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Nonviolent Communication in the Workplace: Principles and Best Practices

Adeline de Oliveira
Two people facing each other and having a conversation, sitting at a desk or table

It is impossible to always agree with everybody, especially in a professional context. Opinions differ, as do how each person expresses and interprets them. It sometimes leads to clashes and conflicts, which can be harmful to the employees involved and the overall atmosphere at work. How can we express ourselves without the risk of hurting and angering the other person?

This is where nonviolent communication comes in. This method requires verbal skill, a good dose of empathy, psychology, self-awareness, and constant effort if you are to master it.

Deep dive into what nonviolent communication is and what its benefits are. We also provide 15 best practices for nonviolent communication you can try in your workplace.

Key takeways:

  • Nonviolent communication (NVC) was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1970s. It is based on principles of nonviolence and aims to improve communication and increase empathy.
  • NVC consists of four components: Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests (OFNR). These components help individuals express themselves authentically and resolve conflicts effectively.
  • Nonviolent communication can be used to express disagreement using the DESC method: Describe the situation, Explain your feelings, Specify solutions, and Conclude with mutual agreement
  • Practicing NVC at work has several benefits, including improved communication, enhanced conflict resolution, positive workplace culture, stronger relationships, increased employee engagement, increased productivity, innovation and creativity, personal growth, enhanced leadership, and a positive organizational reputation.
  • Foster a culture of empathy, active listening, and cultural sensitivity to enhance nonviolent communication at work.

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What is nonviolent communication?

Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication

Non-violent communication (NVC) was developed in the 1970s by Marshall Rosenberg. This American psychologist is also the founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC), a global non-profit organization, and the author of the bestselling nonviolent communication book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

The term "nonviolent" echoes Gandhi's philosophy of interacting with another person without harming them.

Here is how Rosenberg defines the NVC process:

Nonviolent Communication is a combination of language, thinking, communication skills, and influence that serve my desire to do three things:

  1. Free me from cultural conditioning that is at odds with the way I want to live my life.

  2. To gain the power to connect with myself and others in a way that allows me to give naturally from my heart.

  3. Acquire the power to create structures that support this way of giving.

To better explain nonviolent communication, Rosenberg uses two animals with completely different personalities to build a metaphor of communication:

  • The giraffe (heart, compassion, benevolence) represents the person who masters the art of nonviolent communication.
  • The jackal (judgment, criticism, aggression) symbolizes "ordinary" violence, often encountered in communication situations.

The idea is to move from the "jackal" to the "giraffe" communication style.

Illustration of a jackal and a giraffe, each with a description of their attributes, explaining the metaphore of nonviolent communication

What is the purpose of nonviolent communication?

Nonviolent communication integrates qualities like empathy, sincerity, and respect to facilitate good relationships between the diverse human beings that we are. For Marshall Rosenberg, the objective of nonviolent communication is to

Foster the heart's momentum and connect us to ourselves and others, letting our natural benevolence flow freely.

This communication style aims to exchange harmoniously and authentically, and express ourselves freely while respecting others, taking into account their emotions and our own feelings. Nonviolent communication allows us to express our thoughts without judgment, taking responsibility for what we feel and what needs to be said. It’s about expressing our own feelings and unmet needs, while understanding those of the other person.

Nonviolent communication is a powerful tool for managing conflicts, finding solutions, and developing more satisfying relationships with others and oneself.

NVC is an effective communication method that works in virtually every life situation, especially in the workplace. It is also very enriching for self-help, self-empathy, and personal growth.

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The 4 components of practicing nonviolent communication

According to Rosenberg, the NVC process is based on 4 principles: Observation, Feeling, Need, and Request (OFNR).To make things clearer, let’s see how these principles apply in a real situation at work e.g., when an employee is often late.


Observe the situation objectively without judging, evaluating, or interpreting it.

Example: One of your employees is regularly late for work.


Acknowledge and express how you feel about the situation, both positively and negatively.

Example: As a manager, you feel angry, frustrated, and impatient when you see frequent delays.


Identify the needs that are at the source of each feeling.

Example: You realize that anger comes from a need to be respected. Frustration and impatience stem from a need to be in control without depending on someone else.


Express your requests clearly, concretely, and positively to meet your needs. It is important to avoid making demands, as the other person may shut down.

Example: You can start by telling the employee that you notice they are often late and that this makes you feel disrespected. Then, tell them that you would like to discuss the situation to better understand why they are late. Lastly, reiterate that you would like them to be at their desk on time.

Expressing disagreement using the DESC method

When practicing NVC, it is also important to know how to say that you disagree in the right way. The DESC method (Describe, Explain, Specify, and Conclude) – similar to the OFNR process – can help. It includes 4 steps, that we will explain with the example of a work situation where a machine needs to be repaired:


This step is the same as the “Observation” step in the OFNR method. It describes the situation using facts – not judgment or personal opinion.

Example: You noticed that a machine still needs to be repaired, while the production of a hundred products is scheduled in a few days.


Similar to the “Feeling” step of the OFNR process, this is when you express your feelings about the situation. Remember to always use "I".

Example: I feel annoyed and stressed because I’m accountable for any delivery delays.


Suggest ways to improve the problem. The goal is to find a solution that all parties can agree on.

Example: What solutions do you recommend so that we can solve this problem together?


Once all parties agree on the best solution, conclude positively.

Example: You can prioritize repairing this machine so that production can resume as soon as it is done. We will be sure that the order will be delivered on time for the customer.

Pro tip:  It is crucial to apply the OFNR and DESC methods during a private conversation – not in public. This will make your employee more comfortable and open to discussion.

15 Best practices to foster nonviolent communication at work

Because know-how and interpersonal skills go hand in hand, leaders and managers must first integrate the principles of NVC to transmit them to the employees, ultimately creating a benevolent work environment. Communicating in a caring, empathetic manner is an integral part of great leadership coaching.

Try these best practices to get started:

  1. Be self-aware: Begin with self-awareness. Create an empathic connection with yourself. Recognize your feelings, needs, and triggers. It will help you communicate more effectively.
  2. Listen actively: Listen carefully to your colleagues without interrupting or preparing your response. Use nonverbal cues like nodding and maintaining eye contact to show your engagement.
  3. Show empathy: Try to understand the feelings and needs of the person you are communicating with. Reflect on what you have heard to show that you genuinely care about their perspective.
  4. Use “I” statements: Express your feelings and needs using "I" statements. For example, say "I feel frustrated when..." instead of "You always..." Avoid using "we", which can make the employee feel like everyone is judging them. For example, "We think you are acting the wrong way."
  5. Avoid blame and criticism: Focus on the issue or behavior rather than attacking the person. Refrain from making judgment or criticism. Provide feedback in a constructive manner, focusing on the specific behavior and its impact.
  6. Refrain from making assumptions: Clarify any ambiguities or uncertainties by asking open-ended questions. Avoid assuming you know someone's intentions or motivations.
  7. Stay present and in the moment: Concentrate on the current situation and conversation, not past grievances or future worries.
  8. Be respectful: Maintain a respectful tone and avoid derogatory or disrespectful language. Use polite and professional language.
  9. Seek common ground: Identify shared goals and interests to find mutually beneficial solutions. Work towards win-win outcomes.
  10. Resolve conflicts: When conflicts arise, address them promptly and constructively. Open a dialogue rather than letting things drag on and get worse. Encourage mutual support. And use the OFNR or DESC principles to guide you.
  11. Mind your body language: Be aware of your nonverbal cues. Open and relaxed body language can help diffuse tension.
  12. Think about cultural sensitivity: Be aware of cultural differences in communication styles and adapt your approach accordingly.
  13. Set clear expectations: Communicate expectations, goals, and boundaries to avoid misunderstandings. Facilitate communication around these between different teams and hierarchical levels.
  14. Hold regular check-ins: Schedule regular one-on-one or team check-ins to create an environment where concerns can be openly discussed.
  15. Celebrate successes: Recognize and reward nonviolent communication to encourage your employees to practice it. Express your gratitude to employees and show them you appreciate their work (especially when it is well done!).

Remember that fostering nonviolent communication in the workplace is an ongoing process. It requires commitment from all members of an organization – from senior management to frontline employees – and a culture that values open, empathetic, and respectful dialogue.

List of 3 best practices of nonviolent communication with examples of situations where they can be applied

The benefits of practicing nonviolent communication at work

Mastering the art of nonviolent communication at work has many benefits, all leading to enhanced individual and collective well-being, and a more productive and harmonious environment.

  • Improved communication: Nonviolent communication promotes clear and effective conversations, reducing misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
  • Enhanced conflict resolution: NVC provides a structured approach to addressing and resolving conflicts, while focusing on feelings and needs helps reduce tension and defensiveness during discussions. This leads to quicker and more peaceful resolutions.
  • Positive workplace culture: Nonviolent communication promotes a culture of respect, trust, and collaboration where employees feel valued and supported.
  • Stronger relationships: Nonviolent communication helps build stronger, more authentic interpersonal relationships among team members, improving teamwork.
  • Increased employee engagement: A positive, NVC-driven workplace fosters a sense of ownership and involvement among employees and improves job satisfaction, leading to higher engagement levels. Ultimately, NVC contributes to employees' happiness and well-being, reducing negative mental and physical health effects.
  • Increased productivity: When communication is clear and conflicts are resolved effectively, employees can focus on their tasks and be more productive.
  • Innovation and creativity: A nonjudgmental, open atmosphere encourages employees to express new ideas and be more creative.
  • Personal growth: Practicing NVC can lead to personal development, increased self-awareness, and emotional intelligence.
  • Enhanced leadership: Leaders who practice nonviolent communication can motivate and lead their teams effectively and with confidence.
  • Organizational reputation: A workplace known for practicing NVC can attract and retain top talents and customers who value respectful and ethical organizations.

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Nonviolent communication: A key asset to boost performance

Nonviolent communication significantly influences performance: employees who feel listened to, understood, and valued are more likely to perform better and commit to the organization for the long haul.

Focusing on healthy relationships in the company, prioritizing the well-being of employees, creating a caring work environment, and building trusted relationships not only engages and retains talents, but also encourages them to give their best.

And so NVC training could be a very profitable investment. Communication skills training and coaching enable leaders to develop the best managerial behaviors and practices to improve the organization’s performance day after day.

FAQ on nonviolent communication

Who developed nonviolent communication and when?


What is the purpose of the nonviolent communication process?


What are the four components of nonviolent communication?


How can nonviolent communication be used to express disagreement?


What are the benefits of practicing nonviolent communication at work?


Drive your company's performance through effective, caring communication

Because communication comes first and foremost through managers, Proaction International's experts offer targeted training and coaching to help your management teams adopt behaviors that drive performance and employee engagement.

Adeline de Oliveira

Adeline de Oliveira

Editorial manager and web editor since 2010, Adeline de Oliveira is passionate about communication and human behavior. At Proaction International, she writes on various topics such as leadership development and employee engagement.