A hidden treasure of NVC

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) teaches that using needs often leads to a better understanding, shared reality and thereby a more harmonious connection between people. The main reason that needs have this power is that every human being has the same needs and can therefore accept with more ease, that someone else expresses their needs and/or ‘need’ them to be fulfilled. One of the main thought lines of NVC is that there’s never a conflict between needs and conflict only arises about the ‘strategies’ people use to fulfil their needs.

I fully agree with this thought line. I’ve seen many situations both in my personal and professional life where the difference in strategy was the source of long discussion and changing the focus to needs helped to find a way out. This however does not mean that strategies should be avoided at all times. I found that strategies are amongst the most powerful sources to create a better world both for me and others. Understanding their power and how to use strategies may help you to improve both your life and the lives of others.

Finding your needs

When I ask someone, what she/he needs, the reply is often words like ‘Home’, ‘Partner’, ‘Friends’, ‘Work’ and ‘Money’. Based on what I’ve learned in NVC, I would call these strategies and therefore not needs. They do however give me a lot of information which needs might be involved. Which needs would you connect to ‘work’ or ‘friends’? I’m pretty sure that you would guess the needs for connection and belonging when people say ‘friends’ and ‘partners’. And probably guess words like certainty, sustainability and meaning when people say ’work’ and ’money’.

About 15 years ago I noticed that I had made a small (inner) list of needs connected to certain strategies. When listening to someone, the ping-need was not always the first need on that list, but it was almost always one of the words. So if for someone ‘work’ was not very important for certainty and meaning, I would often notice a strong reaction when I suggested the word ‘belonging’. Strategies helped me to find needs for myself and the people I listened to.

Understanding others

I found a new set of strategies when V. wanted to make a tool for parents. She collected a set of strategies that (younger) children often have and their parents find ‘difficult’ to accept. ‘I only want this toy’ or ‘I want all my toys and don’t want to share’. Children are often much clearer in what they want and at the same time, adults often find it more difficult to accept these wishes or even ‘play’ with these wishes.

Together with V. and some other colleagues, we changed these examples into some more general ‘strategies’ like ‘Now’, ‘Here’, ‘Together’. We also made a list of needs that could be connected to these strategies. The ‘demands’ that many parents experience, when they listen to the strategies of their children, suddenly became softer. It’s much easier to ‘understand’ others and accept their choices and wishes when we can see some of the possible needs behind it, even when these strategies are not pleasant for us. And here too, the needs involved were almost always amongst the needs on the lists we connected to the strategies.

Fulfilling needs

Strategies fulfil needs. Whereas people may disagree about which strategy to use, they agree that a strategy and action are needed to fulfil needs. If you want to fulfil your need for meaning, you need to do something. This can be changing the way you look at things. It can be doing some concrete action. There are many possible strategies. In order to improve our life and the lives of others we constantly use strategies, starting at the physical level where we breathe in and breathe out until more elaborate strategies where we make plans to create a better world and even put them into action.

Once you’ve found which needs want to be fulfilled at a higher level, the next step is to find a strategy to change your needs from unfulfilled into sufficiently fulfilled or even into abundantly fulfilled. And here again, it helps to know which strategies are available and which can be used to fulfil which needs. If you want belonging, you could use strategies like ‘friends’ and ‘family’. Still, if that doesn’t work, it helps to know that ‘sport’, ‘nature’ and ‘work’ can also work.

Strategy Cards

Based on the insights described above I’ve developed a tool called ‘Strategy Cards’. The first time I used it in a workshop, people picked a card of a strategy that did not give them the results they wanted. Turns out people wanted to talk about the things that don’t work in their lives and strategies gave them a good starting point.

In another workshop, I focused on finding strategies. With the first set of strategies, they were able to find new fields to look for strategies. With the second set of strategies (that came from the wishes of children), they were able to make their strategy more precise. Choosing between ‘together’ and ‘alone’ and ‘here’ or ’there’ gave them clarity on how to find an effective and sustainable strategy.

Wishes or strategies

Having different strategies can be a source of conflict. This changes when we can see strategies as a sign that someone is trying to fulfil their needs. Use the strategies to find both your needs and the needs of others and then try to find which strategy can fulfil all needs involved. Conflicts don’t arise from different strategies, but from wanting to hold on to these strategies.

In the last few years I’ve started to use the word ‘wish’ instead of strategies. To me, it expresses that I think that a certain strategy would fulfil my needs AND that I’m open to finding another strategy. I wish to go for a walk with you. I wish to eat pizza tonight. And when we gather all the wishes and the needs behind it, I’m sure we will find a strategy, that everybody is willing to put into action.

Author: Hugo Roele

Empathic Way Europe is hosting two events with Hugo Roele:

If you want to learn more about Hugo and his work you can participate in a FREE webinar, The Power of Presence, 23 May 2023, 19:00-20:30 CEST/Berlin time.

You can also participate in Hugo’s online workshop, Listening with Needs, between 6-27 June 2023.

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