Nonviolent Communication

nonviolent_ communication_book

How good of a communicator are you? Do you yell and make judgements or do you listen and empathize with the other person? Do you get defensive and stand your ground or are you able to put your emotions on hold for a moment and truly listen to what the other person is not saying? I’m what some people would call reactionary.  When something happened in my life my first response was react rather dramatically.  But I learned over the last 4 years that this type of communication style was not working well for me, just ask my ex husband!!

Since becoming a coach, and separating from my husband of 24 years, I have become acutely aware of my shortcomings in communicating and have discovered a deep desire to help myself and others in becoming more aware of their communication styles. So when a friend recommended Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph. D, I was logging onto Amazon lickety split! I have shared this book, and the process it teaches, with a few of my clients. It resonated with me so much that I even took a two day course this month to dig into the process more deeply. I tend to prefer books that teach me something and give me several examples as to how the process works, that’s what Rosenberg does, in an easy to follow manner.

By providing real life examples of his concept on how to change and improve your communication skills, making it easier to grasp the concept and integrate the process. Unlike so many other personal growth books, where you have to be 50-60% through it before you get the skills or the tangible take home, Rosenberg gives us the formula for NVC (Nonviolent Communication) on page 6!! From here on it’s about learning how to put it into practice and polish the skills.

Rosenberg observes that in our communication we often use moralistic judgements that imply wrongness or badness on the part of those who don’t act in harmony with our values. This is where we often get into trouble. How often have you started a conversation/heated discussion with someone by saying, “You should do this. “  “You didn’t do that right.” “You always say/do the same thing!”  In the heat of the moment we often yell these things to the other person we are communicating with.  Can you hear the judgement, the accusation, and the evaluation?  I bet your first response is to yell something back in self defense. How successful do you think you will be at getting the result that you want from this person when you begin the conversation in this manner? We have a habit of communicating our desires in the form of demands, rarely getting what we want and alienating others, causing resentment.   When my marriage ended I realized that I was guilty of communicating this way, how about you?

So how does the process of NVC work?  You follow 4 simple steps.

  1. Observation:  what are the concrete actions we are observing that affect our well being
  2. Feeling:  how we feel in relation to what we observe.
  3. Needs: the need, values, desires etc that create our feelings.
  4. Request: the concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives.

What I like about this author is that he admits that he too still struggles with the process.  Our language is so ingrained in us that making changes to integrate the process of NVC into our everyday lives will be two steps forward and one step back process. And that’s ok! Besides using the steps listed above it is also important to learn to integrate empathy into our communication says Rosenberg. And once again he provides personal stories and examples on how this should look.  Showing empathy allows you to quickly defuse the other person’s negative response and to create a stronger connection.

I love the following quote from the book by Carl Rogers regarding empathy. I was surprised by how much this resembles the practice of coaching.  As coaches this is what we do for our clients.

When…. Someone really hears you without passing judgement on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!... When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens, how confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard. “ I am passionate about improving my communication skills, and in helping my coaching client’s to achieve the same goal.  Imagine what would be possible in the world if we became more conscious of how we communicate and it’s everlasting effects.

I highly recommend reading Nonviolent Communication.  If you want to improve your relationships and your communication skills this is an excellent place to start.  And if you want to have a discussion around the process afterwards I would love to hear from you!


Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg is founder and director of educational services for The Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Growing up in an inner–city Detroit neighborhood Dr. Marshall Rosenberg was confronted daily with various forms of violence. Wanting to explore the causes of violence and what could be done to reduce violence, he chose to study clinical psychology and received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Wisconsin in 1961. In 1966 he was awarded diplomat status in clinical psychology from the American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology.

Nonviolent Communication training evolved from Dr. Rosenberg’s quest to find a way of rapidly disseminating much needed peacemaking skills. The Center for Nonviolent Communication emerged out of work he was doing with civil rights activists in the early 1960's. During this period he also mediated between rioting students and college administrators and worked to peacefully desegregate public schools in long-segregated regions.


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