learnings from a non-violent communication workshop


A dear friend and I have been having lots of conflicts this past one year—we have been friends for over three years now. Three years is a long time. Gruesome secrets revealed. Memories made. Familiarity bred. Currently we are at the ‘if we can have an argument free’ conversation, it warrants celebration.

Friendships, like all relationships, have a life of their own. They keep evolving, either into higher exalted versions of themselves or more often than not dissipating into a faded recollection. They need hard work. But what exactly? I must confess I am clueless. We are all different. My friend and me even more so.

The harder I keep trying, the worse it gets. Our telephone conversations end up as arguments, often over opinions about a third person or our own actions, replete with emotion, manipulation, and our egos. Or silence followed by irrelevant polite conversations tip toeing on eggshells. It is six months since we have met. Facebook buddies we never were in fact.

As a communication professional, and now a trainer in communication and public relations (corporate and policy advocacy), I am perpetually stressing about the importance and power of communication—media, customers, employees, government, NGOs, CSOs, shareholders, donors.

The list is long, but bars one—the personal dynamics in relationships. The worse part is that the transactional rules we use in our working lives do not apply here. I wish they did. Since I have not ‘studied’ it, I consequently fail in communicating successfully with someone I have much affection for but am in variance with. I am assured it is a common dilemma.

We all have relationships riled with conflict at one point or another. Parents, siblings, spouses, relatives, best buddies, colleagues, the boss. Some we choose to end and walk away from. Others we cannot. And yet others we don’t want to, for the mutual warmth far outweighs the conflict.

Then today I heard about a non-violent communication workshop happening a 10 minute walk away from my place. My new age friends tell me it is the universe guiding me. 😀

– – –

I had never heard of Non-Violent Communication before. So what exactly is it? Non-Violent Communication (NVC), also known as Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the early 1960s.

NVC focuses on three characteristics of communication: self-empathy (defined as a deep and compassionate awareness of one’s own inner experience), empathy (listening to another with deep compassion), and honest self-expression (expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others).

Sounds complicated? Nope. Our coach made it easy. Too easy. 🙂 To the point where I was wondering why the hell did I never get it before! The workshop focused on part 1—Self empathy—of being in a space of freedom and peace no matter where we are, or with whom. It begins with zeroing in on the exact conflict… read on.


Strategy versus Need
The guiding principle in acquiring self empathy through Non-Violent Communication is by becoming aware of the difference between Needs and Strategy. We often confuse both as being one and the same thing. Our strategies vary from person to person but our needs are all the same. The problems start when we believe that we need the strategy and get besotted by it, like I, and am sure others, tend to do. The moment we separate the two, everything falls into place. Yes, it is that simple. Not convinced? Take my own example:

Strategy: To ‘help’ my friend by taking over his work-related communication.
Need: To contribute my knowledge and expertise; a need to be appreciated for the value I bring in.
Helping my friend is the action / strategy I choose to achieve my need for contribution and appreciation.

An interesting feature of this awareness is that we are not uni-dimensional and have just one need. Instead we have many, some coexisting simultaneously and some, one at a time. Our needs never conflict with those of another person. How can a need for being valued conflict with a need to be understood? We all may not have the same needs at a particular time, but we still share them within us. It is the strategies to meet needs which have the potential to clash.

Feelings: The messengers
Depending on if our needs are met, or not, our feelings get triggered accordingly. They are our messengers, guiding us to whether our strategies are working. Happy positive feelings reflect met needs and successful strategies; Unhappy negative feelings represent unmet needs because of unsuccessful strategies. It is important to pay attention to the feelings. To step back and be heedful of them.

Feelings we may experience when our needs are being met include:
Affectionate, Confident, Engaged, Excited, Exhilarated, Grateful, Hopeful, Joyful, Inspired, Peaceful, Refreshed

Feelings we may experience when our needs are not being met include:
Afraid, Annoyed, Angry, Aversion, Confused, Disconnected, Disquiet, Embarrassed, Fatigue, Pain, Sad, Tense, Vulnerable, Yearning

Continuing with my need to contribute and be appreciated, and my strategy to help my friend who I feel struggles in this area at times, take these two scenarios:

I tell my friend he should create a personal brand.

He tells me he thinks the idea is super fantastic! > Positive action > It means the strategy is on track > The need to ‘contribute and be appreciated’ is being met > Triggered feeling = Elation

He tells me to stop telling him what to do, and goes into everything that is wrong with my idea > Negative action > The strategy is not working > The need to contribute my knowledge and be appreciated is unmet > Triggered feeling = Sadness

The judgements and blame game irrevocably follow the second scenario from both sides, taking our conflict to further depths. In my head I feel he is unappreciative and critical, and oh well, you know how it goes.

The good news: The universe provides for all our needs
Now isn’t that a happy thought. No, not him telling my idea off, but the universe providing for all our needs. If one strategy does not work, the reality is there are countless others. The key thing is to be aware of our needs, take responsibility for fulfilling them, and then tap into the myriad opportunities that exist in our lives to meet them.

In a nutshell our universal needs are:
Connection, Honesty, Play, Peace, Physical Well-Being, Meaning, Autonomy

Going deeper, ‘Connection’ includes needs such as acceptance, appreciation, respect, to be understood. ‘Meaning’ is having a need for contribution, creativity, learning, self-expression. ‘Physical Well-Being’ is about air, food, movement, touch.

I have a need to contribute and be appreciated? If helping-dear-friend strategy is not working, all I have to do is look for another strategy. It is out there. It is already an integral part of what I do for a living. I just have to be mindful of it being my need. Perhaps be more creative in meeting it. Enjoy the process of its fulfillment.

Putting me and my needs first
Some would say it is selfish to put oneself first. We are brainwashed into prioritizing the other person to the extent of deluding ourselves that they are our needs. To add injury to insult, we tell ourselves whatever we do, is for them. On the contrary we do others a pretty huge favour when we focus on our own needs and take responsibility towards fulfilling them with the opportunities that abound in life.

We set people free from our expectations to meet our needs and the resulting negativity if unmet. Is there a more beautiful gift that we could give to another human being? With met needs we find ourselves in a space where we are at peace and liberated; The violent communication has no choice but to be silenced.

– – –

The second phase of Non-Violent Communication explores empathy and self-expression. I will write about it when I reach that bridge. For now I am happy with my learnings and enjoying the journey of applying them. As to my dear friend, I trust he can sense the current space I am in. 🙂

This program was run by Advait Dikshit, speaker, consultant and trainer in leadership and peak-performance, as part of his giving back to the community initiative. It was hosted by Bombay-Connect, Bandra. To browse through NVC’s online resources, click here.

Note: The above post forms part of my blog’s Giving Back series which explores giving back initiatives in India.


5 thoughts on “learnings from a non-violent communication workshop

  1. very thought provoking, Rama. After our conversation the other day, I came back home and googled ‘non violent communication’. what turned up was so confusing that i decided to wait for your post instead 😀 and good thing i did. it has indeed simplified the idea, and i can only imagine how good your coach must have been. i would love to attend one of these too, of course, if all goes well ..


    • Thank you Anu. 🙂 Was a bit nervous writing it. Never done a topic like this before or in this style of blogging. And yes, he is a brilliant coach. One of the best I know !


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