Is The Latest Expert Always the Best?
The late Dr. Marshall Rosenberg coined the original name for Nonviolent Communication, aka NVC. Marshall was a clinical psychologist from Detroit who, back in the early 1960s chose to break free of all the evaluations, diagnoses, and judgments inherent in clinical psychology work. He created the classic 4-step process known as Nonviolent Communication. I’ve never found anything more truthful, compassionate, or effective than that.
His original version of NVC is a process for supporting partnership and resolving conflict within people, in relationships, and in society. He worked successfully worldwide as a peacemaker in war-torn areas like the Middle East and Northern Ireland. He wasn’t seeking awards, but several notable ones were bestowed on him (see bottom of article for details). In 1984, he founded the Center for Nonviolent Communication, an international nonprofit organization.
It’s A Fluid Process
This natural, organic, 4-step NVC language process has built-in flexibility. It can be tweaked for various purposes. One can shorten the process and keep it focused on work goals for use in the business setting. Parents simplify it for use with children. In an inner city environment, it could be tightened up and adapted to the intense language of the street.
The Post-Rosenberg Era of NVC
In early 2015, Marshall Rosenberg passed away. Several of his certified NVC trainers had already been writing their own books and creating their divergent versions of the process. After his death, however, these offshoots seemed to take off more than ever. They diverged even more noticeably, it seemed.
To Innovate or To Preserve?
I’m all for updates, especially when it comes to technology. New tech may be hard to adjust to at times, but it’s required to make progress. Languages receive mini-updates as well. Language experts who write dictionaries adopt new words into the lexicon. I may like some new words better than others, but I accept that updates are needed. The question here is: Why are there so many variations on the original NVC process? Is there some value in preserving and practicing the original, classic 4-step NVC by Marshall Rosenberg? Are these variations arising because people find it too hard to learn classic NVC? I will admit that it is very challenging to learn, and feels almost like learning a foreign language at times. Is that a solid reason to give up on studying and practicing it?
Imitation Is Flattery, After All
Many of these offshoots present the work in their own unique ways. As more diverse NVC experts emerged, they all struggled to distinguish themselves. They chose an altered vocabulary that became more conspicuous as they tried to sound new and different.
I began to notice alternative words being substituted for the core Rosenberg vocabulary. Instead of empathy, the “in” word became tenderness. Caring connection replaced compassion. “Giving empathy” to someone became “holding space” for them. Instead of judgment, I’d see the word “othering.” Othering is a new verb that means separating yourself from others in a judgmental way. The simple word “needs” became “wants.” The word, “tracking” replaced the phrase, attentive listening to and understanding of someone’s story.
Is It All Essentially The Same?
I’ve observed some real innovations introduced by the post-Rosenberg NVC superstars. Kudos to them for all the helpful insights and updates. I really and truly mean that! Unfortunately, some of them have taken to practicing a very awkward, watered-down version of NVC. Some teach this more informal approach in the name of free expression. I’ve seen many get hurt by these freestyle expressions that really don’t strike me as true NVC at all.
The 4-step NVC by Marshall Rosenberg is simple and powerful, but the four steps can be challenging to learn, remember and practice. The new experts, in an effort to make it easier to learn, have ditched some of the most essential steps of the NVC process. Seeing them speak and write in this way strikes me as freely authentic, yes, but also reckless. This newfound freedom of “form” if you can call it form, has consequences and those may be far more likely to trigger pain and hurt in the listener.
Conservation and Preservation
To me, the various newfangled types of NVC aren’t the same and will never replace the classic 4-Step NVC by Marshall Rosenberg. Thankfully we all have free will to choose what works best for us.
At the same time, there’s room for conservation of the beauty and power of the original format. I’d like to see us avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water.
I cringe when developers want to tear down beautiful older buildings to put up new, more useful, more sleek structures. The same thing happens when the new nonviolent communication experts start sweeping aside the time-tested 4-step NVC by Marshall Rosenberg.
I invite you to learn NVC in its pure, pristine form. Consider reading the book. “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. I rest my case!
Awards Received by Rosenberg
- 2014: Hero and Champion of Forgiveness Award Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance
- 2006: Bridge of Peace Nonviolence Award from the Global Village Foundation
- 2005: Light of God Expressing in Society Award from the Association of Unity Churches
- 2004: Religious Science International Golden Works Award
- 2004: International Peace Prayer Day Man of Peace Award by the Healthy, Happy Holy (3HO) Organization
- 2002: Princess Anne of England and Chief of Police Restorative Justice Appreciation Award
- 2000: International Listening Association Listener of the Year Award