Clinical psychologist and internationally renowned peacemaker, Marshall Rosenberg PHD, in his book, Living Nonviolent Communication, provides a summary of his lifelong work on what drives human behavior and violence resulting from unresolved conflict, and also gives us a basic guide for breaking formed-thought habits in order to recognize our true needs and pave the way for conflict resolution. Rosenberg founded the Center for Nonviolent Communications, and international non-profit company, that provides workshops and clinics in 35 countries. He also has been hired as a peacekeeper and mediator in many instances, during international treaty and conflict negotiations. Through these experiences and working with families in his private practice, he has found several core principles that he believes are key to success in eliminating conflict and ensuring good communication.
When creating the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) platform, Rosenberg purposed to inspire heartfelt connections not only to resolve conflict, but to create new pathways for future relationship and better managing new crisis as they develop. He did not agree with the contemporary notion that humans are inherently evil, selfish, and violent. Instead he is convinced otherwise, that our true nature is compassionate and loving. Rosenberg based his analysis and practice with this core belief as a fundamental principal and through years of successes, is convinced of its merit.
Through NVC Rosenberg gives us examples of basic human needs that he says are imperative that we feel safe and content. Those include:
- Autonomy-having our own life’s mission, dreams, and goals
- Celebration-of life, birth, death, accomplishments
- Integrity-authenticity and creativity
- Interdependence-acceptance, appreciation, closeness, love, reassurance
- Physical nurturing- air, food, movement, safety
- Play-fun, laughter, joy
- Spiritual communion-a sense of connectedness
He claims that if we are lacking in any of these key areas, we will feel frustrated, lost, or any number of other negative emotions until these needs are met. The challenge is, he conveys, in being able to identify our own needs, as opposed to recognizing merely the resulting emotion, and being able to communicate that basic need to others. We are trained, Rosenthal claims, to shut down our own needs and therefore we fail to be able to address them as fully as we should.
One of the fundamental steps Rosenberg advises, is that we refrain from using power over people through incentive and punishment, and instead, use power to work with people. He offers, “In power with people, we try to have influence not by how we can make people suffer if they don’t do what we want…instead, it’s based on mutual trust and respect (130-131). Amazing success in negotiation happens when “both parties think that their needs matter…” (129). The key, Rosenberg claims, is to get to the root of the emotion that drives the anger or frustration.
An example provided is of a woman not being able to express her needs to her husband, and Rosenberg helps her to realize her innermost fear causing this upset. Her response was very telling of her past when she stated, “I’ve had terrible experiences like that in my background—when I don’t do what everybody else wants, I don’t get the love that I want” (46). Once able to express this innermost fear, her partner was then able to understand her inability to communicate her needs to him. Likewise, this concept would apply to business or political communication, as people deal with the same insecurities in these realms as they do in their personal lives. Rosenthal advises, “Most of us don’t know what we want. It’s only after we get something and it messes up our life that we know it wasn’t what we wanted (35).
The main point that stood out to me as a key to our own emotions is Rosenthal’s question, “What is alive in you” (152)? He insists that we must get to this answer within ourselves in order to identify our own true needs, and further, that we must do it through merely observation…with no judgement. The terms “bad” or “good” are labels that he says do no good in progressing toward health or peace. The biggest problem, he contends, is that we have not learned how to be “conscious of what’s alive in us (153)” and that we have been directed to look at emotions and external forces instead of true causes.
I found chapters one and three to be most revelatory with reenactments of exchanges that promoted healthy conversation and getting to the root of the problems. That said, chapter six, was by far the most beautiful and offered the most in connecting Rosenberg intimate purpose in creating the Nonviolent Communication Program. Rosenthal says that NVC is really a “spiritual practice” that he is trying to show as a way of life. In the end, he offers two beautiful statements of divine relation that I found quite impactful. He claims, “…the greatest of joy springs from connecting to life by contributing to our own and other’s well-being…”and “spirituality and love are more about what we do than what we feel (143)”.
Receiving another person’s message, he says, is a manifestation of love. He conveys this with my favorite quote from the book, “to give a gift of one’s self is a manifestation of love. It’s a gift when you reveal yourself nakedly and honestly, at any given moment…for no other reason than to reveal what’s alive in you… (146). I find that incredibly beautiful, as I did this book, written with the intent to do nothing but heal people, relationships, and the world; and by a man whom has dedicated his life to doing the same.
Note: I so enjoyed the principals of this book so much that I purchased the expanded version on Audible and am listening to it while driving. The book called simply, Nonviolent Communication, is far longer, but goes into greater depth in principle and practical application. I am enjoying it immensely and highly recommend it to anyone seeking more peace in life.
NVC website: http://www.cnvc.org/
Rosenberg, Marshall. Living Nonviolent Communication. Boulder: Sounds True Inc. 2012.