News & Articles

Do NVC & Right Speech correlate with each other?

Do NVC & Right Speech correlate with each other?
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Right Speech (Buddhist Eight Fold Path)

NVC practitioners might have negative reactions at hearing the words “Right Speech.” Nonviolent Communication (NVC) was developed by Marshall Rosenberg during the civil rights era. The purpose of NVC is to express honestly and to hear empathetically.  Generally, non-judgmental listening and speaking is the foundation of NVC. Using words such as right and wrong can sound (as well as be) judgmental and can become problematic in NVC groups.

Right Speech is a Buddhist term for the first component of the Morality Aspect of The Noble Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s prescription of awakening and the realization of happiness (ending suffering).  Right Speech is part of the morality (or ethics) of Buddhism, which includes Right Speech, Right Action and Right Lively-hood.

Several years ago I met my teacher Donald Rothberg (insight meditation teacher at Spirit Rock). I introduced myself as an NVC Trainer.  His response to my announcement was: “Yes, NVC is a subset of Buddhism”.  I wasn’t sure how to take his statement in; I had never thought of NVC in those terms. Marshall Rosenberg did write and say that there was nothing new about NVC.   Donald continued to tell me about how he and an NVC Trainer were teaching retreats together. I became curious about how these two teachings connected and might work together.

It wasn’t long before I talked to my teacher and friend, Robert Brumet, to investigate how we might teach these two practices together. During our first retreat, I was amazed at how quickly the participants integrated the complexity of NVC. I had not experienced that ease of learning during any NVC training I had attended, whether they were lead by Marshall himself, other trainers or myself. Marshall Rosenberg himself said: “NVC is rocket science,” and can be quite complex for several reasons. And, there was something significant that the meditation practice added to facilitate learning NVC that was very exciting to me. I wanted more of this kind of learning environment.

Many times I have said: “NVC used for any purpose or intention other than connection can easily become icky and nasty.” I personally have experienced NVC group sessions and interactions that were far from what I would consider having the intention of connection.  I myself in hindsight have realized that I had used the NVC formulas in an attempt to protect myself, leaving me very unsatisfied as well as hearing from the other individual how dissatisfied they were with our conversation.

Jim Forest, a longtime nonviolent organizer and writer announced: “Now I know why the peace movement exists. The purpose is to take the angriest people in the world and keep them out of the military.” Have you experienced this: People who desperately desire to make the world a better place, yet they seem so angry and they fight so hard that their words and actions fall short?

I myself sat in an NVC group where finding agreement over whether to have the temperature set at 72 degrees or 73 degrees was not only impossible, it actually created fractions within the group. It seemed that no one was happy or satisfied.

Words radiate power.  Packed within them are the potential for benefit and the potential for harm.  They can be used to build up or tear down, heal or wound, create safety or chaos. (Mapping the Dharma, by Paul Gerhards)

At the same time, I have meditated with many individuals and groups, and have found that I longed for more connection and camaraderie.

Below is an outline of the Right Speech aspect of Buddhism as well as NVC”

Buddhism seems to provide the ethics for our communication:





Nonviolent Communication provides the “how to” of compassionate communication:

            Expressing Honestly – Hearing Empathetically

                  Observation vs. Evaluation

                   Feelings vs. Thinking

                   Needs vs. Strategy

                   Requests vs. Demands

While we were planning our first retreat together, Robert and I decided to include Insight Dialogue developed by Greg Kramer. Insight Dialogue has proven to be a marvelous transition from meditation to conversation.

Below is an outline of Insight Dialogue, developed by Greg Kramer. This format obviously includes both Right Speech and NVC.

            Pause, Relax, Open

           Trust Emergence

           Listen Deeply & Tell the Truth

In the last year, I have attended and facilitated several insight dialogue retreats and workshops. Never have I felt more comfortably connected to the other participants as when practicing Insight Dialogue. Some retreats were with strangers, and some with groups that I have been a part of for years. The result was the same – bare connection. Other participants with me in these groups expressed the same sentiment.

Next month I will dig deeper into these two teachings to investigate the possibilities for greater awareness and connection.

Until next time,

Blessings, Love and Peace Matters,


Add a Comment