Inclusive communication

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) has been creeping into my life since Hava Jonai gave me the books in my only day in Budapest, in 2003. NVC is a technique that has helped me and others solve blocks in our lives that previously might have made me think “I’ve done my best. That’s it, there’s nothing else I can do”; the trick is simple, effective communication.

When Hava first talked about NVC, I saw it might be a tool for progress in resolving disability issues; 4 years later I’ve been requested to explain how I see the connection. Thanks Volkan (EU Youth Training Course, Ankara Feb.2008).
The exclusion of disabled people is a form of violence, as their needs are not understood, and their existence as individuals capable of contributing and taking responsibility is denied. Society tends to design systems for standard stereotype people. Others are then classified as The Blind, The Mentally Retarded. Though those of us who do not fit the Standard Systems may share common experiences of exclusion, our needs will vary. Through NVC unseen, hidden factors are brought to the surface.

In NVC, we learn to listen, to hear, to understand things that at first we couldn’t notice or feel.

We learn to express what earlier couldn’t be described, feelings that were so deep down they were an uncomfortable unconscious part, like a kidney stone that causes no sharp pain but just weakens our daily strength and concentration.

We learn together to sense limits and sensitivities, to understand the needs and ways of doing/being of others and ourselves.


The relevance of NVC to the Social Model of Disability is clear in Marshall Rosenberg’s account of his interaction with people with mental health issues. In Non-Violent Communication, a Language of Life (2nd edition, 2003), p.175-179, he demonstrates how patients can be empowered to express their needs and views.

Listening to people subjected to clinical diagnosis, M.Rosenberg contrasts their language with the inaccessible clinical terminology used by experts to reach a diagnosis (which may not in practice bring benefit to the person diagnosed).  Not only is the unknown terminology alienating, putting a distance between doctor and patient, but also the focus on diagnosing, categorising and classifying is a judgement of a situation, where the person concerned is the object of the discussion, not involved but judgementally observed.  Both language and attitude reinforce the emotional distance between the diagnoser and the diagnosed.  By bringing authenticity into this relationship, NVC can enable the clinical specialist to empathise with feelings and needs, and thus gain trust, rather than interpreting words, and intellectually analyzing them in terms of psychological dynamics: when the clinician is ‘connected to the life in the patient and in themself, people resond positively’.

NVC also helps understand certain ‘justifications’ commonly given to show why disabled people cannot be normal. Quotes from Denial of Responsibility (p.20) are followed within brackets by examples of certain typical responses in the current Turkish contexy, and English translation:

“We deny responsibility for our actions when we attribute their cause to:

  • Vague impersonal forces (Allah’in emri, Allah’s order)
  • Our condition, diagnosis, personal and psychological history (sakatim, I am crippled)
  • The action of others (Doktorun hatasi, The doctor’s mistake)
  • The dictates of authority (Korler okuluna gonderdiler, They sent me to the school for the blind)
  • Group pressure (Baston kullansam beni kor oldugumu bilirler, If I use my cane, others will know I am blind)
  • Institutional policies, rules and regulations (4 dersten daha az alamam, I have to take a minimum of 4 courses per semester)
  • Gender roles, social roles and age roles (Evlenmem gerek, I have to marry)
  • Uncontrollable impulses (Sigara icmem gerek, I must have a cigarette)”

NVC allows us to work around and through exclusion, as we take control rather than blaming something/someone outside me, and learn to live with our own opportunities and choices. By focussing on resolving specific situations, small experiences of ‘being in control’ having choice and taking responsibility in manageable situations, one takes small steps towards ambitious distant goals: It is easy to dream of being on top of the mountain, but how can we take the first steps at the start of the journey? How can we pace ourselves, saving precious energy (physical or emotional) to be able to keep going during the long long journey?

How does one find paths to fulfil one’s own potential?       By understanding

  • how others control me,
  • how I let others control me,
  • how I cause others to control me,
  • how (and why) I might be controlling others…

When we learn to listen to what others are trying to say, and when we work together, complementing each other and benefiting from the union, we can become freer, because negative, undermining, competitive or disparaging comments (from people who would rather see you fail than do something they can’t do) no longer threaten us.

NVC gives a way to discuss taboos, difficult things, hidden even from my own consciousness. The rules of NVC create a safe environment, so each can learn to explore themself, and find their ‘comfort zones’. Later, when sure I am in control and making a conscious decision, I can choose what I might try next, and under what conditions. NVC shows a way out of negative emotional entanglements, beyond spontaneous emotional reactions to superficial appearance and unfounded assumptions: these bind us like the thinnest spider silk traps its stunned prey. NVC guides us to higher levels of awareness, where higher reason overrides basic instincts. Exclusion and discrimination operate at the lower levels; inclusion happens when the is awareness of attitudes and assumptions, with understanding of rights and responsibilities, and of what I can do and what I can ask others to do.
I began working with disabled students at the Middle East Technical Univesity in 1996, looking for ways to understand what was needed, and how to develop suitable conditions. I believed that disabled students could succeed, and that they would know better than anyone else what solutions could suit them. We then needed to communicate with those able to provide/ implement alternative formats. so that students made reasonable requests.

Only years later did I realise that I had sub-concsiously been using a form of NVC, trying to understand what students needed to express, before having the skills to clearly say what they needed. Together we looked for the right words, we shared deep frustration, and later celebrated successes. The “Attitudes and Behaviour” activity of our “Engelsiz Bilinc Egitimi” disability awareness training (that we developed together) is based on the discussion of specific statements made by disabled learners; participants attempt to understand what event generated the comment, and empathise with what was needed. This works both with non-disabled people empathising wih a disabled student, class mate, child, and also with a disabled person who is having difficulty accepting their circumstances: they might not be able to say “I …”, but can empathise with the anonymous person whose “Don’t ignore me” is waiting to be positively re-worded.
The 4 components of NVC are:

1. observation,

2. feeling,

3. needs,

and 4. request.

It’s not that complicated. The difficult part is controlling our own mind, holding back reflexes developed over the years.

For more detail