June 29th, 2007

Using the name “Nonviolent Communication”

On a mailing list I joined, people brought up their discomfort about using or about not using the term “Nonviolent Communication” (or “NVC”) in their workshop title, as requested by CNVC. I’m writing this blog post in response, so that anyone can read it and participate in a conversation.

The request about not using “NVC” is just a request, right? I’ve pondered this request at length and concluded that (a) I don’t hear an underlying need (despite some pseudo-need language on the site and expressed in person), and (b) clear expression/understanding is better served by my using the term “NVC”, since it clearly conveys what I teach. And I know that whatever the underlying needs are, they can be met with strategies that don’t interfere with my clear expression (and contribution) and my students’ clear understanding (and improved lives). So I decline CNVC’s request, and I use the term freely. If folks in CNVC want to engage in a giraffe dance with me (aimed at connection and meeting all needs fully), I’d be delighted, and I think the organization and I would both benefit.

I have heard the claim that people who hear that someone teaches “NVC” (or “is an NVC trainer”, to use static/to-be language) will assume that the person is certified by CNVC. I don’t believe that claim at all. If I tell you I’m playing Beethoven, would you assume I’m certified by Ludwig van himself, or by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra? Of course not. Certification is just certification. Certification is not NVC. People won’t confuse the two unless their cultural context encourages that confusion. I choose to contribute to clarity, not participate in confusion.

As NVC practitioners, we know that granting a request quickly can result in missing opportunities — opportunities for deep connection at the needs level and consequently meeting needs more effectively than the original request would accomplish. I want to see a deep re-examination and open (to all) dialog about the needs behind CNVC’s strategies of certification and of not using “NVC” in a workshop title. If there were such a re-examination, I’m guessing the beginning would contain familiar old statements like “integrity of the NVC process” or “respect for the copyright”. Given words like “integrity” and “respect”, such statements can be confused with needs, and I imagine a lot of learning and depth would come from dispelling those confusions and going deeper.

Maybe you’ll connect with what I’ve said above, and maybe not. In either case, here’s another angle on the issue — one of my favorite quotes, straight from Marshall’s mouth:

Please do as I requested, only — only if you can do so with the joy of a little child feeding a hungry duck.
Please do not do as I request if there is any taint of fear of punishment if you don’t.
Please do not do as I request to buy my love, that, is hoping that I will love you more if you do.
Please do not do as I request if you will feel guilty if you don’t.
Please do not do as I request if you will feel shameful.
And certainly do not do as I request out of any sense of duty or obligation.

I’d love to hear what’s touched in you in reading this post. If you’re willing to share your response as a comment in this blog post, that’s my preference. If you’d like a more private conversation, you can email me directly.


15 Responses to “Using the name “Nonviolent Communication””

  1. carol Says:

    My heart was opened as I read your website. I agree that the positive is so important and as it is a practice, paradigm shift in thinking as well as responding the process requires mindfulness. It is a shift in how we show up in the world. Sharing the concepts and the process for me is about deepening awareness and sharing our human-ness rather than covering it up.
    Thank you for sharing your heart.

  2. Emma McCreary Says:

    I resonate with this post. When I first got excited about NVC and then decided to learn about how to teach it, I found that exact injunction on the website – “Don’t use the word NVC if you’re not certified by us”. I had a visceral reaction of “yuck”. And I didn’t feel that “ahh” of feeling like I really got what their needs were.

    What I guessed was behind that request was a fear of somebody teaching NVC in a way that CNVC did not agree was actually NVC i.e. the consciousness Marshall teaches. The needs I guessed were for clarity and effectiveness. Those needs I do connect with. They really want students to have an NVC experience and learn what Marshall is trying to teach. I get that. I want that too!

    So I connect to the needs (I think), but don’t like the strategy. It feels fear-based and authority-based to me. It seems like an attempt to control what perhaps can’t be controlled? And having the authority of CNVC behind it, it’s hard for me not to hear it as a demand. I felt sort of sad after reading it. Like oh, I really was inspired to find out about teaching and after reading it I felt deflated. And annoyed, like what an inneffective thing, teaching something but not calling it what it is. Wouldn’t that confuse people?

    I don’t like the certification process due to the costs that you’ve identified here and elsewhere – the bottleneck of assessors, the assesment mindset, the expert/authority mindset. And that it turns off potential teachers of NVC – at least it turned me off.

    It seems to come from a worldview where people aren’t good enough unless rubber-stamped as good enough. Instead of knowing that everyone is doing their best and trying to get better all the time – because they genuinely want to contribute, one of the premises of NVC.

    Reading this post and the other stuff you’ve written has made me think – oh hey, I could teach NVC! And think of it differently. Instead of asking myself “Could I ever make myself get through that heinous looking certification process?” I started asking “What would I need to do to feel confident and ready to begin to teach NVC to others?” Woah, so much more aliveness in that question! And more focus on real needs – effectiveness, contribution, and how to get there – rather than on jumping through hoops.

    Reading this post, I feel hope that the NVC family can start looking at the authority type stuff that seems embedded in the CNVC documentation and go somewhere more inspirational around supporting people in teaching NVC. =)

  3. Mark Roberts Says:

    Thank You Conal,
    For the reminder of how I want to respond to the request of CNVC regarding certification and use of NVC name:
    With more confidence that through dialogue mutual needs will be addressed and equally considered.
    What I hope to share with others I practice by remembering … “hungry duck” before I accommodate any one (especially an Institution).
    I find it difficult.
    I get scared.
    Your postings have helped me to examine myself and my habit of avoiding conflict by yessing to demands.
    I like the advice to take more time and go deeper.
    With Love and Respect (and always a little fear)
    Mark Roberts

  4. Joseph Mitchell Says:

    dear Conal,

    I love your response to the request to not use NVC and in advertising etc. if one is not certified. I think that your request to go deeper to the needs underneath that request is really life-giving.

    I absolutely love putting this request in the context of Marshall’s “Please do not meet my request if…”

    I think your response really keeps the dialogue life-giving to all involved.

    In heart,

    Joe Mitchell

  5. Susan L Says:

    So it’s really a demand. This blog is supposed to be about evolving, and to me, using the name NVC anyway is REactive rather than PROactive. How about let’s come up with a name of our own?

    I don’t like the name NVC anyway. I totally get the fact that the consciousness is grounded in Ghandian nonviolence. When Marshall articulated his model, nonviolence was a hyphenated word, so NVC made sense as an acronym. It’s been a long struggle to drop the hyphen and have nonviolence accepted as a word with its own wholeness, and I think that’s more important than playing tug o’ war with an acronym that doesn’t even stand for what we want it to stand for!

    We can use the expression “nonviolent communication” to describe a model that is entirely different from Marshall’s as long as we don’t capitalize it. And we can use the acronym NVC – yes, even in titles – as long as we put the superscript SM for “service mark.” (I don’t know enough HTML to do that for real.) Isn’t that enough? I’m even willing to give Marshall’s name and credit him with the development and application of the language model that changed my life.

    So can we shift the debate and come up with a new name and start articulating some of the ways in which our model is different from his and our way of being in the world is different from CNVC’s? Then we can ;) sneak in the back door when CNVC gets its Synergy Circle going and tie in to the global network anyway!;)

  6. conal Says:

    Hi Susan:

    Using the name NVC for this blog is a choice I’m happy with, based on the values I see in the choice. Call it proactive, reactive, radioactive, participative, or even no evaluation at all, as you prefer.

    When I use the term “NVC” or “nonviolent communication”, I do so specifically to refer to Marshall’s ideas, because I want people to know what content I’m referring to. I don’t use the term for its descriptive value, because (a) I don’t think the name conveys the message, and (b) I prefer positive terms to negative.

    A second reason I use these terms is as gift: an invitation and encouragement to dance. Offering my partnership in bringing to light the beautiful needs under CNVC’s preferences (and under the standard NVC-ese phrases). Once they and I are deeply connected to the underlying needs, then solutions will arise that better serve their needs and mine.

    We can use the expression “nonviolent communication” to describe a model that is entirely different from Marshall’s as long as we don’t capitalize it. And we can use the acronym NVC – yes, even in titles – as long as we put the superscript SM for “service mark.” (I don’t know enough HTML to do that for real.) Isn’t that enough?

    Considering your choice of “we can”, instead of “cnvc prefers us to”, I guess you’re hearing a demand also.

    About “enough”, I wonder: enough for what? In any case, I don’t settle for merely enough, which I hear as another word for acceptable compromise. One of the many gems Marshall has given me is the realization that requests/strategies/preferences are dime-a-dozen. They’re expendable in this abundant universe of infinite possibilities for meeting all needs fully. I enjoy acting from inspiration. The fact that I’m not yet inspired with CNVC’s requests is important feedback to me and to CNVC. Let’s dig for needs, which is the invitation part of my choice to use “NVC”.

    I love acknowledging and celebrating Marshall, which I do joyfully and spontaneously.

    I’m not sure what you want in asking to “shift the debate”. I’m all for a variety of conversations. The one about using “NVC” seems to capture a lot of interest, especially as people become aware that they’ve been playing Power Under. Meanwhile, let’s also have whatever other conversations people are interested in.

  7. Angela Harms Says:

    I’m excited about this discussion, and want it to be able to continue. So, I’d like to share that folks who want to read the CNVC page about this will find that it’s moved to this url: http://cnvc.org/en/sharing-nvc/guidelines-sharing-nvc

  8. conal Says:

    Thanks, Angela. I’ve now edited the post to use the new URL.

  9. Jayaraja Says:

    I am sat here with a smile, delighted on stumbling across this article. I have been sharing NVC for around 5 years now though have generally chosen to title my events and courses something other than NVC. I have been happy to use the name in the fuller text. I don’t like the name NVC though do find it useful in terms of people having heard of the model and it being a short hand, I know people attend having heard positive things about NVC.

    I did try and have a dialogue with CNVC about using the words as a title about 4 years back. Sadly though I found there didn’t appear to be the time, space or desire for dialogue. Recalling it now it feels painful, I guess I wanted connection, understanding, dialogue and mutuality, however, my experience was that I was communicating with an institution and there was an “official line.” Back then I had attended around 60 days of training the majority of it with Marshall. I wasn’t interested in becoming certified as I lacked confidence that being “certified” helped trainers stay in touch with the essential alive energy of not knowing an openess to sharing. I could see that they were skilled in the language and concepts but the sense of the alive spirit underlying the model was for me missing. I am not blaming anyone it is hard to stay with vulnerability and openness it is easier to be the expert and whats more have a certificate saying you are competant and an authority. I was also concerned with what I judged as a kind of career move, and the costs of people’s training events. A lot of our conditioning supports the slide into “expert” and learner as opposed to staying open and vulnerable. I think embodiment and exemplification communicate the principles at a deeper level than the exchange of information and knowledge. There is a spiritual element to NVC and it lies in the valueing of others needs as much as my own.

    For the sake of ease I thought of becoming certified instead I decided to use alternative names,to promote my sharing of the ideas, skills and experience of NVC, names that I prefer. Though, I now find myself in the position of people contacting me asking for NVC training, or organising events on my behalf and promoting them as NVC which has brought the issue back. I have enourmous gratitude to Marshall and others who have introduced and helped me understand and hopefully more fully embody the ideas and principles of NVC. I will continue to acknowledge and reference Marshall and I hope that the quality of sharing I give will have a growthful and beneficial effect on many people. Having read this blog I feel a sense of ease. If people want to call what I share NVC or promote it as such, it is fine. I will continue to promote my own trainings as Compassionate Communication…


  10. Sarah Peyton Says:

    Hi, guys – what are your feelings, needs and strategies now that CNVC has issued the request that you not use “compassionate communication” unless you’re certified?

    Sarah Peyton

  11. conal Says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Hurray! I’m delighted to hear that CNVC has expanded their request to include “compassionate communication” (and I see “giraffe language”) as well. Here’s why.

    I have felt deeply disheartened every time I heard of people taking refuge in being allowed (huh?) to use “compassionate communication” as a way of avoiding the request about the terms “nonviolent communication” and “NVC”. What matters to me here is people applying the spirit and principles of NVC deeply and consistently. Wherever we are uncomfortable applying these princples is exactly where we have an opportunity to learn and integrate more deeply, both individually and as a community. But mostly, people avoid discomfort, rather than growing through it, and the “compassionate communication” loophole had provided NVC-lovers a tolerably comfortable avoidance strategy. Now that CNVC expanded their please-do-not-say list, I hope there is enough incentive for people to notice and address more of the discrepancies between what we preach and what we practice.

    Marshall taught us that it’s perfectly fine not to accommodate requests. And not just fine, but *wonderful*! He taught us what to do instead:

    * Remember that their needs can be met with a multitude of strategies other than the one carried in their current request. Most of those strategies don’t involve us at all.

    * Share what needs of ours interfere with saying yes to a request, giving the other (CNVC in this case) the opportunity to join in a giraffe dance.

    A challenge here is to stay awake enough in the process that we don’t slip into power-under. For instance, one might easliy forget the nature of a giraffe dance and act as if we’re asking CNVC’s permission or waiting for their approval.

    It is my intention, and when awake & centered also my practice, that my decisions come from my own inspiration. That inspiration flows out of my deep connection with needs. I’ve read various versions of CNVC’s “requests” and explanations, with curiosity about their underlying needs. I have found a few statements phrased in a way that resembles needs language, but so far I haven’t found the real stuff. If requests were a big deal to me, I might keep trying to get at what’s behind these ones. However, I know that strategies (and hence requests) are expendable and possibilities abundant.

    In answer to your question, my needs and strategies are unaffected by CNVC’s modified request, and I’m feeling excited & joyful.

    If anyone would like help navigating through their discomfort around CNVC’s requests, please let me know. We could chat here or on a mailing list, e.g., the “NVC Evolves” or “Emergence of NVC” groups, or maybe set up a conference call.

  12. Jeff Brown Says:


    Many thanks for this post, which I find provocative and addressing an important issue.

    I would say that if CNVC’s request is genuinely a request as I understand it in NVC, then the people who made the request would be willing to engage with a “no” or a counter request, or a desire to dialogue about it.

    Otherwise, it’s either a demand or something that I don’t want to take seriously, myself.

    I would be curious to see what happens if you engage with CNVC and request a giraffe dance (i.e. connecting conversation), in which both sides can exchange needs in the dance of honesty and empathy.

    Personally, my efforts to engage CNVC from 2006-10 have been totally and utterly unsatisfying, and mostly have been met with silence.

    Thanks again for the post and all the best.

    Sincerely, Jeff
    Jeff Brown, Executive Director
    Compassionate Communication of Central Ohio [www.nvcohio.org]
    2350 Indianola Ave., Columbus, OH 43202 USA
    614-558-1141 office ~ 812-320-3842 personal

    * Certified Trainer, Center for Nonviolent Communication [www.cnvc.org]
    * Associate Trainer, NVC Training Institute [www.nvcti.com]

    > Visit my blog: http://heartfeltcommunication.blogspot.com

  13. conal Says:

    Hi Jeff. Thanks for the note.

    I’ve already reached out where I believe CNVC folks are reading. So far, I’ve not heard back. I’m happy to dance if & when they show up.

    I’m applying a principle I’ve learned from experience: if I’m going to help someone, I want to see that they’re trying at least as hard as I am. Otherwise, I waste a lot of energy that could be invested more fruitfully elsewhere.

  14. Jim Thompson Says:

    As someone stumbling along on the certification path, I’m very much enjoying this discussion. Thanks to all the contributions.

    I’m struck by the difference between “CNVC” as an institution and “CNVC folks” in terms of the request for a conversation or dance. In my mind, a collection of folks met and created the institution in an attempt to provide a focus or framework for others to put NVC into practice. That group probably considered both their own understanding of Marshall’s work and the larger NVC community of people worldwide when drafting the guidelines for the organization. I very much appreciate the guidelines and framework that were painstakingly developed as a starting point.

    Now the organization exists in a sense independent of the individuals who worked together. But, the organization itself cannot respond, except in the voices of one or more of the individuals involved in the organization currently. And no single voice, or even group of voices actually represents the organization itself.

    I am excited about this forum as a means for the larger community of individuals to engage in this discussion. It helps me explore and clarify my experience, values and intentions. As I get clearer about my own understanding and goals with using and offering “NVC inspired” work, I am inclined to explore conversations with one or more of those individuals engaged in CNVC rather than “representatives” of CNVC. At this moment, I’m not clear exactly who those individuals are, and how I would go about reaching out to them. If, or once I do though, I can then imagine those conversations possibly having impact on the organization.

  15. Julie Lawrence Says:

    As a certification candidate, I read the CNVC’s blurb about “can I call myself an NVC trainer” as saying yes, I could, as long as I didn’t say “CNVC Certified Trainer” (I’ve copied and pasted it below) … it was then made abundantly clear to me, when I did so, that that was not OK, and that I was NOT to called myself an “NVC trainer”. There was no “request” about it.

    Can we say that we are “NVC trainers”? (from https://www.cnvc.org/node/6832)

    CNVC Certified Trainers are identified as being sponsored by CNVC through use of the term “CNVC Certified Trainer”which signifies their connection with CNVC. In order to avoid any confusion regarding sponsorship, we request that you use terms that are free of the implication of certification or sponsorship by CNVC or any of the first set of trademarked terms listed above on any media or materials such as business cards, brochures, email addresses and website names. We request that you inform those that you share your NVC experiences with that you are not certified by CNVC as a trainer; however, feel free to provide information about your own work, NVC training, and life experiences.

    I have since left the certification pathway (for this and other reasons). I am also deeply disappointed by the actions of the CNVC with regard to the NFP/NVC-O, and equally delighted by the forward movement being made by NVC-O to find more power-with ways to move forward.

    much love,

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