The Power of Words: Part 4 – Nonviolent Communication

14 mins read

This article is written to explore the benefits of employing Nonviolent Communication in the workplace, as well as offer a few tips on how to begin doing just that.

What is Nonviolent Communication?

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a philosophy and approach to communication which emphasizes empathy and honesty in daily interactions with those around you. Developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg and now used worldwide, NVC has been used in war-torn countries, schools, prisons, corporations, healthcare, government institutions, personal relationships, and now you can implement it in your own office space!

Nonviolent communication contains 4 main components:

    1. Observations – without judgement, observe what others are doing that you do or do not like
    2. Feelings – say how you feel when you observe this action
    3. Needs – state the important needs that are connected to those feelings
    4. Requests – make a specific request that might help attend those needs

Although NVC is referred to as ‘a process of communication’ or ‘a language of compassion,’ Rosenberg states, “NVC is more than a process or a language. On a deeper level, it is an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking.”1 As we move into how to apply NVC in your daily work-life, keep in mind that by being as unbiased as possible, remaining fact, not opinion-based, and emphasizing the value of free-will amongst your employees, you will foster a powerful communication-oriented culture in your office.

How to Apply Nonviolent Communication at Work

For more in-depth information on applying NVC, we highly recommend reading Rosenburg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and taking a look at the Center for Nonviolent Communication website. In this article, we will discuss a few simple ways to begin employing NVC in your daily communication, and why it’s important to take that step.

One of the easiest ways to integrate NVC into your communication is by considering some of the standard words used in your daily language! Certain words like “must,” “don’t,” “can’t,” and “as per” are aggressive and absolute. Often, when faced with absolute language, those you are speaking with will respond from a defensive mindset and communication will be limited by set boundaries of offense and defense. Instead, focus your efforts on creating a free-will based communication in which you are seeking understanding, not to reach a predetermined resolution.

Many of these absolute phrases can be replaced by “I would suggest,” followed by a suggestion. Through suggestion, what you are saying is not an absolute command, but an idea that the person you are communicating with has the free will to do with what they will. By focusing your language on positive suggestion rather than negative command, on letting your employee choose to engage in action, your employees will be more invested in the work they are doing and the communication they are receiving. It is important, in this effort, that the person you are speaking with is freely given the space to choose how they will move forwards. Otherwise, your “suggestion” is empty, and is still an absolute.

A good way to check to see if the language you are using is violent, is to ask yourself these 4 questions:

1. Would I receive this information, in this manner, well?

By asking yourself this question, you are taking accountability for the method through which you are relaying information or action. Asking this question will encourage you to stop and think about the phrasing you are using, the tonality, the environment, etc. If the way you are bringing this information to someone else would bother you were the situation reversed, try to reword or reconstruct how your approach will go.

2. Am I controlling/trying to control the narrative?

It is important to think about the first question from your perspective and how you would respond, not to try and determine how the other may receive it. By trying to assume another’s reception of your words and ideas, you are trying to control the narrative. When you enter a conversation with a predetermined outcome, a preconception of how the other will respond to your words, or not accepting the other’s input in favor of your intended outcome, you are controlling the narrative. If you are controlling or trying to control the narrative, your conversation and communication have failed out the gate. Instead, return your focus inward. You know how you feel, how you react, what information you have. Allow others the same courtesy to express their feelings, thoughts, information, and reactions, and go from there.

3. Am I asking permission?

I know, it seems strange. If you are the CEO, why should you need to ask permission? Even generally, beyond the office space, why should you need to ask permission to have a conversation? However, asking permission before engaging in conversation allows others the time and space to be ready for the conversation. When you ask someone if you might speak to them, rather than announcing that you are speaking to them, you are respecting their mental and emotional space. No one can ever truly know what is happening in another person’s mind, and by asking permission to engage, you are ensuring that the other person is not engrossed in another subject or thought. Additionally, when you integrate asking permission into your communication style, you ensure that both or all parties of a conversation know that when you are speaking together, everyone is ready and engaged.

4. Have I established the rules of engagement?

Similar to the last question, this might seem silly! The “rules of engagement”? But this isn’t a duel! In a conversation, establishing the rules of engagement might mean establishing that the door will be closed so you can speak privately, that everyone’s phones will be silenced and put away, or that no one will be reading emails and be half-invested in the conversation. Establishing the rules of engagement goes hand-in-hand with asking permission, as doing these two checks before communicating will ensure that everyone knows that each other are fully invested in the conversation at hand.

To encourage your employees to also use NVC in the workplace, here are 3 more suggestions:

    • Ask for more information, thus creating an opportunity to listen and have an open discussion
    • Use internal, not external language. Rather than dictating what someone else is doing, focus on the self: what are you doing?
    • Focus on concrete data and facts, rather than how they make you feel or your opinion, while remaining open to listening and understanding.
    • When you engage with data and facts, back them up with sources
    • Allow for different perspectives and work towards mutual understanding

I’m sure most of us have heard the golden rule “treat others as you wish to be treated,” and in NVC we can reword that golden rule to better direct your communication: “don’t ask of others what you are not capable of doing.” Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask your IT Specialist for help with a technology issue you have no understanding of, as it is the variety of skills and knowledge that you and your employees have that together make your business successful! What we mean by this NVC golden rule is to be aware of your own limitations of time, stress, project management, etc. and not overwhelm others by asking them to do more than you are capable of doing physically or emotionally. As before, do not focus on what you think they can do, because this establishes that control or attempt at control over the narrative. Instead, focus on what you think you can do. By turning your gaze inward and acknowledging your own limitations, you will be more empathetic towards the limitations of others, and less likely to demand more of your employees and colleagues than they are able to give.

Why Nonviolent Communication Works at Work

Company employees planning task and brainstorming Company employees planning task and brainstorming flat vector illustration. Cartoon people sharing ideas and meeting. Teamwork, workflow and business concept Teamwork stock vectorIn the workplace, by approaching employees with needed action or correction (as discussed in the previous part of this series) and using NVC you focus on not criticism, but positive action items and empathy, you will establish stronger communication and higher office morale.

When people experience criticism, they “invest their energy in self-defence or counterattack,”1 rather than performing the action item or correcting the mistake. By instead observing what is or is not working, understanding the way this makes you feel, and then requesting positive action whether to continue or change the course, you will empower your employees to invest their energy in achieving stronger results and striving for higher potential!

Keep in mind that NVC is not an attempt at avoiding conflict. In fact, conflict is not a negative, scary thing! Conflict is merely people with different boundaries coming together to reach a resolution. This said, NVC will help you to communicate your boundaries safely and with empathy, which will create a culture in which everyone can be open and honest about their boundaries and find easier resolution to any conflict that may arise.

Nonviolent Communication can be applied at all levels of your business, and that starts with you! Did you forget to make your people more important than your tasks today? Now that you’ve learned about Nonviolent Communication and how to apply it in your daily work-life, challenge yourself! For the next 7 days, be aware of the language you use, and implement some NVC methods in your daily interactions. The difference in levels of communication will change your workplace’s culture for the better!

Download this resource The Power of Words: Part 4 – Nonviolent Communication.

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1 Rosenberg, Marshall B. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. 1999.

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