What is Nonviolent Communication (NVC)? Also known as Compassionate Communication, The Language of Life
NVC advocates radical self-responsibility for what we are experiencing at any given moment. It offers a simple yet effective framework to bring awareness to what we are thinking, saying, doing, and how we are listening, so we can connect and communicate with more clarity and compassion. Rather than judging, blaming, or criticizing we start on neutral common ground to share what’s important to us, and connect on an empathetic level with others by tuning in to what they are wanting and what’s important to them. Integrating NVC tools and principles requires intention and attention, especially to break through and transform habitual ways of thinking and communicating into compassionate connection.
Using these practices in our everyday relationships and circumstances can help us be in harmony with our values and open our heart to see everyone’s humanity. These practices are not about changing other people. They are about sharing what is true for us and discovering what is true for another. The intention of this process is to arrive at strategies that work for everyone.
NVC focuses on three aspects of awareness and communication:
1. Self-Empathy: A deep and compassionate awareness of one’s inner-experience.
To experience self-empathy, identify and connect with your body sensations, feelings/emotions, and needs/values in a particular situation, the objective being to replace old habits of judging, blaming, or criticizing yourself. Try out different feelings and needs words until you discover ones that resonate with you. You may experience a felt sense of relaxation when you have connected with your body, feelings, and needs.
2. Empathy for Others: Listening compassionately to the feelings and needs of others.
Listen with your whole being and presence; with your attention on what you’re hearing expressed. Relax your body and take your time. Breathe, pause, and trust whatever emerges. Say back to the person what you are hearing them say (reflective listening) without adding your thoughts, ideas, or solutions. Guess (silently or out loud) someone’s feelings and needs (what matters most to them) rather than expressing old habits you might have of judging, correcting, or criticizing. Integrate your guesses within the flow of the conversation. The speaker will most often agree with or clarify your guesses and in doing so will have the experience of being understood. When you maintain a slow pace, you may sense the other person becoming more relaxed and self-connected. At this point, they often are ready move on to strategies, actions, or requests. Or this might be the timing for you to express yourself.
3. Honest Self-Expression: Expressing oneself authentically by taking responsibility for our own experience.
We often avoid sharing our honesty with someone because we fear we’ll offend them or be seen as blaming them. The NVC process guides us to share:
• What we are observing
• The feelings/sensations we are experiencing in our bodies
• What we are wanting or needing (what we care about, what’s important to us)
• A request we might have to help fulfill our needs
Four Components of NVC
NVC contains four basic components: Observations, Feelings, Needs/Values, and Requests (referred to as OFNR). They are used when empathizing with our self and others, or in sharing our honest self-expression.
The following key distinctions are made when practicing NVC:
1. Observations are distinct from Evaluations, Judgments, Labels, Analysis, Interpretations. Make neutral statements of what you actually/objectively see or hear; objective facts without subjective filters.
2. Feelings are distinct from Perceptions, “Victim Verbs.” Express pure emotions and/or body sensations rather than what you think/perceive someone is doing to you. Victim verbs are thoughts disguised as feelings that often contain blame, such as: (I feel) insulted, attacked, blamed, unappreciated, disrespected, ignored, or misunderstood.
3. Needs/Values are distinct from Strategies, Blame, “Should Thinking.” Needs/Values are considered to be our universal life energy, that which motivates and sustains us. They are intangible, without reference to specific people, actions, or things.
4. Requests are distinct from Demands that use fear, guilt, shame, manipulation, or reward. Requests are made in the present, and are doable, concrete, specific, and affirmative actions (a “do want,” rather than a “don’t want”).
Two types of requests:
• Connection requests for reflection of what you just expressed, to see if what you said came across to your listener. For example: “Would you tell me what you’re hearing me say?” And, “How do you feel about what I’ve just said?”
• Action/Solution requests for strategies to meet needs: “Would you bring the groceries in from the car? I could use some help.”
When making a request, it is important to be willing to hear a “no”. Ask yourself before you make a request if you are attached to a particular outcome or action, because if you are, your request will likely be a demand or expectation in disguise. (Health and Safety issues are the exception.)
Examples of the Four Components
(These can be used in any sequence – each example shows a different order of the OFNR components.)
Observation: “I hear you say you won’t have the report complete until next week…
Feeling: …and I’m feeling some frustration and concern.
Needs/values: It’s important to me that our team is timely on reports so the production team can be efficient.
Request: Would you tell me what’s preventing you from completing the report, and what our team might do to get it finished by 4pm tomorrow?”
Feeling: “I feel irritated…
Observation: …when I see you’ve returned my car with an empty gas tank.
Request: Would you fill it up by tonight?
Needs/values: I want to trust that I can get to work tomorrow.”
Request: “Would you be willing to take me to the airport this afternoon?
Feeling: I’m feeling somewhat anxious…
Needs/values: …and I could use some support and help.
Observation: My car hasn’t been running well this week and I can’t get it fixed until after my trip.”
Needs/values: “Because sharing responsibility is important to me in our family…
Request: …would you set the table while I get dinner ready?
Feeling: I’m happy…
Observation: …seeing what you’ve already done this week to help out at home: you fed the dog, brought your dirty clothes to the laundry, and made your bed each morning. Wow!”
Observation: “I’m hearing you say you would like to go out dancing tonight;
Feeling: and I’m feeling so tired and overwhelmed…
Needs/values: … I’d rather take some downtime and rest.
Request (connecting request): How do you feel hearing me say this?”