Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is an approach to communication based on principles of nonviolence. It is not a technique to end disagreements, but rather a method designed to increase empathy and improve the quality of life of those who utilize the method and the people around them.

NVC is a communication tool with the primary goal of creating empathy in the conversation. The idea is that once there is empathy between the parties in the conversation, it will be much easier to talk about solution which satisfies all parties’ fundamental needs.

When practicing NVC, we try to speak in terms of feelings and needs which are universal. We try to avoid judgment, advising, interrogating or other conversational responses that, while familiar, usually lead to disconnection.

Why “nonviolent”?

We use the word “nonviolent” in the context of Mahātmā Gandhi’s definition of violence.

His grandson Arun Gandhi explains the importance of understanding that the scope of violence extends beyond physical acts in the foreword to Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication”:

One of the many things I learned from grandfather, the legendary M. K. Gandhi, is to understand the depth and breadth of nonviolence, and to acknowledge that we are all violent and that we need to bring about a qualitative change in our attitudes. We often don’t acknowledge our violence because we are ignorant about it. We assume we are not violent because our vision of violence is one of fighting, killing, beating, and wars, the type of things that average individuals don’t do.

To bring this home to me, grandfather made me draw a family tree of violence using the same principles as are used for a genealogical tree. His argument was that I would have a better appreciation of nonviolence if I understood and acknowledged the violence that exists in the world. He assisted me every evening to analyze the day’s happenings, everything that I experienced, read about, saw or did to others, and put them down on the tree either under “physical” (if it was violence where physical force was used) or under “passive” (if it was the type of violence where the hurt was more emotional).

Within a few months I covered one wall in my room with acts of “passive” violence that grandfather described as being more insidious than “physical” violence. He then explained that passive violence ultimately generated anger in the victim who, as an individual or as a member of a collective, responded violently. In other words it is passive violence that fuels the fire of physical violence. It is because we don’t understand or appreciate this concept that all our efforts to work for peace have either not fructified, or the peace that we achieved was only temporary. How can we extinguish a fire if we don’t first cut off the fuel that ignites the inferno?

Unless, as he would say, “we become the change we wish to see in the world,” no change will ever take place. We are all, unfortunately, waiting for the other person to change first.