The break was over and not a single participant was back in the working room. I was an assistant at an NVC workshop and I impatiently looked at the watch and wanted to continue the course. After a short while, I stood in the doorway and whistled. Immediately people started coming and sitting on the chairs. Soon all the participants were in place and the course could continue.

In this context, the whistle was an efficient and easy way of communicating. People understood the message and acted accordingly. In other situations, this method might not have worked at all. This is an example of a one-way communication. Usually when I think of communication, I often think of it as a conversation between two or more people.

Different ways of communication

Communication can mean several things. I associate it with some kind of movement. I can travel between different destinations, but it can also be a delivery of a message from a sender to one or more receivers. When I think about the need for communication, it’s more about a mutual exchange between several parties. It’s not just about a sender and a receiver. It’s an interaction where we share and create meaning and a common reality together.

The need for communication can be met in different ways. The most obvious to me is when we use our speech. The easiest is of course when we share a common language. But we also communicate in other ways: through sounds, gestures, body language and facial expressions. Of the above ways, language is perhaps the most conscious level. But although we don’t communicate so consciously using the other ways, their importance in the process of making ourselves understood is undeniable.

The lack of communication

There can be lots of talking without actual communication. People open their mouths and words that form sentences come out. The next person who continues does not really answer, but talks based on their own agenda. There is no real communication and the conversation falls flat to the ground without real contact occurring. For me communication is connected to an exchange of what’s alive in us, whichever expressions it takes.

Cultural differences

The way we communicate differs in many ways – not only on the interpersonal level but also on the cultural one. In more individualistic cultures, like Sweden (where I live), we have a more direct communication. In her book “The Culture Map”, Erin Meyer describes this way of communicating as “low-context”. It is clear and unambiguous and we do not need to interpret what is said. When we say “yes” or “no”, we often mean “yes” or “no”.

In more collectivist cultures, communication takes place more indirectly. It’s about being able to read between the lines. In a common culture with a shared long history, a way of communicating has grown that Meyer calls “high-context”. Of course, cultures differ in various ways. But in many of these cultures, it might be rude to simply say “no”. Therefore, people answer “yes” in a way that a member of the same culture understands to interpret as a “no”.

Effective communication

All cultures have different ways of communicating, but one way is not better than the other. What works great in one culture may not work in another. When people from different cultures are to collaborate, it is therefore most effective to use a more low-context way of communicating. In that way, communication becomes clearer and misunderstandings are more easily avoided.

According to Meyer, the USA is the most low-context culture on the planet. It’s a relatively new nation populated by people originating from cultures from all over the world. A straightforward way of communication ensures clear communication between people. NVC was created by Marshall Rosenberg and is characterised by a low-context way of communicating. As I described above, it is a way that works quite well in many Western individualistic cultures.

Limitations of NVC

If we want to use NVC for contact-building, we need to adapt our communication to the person we are talking to. In a conversation with people from a more collectivist culture, the four components of NVC – observation, feelings, needs and requests – may be too direct. We therefore need to match our communication and use our creativity depending on who we want to connect with.

Communication is the way we create connections between each other. Misunderstandings and lack of communication can create conflict and violence between people. To develop our skills to communicate is a way to build a more sustainable future for us as a species.

How do you use communication to connect with people?

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Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)

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On 1 October at 20:00-20:45 CEST, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Jim Manske. We will talk about the need for communication.

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