What is Nonviolent Communication
Basic principles of healthy relationships rely on nonviolent communication. Being non-violent doesn’t only mean that you don’t want to strangle the person you’re talking with. Nonviolent communication also has to be nonviolent in the verbal sense, meaning that there are no insults, threats, etc. According to some authors, verbal violence can sometimes be equally as bad as physical violence. Bullying is the best example of this possibility- children oftentimes aren’t physically but verbally abused, and this can leave a deep mark in their character.
According to Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, who is the founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, nonviolent communication (NVC) isn’t only characterized by the lack of violence (The Center for NVC, n.d.). Compassion is the chief ingredient of NVC.
Moreover, Rosenberg believes that values and role-models of a society influence the prominence of violent behaviors. Therefore, we can minimize violent communication by changing the situational factors individuals are exposed to. Later, we will talk about specific interventions that sought to ameliorate communication skills in prison inmates, which is essentially an attempt to violent communication (and violence altogether) by changing situational variables (prison treatment). Most programs seeking to improve people’s communication skills rely on the concepts of empathy and compassion.
Furthermore, Rosenberg believes that we are all inherently compassionate and nonviolent beings. This is true, for most people. But psychologists agree that some forms of psychopathy are caused by a pure lack of anything that could even resemble empathy.
We will talk about this at the end of the text when we’ll give you a quick psychopathy checklist.
Nonviolent Communication In Everyday Life
Communication is a two-way process. A good way to make a neutral dialogue potentially violent is to not listen properly.
Experts who organized programs for the improvement of social skills in inmates and parolees noticed that one of the first things that people learn is the so-called empathic listening (Marlow et al. 2011). By listening empathically, you lay the ground for good, compassionate communication. Moreover, by doing this first, you show that you are ready to “make the first move” in terms of empathy, that you are ready to give (empathy) before others give anything to you.
It is not hard to listen empathically. You simply have to stay silent and listen while the other person is talking. To show that you’re listening, you can sometimes paraphrase what others say to you.
For instance, let’s take an everyday example: your friend comes to you with a mix of sadness and hostility over his recent breakup. Instead of saying to him “oh, just forget about it, you’ll find another girl”, or “come on man, buck up”, you should first stay silent and listen what he has to say. Then you’ll seek the right opportunity to show an emphatic reaction- paraphrasing. For instance, if your friend says “in the past I sometimes felt so indifferent to her”, you can paraphrase it as “So, after all, you know how it is not to care about someone. How does that make you feel?”.
Note that paraphrasing is in itself an act of interpretation. You can never (nor would this be useful) “completely” paraphrase someone’s statements, you can only give your subjective interpretation. By interpreting, you help the other person understand their emotions and thoughts.
Principles of Nonviolent Communication
There is one very useful nonviolent communication guide (Lee et al. 2003), which was first used by healthcare providers. According to these authors, there are three basic principles of nonviolent communication:
1. Observing others’ emotions without evaluating them
2. Expressing oneself without judging others
3. Making clear requests, the presenting of which is respectful
Analogous to these principles, there are three basic principles of emphatic reception of information:
1. Paying attention to what the other person is observing
2. Knowing what others feel and need
3. Knowing others’ requests
We can see the utility of these last three points in a typical situation that is so frustrating to everybody. Imagine that you are trying to find a parking spot in the middle of a big city. As we all know, this is sometimes all but impossible. After a 15-minutes search, you finally find an empty spot and rush to take it. However, just as you prepare to park it, another car rushes in and takes the spot. Needless to say, you are completely furious. Most people would perhaps start an argument over the parking spot, but these kinds of arguments lead nowhere.
How To Apply These Principles
What you can do is analyze the behavior of the person who took your spot, through the prism of the three aforementioned principles- knowing what the other person is observing; knowing others’ feelings and needs; knowing others’ requests. First of all, you might conclude that the other person simply didn’t see you (here, you’re using the first principle). Even if the other individual saw you, it is possible that he is anxious and upset about something, and that he did this automatically, without wanting to do this on purpose (principle 2). And finally, you can suppose that he needed this spot very badly, for some reason (principle 3). Only once you do this analysis can you engage in good, healthy communication. In these situations, even if the other person is nervous and hostile, he or she will most probably see that you are just seeking to have a normal conversation.
Nonviolent Communication At Work
There is one important thing when it comes to communication at the workplace- criticism. Regarding this topic, it should be noted that evaluating other’s performance, and other’s personality traits are two completely different things. We tend to generalize our conclusions far too much, and these generalizations are often linked with the so-called inner attribution– we think that the cause of someone’s behavior lies chiefly in personality traits. For instance, when someone makes a mistake, we might say “oh, he’s stupid”. Needless to say, this is blatant, and most possibly wrong, overgeneralization.
Nonviolent communication refrains from these kinds of generalizations, and only evaluates performance. Instead of saying “he’s stupid”, we can say “sure, he did a stupid thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s stupid altogether”. In a way, this is the most important thing regarding constructive criticism.
Criticism must not be avoided. Just like empathy, it is an essential part of communication.
Simply do it skillfully by means of nonviolent communication.
A few references cited in this article:
Lee, A.C, Kessler, M.C., Varon, D., Martinowitz, U., Heim, M., Rosenberg, M. & Molho, P. (2003). Nonviolent (emphatic) communication for health care providers. Wiley Online Library. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2516.1998.440335.x
Marlow, E., Nyamathi, A., Grajeda, W.T. (2011). Nonviolent Communication Training and Empathy in Male Parolees. Journal of Correctional Health Care. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1078345811420979
The Center For Nonviolent Communication (n.d.). What is NVC? Available at: https://www.cnvc.org/node/6856