This is Part 2 of a two-part blog series about a professional development course I took on Nonviolent Communication (NVC). If you haven’t already, check out Part 1, which discusses my personal NVC takeaways.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a communication philosophy and methodology developed by educator Marshall Rosenberg. It proposes that when we approach communication from a place of curiosity rather than judgement, a kind of emotional alchemy happens. Practicing nonviolent communication transforms human interactions, turning shallow exchanges into opportunities for deep, authentic connection.
In this school of thought, nonviolent communication is defined as “communication that expresses compassion” and violent communication is defined as “anything that blocks compassion, causing distress and harm to yourself or others.” The difference between these two communication styles can be playfully illustrated by thinking of violent communication as a jackal and nonviolent communication as a giraffe.
So why should you put your giraffe ears on at work?
Reason #1: It makes you a better software developer.
Full disclosure, I am not a software developer. But, my coworkers are. While discussing this course with a coworker, he said something really profound: practicing empathy makes him a better software developer. When he steps outside his own perspective and thinks about the needs of product end users, he creates better products. Thanks for the insight, Chad!
Reason #2: It makes you a happier person.
One way to describe NVC is as a mindfulness practice disguised as a communication technique. The Mayo Clinic defines mindfulness as “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.”
NVC is a communication practice that strives to bring awareness to what is felt and needed in the moment. When you pay attention to what is needed, those needs are more likely to be addressed. Not only does this make accomplishing tasks at work easier, having more needs met leads to increased life satisfaction, aka happiness. Boom!
Reason #3: It makes your interactions with coworkers more fulfilling.
The book What Color is Your Parachute? reminds readers that “a work environment is a people environment.” Hopefully you are in a people environment where you like your coworkers and care about their well-being. If so, practicing NVC can make the positive connections you have with work friends and colleagues even more joyful, giving you a tool to more effectively express care and concern for one another.
A while back, one of my favorite people in the office received a call that their kid was injured. Practicing my NVC training, I offered my coworker empathy and was with them and their feelings in that moment. Simply stating their feelings out loud made the situation a little bit better, and our empathy moment was mutually gratifying. Practicing empathy enabled me to support my coworker in a meaningful way, and it deepened our connection.
Offering increased awareness and presence is also powerful when interacting with coworkers who aren’t your favorite people. Remembering that these coworkers also have needs and feelings, and sincerely trying to tune into them, can often transform the entire dynamic. What’s really astounding is that offering compassion works even if you are the only one doing it. You will feel better about yourself and the difficult interaction if you approach it nonviolently, regardless of how the other person chooses to engage.
Reason #4: It makes conflict resolution easier.
Conflict resolution informed by NVC techniques takes seemingly opposing needs and transforms them into opportunities for collaboration.
For example, while I was writing this blog, my coworkers started playing ukulele in the office. Without my NVC training I would have said, “I’m so annoyed! My coworkers are being rude, and I need them to stop making noise so I can focus.” However, by utilizing NVC techniques, I was able to look beyond my perspective and understand that while I needed a quiet space to focus, my coworkers were frustrated by code. I saw that maybe they were relieving their stress with playfulness. Notice, the needs I identified were not specific behaviors. Rather they were statements about a desired state of being. I needed quiet and my coworkers needed stress relief.
By tuning in with compassion, my annoyance was diffused, putting me in a calmer frame of mind before addressing the issue. And instead of limiting my creativity and just going with my first idea, I was able to seek a solution that would meet all of our needs.
In this case, I decided to move to a different location in our coworking facility because I appreciated my coworker’s playfulness, even if it was not what I needed at that moment. And I relocated without resentment, because I was confident my choice supported myself and my coworkers.
This process reminded me of the XY problem in software development. X (the need) should be clearly understood before iterating on Y (a solution). Otherwise, you waste a lot of time trying to solve the wrong problem. Practicing NVC trains you to seek clarity on what exactly the needs are in a given situation. Once you have that clarity, multiple paths to meet needs present themselves, and you can implement more life-satisfying solutions.
Reason #5: It enables people to show up as their authentic selves.
There is plenty of research out there on the benefits of being authentic at work. But how does one create a workspace where people feel safe to be themselves? I would argue that authenticity begins with self-empathy. Being connected with yourself and your own needs is foundational for an effective NVC practice. It also fosters authenticity in three ways:
1. When you genuinely connect to yourself, you can express yourself more freely and clearly. The increased self-awareness I’ve developed through practicing NVC has made me more honest, which has led to better communication and increased trust in my personal and professional relationships.
2. When you are connected compassionately to yourself, offering compassion to others is easier and more joyful. And if you radiate gentleness and non-judgmentalness, other people will feel more comfortable being themselves around you.
3. When you show up to work as your authentic self, it gives other people permission to do the same. Letting your guard down can be scary, but when one person is willing to go there first, they pave the way for others to follow. Often, vulnerability begets vulnerability.
NVC is a practice that creates more life-satisfying interactions. Try implementing it at work, and witness for yourself the multitude of positive outcomes it can create for individuals, teams, and companies.
More information about NVC, the course I took, and working with my instructor can be found here:
Carolyn Tragasz is the former administrative assistant at Binary Noggin. She has a degree in liberal studies from Park University and uses her organizational communication skills to manage day-to-day logistics and facilitate team-building exercises.
Founded in 2007, Binary Noggin is a team of software engineers and architects who serve as a trusted extension of your team, helping your company succeed through collaboration. We forge customizable solutions using Agile methodologies and our mastery of Elixir, Ruby and other open source technologies. Share your ideas with us on Facebook and Twitter.