do we identify what we need? what is the process here? In my view ‘ be still and know that I am god’, be still and connect with your own divinity, be still in order to journey within to identify what I need.. And so the path to peace is through connection with our deepest self, our deepest truth, our deepest desire…. and the path is the way.

    1. Pól says:

      Hi Dearbhail, I think our emotions are key to understanding if our needs are met. Are we genuinely happy or is there resentment or anger somewhere. If so, why? This is the stuff of great conversations.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, please share them with me.

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