Linguistic Aspects of NVC

Nonviolent communication faces its own linguistic challenges in what to call itself and how those terms relate to older and current research terms. Confusion between the specific NVC model, non-violent communication as a concept, and other related topics such as conflict resolution, can all create different shadings of words that are interpreted differently. Additionally, the term “violence” is often associated with physical violence rather than recognizing the ability of words to create atmospheres that hurt mentally and can lead to this physical violence.

Other aspects of language may frame certain issues as “conflict.” For example, the linguistic connotation that associates conflict as bad is framed by certain patterns or use of words surrounding conflict. The Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado states that framing conflict itself as the problem can lead to further violent communication. It notes that “although conflict can (and often does) have negative effects, conflict is also essential for healthy relationships and societies because it allows people to grow and change, adapting to new situations and inventing new approaches to problems. When conflict is avoided or suppressed, these positive results cannot take place.”

Active tense assertions in language also facilitate the NVC process by focusing on individual needs and placing the subject first. When a person or group is able to represent themselves more effectively it enhances the NVC communication process. Additionally, active tenses tend to avoid depersonalizing language. These sentences often include two subjects, as in the sentence “Professor Rosenberg gave Susie an A” rather than “Susie was given an A.” Dehumanizing language often arises out of passive sentence structures that use less pronouns or names that focus on the person or do not separate the person from the action they perform. Rosenberg cites “positive action language” as a linguistic tool for mitigating conflict (p 61). It replaces the word “don’t” or other negative requests with positive requests that are specific in what the individual wants. Linguistic specialists are often consulted in a behavioral intervention plan to teach students to increase expressive and receptive language reinforced by NVC (Minnesota Department of Education, p 27).

Another technique used to facilitate NVC language is to ask for a reflection to ensure the intended message was received (p 62). This can apply directly to teachers who often give instructions regarding homework or discipline measures. A teacher can ask for a reflection – “Could you tell me what you just heard me say?” (Rosenberg, p 62). Using “I” and not “you” statements is another useful tool in avoiding aggressive conflict. According to the Conflict Research Consortium, “Simply changing the way in which complaints are phrased can limit escalation pressures. For example accusatory phrases, “you did this,” are often more likely to contribute to escalation than less accusatory phrases such as ‘I am having trouble because of this.’”