Critiques of Nonviolent Communication and Why I Still Believe in It
I hear critiques around Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, all the time. I also pretty much always have a reasonable response to those critiques. I decided to look up the most common critiques and respond to them here, because as someone who teaches and practices NVC regularly, I know how powerful stories can be. Stories being "truths" that aren't really true, but rather statements people create in their head that are actually based in judgment rather than fact.
So here we go. Let's dissect these stories.
"NVC is overly prescriptive and can feel unnatural and rigid". Yes. When one first learns NVC, they tend to stick to the formula. This can sound unnatural and people might believe one to be inauthentic when speaking in this way. At The Bigbie Method, we always tell people that what we are offering are the training wheels. One needs the formula to understand the overall concepts. Once understood and mastered, anyone can move from this formula and incorporate aspects of NVC into their language and accomplish the goal of connection as well as authenticity, ease, and flow. It just takes practice. Rome wasn't built in a day, just as one usually does not become an effective communicator in a few short weeks.
"NVC can be challenging to implement in real-life situations, particularly in high-stress or emotionally charged interactions, and therefore is not effective in addressing complex conflicts or issues." I would agree with the first part of this sentence. NVC is SO HARD to implement in emotionally charged interactions, especially if it is one's own conflict (rather than mediating another's conflict). But does that mean it is ineffective? Certainly not. Again, it just takes practice. Things can be difficult but also extremely worth while. When we teach NVC at The Bigbie Method, we teach a lot about WAIT, which stands for "why am I talking?" or "what am I thinking?". WAIT is used when one does not have the capacity to stay in integrity with the practice in the moment because they are too emotionally charged to respond in a nonviolent way. It is a time to step away from the conversation and do some self-processing. This component of NVC is so important because it helps people become more resourced to approach difficult conflicts with integrity.
"NVC is time-consuming, as it involves active listening, empathetic responses, and a structured approach to communication, which is impractical in fast-paced environments." Sure, NVC can be time consuming. This is the way I see it: NVC may take some time on the front end in addressing and even resolving conflict, but using violent language to "resolve" conflict usually leads to more disconnection and more conflict, which will then inevitably bubble up again. So it really all depends on how you think about time. In the long run, I think NVC probably saves people time. Additionally, we know that it is not reasonable to use NVC all the time in every interaction. That would be exhausting and, frankly, not super appropriate (my judgments). NVC is a tool used to gain greater connection, especially in times of conflict. So if your goal is not connection, go ahead and communicate however you want!
"Individuals may use NVC techniques to manipulate or control others by appearing empathetic while still pursuing their own agenda." If people are doing this, they are not using NVC. I have a whole lot to say about this one and it all comes down to intention. If your intention is not connection, then you are NOT using NVC. It may look and sound like NVC, but the intention is everything. You can read more about that in a previous blog post I wrote here.
"NVC doesn't take into account cultural and contextual differences in communication styles and norms. What works in one cultural context may not work in another." Okay, I can see this. I think it comes down to general awareness. As a social worker, I am constantly thinking about cultural and contextual barriers/differences in communication and understanding. There are certainly times in which I will change my wording slightly depending on who I am talking to, but I still hold on to the general concepts of NVC. Even with cultural differences, I still believe needs are universal to all humans, and all people have feelings. With that in mind, empathy is much more attainable. This goes back to the first point about NVC being formulaic. The formula might be off-putting in different cultural contexts, but the ideas behind it still work. Again, practice and awareness of one's audience are the keys here.
I'm hoping these responses are helpful to those who have maybe thought about these critiques before. As always, I am always open to discussion and feedback, so please share your thoughts! Did I address these concerns adequately enough for you? Do you have other critiques that I didn't address?