How to Ease Conflict at Work with Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

Talking with a co-worker about something that’s bugging you can be uncomfortable. Using this four-part Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process can help. It clears up about 80% of the conflicts at work.

The process was developed by Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication. There’s a lot of complexity to NVC, but I find that using these four simple elements usually does the trick:

  1. State the facts
  2. Express how you feel
  3. Share your needs or values
  4. Make a request

Here’s how it works:

Let’s say Patrice consistently receives emails from her co-worker, Nina, on the weekend. She feels uncomfortable bringing it up with Nina because she doesn’t want her to feel criticized, or for Nina to think Patrice is a slacker for not working on the weekend too.

Luckily, Patrice recently learned about NVC, so she asks Nina if they can meet for coffee outside of the office to talk. Once they’re settled in, Patrice begins by stating the facts:

When I receive emails from you on the weekend . . .

The beauty of starting this way is that Patrice’s language is neutral and contains no judgment. There’s nothing to debate. She’s definitely receiving emails from Nina on the weekend.

She then tells Nina how she feels:

I feel like I’m expected to reply right away, and like a slacker because I’m not working on the weekend too.

She shares her needs and values:

Because spending time with my family on the weekend is really important to me, I don’t bring work home. 

By sharing her feelings, values and what she needs, Patrice has made herself vulnerable with Nina, which can create connection and trust.

She finishes up by making her request:

Would you be willing to not email me on the weekends?

Because Patrice was vulnerable and made a request, rather than being critical and judgmental, Nina probably won’t be upset or offended. Most likely, she will say yes to the request as is, or after some minor negotiating.

For example, Nina might say that she never meant for Patrice to reply to her emails on the weekend. She works on the weekend because she has to leave early most days to pick up her daughter from school. She uses the weekends to catch up.

Nina might explain that she feels anxious about not having a way to contact Patrice on the weekend during an emergency because she needs to be able to deliver the level of service their clients expect. She requests that she can send Patrice a text in case of an emergency.

Now that Nina and Patrice understand each other’s needs, they’re in the right conversation and can find a solution. They agree that Patrice will not reply to Nina’s emails on the weekend and that if there is an urgent situation, Nina will text her and Patrice will respond.

This kind of communication can seem mechanistic at first, and that’s OK. It will get smoother and easier as you practice. When I work with clients who are experiencing conflict at work, I suggest that they fill out a worksheet that outlines these four elements to help them prepare for the conversation.

We’re human beings first and the roles we play at work second. It doesn’t matter what our titles are. We’re all capable of connecting as humans. When you hold back and don’t tell your colleagues the truth because you are afraid, you end up feeling horrible and the organization loses your full commitment to its mission. Bringing NVC into your workplace can give you and your co-workers permission to express your needs, and make communication agreements that work!

Try This

  • Ask someone you are having an issue with at work if you can have a short meeting outside of the office, or somewhere you won’t be interrupted.
  • Download a free PDF of the Nonviolent Communication Worksheet.
  • Complete the worksheet before the meeting to help you clarify your facts, feelings, needs/values and request.
  • Talk with your co-worker.
  • Let me know how it goes in the comments below, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, or via email.

In a couple weeks, we’ll be talking about “Listening: The Most Powerful Tool to End Workplace Conflict.” Join our list, so you don’t miss it!

Onward and keep tapping your talent,




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