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NVC – The Power to Motivate from Within

We want people to do things because they see how it enriches life. That is power: when we have the ability to motivate people from within.  Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is a language of and for life and inspires compassion through joyful relationships in all areas of life through the expression of feelings andneeds. Beyond our habitual, automatic responses, is a compassionate connection away from and beyond judgment, criticism and blame.   Marshall Rosenberg, author and Founder of the Center for Non-Violent Communication, became preoccupied most of his life with what connects and disconnects us from our natural compassionate nature.  NVC’s goal is teaching us that power is with people, not over them.

In the forward to Rosenberg’s book on NVC, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson recounts his summer in India with his famous grandfather. Through his time there, he became aware of the insidious ways that passive violence fueled physical violence. This passive violence, in the form of rewards and punishments, judgement, shame, guilt and negative self-talk defines “violence” in the context of NVC.  All are attempts to manipulate individuals and groups to make others do as they are told. Violence is not just physical acts such as fighting, beating and killings. As many individuals know, emotional violence can be as equally painful as the physical.

Marshall asks two questions clarifying why punishment can be confused with an effective form of communication.

  1. What do we want the other person to do?
  2. What do we want the other person’s reasons to be for doing as we request?

If the person does what is being asked out of guiltshame, fear of hurting the other person, risk of losing connections/love,  or to avoid physical or emotional pain, then the action isn’t being done out of consideration for our needs.

Furthermore, using guilt tricks people into believing that they can create your feelings, and they are the cause of your suffering. What the other person does is a stimulus for our feelings but not the cause. How I feel about a situation depends on a whole range of factors from the choices I make, to the story I tell myself about the event, to the millions of filters created through my upbringing, my socio-economic status, color, gender, education and more. Using language such as, “I feel as I do in this situation because I need………” connects to our unmet need when the other person does or behaves in some way. Shame is a potent form of subversive violence towards individuals and groups.   It invokes fear and self-rebuke to get what we want by using labels such as lazy, inconsiderate, rude, stupid, bad, selfish, naughty, etc. In NVC, any label that implies wrongness is a violent act. It’s trying to get people to do things out of guilt and shame.

Any language that allows us to deny responsibility for our choices is also a catalyst to violence . This is the defense of Amtssprache that Adolf Eichmann used during the war crimes tribunal when asked why he sent the Jews to the concentration camps and the gas chambers.

Dangerous words that deny responsibility for our choices include,

  • can’t
  • should
  • must
  • ought
  • had to
  • superiors orders
  • it’s company policy and
  • it’s the law

But, what happens when we use this language of judgment, guilt, shame and denial?

It creates the 3 R’s: resentment, retaliation and rebellion. Forcing a child, for example, to participate in an activity results in resentment towards the activity, perhaps retaliation in the form of arguing and protesting, and rebellion either immediately, over time or later in life. Conversely, NVC permits our needs to be heard as requests and not demands, where there is openness to discussion with the aim of a win-win solution.

When an individual is truly heard (known as ‘active listening’), he/she does not feel criticised. Energy can be focused on problem solving and conflict resolution rather then a defense. Hearing criticism in what people say, or worrying about what people think of you has terrible effects on how we see ourselves. Real discussion begins by separating observations from evaluation with a sprinkling of feelings and needs for empathic connection.

NVC is communication and learning where our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others is paramount.  Unfortunately most language in our lives from the beginning of school throughout our working lives is that of authority and the use of rewards and punishment.  NVC teaches not to give power to ‘authoritative sources’.  Next time, instead of hearing the actual words coming out of a person’s mouth, try to determine what is behind the feelings and needs underneath what is being said.  It is often quite a different message. By bonding at that deeper level of understanding, or at least attempting to really hear what is being said, we can connect to each other’s humanness and deepest need for connection.  It is from this point of mutual understanding that we can truly communicate, problem solve, resolve conflict and motivate each other to reach our potentials.


By Katherine Sellery

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