Nonviolent Communication and Human Resources
How do we incorporate effective communication in human resources?
The term human resources refers both to people as well as to the department in a company, institution, or organization responsible for recruiting, hiring and firing, training, motivating, compensating staff, complying with labor laws, and more.
Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, is a set of mindsets, tools, and skills for creating a high quality of connection that serves to deepen mutual understanding, prevent and resolve conflicts, create enjoyable efficiency at work, and navigate situations effectively in order to co-create mutually satisfying outcomes.
This article covers the many benefits and advantages organizations gain when they incorporate NVC in their human resources workshops and trainings, including human resources wellness programs.
NVC emphasizes self-connection — emotional intelligence, understanding what is motivating you, and knowing clearly what you would like — as well as healthy, respectful, and mutually empowering connection with others. This makes NVC a robust component of any human resources wellness program.
That said, NVC also delivers deep insights and skills related to leadership, collaboration, teamwork, and workplace culture — so it benefits organizations and human resources departments in many other ways, as well.
Beyond “human resources wellness programs” — NVC training for effective teamwork and creating a collaborative work environment
NVC gives people tools and skills that result in bringing less work- related stress home, and less home-related stress to work.
But the benefits of NVC go far beyond that!
Most workplaces have a lot of room for growth, to put it kindly, in establishing truly effective collaboration among staff.
Many organizations are not accustomed to it, it’s not part of the culture, and often the leaders don’t have the skills let alone the ability to facilitate collaboration among others.
Below is a brief unpacking of how NVC contributes to this shortcoming on several levels simultaneously.
NVC for Teamwork and Collaboration: 1) Staff preventing and resolving their own conflicts
Even when there’s a commitment to handling workplace conflicts well, if an HR department doesn’t have an in-house mediator they need to hire someone from outside.
NVC gives people the tools to prevent and resolve their own conflicts. This is a weight taken off of a human resources department!
Additionally, an HR department can furnish some staff with the tools to help others when those people can’t resolve the conflict on their own.
Conflicts can fester for months or even years!
A conflict doesn’t need to be something big and explosive. In many cases it’s like a pebble in your shoe — seemingly small, grinding over time, and with an outsized negative impact.
These misunderstandings and conflicts can lead to low morale or people refusing to work together. In other cases unresolved conflicts lead to foot-dragging, resistance, resentment, and subtle sabotage.
Unattended-to conflict is like a hole in the hull of the organizational ship with the potential to hobble or sink the whole endeavor.
When staff are trained in NVC, they begin to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place.
Because conflicts can eat up a lot of organizational time, with the tools and skills to prevent conflicts organizations recover that time.
In addition, everyone benefits from boosted morale, a sense of empowerment, and team cohesion.
With even one well-trained person, an HR department could step in when it’s really needed, and support the resolution of a conflict in a more resource-efficient way.
NVC for Teamwork and Collaboration: 2) Clear, actionable requests
People often don’t get the response they were hoping for because of a lack of skill in the area of making clear, actionable requests.
Many of us learned that others should know or intuit what we are asking for — and if they don’t follow through on it, or even pick up on it, it means a lack of care on their part.
Clear, actionable requests are a way of taking responsibility for what we want. They also free the receiver from needing to guess or interpret what is being requested.
Requests are differentiated from demands in that the latter contain punitive measures if the demand is not met. This destroys relationships, lowers morale, creates withholding of information, and undermines trust.
NVC requests have four criteria that make that request actionable.
A request must be:
- contain positive-action language, and be
- present — in other words, give the other person or people the opportunity to respond in this moment.
Not a request:
“No one is helping me with the project database!”
This last phrase implies blame as well as the desire for support.
What would it sound like if this person was taking responsibility in a self-connected and team-oriented way?
“John, is this a good time to look at calendars to see where we can find an hour for you to help me with the project database?”
John can say whether or not it is a good time to look at calendars. If it’s not, it can be followed up with, “When would be a good time?”
Not a request:
“I need you to stop being late to meetings!”
This last example is neither specific nor does it use positive action language. It tells the person what to stop doing.
“I’m curious to understand if there’s something keeping you from being on time to our meetings, and if there’s something I can do to support you being present for the whole meeting. Is now an ok time for you to tell me?”
The person can say whether or not now is an ok time.
“I noticed you missed the check-in and agenda-building portions of the last three meetings. I’d like you to up-level your commitment to being on time to our meetings. Can you agree to that?”
The person can agree or not agree.
In the example above, there could be many possible requests.
It’s incumbent on the speaker to be clear what information are they seeking and how they would like it.
And there are other factors to consider such as power dynamics. For example, someone may be more hesitant to express their honest no if they’re afraid that their job could be at stake.
A person with more structural power in an organization may intend a request, but the receiver interprets a demand.
Unfortunately, when we perceive a demand that leaves us with two options: submit or rebel.
And demands undermine trust and good will. When someone submits or rebels — or sees those as their only two choices — they will resent it.
Therefore, it is incumbent on leaders to develop their own NVC skills, their sensitivity to power dynamics, and to create the environment and culture of psychological safety if they want their staff to feel heard and valued.
In this type of organizational culture, a staff person’s needs may only be met 70% of the time, but they trust that their needs matter 100% of the time!
This good-will also builds loyalty which translates into low staff turnover.
With regard to requests: when we are clear — not only about what we want but also how we want it — we are much more likely to get it!
Clear requests impact every area of work. An email or other internal communication without a clear request may not receive a reply at all!
And leaders experience confidence and peace of mind when they know that staff are taking action based on clear mutual understanding!
Having skills around clear, doable requests will also positively reverberate through the clarity and efficiency of meetings.
Are you tired of long, unproductive meetings? Clear, actionable requests can cut through the murkiness and make meetings swifter, more effective, and more enjoyable for participants!
These are some basics on NVC requests and their importance. To learn more, and deepen in your skills, we recommend attending trainings with CNVC Certified Trainers!
NVC for Teamwork and Collaboration: 3) A workplace culture of empathy and honesty
It’s easy to assume that most people compartmentalize their lives, and only show a ‘professional self’ at work.
A lot has been written about the concept of bringing your “whole self” to work.
Bringing your whole self to work does not mean sharing every detail about your personal life, or bringing unhelpful habits from home to the workplace. It does mean that you get to be yourself — real and authentic.
However, it works when the organizational culture supports it, and not when it doesn’t.
Bringing your whole self to work is not just something an individual does. It means creating a culture of psychological safety at work so that people feel safe to be real.
When an organization from top to bottom is trained in NVC, they have some key distinctions and tools — especially around empathy and honesty — that they can bring to their interactions with colleagues.
In building a culture of empathy and honesty organizations establish an environment of psychological safety — precisely the kind of work environment people look forward to being a part of.
The new tools and skills support staff in being more honest and in receiving others with empathy. The rapport and trust translate directly into improved team functioning.
These three areas — staff resolving their own conflicts, skills for making clear requests, and a workplace culture of empathy and honesty — support HR departments by reducing friction and conflict, and by cultivating more empowered and satisfied staff.
Human Resources Training for Leadership: How NVC contributes to leadership capacity and skills
Humanity is going through a fundamental paradigm shift in multiple fields, disciplines, and domains simultaneously.
Nonviolent Communication, NVC, is part of that shift.
One field in particular that highlights the contrast between old and new ways of seeing things is leadership.
The old paradigm of leadership was about power-over.
The new paradigm of leadership is about power-with.
The old paradigm of leadership was about compliance and enforcement.
The new paradigm of leadership is about enrollment.
The old paradigm of leadership was about making demands. The new paradigm of leadership is about making requests within the context of a shared purpose and vision.
This new kind of leader:
- Is self-connected and has interior clarity: they know what is motivating them and where they’re going,
- Is connected to their interior power,
- Acts with integrity and courage, and leads by example,
- Is able to create mutual understanding between themselves and others, as well as helping others achieve it among themselves,
- Supports positive relationships between themselves and others as well as between others,
- Is able to facilitate mutually satisfying results consistently,
- Navigates systems and structures effectively and is willing to do the work of creating new, life-serving systems and structures,
- Facilitates collaboration,
- Helps to prevent and resolve conflicts,
- Makes clear, actionable requests — and helps others clarify their requests.
Leaders grow in all the competencies and capacities on this list as a results of being trained in NVC.
NVC training for turning around a toxic work culture
How do you turn around a toxic work culture, and what role does NVC play?
Organizational culture flows from the top.
Leaders define the culture — not by creating lists of shared values or hiring a consultant to do team-building, but — by how they actually communicate, live, and act.
If an old-paradigm CEO or Executive Director hires a consultant to teach their team collaboration — but that leader does not participate or learn the skills themselves, then the culture will not change.
To turn around a toxic work culture leadership needs to look at their own shortcomings and areas of growth.
When leaders take on their own growth, development, and healing they become better leaders because they have less of their own issues in the way. They are less likely to act in offensive, degrading, or harassing ways. They are more present to balancing the humanity of the staff with the demands of business. And they are able to be intentional about what kind of workplace culture they want to co-create with others.
One example of such a turnaround was initiated by the superintendent of a school district. Having done some of their personal and professional development work — and handling some of their own ineffective patterns — they were able to look more clear-eyed at the situation they had on their hands.
The entire teaching staff at one of the schools had turned into an us-versus-them set of factions that were polarized, had lost trust, and in which certain individuals had open animosity toward other individuals “on the other side.”
This superintendent reached out to a CNVC Certified Trainer who followed a simple but powerful approach.
First, the trainer spoke to each person individually, one-on-one, for about 45 minutes.
This contributed to building trust and rapport, and for the trainer to learn each person’s perspective. It also allowed each school teacher to receive empathy, so that they could be more connected to their feelings, needs, and potential requests… and participate in the subsequent steps with a lower emotional charge.
Another thing the trainer did in these one-on-one calls was to ask each person the following question: “If we could resolve the conflict between any two individuals, and having that conflict resolved would affect the group positively, who are those two individuals?”
Next, the trainer conducted the mediations with the individuals identified through the calls. There were about three total, and the teachers were not resistant. They seemed eager to get the support and move through the conflicts that had felt so heavy and were affecting everyone.
Then, lastly, they had calls with the full group. Honesty was shared, others reflected back their understanding, apologies were expressed and accepted, tears flowed… the entire interpersonal environment had shifted.
The entire process took about 3 or 4 months.
Afterwards, the teachers, the principal, the superintendent — everyone expressed their gratitude and relief: they had returned to being a cohesive team that could focus on the needs of the most important customers: kids and families.
Each organization and instance of toxic workplace culture is unique. Regardless, with the right intentions and mindsets, with leadership on board, and with skilled support — it’s possible to shift a toxic workplace culture to one that is more benign, connected, effective, efficient, welcoming, and enjoyable for everyone.
Nonviolent Communication and the secret to motivating staff
Knowing how to motivate staff effectively is the holy grail of managers, supervisors, and leaders.
One overlooked secret is that the process begins at the recruitment and hiring phase in order to find someone who is an excellent match for the organization and the post. This is because no amount of motivational insights, skills, or money can override the reality of someone who is a bad match for the organization or the job.
Someone with a fantastic set-up, a position that would be coveted by many others, but that person’s deep desire is to be somewhere else doing something different — again, no amount of motivational know-how can prevail over this gap.
Part of the challenge of motivating staff — and preventing them from becoming de-motivated — has to do with organizational culture. For example, a culture that includes psychological safety, so that staff can “bring their whole selves to work” — in the sense of feeling comfortable being real, authentic, and genuine in the workplace — will likely be less demotivating than the workplace with strict and formal etiquette and an authoritarian boss.
People enjoy going places and participating in activities where they are seen and valued — including work.
One element that leads to staff demotivation and then turnover is the stress and burnout from a lack of work-life balance or integration.
If work is stressing out your home and family life, at some point something will give way.
Workplaces that acknowledge that we all have personal lives outside of work, and which are also important, will be more attractive places to work than those that do not. And this in turn translates into attracting the best candidates.
People are not machines, and need to be treated as beings with whole lives. Humanizing the workplace is important if we want to keep staff from becoming demotivated.
Much of the issue of motivation revolves around the difference between extrinsic motivators and intrinsic motivators.
An extrinsic motivator is something outside of yourself that you have been taught to perceive as important or valuable: the corner office, the special parking spot, the financial bonus. The key about these being extrinsic is that you are less connected to the deeper universal needs that are the actual drivers.
For example, the corner office or the special parking spot may contribute to deeper needs for belonging, acceptance, acknowledgment, or even self-acceptance!
If I think I need the special parking spot then I am being driven by an extrinsic motivator. If I can see that the deeper need is acknowledgment, or even self-acceptance, then I become aware that I can find other strategies for meeting those deeper needs.
When compliance is a priority within workplace culture, then enforcement becomes a key tactic.
But enforcement breaks down trust and demotivates people.
Enrollment, on the other hand, invites people to be part of a vision larger than themselves. And it can help them connect to how being part of this larger vision also aligns with and helps fulfill deeper needs and values — the intrinsic motivators!
When management focuses on enforcement, rather than enrollment, they often rely on manipulation, coercion, and the threat of punishment — three factors that undermine trust and demotivate staff.
Part of the challenge for present-day organizations is the transition from seeing staff as replaceable cogs only valued for a specific output, to partners in a vision and empowered owners of their role.
When people feel connected to a larger vision, and their personal values align with what the organization does — when everyone is on the same team with a shared purpose — higher-ups no longer need to focus on coercion or compliance to get people to do their work. They are now motivated intrinsically — from the inside out!
The overlooked critical importance of so-called “soft skills”
Human Resources departments face a challenge when they work with leadership who don’t understand the soft skills dilemma.
An HR manager needs to find a recruit who is qualified in a particular set of skills. Very often the focus is too narrow on those skills alone. An architect, a project manager, a grocery store supervisor, a law clerk, a sales executive, a plumber — they all need to be versed in the skills of their trade.
However, if they are lacking so-called “soft” skills — interpersonal and communication skills, emotional intelligence, personal traits such as integrity and reliability — then they will be limited in critical areas of their work.
Even a plumber needs to communicate and interact with customers. The quality of that interaction — as much as the quality of the plumbing work done — will determine whether the homeowner calls this same plumber next time, or someone else.
People who are great at what they do naturally rise to increasing levels of responsibility and leadership.
And those who do not have good interpersonal skills, rely on demands and coercion, and don’t know how to create a supportive and collaborative team environment, will be limited in their ability to serve, contribute, and ultimately be trusted and recognized.
Many leaders fall short in so-called soft skills.
One of the patterns we see is that people in groups become ineffective when there are emotions flaring up combined with a lack of skillfulness in how to attend to those emotions.
Technical solutions are usually easier to come by than people solutions.
Investing in so-called “soft skills” — training staff in NVC, for example — is an extremely valuable investment. The fact that the ROI can be challenging to measure does not make it any less real.
Greater employee retention means less turnover, which means less time and money spent hiring and training new people.
Happier employees put more of themselves into the work and create a more pleasant work environment.
Teams that get along not only produce better work, they do it faster because people are not using precious time and energy feeling heavy, avoiding each other, complaining to colleagues, processing emotions, and fantasizing about escape routes.
Dr Marshall Rosenberg on NVC in the workplace
One of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s dreams was that we could transform systems and structures that oppress people into kinder and more empowering systems and structures.
He warned about using NVC in the workplace merely as a way of helping people feel less bad about the dehumanizing environment in which they worked, and was concerned about using empathy merely as an analgesic.
Dr. Rosenberg believed in the potential of human beings to truly make life more wonderful, and to work together in a way that supports both humanity and the Earth.
In every field of human endeavor we find evidence of a great transformation humanity is undergoing. This is certainly the case in the world of employment, workplace culture, and leadership.
The paradigm of the workplace as one of life-disconnected thinking and language is an outdated paradigm, no longer serving us or our families.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s gift, Nonviolent Communication, is an essential component of any robust toolbox for transforming workplace communication, collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and culture.
PuddleDancer Press Books on NVC, Human Resources, Leadership Skills, and Workplace Culture
PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication, human resources, leadership, and work.
NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of arriving at mutually satisfying solutions to life’s intractable problems.
Because of the trust-building process involved, and the fact that the solutions include everyone’s buy-in, using NVC in the workplace predictably gives us outcomes that meet a greater number of needs and are more durable.
Our workplace communication books help you:
- Create exceptional personal and professional relationships,
- Offer compassionate understanding to others,
- Know when and how to ask for that same understanding for yourself,
- Prevent and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts
- Speak your truth in a clear, powerful way more likely to lead to harmony than conflict, and
- Create mutual understanding without coercion.
Whether you are a long-time student — or are brand new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources, including the books on workplace communication, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.
Check out our catalog of books on communication skills, human resources, leadership skills, and workplace culture… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!