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Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent communication incorporates the art of listening and teaches nonviolent ways of sending messages. All words have power. The words we use and the way we say them colors how we relate to one another.

I have been a student and practitioner of NonViolent Communication for over 21 years, starting when my son and I took a weekend seminar in 1998. As a parent I used the language of criticism and our relationship did not work. Criticism is the most common means of inflicting pain on another. Shame on me for thinking I could get someone to meet my needs by inflicting pain on them! After the seminar, our relationship shifted with wonderful results!

I, along with other Imago practitioners, think that Imago therapy utilizes the basic principles of NonViolent Communication as we teach couples to communicate in such a manner as to keep one another emotionally safe.

So what makes communication violent or nonviolent? What is nonviolent communication? Marshall Rosenberg says it well:

The Heart of Nonviolent Communication

What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.” Marshall Rosenberg

“Believing that it is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving in a compassionate manner, I have been preoccupied most of my life with two questions. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively? And conversely, what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?

“While studying the factors that affect our ability to stay compassionate, I was struck by the crucial role of language and our use of words. I have since identified a specific approach to communicating – speaking and listening – that leads us to give from the heart, connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish. I call this approach Nonviolent Communication, using the term nonviolence as Gandhi used it – to refer to our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart. While we may not consider the way we talk to be “violent,” our words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or ourselves. In some communities, the process I am describing is known as Compassionate Communication. The abbreviation “NVC” is used throughout this workbook to refer to Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication.

A way to focus attention. NVC is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. It contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know – about how we humans were meant to relate to one another – and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.

“NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. NVC trains us to observe carefully, and to be able to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in a given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

“As NVC replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the race of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimized. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening – to ourselves as well as others – NVC fosters respect, attentiveness, and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart.

“Although I refer to it as a “process of communication” or a “language of compassion,” NVC is more than a process of a language. On a deeper level, it is an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking.

“There is a story of a man under a street lamp searching for something on all fours. A policeman passing by asked what he was doing. “Looking for my car keys,” replied the man, who appeared slightly drunk. “Did you drop them here?” inquired the officer. “No,” answered the man, “I dropped them in the alley.” Seeing the policeman’s baffled expression, the man hastened to explain, “But the light is much better here.”

“I find that my cultural conditioning leads me to focus attention on places where I am unlikely to get what I want. I developed NVC as a way to train my attention – to shine the light of consciousness – on places that have the potential to yield what I am seeking. What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.

“When we give from the heart, we do so out of a joy that springs forth whenever we willingly enrich another person’s life. This kind of giving benefits both the giver and the receiver. The receiver enjoys the gift without worrying about the consequences that accompany gifts given out of fear, guilt, shame, or desire for gain. The giver benefits from the enhanced self-esteem that results when we see our efforts contributing to someone-s well-being.

“The use of NVC does not require that the persons with whom we are communicating be literate in NVC or even motivated to relate to us compassionately. If we stay with the principles of NVC, remain motivated solely to give and receive compassionately, and do everything we can to let others know this is our only motive, they will join us in the process, and eventually we will be able to respond compassionately to one another. I’m not saying that this always happens, quickly. I do maintain, however, that compassion inevitably blossoms when we stay true to the principles and process of NVC.” (“The Nonviolent Communication Training Course,” Marshall Rosenberg. Sounds True, Inc., Boulder CO: 2006)