Nonviolent Communication or NVC is based on the premise that it is our nature to be compassionate and giving. As a young boy, Marshall Rosenberg PhD, The founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, experienced first hand the results of hatred, prejudice and violence, stemming from racism. He was beaten by two boys, all because of being Jewish. This incident and other observations of violence and prejudice on the one hand, and goodwill and caring on the other hand, led him to question:
What happens to disconnect people from their compassionate nature, leading to violence and exploitation?
What is it that allows some to stay connected to their compassionate nature even when facing great difficulties?
Carl Rogers, the eminent psychologist, with whom Marshall studied and worked, conducted a research on “The Components of a Helping Relationship. The results greatly influenced the formation of the process of Nonviolent Communication,” as his search for practicing a method that was based on how we “ human beings were meant to live” became more intense. As a clinical psychologist, Marshall found that he was limited in the way he was able to practice psychology as he believed that his training was a “ pathology based understanding of human beings.”
Once again, his wonder at the depth of compassion of some people in the face of extreme cruelty being done to them is described in his book, Nonviolent Communication A language of Life. He quotes:
“- - the compassionate nature of Etty Hillessum, who despite being a victim of terrible atrocities, in a German Concentration Camp, wonders about the German officer's attitude to her and what happened in his life to make him behave the way he did, rather than being indignant about her treatment.”
Marshall identified a specific approach to communication that encourages speaking and “ listening from the heart”, connecting individuals and others with each other, in a way, that natural compassion flourishes. Marshall's reference to the word, Nonviolence was derived from Mahatma Gandhi's use of the term, “Ahimsa”, a Sanskrit word, meaning, the absence of violence from the heart and thus, a natural state of compassion.
He noted that language and words, play a crucial role in the ability to be compassionate. The words we choose and the manner of expression may be “violent” if it causes hurt and pain for others as well as ourselves. NVC is also known as Compassionate Communication.
In advocating the philosophy, that the inherent nature of man is to be compassionate, is not exclusive to NVC. It is well accepted and embraced by many cultures and religions. It is amazing that a child like Anne Frank, having lost everything dear to her, while hiding with her family, was able to say, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart. ” The NVC approach is a reminder that humans are meant to relate to each other. To encourage and promote harmonious relationships, guide lines and support in the practice of effective communication is offered.
NVC helps to reframe how we hear ourselves and hear others. This means listening to others, not just by hearing what they say,but truly understanding the other person, even when you do not agree. This attitude eliminates the blaming, shaming, hurt, misunderstandings and can be the beginning of communication that transforms lives. It helps us to curb the automatic reactions and coaxes us to consciously respond, fully aware of what we are “ perceiving, feeling and wanting.” Marshall states that when we learn to just observe behavior, without diagnosis, judgment and criticism, we replace our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking,and “ we discover the depth of our own compassion.”
The Four Components of the NVC Process
This stage is meant to simply express what is happening in a situation of disagreement or conflict, what others are doing or saying. No judgment or evaluations are expressed about the actions of the other person.
Here one expresses how we feel about the observations, like being, either hurt, embarrassed, angry, sad, isolated, ignored or happy.
We express what needs of ours are connected to the feeling that were identified. This may be that you have a need for respect, being appreciated, safety, honesty, or to be valued, amongst other needs.
This component addresses what we would like from the other person in order to make our lives more joyful. It may be that we would like to be included in decisions that are made, or we would like the other person to express appreciation more often, to share more chores, to be more organized, to pay the bills on time, amongst other requests.
Can this approach Work?
The method outlined above is very effective in eliminating blame and shame and instead encourages a deeper empathy for the other persons feelings and reactions. When that point is reached, the beginnings of being able to improve relationships is very likely to be successful. Although this approach appears to be so basic, we often do not know how to cope with conflict and anger and usually defend, attack, diagnose, hurt, insult and so the circle continues.
If you are in a situation where you are not happy with the outcome of regular counseling, do try this approach. I was very disappointed with the clinical approach to counseling, even though I am sure there are those professionals who do offer an excellent service. Personally, I found counselors to be biased as well as extremely judgmental, even though they are trained to be neutral. Sometimes the approach is so clinical that you leave the rooms feeling more upset than before you went in. You also have to have a diagnosis, for medical insurance purposes, I was told. How humiliating is that! Time limits are also a negative aspect of counseling in my opinion.
The NVC approach treats all parties with respect and time periods for counseling are flexible. Trained counselors have achieved remarkable success in working with couples, organizations and corporate bodies. I was very fortunate in having John Kinyon, a certified trainer with NVC help me to achieve a better quality of life by using the methods described above. Finding solutions with the NVC method is like learning a new language. With John's immense patience and skill he was able to help me cope better with many difficulties in my life. For information on John and how to reach him, please check the links below.
NVC is an international organization with centers in 38 countries, including many war torn regions such as Rwanda and Nigeria in Africa, the Middle East,and Croatia. UNESCO funded the CNVC team in Yugoslavia which trained thousands of students and teachers. The Government of Israel, officially recognized NVC and offers training on NVC methods to hundreds of schools in that country. For more information on NVC check the following web sites:
- The Center for Nonviolent Communication
- John Kinyon, CNVC Certified Trainer
- The Bay Area Center for Nonviolent Communication
Apart from NVC, there are several self help books that address the issues of relationships and conflicts. These include works by Marianne Williamson and Gerald G. Jampolsky, MD. They are authors of several books and encourage self examination and resources within yourself to change your lives. Both these authors were greatly influenced by the book A Course in Miracles
Another book that I recommend is Daily Reflections For Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey. These are short inspirational pieces of wisdom that promote empathetic listening, fairness, encourage taking responsibility for our attitudes, and to take responsibility to make changes. Dr. Covey also advocates respect, honesty, integrity and human dignity, very similar values to NVC.
A passage that always inspires me is this one that Dr. Covey describes. He explains that he came across this in a book and he was literally staggered by what he read.
Between stimulus and response is a space. In this space lies our freedom to choose our response. In these choices lie our growth and our happiness.
Dr. Covey continues to point out that, “Next to life itself, this self-awareness and our freedom to choose, to direct our lives, is our most precious gift and power”. If we are able to reflect on this, it becomes clear that no matter what we have experienced and how we are provoked, we choose our response and nobody else is to blame for our choices.
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