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Nonviolent Communication in the Workplace: Best Practices

Adeline de Oliveira
Nonviolent Communication: Best Practices at Work

It is impossible to always agree with each other, especially in a professional context. Opinions differ, as do how each person expresses and interprets them. This sometimes leads to clashes and conflicts, the consequences of which can be particularly harmful to the individual as well as to the general atmosphere at work. How then can one express oneself without the risk of hurting and angering the other person?

This is where Nonviolent Communication comes in: a method that requires a certain verbal dexterity, a good dose of empathy psychology and self-awareness, as well as constant effort. Effort indeed, but for better results in terms of performance. Discover in this article what is Nonviolent Communication, and what are its benefits, without forgetting some examples to apply in real life, through the professional context.

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What is Nonviolent Communication?

The origins of Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a method developed in the 1970s by Marshall Rosenberg. This American psychologist is also the founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC), a global nonprofit organization, and the author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

The term "non-violent" echoes Gandhi's philosophy of being able to interact with another person without harming them.

Here is the definition that Marshall Rosenberg proposes to describe the process of NVC:

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

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

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

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

Marshall Rosenberg

To better explain Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg proposes a metaphor with two opposite animals:

  • The giraffe (heart, compassion, benevolence) represents the person who masters the art of Nonviolent Communication.

  • The jackal (judgment, criticism, aggression) symbolizes the "ordinary" violence often encountered in communication situations.

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


What is the purpose of the Nonviolent Communication process?

Compassionate Communication is about placing empathy, sincerity, and respect at the heart of communication to facilitate good relationships between the diverse human beings that we are. For Marshall Rosenberg, its objective is to "foster the heart's momentum and connect us to ourselves and others, letting our natural benevolence flow freely."

This mode of communication aims to exchange more harmoniously and authentically, to express ourselves freely while respecting others, taking into account their emotions and also our feelings. Nonviolent Communication allows us to express what we think without judgment, taking responsibility for what we feel and what needs to be said. Expressing one's feelings and unmet needs while understanding those of the person(s) to whom one is speaking.

It is a tool that, when used well, is particularly powerful in managing conflicts, finding solutions, and developing better relationships with others as well as with oneself.

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


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How do you practice Nonviolent Communication at work?

What are the benefits of practicing Nonviolent Communication at work?

In the professional setting, mastering the art of Nonviolent Communication is a major asset that has many advantages, including:

  • Creating a social change with a more harmonious and motivating work environment;

  • Creating a safe space where everyone is free to express themselves about what works and what doesn't;

  • More transparent and harmonious exchanges, with constructive feedback;

  • Better conflict resolution;

  • Better employee engagement;

  • Better team cohesion.

Nonviolent Communication: a key performance advantage

NVC significantly influences performance in the sense that employees who feel listened to, considered, and understood in their own needs will offer a better commitment. Focusing on healthy relationships within the company, making the well-being of its employees a priority, creating a caring work environment, and building a relationship of trust, not only mobilizes and retains talent but also encourages them to give their best. It is, therefore, a very profitable investment in the long term. Coaching allows the implementation of good behaviors and practices in terms of NVC in a notion of continuous improvement.

As a bonus, an organization that correctly applies nonviolent communication techniques benefits from a positive and attractive image as an employer.

What are the 4 main components of Nonviolent Communication?

According to Marshall Rosenberg, the NVC process is based on 4 basic principles: Observation, Feeling, Need, and Request (OFNR).


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 same situation, both positively and negatively.

Example: As a manager, you feel angry, frustrated, and impatient when you see these frequent delays when you make your floor rounds.


Identify one by one 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 may, for example, stem from a need to be in control without depending on someone else.


Express the request clearly, concretely, and positively to meet the relevant needs.  It is important not to make demands here, as the person may close down.

Example: You can start by telling the employee that you notice that he or she is often late and that this makes you feel disrespected. Then tell them that you would like to take the time to discuss the situation with them because you need to understand and that you would like them to be at their desk when you make your daily rounds.

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How to develop Nonviolent Communication at work? Best practices to adopt

  • Encourage regular, clear, and open communication within the company by applying the OSBD principles.

  • Express your gratitude to employees; show them that you recognize and appreciate their work (especially when it is well done!).

  • Encourage active and empathetic listening.

  • Facilitate communication between different teams and hierarchical levels.

  • Use the language of compassion and positive vocabulary to express your point of view.

  • Use "I" to express yourself ("I feel that", "I feel"), rather than "You" ("You are like that", "You did that") or "We" which makes everyone feel like they are judging the person ("We think you are acting the wrong way").

  • If a conflict situation arises, create a dialogue rather than letting things drag on and get worse, again based on the 4 OSBD principles.

  • Respect the human needs of employees.

  • Put yourself in the shoes of others and try to understand before you judge.

  • Always be courteous.

  • Encourage mutual support rather than individualism.


Expressing disagreement using the DESC method

When practicing NVC, it is also a matter of knowing how to say in the right way that you disagree when this is the case. For this, the DESC method (Describe, Explain, Specify, and Conclude) is used, which is similar to the OSBD concept. It includes 4 steps:


This step is the same as for the OSBD. It is about describing the situation based on concrete facts (no judgment or advanced opinion).

Context: I notice that the repair of this machine has still not been completed, even though the delivery of a hundred products is scheduled in a few days.


This step is the same as for the OSBD, i.e., expressing feelings about the situation and always taking care to speak in the "I" voice.

Context: I feel annoyed and stressed because I am in charge of ensuring that everything works and that the delivery is ready on time.


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

Context: What solutions do you propose so that we can solve this problem together?


Once both parties agree on the most appropriate solution, conclude positively.

Context: You can make it a priority to repair this machine so that production can resume as soon as it is done. This way, the order can be delivered on the date agreed upon with the customer.

Good to know:

It is important to apply the OSBD and DESC methods one-on-one and not in public. This will make your interlocutor more comfortable and open to discussion.

Because know-how and interpersonal skills go hand in hand, the managers must first integrate the principles of NVC to be able to transmit them to the employees and thus create a benevolent work environment. Learning to communicate in a caring manner is an integral part of good management coaching.

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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.