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Book Review:
Nonviolent Communication
A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values, 2nd edition

by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD

Available from LLLI No. 1320-7, $17.95 (Leader price $16.16)

Reviewed by Stephanie Mattei
Folsom NJ USA
Louise Cox
Windsor CT USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 5, October-November 2004, p. 109.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as compassionate or empathetic communication, is about communicating with love, even while resolving conflicts. In this readable book, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg introduces a method of communication that leads to, "a flow between ourselves and others based on a mutual giving from the heart." NVC is based on the belief that all creatures with hearts have feelings and needs; that we are "hard-wired" to connect in loving and caring ways. During everyday conversation, the empathetic manner of the NVC method can benefit all. Communicating about problems or difficult subjects can be done in a way that is transforming and healing.

While the model appears simple, putting NVC into practice can be a challenge. NVC is a language paradigm shift away from the right/wrong mindset and away from morality and judgments to a language based on needs that all human beings share. NVC implements observations, feelings, needs, requests (OFNR) while communicating. There is no set pattern of speech as long as OFNR can be clearly communicated. An example of a statement that incorporates OFNR is as follows: "I’m scared when I see you hitting your brother because I need people in the family to be safe. Would you be willing to talk to me when you don’t feel so angry?"

NVC is based on empathetic connection where a person feels we are present and really hear the feelings being expressed either verbally or silently. If a child says, "Nobody likes me," a connection can be shown through the listener’s eyes and presence and/or words such as, "So, it sounds like you’re really feeling sad because you aren’t having very much fun with your friends." All people, especially when they are in pain, need to feel they are being heard and understood, and need empathy. Advice may be helpful only after they have received the empathetic connection.

In Western culture and society, we often limit our emotional vocabulary to simple words such as good, bad, sad, and mad. The chapter titled "Compassionate Communication" has pages of feeling words that better communicate feelings. There are two main categories of feelings we may experience: words that represent feelings when our needs are being met, and words that represent when we feel that our needs are not being met. It is important to note that NVC is not just a communication method to use when initiating a discussion about a problem; it is a method to use in everyday conversations.

This book provides helpful suggestions for expressing gratitude effectively and how to simply formulate an effective request (not a demand). Dr. Rosenberg explains that using both of these components in our communication forms a genuine connection. This book has many situational examples to illustrate the NVC method and to explain and justify the reasons for the recommendations.

For example, Dr. Rosenberg believes that some words have hidden messages—words that may create defensiveness in the receiver. With NVC, a feeling word is used instead, with the intent of creating more effective communication. Examples of words with hidden messages that may create defensiveness are: abandoned, attacked, rejected, blamed, left out, and ignored. This book recommends that words such as lonely, scared, frightened, frustrated, or vulnerable could be substituted more consciously with feeling words. The communicator simply uses words to express the emotion that is felt, without using terms to implicate the other person. This is important because the other person may not have intentionally caused the communicator harm.

This book is a valuable resource for any Group lending library. Mothers can use it at home. Leaders would find it helpful in their communication as they help other mothers, working with Leader Applicants, at their own Group meetings, and when communicating with co-Leaders.

In order to be an effective listener and communicator with others, one must be in touch with one’s own feelings and needs. And this is the value of this book. It helps the reader begin a process of clarity with themselves and provides a way to maintain a genuine connection with others. Family, peers, professionals, and children can benefit from using NVC.

Stephanie Mattei is the mother of two boys, Giacomo and Simone. She has been an LLL Leader since 1999 and lives with her family in New Jersey, USA. Louise Cox became a Leader in 1975 and has two children and two grandchildren. She is an LLL Leader on Reserve and a member of LLLI Grievance Commission. Louise and her husband reside in Connecticut, USA, where they are active on the local level with NVC. Christine McNeil Montano is the Contributing Editor for Leaven Book Reviews. She lives in Connecticut, USA with her husband, Tony, and their sons, Jay and John.

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