Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg

Could this simple technique revolutionise the way you communicate? Nonviolent Communication is a staple of the relationship therapy library.

I first became aware of principles of Nonviolent Communication when training to be a relationship therapist. I was struck by how simple the technique was and yet how effective it seemed to be in avoiding and de-escalating conflict. In fact, the technique seemed so simple that I could not understand how a whole book could be written on the subject. Despite that, I could see the potential power of the technique, I wanted to know more.

Nonviolent Communication teaches the reader a technique that allows them to express their needs and feelings without blame. The idea being, that if you often find yourself in volatile rows with partners, friends and co-workers, this technique could help you to communicate in a way that results in resolution rather than conflict.

For many readers, including myself, Rosenberg's writing style will be a little jarring. The book is littered with song lyrics and poetry. Many readers may enjoy sitting and reflecting upon these artistic flourishes but for me, this kind of padding served as a distraction rather than as the emotive punch that I suspect they were meant to be. Like in a schoolbook, most pages are scattered with grey bubbles of text that repeat or summarise what has already been stated on the page. All of this seemed a bit unnecessary, and frustrating given that I was ultimately surprised by how powerful and insightful Rosenberg's writing could be.

Some of the ideas that Rosenberg introduces in this text are quite challenging, yet he carefully walks the reader through these concepts with dialogue examples and reflective exercises. Rather than just teaching a 4-step communication technique, Rosenberg invites the reader to reflect upon themes such as compassion, empathy, judgement, anger and ownership of feelings.

The 4-step technique is surprisingly specific and could easily be misconstrued. This is where the real value of the book lies. In one example, Rosenberg teaches the reader to understand the difference between a feeling and a judgement, steering away from language like "I feel misunderstood" or "you make me feel disrespected". This is nuanced stuff, and I was pleased to see the care and detail that went into this teaching.

In places Rosenberg's rhetoric can be frustratingly lofty, the suggestion being that NVC can change the world and bring us all toward compassionate understanding of our enemies. Although not overtly religious, Nonviolent Communication occasionally suggests a spiritual connection. The suggestion was minimal and so would likely not alienate agnostic or atheistic readers.

From a professional perspective, I can see how Nonviolent Communication could certainly be helpful to clients. Particularly those who struggle to express themselves when they experience conflict and anger. I would recommend this book to clients but cautiously so, as the book does have an eccentric style that will immediately switch off some readers. I was also surprised to discover how attuned Nonviolent Communication was with the Person Centred Approach, which is the model of therapy that I practice. In many ways I can see how this approach could compliment Person Centred Relationship Therapy.

Nonviolent Communication is an accessible text with surprising depth. It will not be for everyone but for some readers, this could be a game-changer, transforming unhelpful and damaging communication styles.

  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD is published by PuddleDancer Press ($19.95 USA)