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  • Writer's pictureLarissa Velasco

Nonviolent Communication: Building Bridges, Not Walls

In a world often marked by conflict and misunderstanding, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) offers a beacon of hope for fostering empathy, understanding, and connection. Developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, NVC is a communication approach emphasizing compassion, collaboration, and conflict resolution without resorting to aggression or violence. 

Nonviolent Communication is a communication and conflict resolution process based on empathy, honesty, and assertiveness. The main idea behind this approach is to encourage people to express their feelings and needs openly and honestly while also listening with empathy to others' perspectives. The ultimate goal of NVC is to establish mutual understanding and respect between parties and to create connections instead of divisions.

The Four Components of Nonviolent Communication:

1. Observation: The first step in NVC is to observe without judgment or evaluation. Instead of making assumptions or labelling behaviour, individuals focus on describing the concrete actions or situations contributing to their feelings or needs.

At this step, it's very important to talk about self-awareness by noticing the experiences and emotions we have as soon as we have them. From observation, we can start to use words to describe the sensations that are present. 

2. Feelings: In NVC, individuals are encouraged to identify and express their emotions honestly and vulnerably. By acknowledging and sharing our feelings, we create a space for empathy and understanding from others.

3. Needs: Central to Nonviolent Communication is the recognition of universal human needs. These needs encompass physical, emotional, and spiritual requirements for well-being and fulfillment. By articulating our needs clearly, we invite collaboration and cooperation in finding mutually satisfying solutions.

It is crucial to take a moment and reflect upon the expectations we have set for ourselves and how we managed to deal with any frustration that arose. Asking ourselves what we truly need helps us gain a better understanding of our desires and the reasons behind our dissatisfaction. We may find that the other party did not intend to cause us any harm, and by understanding their intentions, we can have a more meaningful and productive conversation that aligns with both parties' goals.

4. Requests: In the final step of NVC, individuals make explicit, actionable requests that are specific and doable. Rather than making demands or ultimatums, requests in NVC are framed in a way that respects the autonomy and dignity of both parties.

Practical Applications of Nonviolent Communication:

Nonviolent Communication can be applied to various aspects of life, from personal relationships to workplace dynamics and beyond. By incorporating the principles of NVC into our interactions, we can:

  •  Foster deeper connections and intimacy in relationships by communicating with empathy and authenticity.

  • Resolve conflicts peacefully and constructively, addressing underlying needs and concerns rather than escalating tensions.

  •  Create a culture of collaboration and mutual respect in professional environments, enhancing teamwork and productivity.

  • Cultivate self-awareness and emotional intelligence, leading to significant personal growth and fulfillment.

Observations and interpretations are essential concepts in NVC. Observations can be objectively verified, while interpretations involve assumptions and generalizations. Distinguish between them to approach conversations productively.

Avoid accusatory phrasing and be specific. Don't worry if observations could be more precise. Simplify the "observation, feeling, need, request" formula to "state the observation, explain what made you feel bad, and frame it in terms of why it felt bad for you." Express both negative and positive things from your perception rather than phrasing it as the ultimate truth.

Every person will have a unique perspective on phenomena, and by being able to discuss and find common ground, we can foster more valuable and aligned connections.

In addition to verbalizing interpretations, paying attention to our tone of voice is important. A positive and friendly tone can greatly affect how others receive our message. It can convey our interest and care for the other person, and this can help build rapport and trust. 

Moreover, when we verbalize our interpretations, we should also be open to hearing what the other person has to say. We need to avoid interrupting them and listen actively. This means paying attention to their words, tone, and body language and asking clarifying questions when necessary. It is important to develop a safe and supportive environment where people feel respected and heard, as it can also help us avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.

One idea that is also helpful to navigate this topic are the four levels of listening, by acknowledging the diverse layers of listening, individuals practicing this approach can develop a heightened awareness of both their own needs and those of others, thereby nurturing more meaningful exchanges. 

  1. Surface Listening: Surface listening entails merely hearing the spoken words without fully engaging with their underlying meaning or emotional context. Although this level of listening may suffice for basic communication, it often overlooks the deeper sentiments and needs that shape the conversation.

  2. Listening for Facts: At this level, individuals focus on discerning the factual information conveyed by the speaker, such as statements of fact or requests for specific actions. However, concentrating solely on facts may fail to address the emotional nuances and underlying needs driving the speaker's message. 

  3. Listening for Feelings: In this stage, listeners tune into the speaker's emotional state and empathize with their experience. By paying attention to the speaker's tone of voice, body language, and other nonverbal cues, listeners gain insight into the emotions underpinning the words, thereby fostering deeper connection and understanding.

  4. Empathic Listening: At the highest level of listening, there is empathic engagement. This is where the listener tries to understand the speaker's perspective with compassion and empathy. Empathic listeners not only hear the speaker's words but also try to understand their emotions and validate their feelings and needs. During this process, the listener is fully focused on the speaker and does not think about their own response.

When someone is speaking to you, it's important to ask yourself if you're really listening to what they're saying. Are you fully present and taking in all aspects of their message, or are you already thinking about your own experiences or formulating a response? True listening means being attentive to all levels of communication of the other person.


Nonviolent Communication offers a transformative approach to communication and conflict resolution, grounded in empathy, honesty, and respect. By embracing the principles of NVC, we can build bridges of understanding and connection in a world too often divided by fear and misunderstanding. As we aspire to communicate with compassion and empathy, may we pave the way for a more harmonious and compassionate society, one conversation at a time.

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