Nonviolent Communication: a language for compassion

2 minute read

I first heard of Nonviolent Communication while digging through some Hacker News threads. As soon as I clicked through to read about it, I couldn’t begin to imagine the transformative power of the technique I was about to meet.

Nonviolent communication: a language of life is a book by Marshall B. Rosenberg written to act as a guide to the namesake technique he developed over the years as a psychotherapist and mediator.

The author presents, right at the start, a powerful idea: violence is not only physical, but can also happen through our words and gestures.

Marshall’s big idea is that humans are essentially compassionate and empathic, but our language facilitates the use of violence when trying to express our needs. Therefore, by applying the principles of NVC, we can promote compassion and empathy, instead of violence. I truly believe in its transformative power to get people to act out of kindness instead of shame or guilt.

The basic form of NVC when trying to ask for something out of someone is:

When [something happens], I feel [my feeling] because I [my need]. Would you be willing to [my request]?

And when receiving a difficult message, we try to empathise with the individual:

When you [something that happened], you feel [the other person feeling] because you [the other person need]?

The book’s first few chapters go through each step one by one, teaching common pitfalls and how to avoid them. While interesting, the following chapters are, for me, where the real deal of the book is: learning to apply these principles in different situations.

Another very powerful and liberating idea you’ll find is: no one can change how you feel. You can never say: “You are making me sad”, without a certain degree of judgement (and therefore violence). That’s because the way you feel is a product of your past experiences and inner images besides the circumstances.

My main criticism of the book is its very serious lack of research. It doesn’t provide any sort of statistical or psychological studies that could help explain whether the technique works or why it works, so it never really elevates above basic self-help. This might seem like a harsh criticism, but I still believe its worth a read even if it could be more scientifically proven, at least so you can verify for yourself in your relationships whether the technique works for you.

Thanks for reading the book review!