Using Nonviolent Communication in the Workplace

Manager and workers communicating in the workplace

It might seem obvious, but there is no place in the workplace for violent communication. Nonviolent communication involves more than simply not being violent, however. Let’s take a look at what nonviolent communication in the workplace encompasses and how we, as leaders, can create the kind of environment we want for our organization.

Nonviolent Communication

Some people believe that being violent has to involve actual physical altercations; they do not understand that the way they communicate can be viewed as hostile or violent. Heated situations can cause someone to lead from a place of fear or insecurity, which means they are more likely to participate in violent communication. Our use – or abuse – of words can be informative, constructive, and transformative or critical, negative, and destructive. We alone decide which way we choose to communicate.

Nonviolent communication replaces defensive and aggressive behavior with compassion and empathy and emphasizes awareness and responsibility. It facilitates peaceful communication and allows for effectively resolving conflicts. By creating a safe space for employees to come forward – a place where disputes will be heard and judgement suspended – leaders can construct a firm foundation on which open and honest communication can be built.

How Leadership Can Support Nonviolent Communication

In order to support nonviolent communication, managers must start by modeling the behavior they expect from their workers. When employees feel valued and supported, their productivity increases and they tend to more effectively achieve their personal and professional goals; they are happier and have more self-confidence. This attitude and behavior adds to the company’s bottom line.

Because every company’s fate depends on the ability of leadership and their teams to communicate clearly and constructively, using nonviolent communication in the workplace is integral to a company’s success. Employing nonviolent communication can decrease the probability of conflicts and can stop conflict before it begins to escalate. Here are three ways to accomplish nonviolent communication:

Observe rather than judge

When observation happens instead of judgment, we don’t presume to know an individual’s reasoning behind their behavior. In other words, we observe behavior, such as when an employee is late to a meeting. We may then notice that employee is late to a lot of meetings. We can find ourselves drawn into violent communication, however, if we punish that person for having no respect for his colleagues because of his lateness, since that disrespect is essentially a judgment and not an actual observation.

Ask open-ended questions

Collaborative communication is another way of using nonviolent communication. Instead of asking team members if their work will be done by the end of the week (closed-ended question), ask them what they need to make their deadline (open-ended question). This gives workers the opportunity to express concerns or affirm that there are no problems.

A-E-I-O-U

The A-E-I-O-U model of managing conflict stands for:

Acknowledge: Announce that you know that the individual is trying to do something good/positive (e.g., don’t assume their lateness is a form of disrespect, as in the example above)

Express: Convey your specific concerns using “I” statements (“I feel …”)

Identify: Clearly define your objectives and recommendations (and then propose a solution by trying to build consensus)

Outcome: Outline the benefits of the solution(s) (ensure the benefits are mutual)

Understanding: Ask for feedback and work together to develop alternatives (this assumes that both sides mean well)

Develop and Inspire

Reducing conflict, creating more understanding, encouraging collaboration, inspiring trust, and building positive relationships are all actions great leaders can take to encourage nonviolent communication in the workplace. Ensuring every employee feels validated and supported doesn’t always come naturally, though. If you need help developing and inspiring your teams, I’d love to discuss how you can make that happen in your company.

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