Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life

After reading Michael Nagler’s The Search for a Non-Violent Future and being really excited about the possibilities of non-violent change in the world, the title of Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life of course jumped out at me.

I read a bit of it in the bookstore and decided to buy it. It’s about communication that prevents violence, and communication which is itself non-violent in that it avoids the psychological violence of labeling, blaming, and the like.

Very few of us are in a position where we suffer or inflict physical violence, directly, on a daily basis, but we all deal with conflicts with the people around us and within ourselves, and it’s worth learning how to deal with these things without verbal or psychological violence.

Marshall Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist who’s done a lot of work trying to bring psychology out of the clinical world and into the “real” world, by holding workshops on communication in places where physical violence is a real threat — in prisons, between gangs and police, and in volatile parts of the world like Israel and Rwanda. He’s dedicated to principles of nonviolence and has been trying to work out a communicative style which embodies those principles.

I find a lot of the ideas I’ve come to embrace recently from other sources taken for granted by Dr. Rosenberg: for example, that manipulation by means pleasant or unpleasant is best avoided, or that the only real change for the good comes when “bad” people choose to become “good,” not when “bad” people are defeated by force by “good” people.

Anyway, this book describes a simple form for communicating in a non-violent way, and explores what it takes to put it into practice in both speaking and listening. It involves separating observation from evaluation, taking responsibility for one’s feelings and the needs from which they arise, and learning to make requests which are not demands.

In the week or so since I picked up the book I’ve been putting it into practice talking to my (4-year-old twin) kids, and it seems to help increase the level of sanity, clarity, and understanding in our dealings.

I also drew on some of the book’s suggestions about empathetic communication when I was helping my wife deal with an extremely frustrating situation she was dealing with that caused her a lot of anger — which I was at first at a loss as to how to respond to. Talking to her about it later in the day she said that what I’d said and the way I’d said it had really helped her.

So the advice in the book seems to be passing the practicality test so far. I would recommend it.

Center for Nonviolent Communication Website
Puddle Dancer Press Website

UPDATE: I should note that the one thing that kind of bugs me about NVC is the degree to which it seems to be identified with its creator, Marshall Rosenberg. There’s a degree of what seems like hero-worship or guru-hood about the NVC supporting materials/websites that gives me pause. On the other hand, the actual content of the book doesn’t give me that impression — the book is filled with personal anecdotes but the author doesn’t come across as thinking of himself as anything special. So that didn’t bother me reading the book. If I’d read the web sites before reading the book I might not have bothered because I’d have gotten the impression that [to paraphrase Jan Brady] it’s all about Marshall, Marshall, Marshall!