Three boys write and draw on post-it notes.


What is NVC?

NVC was developed by Marshall Rosenburg PhD a psychiatrist in response to the question, ‘What is it that allows some people to stay in difficult conversations with empathy and understanding?’. It has been used in schools, prisons, corporations, in healthcare, social change, government settings, within war torn countries and by people in intimate relationships.  Useful tool for personal development and in private and work settings.


Participants at a workshop discuss ideas.
Participants discuss feelings and needs relating to an event in their lives.

Power with not power over

It both is a very simple process and a deep lifetimes work. The ‘Nonviolence’ part is rooted in the work of Gandhi and Dr Luther King – it requires seeing the person you are engaging with as fully human and wanting an outcome which is best for both parties. In Nonviolence we are not trying to make/get/persuade the other party to agree with us, instead it is non-manipulative and safe. NVC is power with not power over. That doesn’t mean we don’t hold onto our needs very resolutely or that we compromise on our goals, but that our goals include everyone’s needs.

Protective use of force

When we work with children and we value the ‘protective use of force’, that is in times of actual danger as adults/caregivers there maybe times when we must act swiftly to protect – don’t negotiate when a child is in danger of being hit by a car/eating unhealthily, but we want to use the absolute minimum force, behave with respect and it is clear that we have the child’s interests at heart. We don’t use rewards or punishment, blame, shame, guilt or take out our anger.  This all requires lots of inner resources and taking care of ourselves to have the care we need is a huge part of this work. No shame/blame/guilt/anger for us either. Hence the practice groups.  I can show you the model in 5 mins but integrating all of it involves undoing years of conditioning so that’s why it is a lifetimes work.

Women sit in a circle, the woman leading the circle is in the foreground, facing all of the other community members.
NVC can be used for individual understanding or in small and large communities.

Needs are what makes NVC different from other approaches.

When we use NVC our intention is to connect with ourselves and the other person/people/institution at the level of Needs.  The use of Needs is a unique and the fundamental component of NVC. In NVC we believe all human beings have the same universal needs which means we do have the possibility to connect with everyone and so peace is a possible state. However these are often obscured by our strategies (what we prefer to do to meet our needs).  In NVC we do not want to give up on our needs or the needs of others, infant ‘depression’ is a state of being out of touch with your needs over a long time. When we connect at the level of needs we see the other person as fully human and have a ‘doorway’ to them and ourselves through which we can communicate about difficult things and share celebrations fully.

Needs are alive in us

Many communications are unsuccessful because we don’t want to connect but to get our way, protect ourselves, show why we are right etc, clarity about this is very important. I have learnt so much by working with Robert Gonzales who stresses that Needs have an Energy, they are Alive, entities in themselves that we experience.  Stop for a second and consider your need for PEACE, after a pause stop and feel into your need for REST then your need to COLLABORATE. You see all these needs have a different way of stirring us, they resonate with us differently and at different times in our lives and days.  Having awareness that ou even have needs is a great place to start.

My mum and myself on Dartmoor, the land is bare and sky is full of low cloud as we happily spend time together.
NVC can be used with families, colleagues, for intimate relationships and self development work – creating better relationships with everyone.

The four components of NVC

Key points of communicating either quietly to ourselves, out-loud to a practice partner or directly to the other person. After deciding that we want to connect with ourselves or the other person (we want to know more, we have time, we have the energy, we believe we have enough support).

  1. We make an observation about what we have seen/heard/experienced (we do not use judgment) this establishes a clear context and a place where we are in agreement (we might have misunderstood and need to go no further).
  2. We express how we are feeling (again no judgements, blaming, shame, guilt for ourselves or the other).
  3. We explain what universal need is or isn’t being met
  4. We make a request (either asking if the other person understands us fully or asking for something to be done (first we check that we can be OK if they say no to this request, a request that cannot be declined is a demand and that won’t get us to a sustainable or peaceful place).

Communicating with NVC

One participant tells her story moving her whole body on the NVC Dance floor cards, while another carefully observes.
Participants in the practice group express their ideas with their whole body on the NVC Dancefloor.

This way of experiencing, thinking and communicating is so different that just reading a book is unlikely to help, we need to practice together and support each other.  We learn to translating judgments into feelings and requests to express ourselves without criticising the other person.


The next step is empathetically listening, you have tried to listen to your parents already and make suggestions about what happened to them to help refine their observations, feelings, needs and requests.  Helping provide support to friends to go through this process lets you practice being empathetic spontaneously.

We listen without judgment and reflect back what the person speaking right have observed, felt, needed and only when we are very clear about needs and the person is ready we can help them clarify their requests.

The request is less importune than being heard fully, we often go too fast and skip this stage, but this is key.  Focusing is a practice which invites you to slow down and really listen to your body, in a sometimes wordless way.  Everything that the mind can ‘feel’ has a felt quality in the body, practicing this is helpful for identifying your own feelings and seeing which needs resonate.  Then you can use this skill when you listen, to really try to feel how the speaker might feel, to see whether your suggesting resonate.  You can help the listener by guessing they feelings and needs, if you guess wring, no worries, they will keep telling you their story to give you more chances, if you guess right you will see them relax.  You do not have to be correct but demonstrate you are an available listener by not judging, telling them how you feel or telling them stories over the top.

Teaching and learning NVC

 I have been learning NVC for past 15 years since I was given a five minute introduction by Andy Ray Taylor at an event for the Small Schools Movement in London. Since then I have attended 10 training days, some of which I helped trainers Shona Cameron, Penny Vine and Louise Romain to deliver. I have attended two week long retreats with Robert Gonzales, Susan Skye and Robert Krzisnik. While I have been living in Asia I haven’t done much training as there are no English speaking groups that I have found in Hong Kong, Mumbai or Singapore. Maybe I missed them, but finally this year I decided to do something about it and have started offering trainings in Hong Kong.

I lead a practice group in Stanley and want to focus on training people in NVC in other areas of Hong Kong. I am also currently training to become a Focusing Trainer with the Focusing Institute, NYC and this will help me to teach NVC as not simply a linguistic experience but in a embodied way.  Focusing and NVC are like good friends as they really support each other and their vision is to transform communities to be peaceful and sustainable and spread trust and hope that we can take small actions to improve our lives and our world.


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