Peggy Speaks Logo, text only
Group of coworkers talking

Communicating to Connect

The way we communicate can make or break any situation. It can bring people together or tear them apart. It can build people up, or beat them down. It can elicit coming together in love, or breaking into battle. As the saying goes, “it’s not what, it’s how.”

Communication is primarily expressed through the words we speak. Yet, so much more is shared through our choice of words, as well as the volume and tone of voice with which we deliver those words. We communicate also through writing. As with speaking, we communicate with more than just our written words. We also communicate visually – through layout, font type and size, the use of color, space and images.

Researchers noted in the 1960s that humans communicate 93 percent more with their body language then they do with their verbal or written words.[1] Our hands, gestures, facial expressions and even proximity to another’s “space” communicates volumes. Additional non-verbal communication is shared through eye contact, our clothing, our energy, posture, and even our choice to be silent.

Becoming mindful of the impact of all these different levels of communication is a major key in one’s ability to get along with others, and to work well with them. Recognizing our individual communication skills and how these impact others can also be helpful when trying to get our needs met so that we can do our best work, and bring out the best in others.

Often bringing out the best in others comes from creating a communications bridge between ourselves and others. In other words, we express ourselves so we can become known by another.

In the middle of the word communicate are the letters UNI, which means to unite. When we commUNIcate, we create UNIty. The more effectively we communicate, the more successfully we can build (or rebuild) a sense of connection with others.

As I mentioned earlier, experiencing a sense of connection, or unity, is the icing on the cake of life. Not only do we treasure moments of unity, feeling deeply connected to another, life, nature, the universe or God, but feeling connected is also a universal need. It’s at the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I think we’d all agree that moments of true connection are truly priceless!

Because the way we communicate can be so impactful, both on the negative and positive side, bringing people together, or pitting them against one another, it’s important to take a look at the purpose of communication. It’s also important that we look at the choices we make with our communications to bring about the results that we want.

In a diverse community or organization, there are many ways of communicating, based on differing ideas, and many needs to meet. As we know from our own experiences, in all life situations, one of the things people most often communicate about is getting their needs met. Since getting our needs met is what makes us happy, and happy workers do their best work, it seems sensible to look at some of the communication forms that can help people best get their needs met.

I’ve been a long proponent of Marshall Rosenberg’s teaching on nonviolent communication (NVC). It’s brilliant not only because it’s simple, but also because it’s so incredibly effective.

[1] Verbal versus Non-Verbal Communication|Businesstopia:

The NVC Model

Here’s a brief explanation of this innovative, powerful, but gentle communication model that provides a technology for increasing peace in our world. NVC is often referred to as the “language of the heart”, as it awakens empathy and honesty. It can help minimize conflict, increase understanding, and maximize social accord in any relationship or group. NVC also increases our chances of getting what we want by guiding us to express ourselves in ways that elicit cooperation rather than combat.

The process of NVC encourages us to be mindful, attentive—to what we say, how we say it, and to how we listen. It helps us communicate about what is really happening and what’s important. And since we have already learned to listen to our heart, it supports us in honest communication, that is, omitting words, tone of voice and behaviors that cause others to go into a defensive stance.

The real nuts and bolts of NVC are the shiftings of our focus off the “stuff” or the “story” on the surface. It brings our focus to the needs that are not being met (usually deep down inside the problem. These are most usually not the basic needs like food and air, rather those social needs such as respect, freedom, kindness, self-expression.

When social or even professional needs are expressed without aggression, the listener often recognizes the other’s humanity. Suddenly, instead of contention, there comes the thought, “Hey, this person needs the same things I need.”

Once the common ground is experienced, typically, the doors of cooperation open rather than close. NVC is a powerful tool to for opening doors, and creating unity amidst diversity.

There are two sides of the NVC model: the listener, who practices empathic listening, and the speaker, who honestly expresses him or herself, calmly and clearly. When each person speaks, they utilize a four-step process where they succinctly describe their observations, feelings, needs, and requests.

NVC is effective even when only one person in a conversation is using it but it is certainly more effective when both parties use these simple guidelines.

Here’s How It Works:

  1. Make an agreement about which person will speak first. The speaker is advised to take a few deep breathes before talking to help calm any emotions. Begin speaking in a clear and audible voice, a peaceful tone, and using short, succinct statements. Speak in “I” statements (“When I saw.”, “When I heard…”) when describing what you (the speaker) have observed.

In sharing your observation, you speak about what you observed as if the event were recorded on a video or audio tape. For example, you might say, “I saw you come in the door and drop your coat on the floor,” or “I overheard you tell Dan that you are going to fire me at the end of the month.” Omit embellishing the observation  with what you felt, or with conjecture, assumptions, or judgments about the situation. Omit name calling! For example, you would not say, “He’s such a slob!” or “You are always leaving a mess around here!” or “I can’t believe you’re going to fire me!”

Once you have calmly stated your observation, what you saw or heard as if recorded, ask the listener to repeat back to you what they heard you say in order to confirm that they understood you correctly. If their response is inaccurate, simply explain your observation once again, without annoyance or impatience. Then ask them to repeat it again. Continue clarifying until they repeat it correctly. Then you are ready to move on to the next step of the NVC model: feelings.

  • The speaker now begins sharing the feelings* that arose in response to the observed event. For example, “When I saw you come in the door and drop your coat on the floor, I felt frustrated and disrespected.” Here you want to stick with feelings that are actual somatic sensations, such as feelings of fear, hurt, or hopelessness.

It’s best to omit speaking of feelings that attack, accuse or shame anyone, such as “When I saw you walk in the door and drop your coat on the floor I felt like smacking you.” Once they have repeated your feelings, you can move to the third step: needs.*

  • Sharing your need with the listener is where the real magic of NVC takes place, precisely because needs are universal. Even if the listener is not feeling the need for food or respect in this moment, they know the experience of such needs. They can relate to it. So, the sooner we get off our “story” and share what we really need, the sooner any discord will end. An example of sharing a need: “What I need is order in our shared space.” Or, “I need is to know whether it’s true that you are planning to fire me soon.”
  • Once you have shared your need and your NVC partner has repeated it to you, you can move to the forth step: making a request. Requests work best when they are realistic and clear, such as “I request that you hang up or put away your things when you come home.” Or perhaps, “I’d like you to lower my pay rather than fire me. Can that be worked out?”

Requests work well when they are clear. If they are ambiguous and non-specific, such as “I request that you always keep this place tidy.” The term “always” is first and foremost impractical. (Never say “never” and never say “always” because things change.) More importantly, the term “tidy” is not really clear. “Tidy” may mean something very different to you than to your housemate. You must negotiate the request.

When you reach a mutual agreement, you will have completed the NVC model of communication.


You have just gotten through a conflict without creating more hurt or violence on the planet, in your home, or in the workplace. Really, this is something to celebrate!

While in the NVC process, remember– listening is just as important, if not more so, than speaking. When the other person begins to speak, listen closely; really pay attention, so you can fully understand their point of view and repeat it. Listen with empathy—open your heart and your mind; enter their world for a moment. Imagine what it is like being them. How does it feel to have their experience?

This imaginal exercise will give you great insight into their reality, which is the material that creates bridges. Listen to their observations, to what and how they perceive their situation. Listen to their feelings without defense or excuses. Listen to what they really need. And listen carefully to what they are asking for. Negotiate your requests until a mutual agreement is found and stated.

As you practice NVC over time, you will increase your ability to express your feelings and needs without hostility or vengeance, without accusing, shaming, or blaming. This will help minimize defensive reactions in others and disruptions in the environment. NVC skills will help you make clear requests, all of which supports you in getting what you want, whether that’s more respect, more money, or more room to move…

Developing these skills will also help you hear critical and hostile messages without taking them personally, giving in, or losing self-esteem. This growing capacity is very useful for teaming with your coworkers, supervisors, family members, and friends. These skills can also be beneficial when dealing with your own internal dialogues, helping you to increase positive and supportive messages to yourself.

Hopefully it is obvious that NVC is a clear and effective model for communicating in a way that is cooperative, conscious, and compassionate. Like any skill, you must practice it to get better.

Try it at home tonight with a family member or special friend. Speak about your observations without blaming. Share with them your feelings, whether you are hurt or scared. Reveal what you are really needing. (This is the hardest part, because it is the most vulnerable place. And this is where the magic rests – where the differences transform into unity … because, after all, we still need the same things: love, kindness, care, respect…)

Ask politely for what you want from your “co-communicator.” This puts all the cards on the table. Your communications parter should be as clear as you are about what you feel, need, and want. They have entered your inner world, where empathy naturally blossoms, just like flowers in the sun.

Using the NVC model, it is very easy to become a “happy” worker! You now have a way to communicate and negotiate your needs in a way that everyone can succeed! Each person comes to understand with ease that even though we’re all different on the surface, deep down we all have the same needs.

When a commonality is established, we experience a connection. Grounded in unity, we can truly enjoy all the “spices,” all the differences, in any group. So practice NVC daily! Integrate this simple technique into your communications with others, and watch your relationships heal, flourish, and grow.