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Mediation and Non-Violent Communication

Susan M. Yates, July 5th, 2012

As a mediator who likes to think that I help parties understand and work with their emotions and their underlying needs and interests, the training I attended last month on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) was fascinating. They say it can take three years to really understand how to incorporate NVC fully into your life, and I don’t profess to really understand NVC after one weekend, but this introduction was fascinating. This introductory seminar didn’t address how to mediate in the light of NVC, but it left me reflecting on how that might happen.

NVC sees emotions as pathways to understanding the needs of human beings. “Needs” in NVC mean those deep, underlying needs that drive humankind. It means needs like love, connection, meaning, safety and creativity.

For example, in a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute about parties at night, as a mediator I might identify and articulate one neighbor’s anger and need for quiet so she can get enough sleep to get to work on time. I think an NVC practitioner might go deeper into what need is being met by her work. Does her work meet the physical needs of food and shelter? Does it meet her need for meaning and fulfillment because of what her job is? Does it meet her need for autonomy because she earns money so she can live on her own? From the NVC point of view, needs do not conflict. There can be conflicts between one person’s strategies for meeting their needs and another person’s strategies for meeting their needs, but the underlying needs themselves do not conflict. I must say, I am still sorting that one out, but there is something that rings true about that.

One other thing I learned about NVC is that it starts by going inside and really understanding your own feelings and needs before you start trying to use it with anyone else. Considering how often we mediators joke about how many of us are conflict-averse, I see real wisdom in learning to understand our own feelings and what they tell us about our needs… maybe even what needs are being met by mediating!

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