• VPEC

Non-Violent Communication: A Universal Tool For Communication

Updated: Feb 17

We can make life miserable or wonderful for ourselves and others depending upon how we think and communicate.

We're delighted to have Iris Berfelo, a psycho-social therapist and VPEC 2020 workshop leader joining us this week to talk about Non-Violent Communication (NVC), which she believes is a "universal tool for communication."


She believes that NVC, as a violence prevention strategy, has not only the potential to become a part of our everyday lives, but the potential to become a part of us.

Welcome, Iris!

Q. Please tell us about the work you do and how you became involved in the field of NVC.

A. In recent years I have been working as an independent entrepreneur. Professionally I am a psycho-social therapist; a (cross-cultural) communication consultant and trainer and conflict mediator. I have my own counseling practice where I counsel people.

My life has been spent both abroad and in the Netherlands. By the age of 5, I'd already left home with my parents and moved to Asaba, Nigeria, and then to Accra, Ghana. And since I was 19, I have lived and worked with my still current partner in many countries and on different continents, including Peru, Bolivia, Mali, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

I have been able to practice my profession in every place. My practice has attracted people, both the natives and the visitors, in every country I've lived in.


As a conflict mediator and communication trainer, I am hired by the government, embassies, NGOs, student programs and schools.

In 2016, I completed a 3-year interim assignment with the municipality of Amsterdam.


The work that I do and have done has always been with a lot of dedication and rewarding pleasure. My clients have expressed that they had experienced good connections and valuable progress while working together.

Yet, I spent many years looking for a missing piece of the puzzle. And in my search, I unexpectedly stumbled upon an article about Non-Violent Communication while drinking coffee in a cafe. I am an avid reader so I read extensively and a lot. And then something suddenly came my way, while not consciously searching for, but which hit me like a bomb.


The missing piece of the puzzle suddenly fell right in front of my nose: NVC, a language of life and a very basic and universal tool for communicating.

I immediately registered for an introduction weekend. From that moment on, I started following NVC annual courses. I am now a certification candidate, and I hope to be officially affiliated as a trainer with Marshall Rosenberg's center for Non-Violent Communication soon.


In the meantime, I have fully integrated NVC into my counseling, mediation, and cross-cultural communication training. And as I expected, it is firmly embraced by the participants, be it in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Spain, the Netherlands or Tajikistan.


NVC gives the opportunity to be creative so that you can explain the basic principles in such a way that it can be applied in any culture and situation.

Q. How do you define NVC? Can you tell us a bit about the history of the topic and how the term was coined?


“When we blame others, we give up the power to change ourselves." ~ Marshall Rosenberg

A. Nonviolent Communication (abbreviated NVC, also called Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication) is an approach to nonviolent living developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s. (Read more about the history of NVC here.)


NVC is taught as a process of interpersonal communication designed to improve compassionate connection to yourself and others.


Nonviolent communication fosters the development of empathy.


Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a way of interacting with ourselves and others that’s rooted in empathy and compassion.


We understand empathy as the compassionate way of understanding what is happening inside each one of us. It means taking note of feelings, thoughts, and judgments. It is about connecting with issues that paralyze us or cause mental blocks.

Empathy does not equal agreement with, justification of, condoning, or excusing abusive behavior. It only means that we can access the compassionate part of our humanity to try to understand – not agree with or justify – why someone would act that way. And compassion for the other in no way means that we are willing to be the object of abuse. We may choose completely cease contact with someone and yet still have compassion for their humanity.

NVC advocates radical self-responsibility for what we are experiencing at any given moment. It offers a simple yet effective framework to bring awareness to what we are thinking, saying, doing, and how we are listening, so we can connect and communicate with more clarity and compassion.


The ultimate goal of NVC is to foster authentic connections between people regardless of their differences. That focus on human connections makes NVC a powerful conflict resolution tool—once there is a genuine human connection, the original problem tends to solve itself.

The ultimate goal of NVC is to foster authentic connections between people regardless of their differences. That focus on human connections makes NVC a powerful conflict resolution tool—once there is a genuine human connection, the original problem tends to solve itself. You can use NVC in almost any relationship or environment, including in families, schools, governments, businesses, and personal relationships. NVC trainers all over the world are called in for conflict resolution, as they have a lot of experience in bringing warring parties back into dialogue with each other with positive and powerful outcomes.

NVC helps you reshape your inner dialogue to promote self-compassion, improving your relationship with yourself.


It fosters the act of fearless self-responsibility. Is there any way – even a miniscule way – in which we did not look out for ourselves, or in which we fed into an unbalanced power dynamic? This type of self – reflection leads us to healthy intrapersonal communication skills which result in better self-care, appropriate boundary – setting, and future choices that lead to life-fulfilling outcomes.


Peace requires something far more difficult than revenge or merely turning the other cheek; it requires empathizing with the fears and unmet needs that provide the impetus for people to attack each other. Being aware of these feelings and needs, people lose their desire to attack back because they see the human ignorance leading to these attacks. Instead, their goal becomes providing the empathic connection and education that will enable them to transcend their violence and engage in cooperative relationships.

Q. What are some common misconceptions about NVC?

A. One of the common misconceptions about the practice of Non-Violent Communication is that it’s about being “nice.” Another misconception is thinking of non-violence as passivity.

People also equate speaking in a non-violent way with speaking politely. Nonviolent communication is about sincerity and fairness. I tell what is really going on inside me (and I know how to do it uncritically). That cannot be labeled "nice" or "polite," because if I am nice then I may not say certain things, while with connecting communication I do bring things up for discussion. For example, it may be that someone is suddenly no longer "nice" after attending a training in nonviolent communication (and a lot happier).

Or, people think that Nonviolent communication is about never being angry again. Nonviolent communication is actually useable when an emotion bubbles up, especially in very subtle ways. Anger is only one of many emotions (about 150), and also a very strong one.


Nonviolent communication is actually useable when an emotion bubbles up, especially in very subtle ways. Anger is only one of many emotions (about 150), and also a very strong one.

NVC isn't necessarily a rational model. There is a model, but they are not "steps!' The techniques have hardly any order and are not mandatory. The model has components as a guide to help find words for what is really going on, and in the most nonviolent way possible.

NVC is not about sympathy, it is about empathy. But most people don’t know the difference. So when we listen to someone empathically, we are present with the other for a while, we hold on to what is in ourselves and focus the attention on the other for a moment. We imagine what the other says, and certainly have an eye for the emotions of the other, only we do not take over the emotion. Scientifically (and in practice!) It appears to be more binding not to take over emotions (or feelings).


Thank you, Iris! We can't wait to hear more.


Stay tuned for Part 2 -- NVC as a Violence Prevention Strategy!


>>> Part 2

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