Friday, December 7, 2012

Does Nonviolent Communication “Work”?

by Miki Kashtan

The premises underlying the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) often stand in stark contrast to the messages we receive in the culture at large — whether from our parents or teachers while growing up, or from the media or other cultural venues for the rest of our lives. They also, often enough, belie what we see around us in terms of human behavior. To take just one example, how much evidence do we see on a daily basis that would support the assumption that human beings enjoy giving? If we just look at how people behave, without adding layers of contextualizing their choices, there’s no question that the conclusion that people are selfish would be much more warranted.

Looked at from this angle, choosing to embrace Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is admittedly an outrageous proposition. Indeed, many people choose a very limited version of this practice, one that focuses pragmatically on seeing it as a set of skills designed to resolve conflicts. At the same time, I see people, repeatedly, be attracted to the all-encompassing vision that is implicitly painted by these assumptions even when they disagree with them. Often enough, I know of this inner struggle people have because they challenge me when I present NVC from the perspective of its underlying principles.

Sometimes the challenge takes the form of questioning whether NVC would work in this or that situation. Part of the difficulty stems from a misunderstanding of what it means for something like NVC to “work.” When parents bring up challenges with their children and express disbelief that it would “work,” it is a code word for “getting my child to do what I want” without recognizing sufficiently that the fundamental intention when bringing NVC into a situation or relationship is about making things “work” for everyone, which would include the child.

At other times, people triumphantly presented “proofs” that NVC doesn’t work. One of my recent entries was about one such example - the fact that “even” people with extensive NVC experience end relationships and go through breakups.

I also have my own anguishing examples: relationships I haven’t found ways of transforming or exiting; sour endings in relationships, both personal and work-related, that left my heart aching for imagining another outcome.