How to use non-violent communication

A lot of conflicts arise, and are fueled, by the process of blame. None of it is effective. Non-violent communication is. Here you’ll read how to apply non-violent communication towards your business partners, colleagues or suppliers to obtain what you need and to reduce your frustrations aswell as theirs.


When the going gets tough we tend to blame who ever else is involved. It is as natural as it is human to place the cause of our worries and concerns outside of ourselves and blame others for it. And you can rest assured that the other person involved in turn will blame us.The result of this mechanism sadly is that the going gets even more tough.

Recently this mechanism imposed itself upon me on a personal level. I am in the process of renegotiating my mortgage with my bank. In the course of this negotiation my husband and I had a meeting planned with a financial adviser at our current bank. On the morning of the apointment I received an e-mail from the adviser informing me that due to an internal program all meetings with clients would be rescheduled, without offering a date or possible dates for a new meeting. Not a good start. Within minutes after reading this ‘notice’ my idle prejudice – that banks don’t serve the interests of entrepreneurs well – had reinforced itself.

In fact I felt so mistreated that I called my bank and insisted on a meeting that same day at the end of the day and would not accept ‘no’ as an answer. As a result my husband and I were received that same day by a pretty stressed out adviser. During the conversation neither she (the adviser) nor I managed to let go of our indignation. It was only at the end of the meeting that I realised that I was the losing party, since I was the one who wants a service from them and I had now let my frustrations undermine my position in the negotation,

I had done exactly the opposite of what I advise my clients as a facilitator of negotations and as a mediator. My natural instinct had taken over, for the worst.

The better approach: non-violent communication

Here is what does work when you are in a professional relationship with someone and you feel ill treated. You’ll have to stay away from moral judgement and you want to focus on your needs instead of fueling angry feelings and venting them.

To communicate your needs and make sure that they are heard, and possibly met, you best turn to non-violent communication. It was developed by Marshall Rosenberg and is based on these four principles:


That providers don’t serve your interests well is a much heard frustration amoung professionals and entrepreneurs. If your work/assignment/company is suffering from that behaviour you will unconsciously label both the behaviour as your provider as a person.

It is not only providers who lose sight of your interests sometimes, it may aswell concern your colleague, your business partner or your boss. As soon as you are caught up in frustration your assumptions and prejudices will fuel your anger.

You can wait until these mechnisms poison the collaboration or you can decide to communicate your needs to the other person in an effective way leading to actual change.

  1. Observation

Reproduce and share exactly and objectively what occurred.

In the event that your boss, colleague or business partner is only available when he or she needs something from you, your objective account of the matter may be as such:
Whenever I call you, I reach your voicemail. By the time you call me back you’ll be in your car or your partner/children/other colleagues …are with you.’

  1. Feeling

Explain how this comes across on your end.

‘’This makes me feel that you are not actually interested in what I have to say or what I may need from you.’’

  1. Need

Think of what it is you need and ask for it. ’I need to feel that this is a partnership that serves not only your interests but mine aswell.’

  1. Request

Think of a way in which the other person can meet your need. For instance: ‘Next time you call me back, can you do so from a place where you are alone and can focus on our conversation?’

By focusing on your need instead of blaming and  by calling on a concrete, positive action you are a real team player and you serve your business interests well.

In other words, focus on your needs and aim for progress instead of on being right.




The (mis)use of subtext

Subtext are cryptic comments. People in long-term relationships, such as long-term business partners, use it a lot. This is partially functional. Over the years they have learned about each others’ allergies and sensitivities and they know that certain matters should not be dealt with directly. It can harm relationships though.

Think of two founding partners of a legal office. One partner is at the office almost daily while the other partner, who lives at quite a stretch from the office, is gradually making less effort to travel there and instead works from home. When he does come into the office both partners do not discuss this, not wishing to revive the heated debates they had at the time when they decided on the location of the office. The partner who does live nearby and comes in every day is nevertheless frustrated that he has to manage the office by himself. At the end of one of these rare days when they have both been at the office the usually absent partner is about to leave and says: ”I’m off. I’ll keep in touch about when I’ll be here next”, to which his frustrated partner replies: ”Sure that’s fine. See you next month.”

This covert way of communicating is one way to ventilate your dissatisfaction. It is saying something without really saying it. That’s why subtext can also be given without using words. In fiction this is a technique known as ‘Showing, not telling’. Leaving an empty chair between you and the colleague who irritates you when attending the monday morning meeting is just as meaningful.

The risk of subtext is dual. To start with, the habit of using subtext can become so ingrained that you are no longer conscious about using it. The second risk is that issues that should be dealt with directly are so caught up in subtext that it feels impossible to actually have a conversation about them.

This is particularly clear while dealing with conflicts. In the business context I operate in, people will talk about everything except the real issue. And while it is often deniability on their part it is also true that people simply are not conscious of the real issue. As a mediator my first mission is to help conflicting parties get clarity on their issues and address them. That is a difficult but necessary task. Parties can not start thinking about a solution as long as there is no real clarity on the underlying issue.

That’s why one of my tools to get to the heart of a conflict is to pay close attention to subtext. The facial expression or body language of the person who is speaking or of the person who is being spoken to tells me that there is a hidden meaning to look out for. My intervention consists of asking clarity on the real meaning by asking:

What exactly do you mean?
Why did you chose to use that word?

If that doesn’t work I will have to confront them. I’ll explain that even though they are saying one thing I get the impression that they are really implying something else. Or I’ll say: you speak in a neutral manner, but I get the impression that you do not feel neutral. Could it be that you are in fact annoyed /frustrated/angry/furious/upset/distressed/…?

And then my question will be:

What is it that is really troubling you?

Confronting the person who spoke with the subtext of his words can make people acknowledge the underlying problem to each other and open up a conversation about it.

To heal, restore or reinforce any type of relationship confrontation is not only useful but necessary.