Marshall Rosenberg: The Importance of Nonviolent Communication

Introducing the concept of nonviolent communication as an essential life skill

When I first heard the term “nonviolent communication,” I thought it sounded like some sort of rehabilitation program for violent felons. And indeed, it has been used successfully in that sort of program. However, it’s actually a way of communication that we all could benefit from, and is especially useful in it moments of conflict, moments which are inherent to human nature. It is a way with words that invokes compassion without pity, and also expresses needs without making demands or imposing manufactured reparations. It’s a super way to cultivate a positive outlook in a struggling adolescent stuck in the painful condition of failure to launch. Young men in the throes of late adolescence can particularly benefit. Nonviolent communication is truly an essential life skill.

We all have needs, but we learn very early to express those needs in the form of attacks. “You never help me with the chores!” “Get your homework done, now!” “You don’t appreciate anything I do!” “You’re so mean!” If we stop and analyze each of those statements, each one obviously indicates a need on the part of the speaker, but what particular need that may be and how it could be met is decidedly unclear. Additionally, each of those declarations is highly unlikely to yield any positive results or actions from the listener. Instead it is likely to be counterproductive, furthering the listener’s unwillingness to, well, listen.

Look first at the vague “You never appreciate anything I do!” What do you, the speaker, really mean? A clearer way of communicating that, according to Rosenberg’s theories, might be, “I’m disappointed because I worked really hard to get the kitchen cleaned last night, and I really need some recognition.” Or, “I’m frustrated because I spend so much time cooking each evening, and I really need help.” The more specific, the better. It also encourages introspection, always a valuable self-help tool, prior to speaking. Before lashing out, we all need to stop and think: what is it that I need from this statement? How do I feel? How do I think this person can help alleviate my needs?