Małgorzata Szwedowska
By Malgorzata Szwedowska, attorney/mediator, Osborne Clarke



NVC or Nonviolent Communication is a different way of looking at relationships and conflict resolution from the traditional communication model. It is a way of resolving conflicts that involves respecting the needs and feelings of all the people involved and seeking a solution that meets the needs of each.

The author is Marshall B. Rosenberg – an American clinical psychologist, negotiator, mediator, trainer and teacher. The creator of this approach claimed that the basis of all violence, whether verbal, psychological or physical, is a way of reasoning, according to which the sources of conflict are seen in the mistakes of the opposing party, accompanied by an inability to see their vulnerability, their feelings, fears, desires, longings, etc.

In order to move away from the traditional model of communication followed by judgments, thoughts, strategies and demands, NVC proposes a four-step model of communication, which is based on combining the following elements:

1. Observations – in other words, facts, which are obtained through the so-called camera test (what can be seen? what can be heard? what is happening?) without adding judgments and interpretations to them.

2. Feelings – expressions treating how, for example, the situation in which we find ourselves affects us. Feelings improve the possibility of mutual understanding. Importantly, feelings should not be confused with judgments about other people, for example: “I feel you are manipulating me” or “I feel you don’t care”. None of these statements express emotions. They are interpretations that distance the interlocutors from each other.

3. Needs – everything that is necessary to keep us alive regardless of race, religious preference, financial status, location (place of residence) or culture.

4. Requests – clearly articulated, specific, positive wording.

With this communication pattern, the statement: “You’re late again with this report. Because of you I spent two nights in a row doing something that was your job. I don’t want to work with you because you don’t respect other people’s time at all,” could instead read: “This is our third project together and the third time when you finish your part later than we had agreed (observations). This situation really tires me out (feelings), because it is important for me to keep my agreements and I would like everyone to take responsibility for their part of the task (needs). Could we talk about this?” Or: “Would you like to tell me if you have any ideas on how we could get out of this situation?” (requests).

And what are the basic principles of NVC?

• We all have the same needs, but we choose different strategies to meet them

Communication in the NVC model is based primarily on the assumption that the needs of all people are universal. They are not determined by culture, age or gender. Each person has all the same needs and satisfies them at different times and in different dimensions.

• All of our actions serve to satisfy our needs – no one acts against us, but to satisfy a need that is important to them

When we hear a “no” in response to our request, it is helpful in accepting such a response to know that this refusal is not directed against us personally, but that its purpose is to meet the important needs of the person who answers “no”. The same is true of statements that are difficult to accept – judgmental, critical, blaming, shaming. Behind such sentences there are also important needs.

For example, behind the message: “You selfish person, as usual you think only of yourself!” may hide disappointment, as the person would like to see more consideration being given to his/her needs. In turn, the statement: “You idiot!” can be read as a manifestation of anxiety. The person saying it would like to feel safe and to be able to trust a driver who manoeuvres dangerously on the road and does not keep an appropriate distance. And behind the sentence: “It’s your fault as usual, you screwed up again!” we can find anger or despair. The person saying these words probably expected to be understood that the task was important to him/her and that he/she values cooperation with other people and that he/she expects people to take responsibility for their tasks

• Feelings tell us what our needs are met or not met in a given situation

Suppose an employer decided to part ways with his subordinate after many years of cooperation. An employee confronted with such a fact may think: “I’ve been busting my guts for him for over ten years and he, just like that, without warning, fires me. Also, fires me by phone.” Certainly, after such an internal analysis of the situation, the employee feels anger, indignation and disappointment. These feelings inform that the needs that were not satisfied in the given situation are: the need for respect (if only as to the form in which the dismissal took place), the need to be noticed and appreciated for the many years of contribution to the firm or empathy. The employee’s thoughts may also go in the direction of: There is a crisis, where will I find a job now? On my head is family, loans. A flurry of such thoughts causes anxiety and panic, which are information that in this situation, security, financial stability, support are important. It may also be that the employee realises that it is time for the vacation of a lifetime and feels relieved and satisfied, and then focuses on rest, adventure, variety.

The same situation, and three completely different reactions influenced by our approach. Different thoughts, followed by feelings, and further by needs. The more aware we are of our needs, the easier it is to decide for ourselves and understand others. Realising what need is not satisfied in a particular situation gives us the impetus to take appropriate steps to solve the problem.

• Conflicts arise at the level of strategies, and solutions emerge at the level of needs

Once again, it is worth emphasizing that one behaviour can satisfy many needs. In turn, one need can be met with multiple strategies. For example, the need for security can be met by working a job, but also by taking out an insurance policy. According to the NVC concept, disagreements arise precisely at the level of strategy. When we can get to the needs, it is easier to build understanding. If we feel that others have heard what is important to us, then we ourselves are more ready to hear what is important to the other person.

NVC dispute resolution is an effective approach because it focuses on communication in a non-violent way, so that both parties to a conflict are able to find satisfactory solutions. It is also empathetic and friendly – and empathy is crucial in resolving disputes because it helps us understand other people’s perspectives and needs. In turn, through friendly relationships, employees cooperate better and more effectively. It eliminates aggression and leads to creative solutions. Hearing the needs of both parties allows them to move from blaming to cooperation – constructively seeking solutions they would not be able to find if they used conventional approaches to dispute resolution.

The advantage of resolving disputes in the NVC model is that it is transparent and simple, and achieves satisfactory results for all parties. Here there is no need to refer to any classifications, hierarchies of values, stages of disputes, or complicated tools. The core is the feelings and needs of everyone involved in the discussion.