Towards Better Communication: Nonviolent Communication

Communication is at the core of all relationships, including work relationships. Most people quit their jobs because of the work environment, not due to the job itself. A recent study by Accenture reports the top reasons for quitting a job in America are disliking one’s boss (31%), a lack of empowerment (31%), internal politics (35%), and lack of recognition (43%).

This phenomenon reflects our collective need for better emotional intelligence and communication skills. One tool that has been useful for me is nonviolence communication (NVC). The “nonviolent” in NVC refers to communicating in a way that does not result in harm. In other words, it means communicating without the use of guilt, humiliation, shame, coercion, threats, and moral judgments, among other things. NVC follows a process of (1) observation, (2) feelings**, (3) needs, and (4) requests.

The aims and steps of NVC opened my eyes to how irresponsible we can be with our words, and how we can improve the effectiveness of our communication through this process.

Before continuing, I will give a disclaimer that NVC is not the cure-all for relationship conflicts. It is a very in-depth process that requires a significant amount of self-knowledge, patience, and discipline. Even more, it requires a spontaneous understanding of one’s emotions as they occur moment by moment. It is also not the norm to be present, sensitive, and aware in daily life (survival in certain environments demand the mirror opposite). Finally, the process aims to promote honest self-expression and thus bases on trust and vulnerability, which is not suitable for all situations.

Here is a list of transferable ideas from NVC to daily communication.

  1. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements

Speaking about your own feelings and observations communicates the essentials of a situation without shifting blame or casting judgment. It can make an already tense situation easier to navigate.

An example in a personal setting:

“When I see that you arrive 20 minutes later than the time we agreed upon (observation), I feel disappointed/unhappy (feeling) because I value my time (need). Can we reschedule in advance next time if you know you’re running late (request)?”     vs.     “I don’t like it when you are 20 minutes late for our dates/meetings. I feel like you don’t care about [_blank_] (judgment).”


  1. Do not assume more certainty than is possible based on the observation

At my past workplace, it was typical that my team would be blamed for something that another team did or did not do – like leaving equipment out, not cleaning up before leaving, extra dirty equipment. The people who voice complaints were confident that our team was responsible, and not a someone who also uses the room or a fault in hardware. Situations like these can altogether be avoided through stating observations without evaluation or judgment and holding off on conclusions.


  1. No matter how much you disagree with someone, you can empathize and understand their needs

Based on NVC, all actions are to meet a need. This perspective can give new insights to the cause-and-effect of people’s actions. Understanding someone may not change the outcomes of the situation, but it can give you peace of mind.


  1. Take responsibility for your own feelings

The same situation will not invoke the same response in all people. That is to say, we do have a choice in how we respond, and thus how we feel. It starts with an observation of what happened to cause the response. This is the beginning of being freed from our own individual patterns of reaction.

“Learning how to effectively communicate your message will never be out of style”

NOTES**         Subtle judgments – such as abandoned, violated, attacked, betrayed, misunderstood, cheated, guilty, insulted, used, bothered, disappointed, neglected, or ripped off – can often be misunderstood for feelings.* a meta-analysis of studies done on NVC
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