The workplace is rife with conflict, and yet it is an environment that is not conducive to expressing feelings and needs. Rather than being a place where people are treated with empathy and collaboration, it is a place where we are treated with competition, efficiency, and task driven rather than relationship driven.
And so it makes sense to wonder: “how do I use Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in my workplace?”
I think it is vitally important to find ways to use NVC in the workplace. The workplace is one of the few places left where we still encounter folks who we would not normally associate with. People who may never experience another way of communication if we don’t try to show it to them at work. And since the workplace occupies the majority of people’s time during the week, it is actually one of the main arenas where our wider culture plays itself out, and gets reinforced or changed. Finding ways to use NVC in the workplace isn’t just about having better relationships at work and resolving conflict more easily, it is an act of cultural activism and subversion.
So I want to lay out three things that I think can help in this struggle of cultural activism.
First, as with any long term struggle, you’ll need to find some way to celebrate and savor the small victories. There is no quick way to turn around an office’s culture of aggression, task-focus, and power. Introducing NVC into this kind of culture is going to take time, a lot of time. And so to keep going and to avoid burning out you’ll need to find some way to savor the small victories and success. Maybe it’s noticing and celebrating your own behavior. Whenever you react with empathy before giving advice/direction, whenever you share your own feelings in a meeting or a one-on-one discussion, whenever you make a connection request rather than jumping to an action request, these are all moments to celebrate.
And what does celebrate those small victories look like? It looks like taking a moment in private to notice what needs those actions met. Maybe it met your needs for integrity, to make a difference, or your own need for compassion. Whatever needs those actions met, savor that. Enjoy the feeling of satisfaction of meeting your own needs to make a difference and live in integrity. Even if the other person didn’t react to your NVC approach the way you’d wished, still see if you can enjoy the fact that no matter how they behaved, you acted with integrity and compassion.
Second, the key to using NVC in any setting is safety. Feeling safe enough to share vulnerably and honestly. And sadly too often our workplaces are not places we feel emotionally safe to do that. The key to creating safety is empathy. Now, it doesn’t really work to go around and tell other people they should show more empathy. Rather we have to show people what empathy looks like. We need to model empathy.
We can do that by actively empathizing with co-workers or bosses when they’re frustrated or upset. We can do this in business meetings by asking people to make some empathetic guesses about folks who will be impacted by our decisions. “How do you think this will impact Bob, the HR person’s job?” “How do you think this decision will affect our customer’s experience?”
Third, we can model empathy by transforming our judgements into empathetic guesses.
Try this, next time you have a judgmental thought about your boss or co-worker, take a few minutes and try to figure out what feelings and needs might have been motivating their behavior. Were they feeling anxious because they want accomplishment and efficiency? Were they feeling tired and wanted freedom from responsibility? Whatever feelings and needs you think might be driving their “annoying” behavior, open the conversation with that guess, check it out with them, before you explain how you felt and how that behavior left you with unmet needs.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.