Book Review: Nonviolent Communication

“Communication is the key to great sex.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard this…well, insert your favorite joke here.

But it’s true. We humans are complicated social animals who require linguistic transparency and precision to get the quality of connection with others that we want. However, I find it frustrating how often the value of relationship communication is distilled to a sound bite, without offering any strategies or tools to actually achieve it. Some of the communication education that is out there is so grounded in gender stereotypes that it doesn’t appeal to a lot of people like me (and, I suspect, many MSP readers). It also often excludes same-sex, polyamorous, and other kinds of relationships. There are certainly cultural, relationship-type, and gender-specific communication issues that bear acknowledging, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, or NVC as it is abbreviated, is a refreshing change of pace.

Debby asked the MSP blogging team to give our readers some resources beyond the blog, so I thought I’d share this favorite of mine. I particularly like how the skills laid out in the NVC model can be used to enrich all relationships, not just the sexy and/or romantic ones. NVC gives specific tools for articulating your feelings and needs while connecting with others’ feelings and needs through empathy. In my experience, it’s a surprisingly (and delightfully) healing process.

Here are some of the basic principles of NVC:

- There are universal feelings and needs which all people experience and can relate to.

- Our actions are attempts to meet those needs.

- Observe, rather than analyze, others’ behavior.

- Practice empathy by connecting to others’ feelings and needs.

- Practice self-empathy by connecting to your own feelings and needs.

- Make specific requests about how others can help meet your needs.

- Listening empathically can help you hear requests, rather than criticism or demands

- You are responsible to, rather than for, others’ feelings and needs.

All of this is definitely easier said than done, but well worth the effort.

Interestingly, even though this book doesn’t specifically mention polyamorous relationships, it’s listed on Amazon as one of the Top Ten Resources For Polyamory and Open Relationships. I’ve often suspected that, with the level of communication skill required to maintain happy poly relationships, many poly people have a lot to teach many monogamous people in that regard. Or at the very least, lend them their books.

In addition to this book and several other NVC texts about everything from parenting to the business world, NVC trainers run workshops in 35 countries. NVC “practice groups” are also abundant. I’ve attended a few trainings (in the US and Australia) and have found them extremely worthwhile. If you’re interested in learning more about NVC, check out the Center for Nonviolent Communication. I hope that, at the very least, you’ll get more out of it than Cosmo.

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About Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs, MPH is a NYC-based sex educator + blogger. She's the founder of Sex Geekdom, a global community for sex educators, researchers, and other folks who love having geeky conversations about sex.