I first stumbled across non-violent communication after discovering the work of Oren J Sofer. A meditation instructor and stress management specialist, I was so intrigued by the idea that there was a form of communication that was based on conflict avoidance and resolution without compromising the needs or values or the people involved.
I read Oren J Sofer's book "Say What You Mean" and was immediately hooked! Sofer builds off a foundation of mindfulness and uses mindful speech as a way to diffuse difficult conversations and take responsibility for the words that come out of our mouths.
I have found that non-violent communication is an incredibly useful tool, both in my personal life and in my work as a functional stress management specialist. I've found the practice of non-violent communication to be transformative in conflict resolution, collaboration, and daily interpersonal communication. In my opinion, it is the best way to avoid conflict and to resolve disagreements without resorting to violence or other negative behaviors.
What is Nonviolent Communication?
Nonviolent Communication or NVC is a type of communication that can help you avoid conflict. Nonviolent communication was founded by Marshall Rosenberg and is now practiced on an international scale. It is based on the principle that we all have a basic need for respect and dignity, and that we can best achieve this by communicating in a way that is clear, honest, and empathic.
Nonviolent communication can be used in any situation where communication is important, including in relationships, at work, and in politics. It is a useful tool for managing difficult conversations, and for resolving conflict.
Nonviolent communication is not about winning or losing, but about finding a way to meet everyone's needs. It is based on the belief that we all have the capacity for empathy and that we can learn to communicate in a way that is respectful and effective.
Why is It Important to Resolve Conflicts In a Nonviolent Way?
First, it's important to clarify that violence doesn't have to mean physical violence. Often, when we are not mindful of our words and intentions when communicating, we can harm the person or people we are interacting with. Whether it is intentional or entirely unconscious, the things we say can hurt others.
If we can speak compassionately and approach conversations empathically, we have an opportunity to connect on a deeper level. Disconnecting during communications in person, online, or over the phone is all too common. Often we can be distracted, rushed, or bring intentions and frustrations to the conversation that we are not even aware of. When we approach conversations mindfully, we can grow as individuals and cultivate deeper relationships.
There are many benefits to resolving conflicts in a nonviolent way. When you use nonviolent communication, you are more likely to:
avoid or resolve conflict
communicate more effectively
build better relationships
show compassion and understanding
be assertive without being aggressive
Nonviolent communication can help you to better understand yourself and others and to find more effective ways to resolve conflicts.
Bringing Mindfulness to Conversation
Mindful communication is the practice of being aware of and present in your interactions with others. It is based on the belief that communication is more
effective when we are aware of our thoughts and feelings, and when we are present in the moment. NVC is a type of mindful communication
that can help you avoid conflict and build more meaningful relationships, but Oren J Sofer's approach brings in an even stronger component of mindfulness.
There are many ways to cultivate mindfulness during a conversation, but as a functional stress management specialist, my favorite is being aware of the breath. Watching our breath during conversation is valuable because our breath can be a tool for grounding, affects the speed of our speech, changes our vocal tone, and is connected directly to our nervous system. When I stay connected to my breath my effectiveness in conversation is drastically improved and I can better read and understand the person across from me.
What is my intention?
One of the key components of nonviolent communication is being aware of your intention in a conversation. Often this is connected to a deeper need you are trying to fulfill. An intention can strongly direct the way you communicate and no amount of fake body language or "I" statements can cover for an intention that holds ill will for another person.
Key components of Non-Violent Communication
There are no true nonviolent communication steps but there are several principles of nonviolent communication that I've learned and have benefited from.
Observations during communication have come in handy for me as they help me to take a curiosity-based approach rather than making judgments. I have been able to use nonviolent communication to avoid conflict in my relationships by making observations about what is going on for me during communication. This has helped me to take a step back from the situation and to understand my own needs better. It has also helped me to be more curious about the other person and to understand their needs better. This curiosity has led to more productive and healthier conversations.
It can be hard to lean into our feelings and explore them with curiosity and care, but it is essential when trying to communicate your needs and recognize the experience of others around you. It is important to be honest with yourself and others about your feelings to create an effective conversation.
When you can be clear and honest about what you are feeling, it will be easier to understand the feelings and needs of others. Nonviolent communication helps to de-stigmatize feelings and to drill down to the root of feelings, which is often a reaction to our attempts to meet needs.
"Every moment each human being is doing the best we know at that moment to meet our needs. We never do anything that is not in the service of a need, there is no conflict on our planet at the level of needs. We all have the same needs. The problem is in strategies for meeting the needs" said Marshall Rosenberg (published by PuddleDancer press).
It's profound to pause in a conversation and/or before starting a conversation and ask yourself what need you are trying to meet by connecting with another person. Often, when I ask myself this question, especially in difficult conversations, I can have much more clarity and come to the conversation with a clear head and better self-awareness. I am also better able to recognize what needs the other person might be trying to meet.
Experiencing your needs being met while feeling you are also meeting the needs of another person cultivates deep appreciation for whoever you are communicating with and has loads of psychological benefits.
Requests in non-violent communication are clear tools that allow us to request what we need in order for our needs to be met. Making requests kindly takes self-awareness and courage, but it also helps to create transparency for the person you are speaking with. In nonviolent communication the focus is on using positive requests to ask for behavior or things that we need.
The following example demonstrates the difference between a positive request and a negative language request:
"I don't want you to spend so much time playing video games" (negative language request)
"I want to spend more quality time with you in the evenings" (positive language request)
My Journey with NVC
I have been practicing mindful nonviolent communication for almost four years now and it is still a challenge for me to stay present and use all of the tools that I know. However, I am 100% convinced that NVC is a type of communication that can help you avoid conflict. The foundation of my NVC practice is built upon my meditation practice. On days when I make sure to sit down and meditate, my communication is substantially more effective and compassionate.
If you're interested in NVC but don't know how to meditate, that's okay. I often share my free five guided meditations with clients and students. You can find those meditations here. Good luck on your nonviolent communication journey!