Living Unbound Resource: Non-Violent Communication

Even those of us who are generally kind and patient people, or at least relatively so, at least most of the time, can be very surprised to learn how violently we actually communicate. The violence of our communication is often so out of sync with how we perceive ourselves to be, and is often so much of a blind spot, even for those of us who feel we are at least relatively conscious of how we communicate, that it will likely be truly helpful for each of us to take a fresh look at whether our communication is truly non-violent, and truly compassionate.

The reason this is worth a fresh look for almost all of us, is that we learned our overall style of communication at a very early age, at an age when we had no idea what it meant to communicate is ways that are free from the overwhelming influence of our family, our culture, our generation, our nationality and even our primary language.

The Non-Violent Communication system, developed by Marshall Rosenberg, is a fantastic resource which can be helpful to nearly any one of us, if for no other reason than to be sure that all facets of our communication are in harmony with who we know ourselves to be, and with who we may intend to be.

Non-Violent Communication helps us to become clear on the ways we may not be communicating clearly, while also offering a method to communicate clearly with anyone, without going into blaming, manipulating, controlling, attacking or any of the other tendencies in communication that we may be sure we do  not engage in, or that we may be surprised to experience, when we do engage in them (i.e. “Where’d that come from?”). And, every bit as helpfully, NVC (as Non-Violent Communication is known) helps us to communicate compassionately with those who may be directing unhappy expressions at us.

Which brings us to the core, true value of NVC: at heart, NVC is all and only about harmony, unity and wholeness – three of the foundational principles of Living Unbound. NVC terms this condition of unity “empathy”, and whatever it is called, it is the place where the walls come down, and therefore the place where communication can actually happen. And when communication happens, miracles can happen. Life-changing miracles. World-changing miracles. Really.

And we may notice, as we watch the video above, that Marshall Rosenberg sounds a lot like a regular guy. A regular guy who was stunned and confused at the levels of violence in communication, all over the world, in nearly every kind of situation falling under the category of communication. A regular guy who decided to do something about it. And sometimes, maybe every time, this is what makes all the difference.

As we look all around us, at attempted communication between people discussing religion, people discussing politics, people discussing national issues, maybe even people discussing perceived issues within our own families or communities. What can we do? We can learn how to communicate compassionately, and we can then communicate compassionately. We can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. We can be part of the light, instead of the ongoing interplay of shadowy dreaming.

We can establish empathy, unity with anyone. Really. All is takes is sincerity. If we are truly willing to meet, to communicate, to connect, we have tapped into the greatest power of all; the only truly power – the loving that is Living Unbound.

Some excerpts from Non-Violent Communication: A Language Of Life

by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD.


Believing that it is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving in a compassionate manner, I have been preoccupied most of my life with two questions. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively? And conversely, what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?

My preoccupation with these questions began in childhood, around the summer of 1943, when our family moved to Detroit, Michigan. The second week after we arrived, a race war erupted over an incident at a public park. More than forty people were killed in the next few days. Our neighborhood was situated in the center of the violence, and we spent three days locked in the house.

When the race riot ended and school began, I discovered that a name could be as dangerous as any skin color. When the teacher called my name during attendance, two boys glared at me and hissed, “Are you a kike?” I had never heard the word before and didn’t know it was used by some people in a derogatory way to refer to Jews. After school, the two were waiting for me: they threw me to the ground, kicked and beat me.

Since that summer in 1943, I have been examining the two questions I mentioned. What empowers us, for example, to stay connected to our compassionate nature even under the worst circumstances? I am thinking of people like Etty Hillesum, who remained compassionate even while subjected to the grotesque conditions of a German concentration camp. As she wrote in her journal at the time,

“I am not easily frightened. Not because I am brave but because I know that I am dealing with human beings, and that I must try as hard as I can to understand everything that anyone ever does. And that was the real import of this morning: not that a disgruntled young Gestapo officer yelled at me, but that I felt no indignation, rather a real compassion, and would have liked to ask, ‘Did you have a very unhappy childhood, has your girlfriend let you down?’ Yes, he looked harassed and driven, sullen and weak. I should have liked to start treating him there and then, for I know that pitiful young men like that are dangerous as soon as they are let loose on mankind.”
—Etty Hillesum: A Memoir

While studying the factors that affect our ability to stay compassionate, I was struck by the crucial role of language and our use of words. I have since identified a specific approach to communicating—speaking and listening—that leads us to give from the heart, connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish. I call this approach Nonviolent Communication, using the term “nonviolence” as Gandhi used it—to refer to our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart. While we may not consider the way we talk to be “violent,” our words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for ourselves or others. In some communities, the process I am describing is known as Compassionate Communication; the abbreviation “NVC” is used throughout this book to refer to Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication.

a way to focus attention

NVC is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. It contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know—about how we humans were meant to relate to one another—and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.

NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. NVC trains us to observe carefully, and to be able to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in a given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

As NVC replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimized. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness, and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart.

Although I refer to it as “a process of communication” or a “language of compassion,” NVC is more than a process or a language. On a deeper level, it is an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking.

There is a story of a man under a street lamp searching for something on all fours. A policeman passing by asked what he was doing. “Looking for my car keys,” replied the man, who appeared slightly drunk. “Did you drop them here?” inquired the officer. “No,” answered the man, “I dropped them in the alley.” Seeing the policeman’s baffled expression, the man hastened to explain, “But the light is much better here.”

I find that my cultural conditioning leads me to focus attention on places where I am unlikely to get what I want. I developed NVC as a way to train my attention—to shine the light of consciousness—on places that have the potential to yield what I am seeking. What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.

the nvc process

To arrive at a mutual desire to give from the heart, we focus the light of consciousness on four areas—referred to as the four components of the NVC model.

First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like.

Four components of NVC:
1. observation
2. feeling
3. needs
4. request

Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated, etc.? And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified. An awareness of these three components is present when we use NVC to clearly and honestly express how we are.

For example, a mother might express these three pieces to her teenage son by saying, “Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the rooms which we share in common.”

She would follow immediately with the fourth component—a very specific request: “Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine?” This fourth component addresses what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives or make life more wonderful for us.

Thus, part of NVC is to express these four pieces of information very clearly, whether verbally or by other means. The other aspect of this communication consists of receiving the same four pieces of information from others. We connect with them by first sensing what they are observing, feeling, and needing, and then discover what would enrich their lives by receiving the fourth piece, their request. As we keep our attention focused on the areas mentioned, and help others do likewise, we establish a flow of communication, back and forth, until compassion manifests naturally: what I am observing, feeling, and needing; what I am requesting to enrich my life; what you are observing, feeling, and needing; what you are requesting to enrich your life.

Source of the excerpts shown above: Chapter 1 of NVC.

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