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Marijn De Geus


Founder & CEO

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The art of nonviolent communication


We all do it every day: connecting. We are all busy with connecting and we are proud of it based on the many hits on Google, LinkedIn profiles, and in missions, visions and core values. But in daily practice, both in the working environment and at home, we are unwittingly more dividing than connecting. The reason for this can be found in the way we communicate. 

We connect ‘economy, people and environment’, ‘farmer and consumer’, ‘demand and supply in the neighborhood’, ‘science and society’, ‘vulnerable elderly’, ‘the chain’ and one could go on like this. But on a smaller scale, to an employee who brings in a report too late or who doesn’t seem to be paying attention during a meeting, we often react in a way that doesn’t connect at all. Marshall B. Rosenberg tells us that this has a lot to do with the language we use and the way in which we perceive certain situations. He is known for his model of nonviolent communication.

Distance instead of connection

Rosenberg states that often our way of communicating is unintentionally way more aggressive than we realize. We often react accusingly or irritated without being aware of the reaction that it may bring about. However, he who shoots arrows, can expect them back. If we address the colleague after the meeting by saying: ‘you weren’t listening’, there is a big chance that the he or she gets angry or defensive. That creates distance, the communication becomes difficult and this doesn’t bring any of the parties any further. Nonviolent communication is way more fruitful, Rosenberg argues.

Observe without judgements

In the nonviolent model, ‘you communicate based on empathy without judgements’ and you focus on the needs of the other and yourself. According to Rosenberg it is about ‘bringing out the positive in ourselves, and letting love, respect, appreciation, compassion and care for others guide us’. Don’t drop out now, because he provides four pillars that provide insight in what is needed to really make contact.

  1. Observe without judgement (what you would see when looking through a camera) 
  2. The consequence of that observation on your feelings                                                                                                             
  3. The need that you have to improve those feelings                                                             
  4.  A request for the other based on this need (this is not an order)

The most interesting of Rosenberg's vision is that you’re always responsible for your own feelings. You are bothered by your absent colleague, because you are afraid to miss the deadlines of the project. Or - and now you should be really honest to yourself - you’re afraid that the colleague thinks your meeting is sleep-inducing. Without that fear you would have undoubtedly reacted less harshly. So it is also about determining what is going on inside of you, and that you learn to trust on your own feelings and needs. Who communicates with this in mind, has a different conversation.

The jackal and the giraffe

The tone of the conversation is illustrated by Rosenberg based on the language of the jackal and the giraffe.The language of the jackal is accusing, reproachful and is full of criticism, the language of the giraffe is full of compassion, sincerity and empathy. The jackal would say to the colleague that doesn't seem to be listening: ‘You weren’t listening at all during the meeting. I want you to show more commitment.’ The giraffe would make a remark like: ‘I saw that you were drifting off, while we were discussing important matters. That makes me worried about our project. I need everyone to be focused. Is it possible to….?’

Nonviolent communication is an afternoon of training, but if you want to make it the standard in your organization, then your employees should be working on it more often. Let them practice more in the weeks after the live session, for instance with online video role plays. Get together after a few months: has everyone finished the training program? Is there a noticeable difference in the interpersonal communication? In this way you secure nonviolent communication in your organization. And yes, connecting is a buzzword - it is even on the number 3 spot in the ‘annoying words in communication’ top-10 -, but don’t let that distract you from what it’s all about: hearing others and being heard yourself.

Download de case study and discover how the municipality of Gennep improved their service with TrainTool’s help!


Author Profile Picture
Marijn De Geus

Founder & CEO

Read more from Marijn De Geus

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