What is Nonviolent Communication (NVC)?

NVC was developed by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD

· NVC

Besides being a book title, NVC is much more than a way of communicating. NVC is a language of life, a way of life, a consciousness of compassion, a mindfulness practice of focusing our attention on elements of our shared life experience that contribute to compassionate giving and receiving. NVC is also a movement started by Marshall Rosenberg, which continues to evolve through people who practice, model, teach and live it.

Some people unfamiliar with this work get thrown off by the "nonviolent" part of NVC, saying something like "I'm not violent" -- not realizing that violence to ourselves takes place with our judgmental thoughts and our words when used against others. In naming NVC as he did, Marshall Rosenberg was trying to show solidarity with the soul of the nonviolent social justice movements of Mahatma Gandhi in India, and Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.

NVC has three modes of practice, as symbolized by NVC Trainer Inbal Kashtan’s “NVC Tree of Life” shown below. I love the framing metaphor of a tree because it highlights visually our interdependence and membership with and of the Earth from which all life originates and is sustained.

At the roots of the tree, especially the part of the root structure below the ground, lies the practice of Self-Empathy — aka. Self-Connection. Self-Empathy is the foundation of NVC because it is hard to be compassionate with others if we aren’t compassionate with ourselves. As we give ourselves empathy, by acknowledging the thoughts, feelings and needs that are alive is us, we become naturally curious and compassionate about life outside of us — we warm up to other people and the more-than-human world, intuitively beginning to imagine the inner experiences of everyone and everything around us.

Empathy is shown on the tree branch to the left, representing the non-verbal practice of our inner-imagining of the experience of others, along with the verbalizing of our curiosity toward them. Our inner-imagining includes our intuitions or the formulating hypotheses about the other’s feelings and needs (note that this branch has a direct connection with the right-most root system when we ask ourselves "what's alive in you?"). When verbal, empathy usually takes on the form of a question — respecting that the other person's inner experience is known only to them.

The tree branch on the right is labeled Self-Expression (aka. Honesty), which is the practice of compassionately expressing to others what is alive for us — i.e. what we found out about ourselves in our self-empathy practice. Our NVC honesty ends with a request of the other person, otherwise others don’t know what to do with the information. NVC encourages the use of connection requests, such as "how do you feel about that?" and "would you be willing to tell me the heart of what you heard me say?"

NVC Tree of Life by NVC Trainer Inbal Kashtan

Here is another take on NVC from the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC): 

With Nonviolent Communication (NVC) we learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC helps us discover the depth of our own compassion. This language reveals the awareness that all human beings are only trying to honor universal values and needs, every minute, every day.

NVC can be seen as both a spiritual practice that helps us see our common humanity, using our power in a way that honors everyone's needs, and a concrete set of skills which help us create life-serving families and communities.

The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

Through the practice of NVC, we can learn to clarify what we are observing, what emotions we are feeling, what values we want to live by, and what we want to ask of ourselves and others. We will no longer need to use the language of blame, judgment or domination. We can experience the deep pleasure of contributing to each others' well being.

NVC creates a path for healing and reconciliation in its many applications, ranging from intimate relationships, work settings, health care, social services, police, prison staff and inmates, to governments, schools and social change organizations.

"All that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries about consciousness, language, communication skills, and use of power that enable us to maintain a perspective of empathy for ourselves and others, even under trying conditions." -- Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD

Nonviolent Communication contains nothing new. It is based on historical principles of nonviolence-- the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart. NVC reminds us what we already instinctively know about how good it feels to authentically connect to another human being."