new life through nonviolent communication

vulnerablity is a path to peace

this month’s synchroblog is called new life and where we are experiencing it in our lives right now. as soon as i get the link list, i’ll post it at the bottom of this post and you can read other bloggers sharing stories of new life, too.

when i get a topic prompt, sometimes i like to go with the very first thought that comes to my mind, even if it seems kind of weird or a-little-off-center. and here’s what i thought of first for “new life”:  this week, i am seeing new life come from learning more about nonviolent communication.

here’s what the center for nonviolent communication says about their resources:

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is based on the principles of nonviolence– the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart.

NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.

People who practice NVC have found greater authenticity in their communication, increased understanding, deepening connection and conflict resolution.

a friend shared some of these tools earlier this month at our advocates gathering, which is a bi-monthly group at the refuge to gain skills & encouragement for journeying with people in hard places. whoa, it was so awesome, and a little like when i first learned about the enneagram–a whole new world has opened up that is challenging, hard, and so good.

i will not be able to do it justice in a short blog post, but here are a few highlights, in my own words:

we have a language construct that is based on blame & judgment that fosters violence. this is why there is so much division between us.

the path to peace and greater intimacy and connection in relationship is through nonviolent communication which focuses on 4 things:

  • observations
  • feelings
  • needs
  • requests

here’s a brief description: 

observations. making observations without judgment is one of the hardest things in the world to do. we did a little exercise where we looked at a picture and shared our thoughts about it. out of about 30+ different perspectives, only 3 of them were not judgments or evaluations.  crazy.

feelings. getting in touch with our feelings is easier for some than others. i know for me, even though i talk about feelings a lot, negatives ones are often difficult for me. there are a whole deck of feelings cards that go with nonviolent communication and help us identify what’s going on inside. empathy is a central skill here. the good part about the deck of cards or this list is that they don’t include words that are called “jackal language”, subtle feeling words that point to blame and judgment. some of these words include: abandoned, ignored, unloved, misunderstood. it doesn’t mean these feelings aren’t real; it just means that they won’t help us get to deeper connection in relationship and will keep us divided. honestly, i use some of these words all of the time in certain relationships.

needs.  this is the part that is often missing in communication, that underneath feelings we have needs. there are need cards, too, but some of them include the need for: meaning, connection, safety, peace, nurturing, authenticity, to be known, understanding. my friend shared that needs are the “life inside of another person.” and that part of relationship with each other is calling out that life. it’s also where we can better understand where a person is coming from and honor that often we have similar needs but are trying to get them met in different ways. an example she used was the sandy hook tragedy. for some people, underneath their response was a need for safety. however, one person might fulfill that need by buying a gun while another might begin lobbying for gun control. when we begin to recognize and respect our own needs–and commit ourselves to understand others’–then we can begin to move toward a more hopeful place.  the root of all violence is unmet needs. that’s what’s happening right now with all this world vision craziness.

requests. the last major movement in non-violent communication is requests. i am so much better at expressing my feelings & possibly a need or two, but actually making a request. yikes! this is what makes nonviolent communication so vulnerable, so good.  the most important part about requests that i gleaned was that they need to be concrete, specific, positive, and immediately do-able. when i think about divisions between two people, in groups, and in the wider world, i can see how helpful this piece of communication really is.

in so many ways, these principles seem simple, but the reality is that i know very few people who communicate this way. go to the wider world and consider where there are deeper divisions related to politics and religion, and it’s definitely non-existent.

i believe the work of the church is to help people become better human beings, yet some of these crucial skills are sorely missing in so many of our communities. i think it’s because these kinds of communication skills often get dismissed as too therapy-ish, too-feeling-ish, too-unspiritual.  yet, when i consider all the beatitudes but especially matthew 5:9, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”, this couldn’t be more appropriate. peacemaking doesn’t mean avoiding conflict; it means building shalom, integrity, wholeness in relationship within our own heart and with each other.  

i have been so reminded how much i have to keep learning. 

this tool is a building block to connection, to love, to peace. and it’s not only a bridge to healthy interpersonal relationships, but also to healthier groups, organizations, and systems.

these skills are the foundation for peacemaking.

they can help bring life. 


ps: because i always like tangible tools, here are some charts  that i pulled together that can help identify feelings, needs, and some of those words that probably won’t help in communication.

also, here are other bloggers writing on new life in different ways:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Thanks, Kathy. This is great. A tool I’ve been using for a few years now is similar. I can’t quite remember where it came from, but it’s called Fanos. F is for identifying feelings, A for affirmation, N for needs, O for ownership, and S for sobriety, whatever that looks like for each person. I appreciate your words, always, and the way you communicate.

  • Tools can be useful, it is true. What I have learned is that the best thing for me to do is to bring tools out of the box when they can be used, and leave them there when they can’t.

    I have found things like the enneagram useful but restrictive. Therefore it is with caution that I read about NVC. Was Jesus always non-violent? I seem to remember him implying a woman is a “dog” on one occasion, on others calling some “whitewashed tombs” and “twice as fit for hell”. Would that be considered violent communication?

    Nevertheless, I do hear you and with that in mind, my thoughts go towards Dr. Martin Luther King, who in non-violent protest argued that this was powerful as opposed to rioting. I recall it being reported that when he was imprisoned at protest in the bus campaign, he regarded what happened as signs that what he was doing was right, that he forgave and continued with what he was doing. Retribution would have been to conduct himself no better than those who had carried our acts of violence toward him. Therefore not only was what he did powerful, it was loving too.

  • Yes, “violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture.” That includes the “Christian culture”. Many of us “need” to stay away from those people and learn nonviolent communication. I think it is a relearning process, don’t you? For example, many of us who were once part of the church culture understand that we need to relearn our responses to others “making observations without judgment”. That was not what I learned in church. How about you?

  • Well, sister…the jackal words (thanks for the awesome chart) have blown up my life! I have been running with jackals — who knew! But, as I navigate this next stage of my journey, I will need to move beyond the raw “animal” emotions so that I can choose to be more effective in communicating what I am feeling below the “deer in the headlights” stage of shock and grief. It seems to me that this work is where compassionate listening needs to step to the forefront and “listen one another into free speech”. Thanks for planting this seed of new life in the freshly weeded and pruned and nutrient-dense garden Sarayu is working in my soul! When she waters this seed, she will have more than a small vial into which she has collected a few tears…she’s got a collection of quart jars lined up with my name on them! Time will tell what the garden will look like this summer….

    • …and while I’m thinking about all this…it occurs to me that the jackals have been bred in a church culture that disallows negative emotions. I grew up, as a PK, not being allowed to be angry…everything was done to support the church-planting activities. I loved all that activity…but stuffing my feelings and not learning how to recognize them, feel them and then let those feelings dissipate, has been crippling in so many ways. Ugh…weeding is such backbreaking work. But it is a work that I do with God, not on my own…and They don’t do it with a rototiller, but one weed at a time … Careful not to pull out any sweet plants in the process. Sometimes those sweet plants need to be moved to a better spot in the garden, though….

      Your blog — and a few others — are places where I am listened into free speech … My own blog, included. What a blessing this virtual world is to me!

      • oh, that is so true. all of this stuffing has lead to such destruction…the safest place on earth has become the most dangerous because of that.

  • Wow. This is SO helpful! Thank you so much for offering language for these things! I’d have to agree with you. This stuff of engaging the really hard things and tensions of relationships in small and large scale settings – oh man, it totally brings new life. and now to practice…

  • This is so so good, and things have sure gotten more interesting, cough, since being more aware of said jackal words. I have thought in several instances how the issue with the “need” is just so much more honest. And how that as a 2, I have the proclivity to help others first with identifying their needs/wants, and neglecting my one. Aaaand then being resentful about it. It makes me so happy that we continually strive for not perfection, but for being better and better human beings. #sigh #imababygiraffewithashortneck


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *