Nonviolent Communication and Politics
“In the tradition of building bridges, Nonviolent Communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD., is a tool for political speech that can be both powerful in bringing awareness to transforming injustice and useful for connecting across differences.”
What is the connection between Nonviolent Communication and Politics?
Is there room in politics for Nonviolent Communication (NVC)?
Does Nonviolent Communication have a specific political agenda?
NVC aims for a world in which everybody’s needs are met and conflicts are resolved peacefully.
If inequality, poverty, violence, war, and ecological destruction exist as part of a political agenda, then it could be said that NVC has the opposite agenda.
However, in a very important sense, NVC is apolitical. How? Because we want to see, connect, understand, and work with human beings — not labels like liberal or conservative, or only with people from a specific political party.
NVC recognizes that human beings all have the same Universal Human Needs. NVC also recognizes that all words and actions are also attempts — however effective or not — at serving those same needs.
Therefore, any policy or law that is implemented is a strategy that is attempting to satisfy human needs.
However, not all strategies are equally effective at meeting needs.
Strategies that don’t attend to the needs of all the people involved and affected will be met with resistance and resentment, and will therefore be less effective or durable.
Using empathic listening, you can use NVC to bring to the surface the needs of all concerned. Once the needs are identified you can collaboratively craft strategies that satisfy all the needs, or as many as possible.
It follows that the most effective and durable strategies will integrate the best of available perspectives — left and right, liberal and conservative. This is one of the ways we approach the topic of NVC and politics.
The Importance of Communication in Politics and Government
The importance of communication in politics and government includes: communication from political campaigns and their respective ads and rallies; communication within an office, campaign, or an administration; communication within and among government departments; and communication from the government to the general public.
However, the issue isn’t communication itself.
The question is “what is communication for?” which reveals that the deeper issue is one of trust.
Let us elaborate:
What is communication for in the first place? On the surface: someone wants to convey information to someone else.
This not only begs the question for what purpose? — but also, with what intention?
The purposes could be variable, and include announcements that provide a public service such as informing people where there is flooding to avoid, that there is severe weather approaching, or the latest public health information necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19.
But with what intention?
When the public distrusts the intention behind communications, the content itself is questioned, dismissed, or outright challenged. This harms the ability of those in governance to communicate and coordinate effectively with — as well as serve — the public. This also diminishes the potential for more people to get involved in governance and politics, now that they are distrustful and disillusioned, which can also exacerbate the sense that those in political power are disconnected from everyday people.
This is why transparency in government — and getting everyday citizens involved in governance — is important to restore faith and confidence in our governance bodies and systems.
The importance of communication in politics and government — and specifically honesty, transparency, and integrity in that communication — is paramount for having an effective democracy, one in which we the people govern ourselves.
Nonviolent Communication gives us powerful principles and practical tools for increasing clarity, transparency, and compassion in communication within, among, and from governmental bodies.
Listening Without Judgement to Political Party Differences
What is the possibility of listening without judgment to political party differences?
Our culture has taught most of us to listen to respond, rather than listen to understand.
NVC helps us understand the values that underlie judgments. It does this by teaching us to transform judgments — ours and those coming from others — by discovering what is dear and precious, the Universal Human Needs, which lie at a level deeper than the judgmental language itself.
For example, if you notice the thought in your head liar — when you go deeper you might see that you value honesty and integrity.
If you notice in yourself, or hear from others, the judgments selfish and greedy — when you go deeper you might discover that one of the values underlying that expression is for those in governance to take the needs of others into account, not only their own needs. Perhaps underlying some of these judgments are the values of equitable distribution of resources, and the preservation of nature for future generations of humans as well as other species.
Transforming your own judgments by learning to put your attention on what is dear, precious, and important is also the first step to hearing opinions different from your own without judgment.
This practice of giving yourself compassionate attention and understanding so you can connect with your deeper feelings and needs, in NVC we call self-empathy.
After you have empathized with yourself and connected with the deeper values and needs beneath your judgment — that is when you can extend your compassionate attention and try to sense with empathy what the feelings and needs might be of the person you are judging.
So even if you disagree on the strategy or policy level — in the end you can make the connection between the other person’s humanity and your own, in order to listen without judgment beyond political party differences.
This does not mean you suddenly agree! This does not mean that you passively accept policies which you consider dangerous, inhumane, or immoral.
When you can humanize people who make choices you strongly disagree with, you have a greater chance of engaging them in constructive dialog to find other outcomes.
Understanding the deeper needs and motivators, you can shift the dialog about your differences of perspective away from “who is right and who is wrong” — which often leads to stuck conversations — and into a field where you might find even more effective strategies to attend to all the needs at play. This is the value of listening without judgment to political party differences, and NVC gives you a how-to.
Communicating with Compassion to bridge the Political Divide in America
Communicating with compassion to bridge the political divide in America — or anywhere — is important if you want to reduce societal violence, for your society to move forward in greater unison, and for people where you live to experience more of a sense of unity with one another.
Communicating with compassion to bridge the political divide in America — or anywhere — is nearly impossible if I have labelled others as the enemy.
With NVC you can work to transform within yourself the enemy images you have of others. This not only frees you from the constraints of static thinking, but it opens up possibilities for better future outcomes for everyone.
First, you might need enough empathy from another — or to employ skilled self-empathy — in order to connect with the deeper values and needs beneath your judgment, or whatever it is that is generating pain for you and blocking your compassion. Take the time to connect with what is dear and precious to you, rather than who is right or wrong.
Usually only when you are self-connected can you then extend your empathic attention to understand another’s possible needs, beneath the words or behavior which are not working for you.
Being able to imagine what precious needs someone might be trying to meet through their actions can help to humanize them, and is one way to enact compassion. Again, this does not mean you agree with them! You do your best to understand — even, or especially, when you strongly disagree.
One way to do this and further develop your compassion, is you can imagine under what circumstances this person would see their choices as serving life. You can ask yourself, what are they trying to protect? Are they afraid? And you can look inside to find places within yourself where you can relate to this other person’s experience and possibly their behavior choices. Even if you strongly disagree, are you able to humanize this other person so that you are less likely to see them as the enemy?
When you deconstruct your enemy images you feel more peaceful inside — which has its own positive physiological effects. You are also developing skills for attending to yourself and others with compassion.
And, when you communicate about your views or your disagreements, you will do so from a more grounded, centered, less volatile place.
Now, not only will you be communicating with greater compassion — but also with power and clarity — in order to bridge the political divide in America or wherever you live.
The way this is laid out may sound simple on the surface, but it is not at all easy to do. The greater your skill level in NVC, the more access you will have to this transformative way of thinking, communicating, and relating.
Learn How to Show Empathy to Others with Different Political Views
You can learn how to show empathy to others with different political views. This does not mean you agree, adopt their perspective, or justify things you believe are harmful. It means that, though you may see things very differently, you’re willing to try to understand which part of their humanity would lead them to have the perspective they have. (And one valuable insight from NVC is that the other person is more likely to hear you out if they feel heard first!)
Though the process itself is simple, it is usually not easy because most of us are very attached to being right!
But why would you want to show empathy to others with different political views? Are there benefits to you, personally, for doing so?
Part of the answer involves you clarifying what kind of world you want to live in and how you want to influence the culture in which you live.
When someone with a different political perspective addresses themselves to you, how do you want to be treated?
The alternative to showing empathy to others with whom you disagree is a world of violence. Whether it’s overt, explicit violence — or whether it’s subtle, nearly invisible violence, like simply writing them off as crazy or stupid — in the end everyone loses.
Learning how to show empathy to others with different views is the beginning of finding the common ground that will lead us to co-created, mutually satisfying outcomes.
With NVC you can learn how to give empathy to others with different political views. These are skills we believe anyone can build.
Use NVC to Find the Common Ground in Politics and Life
Using NVC to find the common ground in politics in life is not merely a nice, theoretical idea!
The Center for Efficient Collaboration — founded by NVC trainers — has a fascinating case study of using NVC principles to bring multiple stakeholders with diverse views to draft legislation they all agreed afterwards was better than what they could have created alone.
This was a seemingly intractable issue with multiple stakeholders, some of whom didn’t want to be in the same room with others when the process started!
This case study is a powerful example of using NVC to find the common ground in politics and life. You can read about it here.
In order to use NVC to find the common ground in politics and life it’ll be important not just to have the tools, but to develop skillfulness with those tools.
Your enhanced skill level will give you confidence, and your experience will lend you clarity when others would be confused.
NVC helps us find the common ground between people by putting our attention on the place of our shared humanity: Universal Human Needs.
Conflicts happen at the level of strategies — defined as the way we go about meeting needs. Conflicts cannot happen at the level of needs because we all have the same needs.
The trick to finding common ground is to slow down the conversation and go for connection before solution. When you take the time to identify the needs — separate from any strategies or how-to —then people can start relating to one another on the basis of their shared humanity.
Before the needs are identified it’s almost impossible to craft solutions that meet all the needs because we don’t yet know what all the needs are! Taking the time to clarify the needs — and then collaboratively crafting solutions to fulfill them — is how you use NVC to find the common ground in politics and life.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Conflict Resolution in the Political Arena
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg was concerned that if all we do is give people empathy, we might be helping them feel better within a dysfunctional system. In other words, Dr. Rosenberg did not want NVC used merely as an analgesic!
Dr. Rosenberg saw the potential humans have for creating systems and structures that liberate, support, and empower people. And he saw how shortsightedness and lack of perspective kept individuals and groups disconnected from each other. He saw how a fervent adherence to “being right” — along with a deficit of empathy — could lead us to dehumanizing each other which could further lead to physical violence.
Throughout his time consulting and advising leaders in the civil rights movement in the 1960s United States, Dr. Rosenberg trained others in his methodology for resisting the inner pull toward violence, humanizing ourselves and others, finding common ground, and deepening personal and professional relationships for the benefit of all.
Puddledancer Press Books on Effective Communication Skills
PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication, conflict resolution, and positive social change.
NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of arriving at mutually crafted solutions which lead to better outcomes.
Because of the inherent trust-building process — and the fact that co-created solutions include everyone’s buy-in — using NVC to inform our political systems and processes will give us far more effective outcomes that meet a greater number of needs and are more durable.
Our books on Nonviolent Communication can 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,
- Create mutual understanding without coercion,
Co-create systems and structures that contribute to life.
Whether you are a long-time student, or are brand new to NVC, PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.
Check out our catalog of books… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!
NVC Politics Web Resources
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There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web.