by Lani M. Anaya Jiménez*
For a long time conflict resolution processes tended to be observed and mediated on a state basis where high level actors where the most important ones (Lederach, 1997). However, conflicts based on non-state actors have increased considerably during last ten years (UCDP, 2016). As a result, there is the need of new frameworks to work with local level actors in order to build peace. Non Violent Communication (NVC) has demonstrated to be a good alternative in conflict resolution, especially at grassroots levels. In this article we aim to explain NVC theoretical framework, some cases where the methodology has been applied and one Latin American organization who has successfully worked with NVC at local and international level.
As human and social beings, we tend to build relationships with others. We need to work in groups and collaborate at different levels. Therefore, it is quite common to face conflicts in our daily life due to the fact there are overlapping interests, interdependent goals or diverse points of agreement between two or more parties (Boulding, 1962).
Marshall Rosemberg, an American psychologist from the University of Michigan and founder of the non-governmental organization Center of Non Violent Comunication, developed Non Violent Communication NVC method as a communication tool for conflict resolution (Witty, 1990).
NVC is a model of social interaction at inter and intra personal level based on nonviolence principles. It tends to prevent from violent communication, referring to when we offend or hurt someone with our language, either verbal –with insulting language, threats, or bullying- or physical damage such as sexual harassment, hits, or physical injuries.
NVC method is based in the belief that all humans can be compassionate by nature while violent behaviors are learned and supported by the prevailing culture. Two personalities are described through animal’s behaviors: The personality with a kind heart, wider perspective and open minded is represented by a giraffe, while the rivalry, critical, and accusative personality is embodied in a wolf.
Every human action stems from the desire to satisfy a legitimate need. However, is better to channel them in a new way, without fear, guilt, embarrassment, accusations, coercion and threats because violence can block human potential. Therefore, NVC aims to help individuals to satisfy personal needs without frustrating other people’s needs.
NVC teaches to hear and express either feelings or observations clearly. It is not a natural behavior but a practice when people learn to clarify observation and comprehend needs or requirements avoiding personal labels.
For Rosemberg, language function and words are extremely important. By talking and listening, we can connect with other persons and ourselves. In order to express, it is necessary to follow some steps:
- Neutral observation of what is happening and what others have to say avoiding judgments or evaluation.
- Be conscious about how we feel, e.g. offended, scared, happy, funny, irritated, and express it without justification or interpretation (Annex 1).
- Identify which personal goals (needs) are related to personal feelings and express them properly.
- Make a clear, concrete, and feasible request in order to aim the goal or genuine need (Tobol, 2013).
The listener then has to be empathic with the speaker by listening carefully and then responding with versions of the speaker’s own statements in order to confirm they have been heard and understood. This approach is called “deep listening” because it involves the listener connecting with the essential core of an individual´s experience and offering an energy of presence. The empathy process offered by NVC is often referred to as “giving empathy.”
Two modes of use of NVC model are:
- Honest self-expression including request and gratitude
Figure 2. NVC communication
International School (2015).
Then, when a conflict, mediators and negotiators must observe:
- Facts with as much empathy as possible
- Related feelings without judgements
- The other and one self needs to be aware of each one interests and positions
- The values and goals of both parties
- What we can actually ask in order to solve the problem and experience mutual growth.
NVC can be adapted to different personal and cultural contexts and has been applied in Peacebuilding programs in Rwanda, Nigeria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Serbia and Ireland (CNVC, 2015). They meet and network with the individuals an local NGOs, extend the NVC methodology to trainers who have field experience in these countries so they can adapt it according to the culture and local values. Most of the workshops are done in school to reintegrate child soldiers, help economic development with emphasis on gender and civil engagement; restorative justice programs; and social care programs that promote physical and emotional well-being.
The Center of Non Violent Communication has many projects such as the Freedom Project. They work in five Washington State prisons in healing relationships ruptured by violence, so they facilitate processes with prisoners and victims in order to offer safety to the communities when the “returnees” (the ones returning to the community from prison) can offer safety to all members.
Some mediators use it to work not only in political issues, but also in business management and nowadays, it is a useful technique in Alternative Dispute Resolution systems (Oklahoma Bar Association, 2014).
In Latin America, one of the most successful organizations working with NVC is called ConversABLE. It was founded by Christine Raine, MA in Peace by UPEACE, CostaRica. She has worked in non-communication skills for organizational as well as entrepreneurship levels. Her team has been an inspiration for other NGOs, schools and business places around the region, and even UN Headquarters in NY (Conversable, 2016).One of their main projects was a whole program related to Culture of Peace within the Belmar Hotel in Costa Rica, which became a pilot project to apply CNV in Latin American enterprises.
They also helped a community called Calle Fallas throughout a project called “Restore and Strengthen Circle”. During one month, they had 4 weekly sessions where participants could work with five main axes: mourning, self-connecting, active listening, empathy and resilience. This helped individuals to face extreme violence with empowerment and a process controlled by themselves, with local ownership. ConversABLE and Peace Propaganda produced a short film called “Espejo” with Leynar Gómez, an international known actor, where they talk about empathy and NVC methodology.
Individuals work together to solve local conflicts during the “Restore and Strengthen Circle” project placed in Calle Frallas community. Conversable (2015)
Last August, Christine was the first Latin American women to lead a NVC workshop in United Nations headquarters in Rome. They talked about their experience with Calle Fallas where they talked with government officials and facilitate the same workshops with political leaders (ECHO, 2016).
Christine and Cinthya from ConversaBLE during their workshops at UN hearquarters in Rome. The Hufington Post (2016)
NVC can be a powerful tool for conflict resolution processes at grassroots levels. It is a process in which we can practice empathy and compassion with ourselves and others. It can be used in diverse arenas for building better relationship while encouraging communication with respectful listening, taking out judgements, respect other positions and increase mutual understanding as well as win-win agreements.
NVC is not a natural ability, but a learning process which must be practiced to gain experience in conflict resolution. It helps us to enjoy better communication cycles, express feelings and be aware of needs, goals and positions of the other.
Within Peace and Conflict Studies, NCV can be studied as a method in peace building process giving the fact it has been helpful in many post conflict scenarios. However, it must be said that local and communitarian levels are the ones where NCV had better results when NGO’s applied it with local ownership awareness.
The methodology has worked in different regions around the world but there must be local ownership where the facilitators can adapt NVC to the local context, culture and values. Active listening must start since the contact with community leaders.
No matter if individuals would like to have a better self-understanding of their needs, and how to address them, or if they are looking forward to improve their relationships with others, NVC can be a useful tool to build healthy social networks and solve conflicts at local, regional and national level.
*Lani M. Anaya Jiménez is a student at the Master Programme in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University.
Feelings when your needs are satisfied
Feelings when your needs are not satisfied
 Timothy Donais uses this term to refer how domestic actors can control design and implementation of political processes in post conflict contexts. Donais, Timothy (2008) Re-Thinking Local Ownership in Post Conflict Peacebuilding. Centre for International Governance Innovation. https://www.cigionline.org/events/tim-donais-re-thinking-local-ownership-post-conflict-peacebuilding
- Boulding, Kenneth E. (1962). Conflict and Defense in American Science Quarterly. 7(3). 378-380
- Conversable Web Site (2016) http://www.conversable.org
- Roca, Elia. (2008). Comunicación no Violenta. Manejo de conflictos. Empatía y Autoempatía http://www.cop.es/colegiados/PV00520/pdf/Empat%C3%ADa-autoempat%C3%ADa.pdf
- Rosenberg, Marshall. (2003). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddle Dancer Press, New York.
- For more information about Marshal Robersemberg and CNV methods, there is a YouTube cannel with many intervews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mnqI5l-Gz0
- Lederach, John Paul. (1997). Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. Institute of Peace Press. Washington D.C.
- UCDP (2016) Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Deparrment of Peace and Conflict Research. http://www.ucdp.uu.se
- Witty, Marjorie C. (1990). Marshall Rosenberg. Life History Studies of Committed Lives, UMI Dissertation Information Service, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- Tobol, Morten (2013). Nonviolent communication is an instrument of physic terror. Morten Articles http://mortentolboll.weebly.com/uploads/6/3/9/3/6393206/nvc.pdf
- CNVC, (2015). Annual Reports http://www.cnvc.org/about/cnvc-annual-reports.html
- Oklahoma Bar Association, (2014). Methods for Resolving Conflicts and Disputes http://www.okbar.org/public/brochures/methodsforresolvingconflictsanddisputes.aspx
- ECHO, (2016). Two Costa Rican women breaking ground for empathy at the UN. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/two-costa-rican-women-breaking-ground-for-empathy-at_us_5759c930e4b052f656ef5668