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Why NVC ​works


​​​​Recently I saw a post on social media giving ‘5 reasons your relationship might not be saved with NVC’. I also remember that a participant told me that she was listening for two hours to her sister. Afterwards she felt exhausted and disconnected. Her efforts didn’t seem to bear fruit. Does this mean Nonviolent Communication (NVC) doesn’t work?

I understand the question because at the beginning of my NVC journey I was also looking for evidence that NVC ‘works’. Over the years I come to realize that NVC is not just a method which either works or not. 

If I can see NVC as a communication process that enables awareness of self and others then I come into NVC consciousness. This means that my intention is connection, everybody’s needs matter and I’m hanging loose to the outcome. Empathy is key here. Empathy is presence and an understanding of what’s alive in me and the other person, without judging and blaming.

Of course my communication with others is not always straightforward. For instance, if I’m tired or less resourced, I’m more likely to hear blame or demands in the other person’s words. Even if I have the intention to connect, sometimes it takes time and energy to stay present and care for the connection. This will include moments of self-connection, when my listening capacity is low and I’m sensing resentment on the other side.

Sometimes I find it challenging to face what I interpret as the other person’s frustration or their anger and unwillingness to cooperate. Am I also playing a part in it? Perhaps I’m not fully aware and clear about how I contributed to this situation. However I don’t see NVC as ‘not working’.

So what can make a difference?

1. Stay open and curious: the intention is connection

If we stay open and curious to what’s blocking cooperation, it’s more likely we will find common ground. We can ask ourselves questions like ‘What makes it difficult to hear the other person? What is the yes behind the no? Do we have a mutual understanding of the situation?’

2. Taking self-responsibility

I try to understand my part in these challenging situations. Is the other person willing to take responsibility for their words and actions and acknowledge the impact on me? It makes a difference for me to build trust in the connection. And it makes it satisfying if we can all learn from the situation. In our reflection we could ask ‘What could I do differently next time?’

3. What is life-serving?

I’ve found it life-serving to celebrate when I notice my needs are met, for example contributing to other people’s lives. And I know how to mourn when my needs are not met. All feelings are welcome.

How does it land in you? Does it resonate with you? Let me know, I’m curious to hear from you.