In the words of Marshall B. Rosenberg: “Words are windows or else they are walls. They forbid us or they liberate us.”
Derogatory remarks, reproaches or reprimands, the office can sometimes turn into a real boxing ring where everyone takes turns to throw punches at each other. It is common knowledge that at work it is often difficult to manage your moods and relations with others. Sometimes, it takes almost nothing (a delay in a case, an angry customer etc.) to send you over the edge and blurt out harmful words or spark a conflict which will take a long time to calm down.
In professional (as well as private) life, communication is essential for passing clear instructions, making oneself understood, expressing what one feels, creating and maintaining harmonious relations and defusing tensions and conflicts. All of this helps to create a pleasant and productive working environment.
To achieve a better balance between work and growth, and to have healthy and kind relationships at work, you should adopt nonviolent communication.
What is nonviolent communication?
Nonviolent communication (or NVC) was developed in the 1970s by the American psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, a student and collaborator of Carl Rogers, another American psychologist who pioneered the person-centred approach.
It’s a mainly verbal method of communication, based on qualities like empathy, compassion and respect for oneself and others, and which allows for more relaxed relationships with others and thus promotes a more sustainable collaboration.
The phrase “nonviolent” refers to the Gandhi movement and means communication with others without harming them. In addition to resolving conflicts, nonviolent communication can improve relationships with oneself and others, but also helps one to better understand their deepest needs in order to get what one wants.
Concretely, NVC helps one to understand that the feelings and emotions you feel are neither caused by the observed situation, nor by others’ behaviour, but rather by your needs, which are essential for you and your well-being.
The 4 Principles of NVC:
To implement nonviolent communication in your business, you should follow these four steps when communicating with your employees:
- Observation: observe the facts and describe the situation objectively, without judgement, interpretation, or analysis.
- Feelings and attitudes: what do you feel about this situation? Express your feelings about the situation. For example, are you sad, frustrated, angry, disappointed, annoyed, impatient, worried, etc.?
- Needs: identify and understand the needs that caused these feelings and express them clearly to the other person.
- Request: formulate a concrete request that will allow your colleague to satisfy your needs. Your request must be positive, simple, clear, precise and achievable. Above all, your colleague must be able to respond in a negative way without fear of reproach, otherwise it is a demand, and not a request.
Pay attention to the way you express yourself. Generally, pay attention to how you address people – make sure you express feelings and not judgements.
In NVC, Marshall B. Rosenberg uses two animals to describe the two types of communication generally employed:
- The jackal for traditional communication which is considered aggressive. Based on domination, this way of communicating seeks to convince by using violence and manipulation techniques (shaming, shame, punishment, praise).
- The giraffe for kind communication. According to Thomas D’Ansembourg, (author of the book ‘Stop being nice, be genuine’), Marshall B. Rosenberg chose the giraffe because “it has the biggest heart of all terrestrial animals and because it has very few natural enemies.”
Let’s demonstrate nonviolent communication with an example. One of your colleagues has a habit of arriving late for work and never gives notice.
Try to avoid saying “you are late again today, it’s a lack of respect for the whole time.’ (This would be the jackal form of communication).
Here is what you could say to him using nonviolent communication:
- Observation: “You arrived at 10am even though everyone starts at 9am.”
- Feeling: “I am annoyed and disappointed”
- Need: “because the team needs reliability and it is important that everyone gets to the office at the same time to maintain good team cohesion.”
- Request: “Can you arrive on time from tomorrow onwards and warn me if you are going to be late?”
So, you are not aggressive and you don’t try to make your colleague feel guilty. You state a fact and you explain to the person that they need to change their behaviour to build good relations within the team.
The advantages of NVC
Nonviolent communication has many benefits:
- you learn to communicate without being judgemental;
- you learn to identify and understand your needs, and how to express them;
- your colleague will not feel attacked and thus he won’t be defensive;
- you express your expectations clearly and avoid any misunderstandings;
- NVC encourages others to cooperate;
- it helps to avoid conflicts or to resolve them calmly and easily.
It’s a fact, a request formulated with kindness and goodwill is more likely to succeed than one which uses force and authority.
Admittedly, nonviolent communication will not seem very natural to you at first, especially since it’s not easy to express your feelings and needs in a professional environment. It involves changing your habits and requires doing a little work on yourself. However, by practicing, you will soon find that it is an effective way of communicating and that it promotes kind and respectful interactions at work and at home.