The principles of Non-Violent Communication

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Walking the talk

Applying the skills of Connection is Key

Family Situations

After coming back from my first weekend course in non-violent communication given by Marshall Rosenberg, my sister-in-law asked me what she should tell her daughter who was lying on the floor crying and saying “mommie, mommie.”

I told her to ask her, “Are you upset because you have a need to be loved.” My sister-in-law repeated this to her daughter.

My niece got up off the floor and started clapping her hands and said, “Yes, mommie, yes, mommie.”

Connecting to people who express things we do not enjoy hearing

When I was sitting at my booth at a job fair for health care professionals a woman came to talk to me. She stated that she was a born again Christian and that she felt “uncomfortable being white in a town where the number of immigrants had increased so much that she now had become a minority.” I empathized with her by asking, “Do you want to feel like you belong?” She said, “Yes.” She then told me that she went to church where the Pastor was Filipino and that she had tried to talk to him, but he was busy talking to other Filipino people. She stated that she was thinking of making a complaint with the human rights department. I empathized by saying, “Do you also want to be acknowledged and be treated equally?”

She left to look around the job fair and came back to talk to me again. She stated she had a very difficult situation at home. She said that her sister was dying of cancer and she had an Indian doctor who did not provide the kind of care that her sister needed. She stated that she had made a complaint against him and now he doesn't want to see her in his office anymore. She looked at me and asked, “Why doesn't he want to give care to my sister?” I responded, “I am guessing he is overwhelmed with all his work and needing a break and perhaps you are also overwhelmed with having to take care of your sister and needing a break.”

Before she left, she stated that she enjoyed talking to me.

Connecting with clients on a psychiatric unit

1. A client experiencing Ideas of Reference (incorrect interpretation of remarks, incidents and external events)

A patient had the belief that when someone scratched his/her nose or coughed, this meant there was a message for him.

One day I was talking to him and I scratched my nose as it felt itchy and a few minutes later, I coughed. He became very angry and said, "Why did you do that?" I started to talk, but he was too angry to listen and he left the room.

Later that evening, when I was giving him his medications he said, "Why did you do that?" I told him that I had no intention to harm him and that I only wanted to contribute to his well-being. He calmed down...however, in the next few days he did not feel comfortable around me. I waited until I was working with him to talk to him again.

Nurse: "I am guessing you are upset and confused as to why I would cough or scratch my nose, especially since you told me that this was bothersome to you.  Would you like to know why I did that?"

Patient: "Yes."

Nurse: "Well, I scratched myself and I coughed because at that moment, my body needed comfort, and not because I had some intention of harming you. How do you feel when I say that to you?"

Patient: "Okay."

Nurse: "Would you be willing to ask people for reassurance when they do something where you think that they are trying to give you a message?"

Patient: "No."

Nurse: "Why not?"

Patient: "They will think that I am crazy."

Nurse: "Are you wanting to be accepted by people."

Patient: "Yes."

Nurse: "Okay, would you be willing to ask people that you feel close to for reassurance, and while you and I are working together, would you be willing to ask me for reassurance?"

Patient: "Okay."

After that there was more ease in our connection and he was happy to see me when I came back to work as he would smile at me when I walked onto the unit. The doctor also told me that the patient had stated that he felt better after my conversation with him.

2. A client needing to be heard

Patient: "I have no motivation to do anything."

Nurse: "Are you feeling frustrated because you would like to see progress?"

Patient: "Yes, I didn't see any change after taking the anti-depressant and I feel tired all the time."

Nurse: "Are you feeling sad because you would like hope, that you will get the desire to pursue some interests and you would like energy to pursue your interests? I guess you are disappointed about not being able to see any changes."

Patient: "Yes, yes. Thanks for listening."

Dealing with a conflicting situation

by Karen Alison, 2007.

Being yelled at has been a long-standing trigger for me so, every time I've participated in an NVC workshop, I've asked about how to deal with screamers. Despite what I learned about Nonviolent Communication, I could not imagine myself ever being able to react in a compassionate way to an angry person who was yelling at me. Then one morning, I had a real-life chance to practice.

I took my dogs to a quiet nature trail in the city at a time when I knew we would be unlikely to see any other people. Sure enough, no one else was there, so my dogs were able to run through the trees, off the leash, without annoying anyone. Our peaceful woodland outing lasted until we were almost back at the car, when we met a man entering the trail with his dog on the leash. My dogs ran up to say hello. For a few minutes, all was well.

Then, suddenly, one of my dogs attacked the stranger's dog. I pulled him away, and turned to ask the man if his dog was injured. People have very different reactions when dogs argue. Some cheerfully acknowledge that it's just part of a dog's life; others are upset and hostile. This man was not just angry, he quickly became furious. As I put out my hand to his dog and spoke reassuringly to it, the man snapped, "Back off!"

"Is your dog injured?" I asked, taken aback by his instant rage. "Of course he's injured! You keep away!" I stepped a couple of paces away. From the man's tone, I expected to see blood gush from the dog, or a torn ear, but couldn't see any apparent injuries.  At this point, people often just grab their pet and storm away, but the dog owner wasn't finished with me. "I'm going to call the police and report you!" he shouted, "Your dogs should be on the leash! They're dangerous and people like you need to take responsibility! How dare you let a thing like this happen? This dog is a Lion's Club dog! What you're doing is wrong and you can't get away with it!"and so on. His voice rose with every statement until he was literally screaming at me at the top of his lungs and he looked like he was about to burst a blood vessel. I hoped he didn't have high blood pressure or I'd soon be calling the ambulance for him, never mind his dog.

In the past, if an incident like this had occurred, I would have hurried away from the madman, feeling upset and victimized, and thinking up snappy but unsatisfying responses I might have delivered, like, "Why don't you put your mouth on a leash?" But, for some reason, on this day, I just held onto my dog-the one that started the fight-to keep him away from the Lion's Club dog, and watched the man lose his temper. I could feel the strength of his emotion, yet somehow I was not drawn into it. I waited without reacting, staying present.

After a while, he ran out of things to yell at me but was obviously still in a highly-charged state. At that point, I heard some words come out of my mouth. "I can see you're upset."  I said, "and you probably want some reassurance." Maybe they weren't the greatest NVC lines ever delivered, but it was as if I had just waved a magic wand! The man's whole body visibly relaxed. Whatever he was expecting from me, this obviously wasn't it. He made a few more complaints, but the fight had gone out of him.

I continued to empathize as he spoke, and instead of attacking me, he began to tell me how the Lion's Club dog was not his, but one he was walking for the owner. She had a degenerative health condition and the dog was specially trained to assist her. The dog had been attacked recently by a German Shepherd whose owner pulled a knife when the dog-walker protested!!!

"That must have been really frightening." I suggested. I was thinking that, if it had happened to me, the phrase I would have used was more like "paralytically terrifying." At the same time, since I'm aware that men are trained to deny fear, I didn't know if he would choose to make light of it. So his response surprised me a little. "It was." he agreed.

Apparently, with all the emotion that had been released, we were now in a dance of honesty. As I empathized with the man, he underwent a complete 180-degree change from attacking me to apologizing and saying he felt stupid for losing his temper.  He told me the dog was fine and there wasn't any injury after all, and that he didn't mind my dogs being off-leash and I should be able to walk them that way if I wanted to.

Near the end of our interaction, he observed that not everyone was as nice as I was about these things, then strode over and vigorously shook my hand! I had the sense that he would have hugged me if it hadn't been inappropriate, considering we were complete strangers. After this, I was able to ask him some neutral questions about Lion's Club dogs and how they're trained. We parted amicably.

I left this encounter feeling as if I had just witnessed a miracle. It occurred to me that what happened was a model of how peace happens on Earth. Instead of yelling, defending myself or running away, I had the fortunate experience of meeting violence with compassion and empathy and learning that they actually work to create a positive outcome for both parties.

To this day, I don't know how it happened that I was able to stand there while the man yelled at me and then respond to him as I did. It was as if someone else took over my body, someone who was much better at NVC than I usually am! Maybe this is what people mean when they talk about being touched by grace. Some part of me seemed to recognize that he wasn't actually yelling at me-it wasn't about me-it was about him. He was yelling because he needed to yell to release his own tension.

If those NVC words hadn't come out of my mouth, if I had shouted back, or hurried away in a state of fear or outrage, I would never have found out that this man was operating under a heavy burden of fear. He was terrified that another dangerous and threatening encounter might happen at any minute while he was out with the dog. According to the law of attraction, we draw to ourselves what we focus on, so something did happen to trigger his anxieties. He met me. On another level, I think my dog that started the fight was trying to help me with my own fear of being yelled at by instigating this episode. It worked!

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Every human being shall see in each and all of his fellow-men a hidden divinity... that every human being is made in the likeness of the Godhead. When that time comes there will be no need for any religious coercion; for then every meeting between one man and another will of itself be in the nature of a religious rite, a sacrament.

Rudolf Steiner


When someone shouts "F*ck you!", what they really mean is, "I am in so much pain that I can't express my real needs and feelings."