Speaking the Language of Compassion: Nonviolent Communication


Kawther Said

Imagine a world in which compassion was the main mode of communication. Everybody would always know how others were feeling, and we would derive satisfaction from our conversations and encounters. This would mean no more feelings of disappointment or aggravation after a particularly frustrating interaction.

The only thing that is stopping us from achieving this uncomplicated, satisfactory way of living is violence. I am not talking about hitting, kicking or punching; most people know not to resort to physical violence. I am talking about verbal violence.

From the kindest people to the most malicious, almost everyone unknowingly participates in the toxic language culture of verbal accusation, sarcasm and passive aggressiveness, all of which cause conflict in speech.

For those not familiar with nonviolent communication (NVC), it may not be intuitive to consider conventional conversational practices such as criticism, comparisons, labels and judgement as violent. Yet, violence is anything that causes hurt or damage, and that extends to words.

In order to address the violent patterns of speech that have found their place in the mainstream, psychologist Marshall Rosenberg PhD created a better system of communication. This process, called nonviolent communication, places emphasis on honesty, empathy and interpersonal connection to alleviate conflict in speech.

The following is a guide to developing a more compassionate manner of speech using NVC:

  • Express what you want clearly; do not express what you don’t want.
    • Ex: Do not say “I want you to stop humming.” Instead say “I feel frustrated when you hum loudly because I am not able to concentrate on my work. Can you listen to music with earbuds instead?”
  • When making requests or responding in tense atmospheres, make assumptions in the form of questions as not to make accusations and to indicate to the other party that you are trying to understand him or her.
    • Ex: “Are you frustrated because you would have liked for me to attend your party instead of Brad’s?”   
  • Do not make comparisons. Ever.
    • Comparing a person to something or someone else passes judgement on your part and causes the receiving party to feel insecure about himself.
  • Express what you are feeling, not how you feel others interpret you.
    • Ex: Do not say “I feel ignored/abandoned/threatened” because these words are an interpretation of the action of others, rather than how one feels. A better way of phrasing would be “I feel hurt when you do not acknowledge me when I arrive home.”
  • Distinguish observation from evaluations.
    • Ex: Instead of saying “Hank Smith is a poor soccer player” be specific and state facts by saying “Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games”