Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg describes a form of compassionate communication. The foreword is by Deepak Chopra, which wasn’t a great start for me, as New Age really isn’t my thing. Rosenberg and I seem to look at the world very differently, so this is less book review and more my reaction to some of the things that didn’t make sense to me.
The nonviolent part of NVC is intended in the same way Gandhi used the term. Rosenberg writes that “words often lead to hurt and pain.” Violence is a very emotionally charged word, and I was left wondering whether labelling language as violent might actually amplify the impact.
Various bits and pieces included in the book appear in a similar way in other approaches. Rosenberg writes that “you make me feel…” is a way of denying personal responsibility, which is similar to the stance in dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). He also cautions against “shoulding,” something that also comes up in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
The book lays out the four essential components of NVC:
- observing without evaluating (also a DBT skill)
- expressing feelings
- expressing needs
- making requests
Rosenberg had rather lofty views of the world and existence. I am most definitely not on that level, so there were a number of things that struck me as hyperbolic. He wrote that when we make requests, we express “what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives or make life more wonderful for us.” Okey dokey.
I had difficulty seeing where he was coming from on some of the things that he described as violence-promoting. Classifying and judging people is one example. We classify people into role functions all the time; that’s how we know what a mail carrier does, for example. We all judge, whether we want to or not, so I’m not sure how that fits in. Describing people or their actions as good or bad apparently contributes to “violence on this planet.” The people part I’m okay with, but the action part I’m not seeing.
There were some other things that made me go hmm, like this paragraph:
Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values. It is my belief that all such analyses of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own values and needs. They are tragic because when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us.
Then there was the chapter that described expressions of appreciation/praise like “you did a good job on that report” as “life-alienating communication.” Rosenberg acknowledges that readers will likely be surprised by that, but he explains that appreciation is a form of judgment, albeit positive judgment. Appreciation should only be given to celebrate, and it should address needs and feelings. I get the underlying idea of being genuine rather than manipulative in conveying praise and appreciation, but it seemed like a strange way to go about it.
The book explains that when listening to others, you shouldn’t hear anything other than observations, feelings, needs, and requests. In particular, you should be listening for needs, even if it means guessing. According to Rosenberg, even a wrong guess should help the other person get in touch with their needs. I’m not convinced, though; if anything, I’d probably get annoyed at someone telling me what they thought my needs were. A lot of the needs-guessing questions provided were closed-ended and rather long, which makes for a lot of talking and not much listening.
While I’ve focused on the things that didn’t make sense to me or didn’t work for me, I can see NVC being very helpful for some people, like I know it is for my friends at We DID It. I’m curious how it would work out if one person was using NVC to communicate to someone like me. Rosenberg says NVC can be used regardless of whether or not the other person is aware of or using it, but I wonder if, in some situations, it would end up backfiring.
I’m not a fan of non-natural-sounding language, and I don’t like therapist-speak. NVC sounds non-natural, although not in the sense of being non-genuine. From some of the examples in the book, it could come across as seeming contrived, or even a bit condescending, depending on how it’s delivered. That’s not the intent, but I suspect that might be my reaction if someone was talking NVC to me.
However, I am a weirdo (which I’m quite comfortable with), so take my interpretation with a grain of salt. I know this hasn’t really been a book review at all, but there you have it.
Nonviolent Communication is available on Amazon (affiliate link).