Non-Violent Communication for Equity & Wellness

Nothing like a pandemic to force us to evaluate our boundaries, right? Whether we’re working from home, navigating contact with the outside world, or having conversations with loved ones about the recent presidential transition, most of us are probably experiencing some degree of stress related to communication right now, and many of us could use a non-violent communication training class!

United States culture–and particularly white culture in the United States–gives us conflicting messages about how to communicate our needs to others. Media and popular culture glamorize individualism and brazen independence, and yet, our families and organizations may operate on an unspoken rule to “not rock the boat.” If we must express displeasure with something that’s happened or set a boundary that others may not expect, it’s natural for us to become nervous or attempt to avoid directly communicating.

Throughout my career, I have found myself in many difficult conversations–negotiating conflict between youth clients, holding a non-profit board accountable for unethical decisions, or, as I regularly do in my current work, facilitating conversations about cultural awareness between colleagues with different identities. Whether these conversations were successful (accomplishing a shared goal) or not often did not depend on the strength of the message the people involved were trying to express, but rather on a set of skills that increased clarity, decreased emotional reactivity, and established safety for everyone involved.

Non-violent communication (NVC) is one such set of communication tools that helps us ground ourselves in what we feel, genuinely listen to others, and ensure that we can separate what we observe from how we feel. NVC structures conversations into 1) observations 2) feelings 3) needs and 4) requests. It is common for us to perceive something in a social situation and act from our emotional reaction to it, without questioning our assumptions and judgments. NVC helps us get and give feedback about what we perceive, and prevents us from projecting unhelpful judgments and emotional reactions onto others, keeping the focus on what we feel and what we need. While NVC is not appropriate for some conversations, especially when we are interrupting or redirecting grave harm, it is an incredibly useful structure for day-to-day communications with work colleagues and loved ones alike.

I teach training participants to use non-violent communication in several of my cultural humility and inclusion trainings, including Confronting White Supremacy & Racist Microaggressions, Train the Trainer, and Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression. We discuss the principles of NVC and apply our learning through roleplay and other activities. If you or your agency is interested in booking a non-violent communication training class, please fill out my Training Request Form or contact me directly at

Photo by Jopwell from Pexels.