Nonviolent Communication: Meeting the Needs of Learners

We talk a lot about attending to needs of learners when designing and facilitating learning events using the GLP principles to practice framework. I find Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to be very compatible with a learning-centered approach in that it also is about attending to heartfelt needs to move towards a more peaceful and just world. This video featuring the founder of NVC Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. explains the purpose of this revolutionary way of approaching communication that has created positive change the world over.

We were privileged to explore more about NVC with a client who wanted to include these practices in a training designed to improve communications among staff in a fast-paced, open, and sometimes high-stress environment that served to improve the lives of families and children. It can be tough to get out of patterns of side conversations and complaints to new habits of talking to each other in ways that get our own needs met as well as the needs of our colleagues and the families served.

Nonviolent Communication 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.

Nonviolent Communication consists of four components:

Observations: Description of what you see or hear without any added interpretations.

Feelings: Your inner emotions rather than thoughts about what others are doing.

Needs: Feelings are caused by needs, which are universal, ongoing, and independent of other people’s actions.

Requests: Effective requests are doable, immediate, and stated in positive action language.

We began the training by identifying safe and respectful real-life challenges, then we learned the components of a nonviolent conversation, and practiced them with each other. Here is a sample NVC conversation that came out of the training:

Observe: Sometimes when I see so many clients back to back, I don’t have time to take a break.

Name Feelings: When this happens, I feel alone in my office and angry that nobody notices that I’m having a really busy day.

Connect Feelings to Needs: What I need is for someone to check in with me to see if I need a break or offer to help me with a small task.

Voice Requests: Would you be willing to stop by my office mid-afternoon to remind me to take a walk or get a cup of coffee with me?

Because of social distancing, we are now using phones and computers to be in touch with colleagues. Maintaining empathy with coworkers by using a language of universal needs instead of judgments will allow us to be able to hear and understand each other, even during stressful times. Here is a sample NVC conversation from a virtual working during COVID-19 environment.

Observe: While working from home, there are many distractions.

Name Feelings: I feel frustrated that I cannot seem to get as much done as I am used to, and the number of emails feels overwhelming.

Connect Feelings to Needs: I need to set aside time to organize a new system for the way we work now that can help ease frustration.

Voice Requests: Would you help me set up a system to organize and prioritize the work coming in?


As someone who attends to the needs of learners in the learning environment, I’m excited to incorporate this philosophy and concepts into my learning design and facilitation practice. If you are interested in learning more about Nonviolent Communication, check out the Center for Nonviolent Communications and the NVC Training Academy.

What is one step in the process you really want to be more intentional about?


Rachel Nicolosi ( is a partner with Global Learning Partners. She specializes in adult literacy, workforce development and plain language and continues to learn about Nonviolent Communication.

Read more from Rachel here.

Read more about communication in these blog posts:

Tips for Entering and Staying with Tough Dialogue

Three Levels of Listening Part 1

Three Levels of Listening Part 2

Three Levels of Listening Part 3

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