In Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Michael Rosenberg (2005) puts forth his philosophy of nonviolent communication; also known as compassionate communication and abbreviated as NVC. The author advocates for a shift in the ways we communicate with ourselves, friends, family, and strangers. Rosenberg has successfully trained many to use this form of communication in diverse situations from personal relationships to violent conflict zones. In this book, he outlines the nonviolent communication model, which can be described in four primary components: observations, feelings, needs, and requests.

The first aspect of effective nonviolent communication is observing without evaluating, or simply stating the facts. Rosenberg describes this as developing the skill of describing a situation or event without “the use of moralistic judgements that imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values” (p 15). This is first step is important because it sets the foundation for a dialogue that does not create a sense of blame or judgement; thus, neither person in the conversation needs to defend themselves. In conversation based on evaluation, our ability to remain accountable for our own actions, feelings, and needs without taking too much or too little responsibility is diminished. Rosenberg elaborates: “For example, instead of “Violence is bad,” we might say instead, “I am fearful of the use of violence to resolve conflicts; I value the resolution of human conflicts through other means.” (page 17). This can be difficult because in a culture where the language contributes to the use of moralistic judgement, a statement such as this might come natural. However, if we decide that “violence is bad” then the next logical step is that people who use violence are bad. When in fact these human beings are only trying to meet their own needs - as we all are - through what ever means they deem necessary.

The second and third step in the nonviolent communication process requires us to be deeply in tune with our feelings and emotions and what needs, values, and desires are contributing to those feelings. Rosenberg (2005) offers many examples where individuals are not as able to express their true feelings as they believe they are. To this end, Rosenberg offers a small list of some of the many feelings we might experience as well as a sample of needs we have that create these emotions within us.

After expressing the first three aspects - observations, feelings, needs - it can be beneficial to develop a specific request which will help better fulfil the needs we have just described. It’s important not to take for granted that the other person will know what we want. The clear statement of our requests, which should be distinguished from a nonvoluntary demand, is not a burden we are placing on another. In fact, it is helpful for ourselves and the other person; we are more likely to get our needs met and relieves the other person of any expectations that they are responsible for knowing and fulfilling our needs.

Following his thorough discussion on each of the four parts of nonviolent communication, Rosenberg talks about how NVC can be applied not just in our words, but how to use NVC to receive others when they are not familiar with this way of communication. To describe this practice, Rosenberg uses the term “receiving empathically” so that we can hear and help to draw out the feelings and needs of others, even when they are unable to do so themselves. The process requires that we first empathize with the other person in order to understand what they might be feelings/needing. Through practices such as asking for more elaboration, paraphrasing for clarity, and reflecting back what we hear it can be possible to bring about an awareness of what they are truly trying to express.

Even skeptical readers might appreciate the core sentiments of Rosenberg’s ideals, such as empathetic connection, non-judgemental observation, and emotional literacy. At first glance, the formula for nonviolent communication might appear forces, awkward, or otherwise contrived. However, the simple essence of nonviolent communication can be practiced at any level.

Rosenberg communicates his message through the consistent use of personal stories of his own or that have been shared with him by others. These series of short stories give the reader a tangible and relatable example of how nonviolent communication is used in a variety of situations. Often times these will include stories of individuals, couples, and groups who were not using nonviolent communication and how they expressed themselves, followed by a dialogue of how they were able to use NVC to better express their feelings and needs and the response they received. The example and practice exercises are key to Rosenberg method of modeling nonviolent communication in a way that is practical and experiential. Readers will find the book most effective if they are able to use these tools to envision nonviolent communication in their own lives.



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