Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication

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“We need to receive empathy to give empathy,” Marshall Rosenberg said in reference to his new process that was going to change the way people approached conflict. In the early 1960’s, famed psychologist Marshall Rosenberg came up with the communication process called Nonviolent Communication. Rosenberg developed this with the aim of improving the connection people had with each other. Although nonviolent communication has social and psychological roots, it is often used as a spiritual practice. It can also be used as an effective parenting method and schooling technique. Other common names for this practice are compassionate communication or collaborative communication.

Nonviolent communication can be traced back to the civil unrest of the 1960’s when Marshall Rosenberg was assigned to mediate between authorities and students and bringing about desegregation in schools as peacefully possible. It stems from three base ideas, namely, self-empathy, empathy, and honest self expression. Self empathy is defined as having awareness of one’s own self and taking a compassionate view on it. Rosenberg believed self-empathy was essential to have effective communication, “Translate all self-judgments into self-empathy.” Empathy is listening to someone else with compassion and the last term, honest self-expression is to talk openly about one’s beliefs and values in a manner which will gain the confidence of others.

“Don't hate the circumstance, you may miss the blessing,” Rosenberg once said and this is reflected in nonviolent communication. The process suggests that every individual is capable of compassion and turns to violent behavior only when they find no other means available to them. Most conflicts occur when needs of one individual are miscommunicated in a manner that can be interpreted as threatening or derogatory. Such miscommunication occurs in the form of abusive language that is aimed to humiliate others. These can be overcome by nonviolent communication by the interplay of its three aspects of self empathy, empathy, and honest self expression.

There are various aspects that block the channels of successful communication.Culture, according to Rosenberg, engenders a manner of speaking and thinking that can lead to violence, namely through stereotypes and judgement as Rosenberg said, “When we judge others we contribute to violence.” Another aspect is the belief of deserving reward while others deserve to be punished. This belief is often seen in everyday life in the form of discrimination against members of another religion, race, or gender while aiding those within the same group. The final aspect includes denial of responsibility. When a person is not faced with personal accountability, their actions become less guided by right and wrong. This is seen in the power of the mob where individual responsibility is diffused.

When Marshall Rosenberg developed his theory, he would not have assumed it would spread and become the popular practice that it is today. Nonviolent communication is used in a variety of settings such as business environment, parenting, psychological therapies, prisons, and education. Nor has its influence been contained within the United States. It has spread to areas rife with conflict such a Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Serbia, and the Middle East. It has helped resolve conflicts and improved lives, thereby improving society as a whole.

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