Using Nonviolent Communication Skills in Relationships
“Do You Want to Be Right or Have Meaningful Relationships? You Can’t Have Both!”
In this article, when we talk about using Nonviolent Communication skills in relationships, we are talking about all relationships including personal and professional.
You do not live separate and isolated — and the other people in your life are a significant part of your existence.
The dynamic tension always present in relationships is between autonomy (having choice) on the one hand, and interdependence (taking responsibility for how we impact each other) on the other.
NVC gives you the tools to navigate this tension skillfully so that you can have both interconnectedness and choice!
After all, the purpose of NVC is to create a high quality of connection out of which we naturally enjoy contributing to one another’s well-being.
When we have that high quality of connection it’s easier to both acknowledge and even celebrate our interrelatedness and interdependence, while at the same time acknowledging, honoring, and even supporting each other’s autonomy and sense of choice.
The Importance of Communication in a Relationship
What about the paramount importance of communication in a relationship?
After all, it’s through communication that we adjust and regulate the giving and receiving that relationships are made of.
One of the challenges is a common though peculiar definition of love which goes something like this:
If you loved me, you would know what I want, when I want it, and you would give it to me how I want it. And I shouldn’t even have to ask! — because if I have to ask, it’s just not the same…
In other words: the yardstick for how much someone cares about you is the degree to which they are psychic!
This would be the approach to take if you wanted your relationships to be filled with anger, guilt, and depression.
However, one of the gifts of Nonviolent Communication is that you can take responsibility for what you’re wanting by making a clear, specific request (as distinct from a demand). This will also save your loved ones the anguish of thinking they have to guess to keep you from feeling angry, sad, or disappointed.
- what to do when someone is in pain,
- conflict resolution,
- and expressing gratitude and appreciation as a form of celebration rather than manipulation.
Communicate with Empathy and Compassion in Relationships
What does it mean to communicate with empathy and compassion in relationships?
Empathy could be defined as a respectful understanding or a compassionate understanding. It’s the universal need to be gotten or understood at a deeper level.
We use the phrase giving empathy — but technically we don’t actually give someone empathy. What we give them is our full presence — with our whole being — and as a result their need for empathy is met.
When someone is in emotional pain they need empathy. Perhaps they need other things too, but empathy — in the sense of a compassionate presence — is the first thing they need.
The conundrum is that when we are most in pain is when we most need others’ care, love, support, and understanding. And the ironic tragedy is that when we are most in pain we tend to act in ways — like withdrawing or lashing out — that make it least likely that we will get the care, love, support, or understanding we need in that moment!
Communicating with empathy and compassion means developing understanding for our own and others’ deeper motivators. It does NOT mean we agree with the other person’s perspective, or that we are justifying or condoning any specific behaviors. It’s giving the other person the experience that you understand the deeper drivers for that behavior — the Universal Human Needs.
In relationships, you might also want to be heard; this is natural. However, NVC gives us the insight that the other person is more likely to hear us out if they feel heard first.
So if we want the conversation to flow, it is often advantageous to start with empathy, hearing them out first to the best of our ability.
There is also a proverb in English that says, “Nobody cares how much you know unless they know how much you care.”
Communicating with empathy and compassion in our relationships is a way of demonstrating our care and our intention to understand. This by itself goes a long way toward having healthy, positive relationships.
There is another expression in English: “Hurt people hurt people,” which points out that someone in an empathy deficit is more likely to lash out at others.
Through empathy we provide a safe space for someone in pain to get heard, to vent in a healthy way. In these cases empathy functions as a sort of pressure-release valve, and afterwards the person who received empathy is clearer about their feelings, needs, and requests, and their emotional charge is lower. By offering empathy we break the cycle of vengeance and retribution.
One of the clearest indicators of low quality of life is high levels of conflict and poor relationships.
Communicating with empathy and compassion in your relationships makes it much more likely that you will enjoy a higher quality of life.
Improve Communication in the Family
Family is so important! Our family gives us our first early influences as well as our first sense of home and belonging. So when we improve communication in the family — and nurture those important relationships — we and they will be happier.
Family is often our earliest source of deep hurts. Therefore improving communication in the family can also involve deep healing work.
Acceptance and belonging have deep roots in human evolution. For most of human existence, being excluded from your family group meant certain death. Perhaps this is why rejection from our family, real or perceived, can feel so deeply painful.
One of the ways to improve communication in your family — or in any other context — is to shift as best you can away from the roles we each inhabit and toward relating human-to-human.
Sometimes the roles we inhabit — parent/child, husband/wife — get in the way of authentically relating as two human beings. On the one hand, it could be easy to project onto the other person’s role: perhaps now I don’t see a human being I just see an authority figure. And at the same time, sometimes people hide behind their roles. “Do it because I’m your mother!” may not help the person of whom we have a request understand the deeper needs they would be contributing to when doing as asked.
Improved communication in your family means healing past hurts, resolving conflicts and preventing future ones, hearing each other at a deeper level, enjoying each other more, and truly being able to be here for each other.
Improve Communication in a Marriage
NVC comprises the most effective set of tools for improving communication in a marriage —or any other committed relationship.
Any long-term partnership in which there is not consistently clear communication means a relationship that is full of stress and confusion; things take longer and require more effort, and there is usually a higher emotional, financial, and psychological toll.
When communication is consistently clear and positive, we enjoy each other more, you feel more free to ask for what you want and more confident that you will be supported in it, and we more easily co-create shared strategies.
The best time to improve communication in a marriage was probably well before the wedding! The second-best time is now. Humor aside, when you and your spouse commit to learning NVC, you will be on track to consistently preventing and resolving conflicts, and creating a more joyful and mutually fulfilling relationship.
Even if one person in a long-term relationship has solid NVC skills they can transform a conversation or a dynamic; if everyone has good skills then improving communication in a marriage is easier, more effective, and more fun.
Improve Communication with Coworkers
How to improve communication with coworkers? After all, we spend so much time at work that for many of us our co-workers have become like our second family!
The outcomes and results in your life are a result of your taking action around viable opportunities.
When the relationship is positive there is a higher likelihood that we will identify possibilities, which in turn could become opportunities.
When the relationship is not positive, there is every likelihood that we will not discuss possibilities — and therefore the range of opportunities is narrowed for both of us.
Again, the quality of your outcomes depends on the quality of the relationships.
NVC gives us three areas in which to put our attention in service of improved communication and relationships:
- Empathy: when someone is in pain — do I try to fix it, or am I able to stay present with them in their pain? When someone speaks — do I listen to respond or listen to understand?
- Honesty: how can I speak my truth in a way that is more likely to lead to harmony than conflict? How can I share my perspective in a way that is more likely to result in both our needs getting met?
- Self-connection: How do I handle it when I am triggered? Do I have quick access most of the time to what I am feeling, needing, wanting? How do I express what I am wanting in a way that lets you know it’s not a demand, but that you have choice and your needs matter too? What is my level of “distress tolerance” when things don’t go my way?
Your NVC practice will naturally grow your capacities in all three of these areas. All three of these areas — individually, but especially in synergy — will contribute greatly to improved communication with coworkers and all people in your life.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication in Healthy Relationships
What did Dr. Marshall Rosenberg have to say on Nonviolent Communication in healthy relationships?
He knew that if you meet your needs at the expense of others, your needs would also not be met. Anytime we create a win-lose, we also lose — because we are all interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent.
NVC is more than communication. NVC includes:
- language; our words can contribute to, or take away from, mutual understanding and care;
- thinking; our language is the software for our thinking, and the language we use shapes our perception;
- communication; how we interact and connect; the kind of conscious communication NVC encourages involves both clear intention and intentionally directed attention;
- power and the use of power to serve life; when we become more empowered inside and when we see systems and structures of social inequality or ecological destruction, what do we do? Do we use NVC to simply feel better about the structures we are in? Or do we use NVC to transform our world?
Dr. Rosenberg’s dream was that we use NVC both for improving our interpersonal relationships, but also to use our personal and interpersonal power to leave the world a better place than we found it.
Puddledancer Press Books About Communication in Relationships
PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication in relationships.
NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of healing past hurts, preventing and resolving conflicts, celebrating the ways we contribute to each other’s well-being, and arriving at mutually crafted solutions.
Because of the trust-building that happens naturally when we apply the process, using NVC for communication in relationships means that we will more consistently deepen and strengthen those relationships.
Our books on communication in relationships can help you:
- Offer compassionate understanding to others,
- Know when and how to ask for that same understanding for yourself,
- Create mutual understanding without coercion,
- Speak your truth in a clear, powerful way more likely to lead to harmony than conflict,
- Prevent and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts,
- Create exceptional personal and professional relationships;
Whether you are a long-time student — or are brand new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources, including the books on communication for healthy relationships, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.
Check out our catalog of books on conflict resolution… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!