There are currently 12 books occupying space on or in the little 2-drawer nightstand beside my bed. Everything from Getting Things Done by David Allen (on stress free productivity) to The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin (exactly as it sounds). Most of these books are in some state of “about to be read, partly read or nearly read”. At some point I’ll decide that I’ve soaked up what I can get from the pages of one of these books, and it’ll migrate to the bookshelf in the office downstairs, or often, onto a colleagues desk.
One of these books that has taken up residence on the nightstand, and doesn’t show any signs of going anywhere, is the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. Hands down, the most important and influential book I’ve ever read.
Interchangeably called “A language of life”, “language of the heart” and “compassionate communication” , Non Violent Communication (hereafter NVC) is based in the premise that ALL human behaviour is driven by the underlying desire (conscious or unconscious) to meet the individuals needs. But not the kind of needs that we’re used to talking about, like “I need to go on that vacation” or “I need that promotion”, or “I need you to stop running around the house and go to bed!” (me to the 4-year old recently). Those “needs” are actually just strategies to meet the underyling needs. In the case of the vacation, the need might be to relax and celebrate with loved ones. The promotion might be a strategy to meet a need for recognition, contribution or a sense of meaning. Getting the 4-year old into bed meets a pretty real need to get some rest myself.
The problem with mistaking strategies for needs, of course, is that those strategies often bump up against the strategies of the people around us, who are also trying to meet their underlying needs. My 4-year old is getting his play & movement needs met. He’s not actually trying to exhaust his parents (not yet, I hope, anyway).
The power of NVC to transform conflict has been demonstrated in some of the hottest conflict zones on the planet, from Rwanda, to the streets of major cities rife with gangs, to the inside of federal prisons. Deepak Chopra calls NVC “the missing element in what we do”. Jack Canfield (author and founder of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series) “cannot recommend it highly enough.”
It’s a book that will fundamentally change your point of view, as it has mine, but it won’t be easy. Though simple in theory, the practical application of NVC concepts into your daily life, a life likely filled with subtle and unknowing violence, is incredibly hard. Just knowing that the 4-year old is trying to meet needs that are different from my own is a good start, but then what the hell do you do with that? Thankfully Dr. Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication provides as much “how”, as it does why.
Hands down, the best 20$ and a few hours of reading time that you’ll spend on yourself…probably ever. Grab a copy.