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Nonviolent communication (NVC) is a framework for communication that centers shared human feelings and needs, developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s. In a PACT NOW workshop on July 28th, 2020, FORGE staff and participants practiced basic NVC skills to better identify our own feelings and needs and provide empathy to one another.

NVC operates using some basic assumptions that allow us to connect with other human beings. Four of these assumptions are:

  1. All human beings share the same needs.
  2. All actions are attempts to meet needs.
  3. Feelings point to needs being met or unmet.
  4. Most conflicts arise from miscommunications about human needs.

Everyone shares the same physical needs for food, water, shelter, and safety. We also share emotional and interpersonal needs, such as connection, love, consideration, trust, and autonomy (just to name a few). In situations where our needs are met, we might feel joy, happiness, contentment, relaxation, etc. When they are not met, we might experience emotions like sadness, frustration, or fear. When we recognize that all of us are making choices that help us to meet our basic human needs, we may be able to better communicate those needs in conflict.

At our workshop, we practiced expressing our feelings and needs about challenging situations. To do this, we used a four-part process that consists of:

  1. Observations: these are objective statements about what we experienced using our senses, separate from our judgments or thoughts. Observations look like “what the camera would see” from an outside view. 
  2. Feelings: when we noticed these observations, what did we feel? Noticing what is going on in our bodies helps us to find specific words to describe our emotions. 
  3. Needs: our feelings point to needs being met or unmet. When we feel frustration or sadness, it may be that some of our essential needs are not being met, like acceptance, trust, or respect.
  4. Requests: requests are what we ask of other people, usually with the phrasing “would you be willing to…?” Our requests are oriented towards meeting our needs and others’ needs.

When we put these four components together to express ourselves, it might sound something like: “When I saw/heard [observation], I felt [feeling], because I need [need]. Would you be willing to [request]?” 

There is also another mode of communication called empathy, where we reflect back what we he

ard someone else express. This might sound like: “When you saw/heard [observation], did you feel [feeling] because you need [need]? Would you like [request]?” If someone isn’t sure yet what they are feeling or needing, it may help to take some guesses about their feelings and needs. 

Empathy is a very important part of communication because we all want to be heard and understood. Reflecting back what someone expressed tells them that we are listening and understanding the specific feelings and needs that are coming up for them. In conflict, people are often more willing to hear things from your perspective when they first trust that they are going to be heard for their true intentions. 

Conflicts are difficult, no matter how you look at it! Sometimes we try all of the tools we have and still don’t feel heard or have our needs met. NVC skills are unique because they also allow us to give ourselves empathy in these situations. When we recognize unmet needs, we also have the option to look outside of the current conflict to meet them. For example, if I am feeling lonely because my need for connection was not met when a friend cancelled plans, I might ask a different friend to spend time together instead of trying to immediately address this need with the first friend. 

The assumptions of NVC and four basic components give us the framework for self-expression and empathy. When we’re experiencing intense feelings, it can be helpful to step away from the immediate situation and reflect on what is happening in our bodies and what needs are met or unmet. Sometimes reflecting on this with another person feels supportive. Once we have a better sense for our unmet needs, it can be easier to make requests that meet those needs.