Got Stuck using NVC to Restore a Conversation?

Harmony can be a temporary position and my aim is to walk towards it in a way that opens doors to more needs being met.

I always hold that a shift in a conflict finds us when using Nonviolent Communication (NVC), rather than us searching for it. I find that surprising, magical and beautiful. One minute it looks like there is no solution or harmony on the horizon, the next moment “Hey Presto”: Both people (or all of the group, if it is a group mediation) are actually happier than they were with their original prefered solution. This article is for those who understand the NVC resolution process, and haven’t yet got to that shift.

If you have written down and heard the important feelings and needs on both sides, brainstormed with ideas flowing but there is no obvious shift or strategies that work for everyone, one or more of the following could be happening/needed:

1. Checking Needs and Feelings

If you cannot find at least 10 ideas (they don’t have to all fit, but they will flow in a creative manner), there is very likely to be an important need on one side or the other (or both) missed out, or not really acknowledged.

  • It could be that that important need is “under” another need, and teasing out the identified needs, longings, and values may help.
A man is standing on an empty road with countryside around and hills ahead. He is lost.
Do you feel lost?

Here are some examples, but it is not limited to these: under “happiness” could be a need for inclusion or fulfilment, not just joy. Or under “my needs matter” can be a need for support or clarity (or vice versa). If this happens to you, do share your examples below to help others.

Any of our values or longings can be hiding under others, so curiosity and more info can be helpful. Then, pay attention to what is precious to you or the other.

  • Another thing that could be blocking it is if a strategy is disguised as a need. To check, ask if the need is attached to a certain person or group. If it is, then it is a strategy because needs are universal and abstract.
  • If you think that someone’s feelings haven’t really had the chance to be fully expressed, may be that step needs repeating, and longer spent with those feelings and where they lead to.
  • A need that is often useful to connect to and can be forgotten, is mourning. Mourning the fact that our need(s) are not met with the current strategy, with no blame, may help. Or mourning something else about the topic.

We all have a need for mourning when needs are not met, yet in our battle to meet those needs we may forget. This doesn’t mean that the needs are given up on (I really don’t want people to push their needs down and I encourage people to hold on tightly to their needs, and loosely to their strategies). Ask yourselves if there is something you need to mourn.

Sometimes we need empathy before we can really hear what is going on for the other. Once we have empathy, we are ready to get onto the “peace bus”.

2. More Empathy

If a solution or shift (solutions aren’t always needed to get needs met) isn’t appearing, it may be that there is a deeper seated issue here and more empathy is needed for one or both parties. However, do thoroughly check the Needs section above. Often in my work (because people don’t call me in until things have got bad enough that they need outside help) extra empathy is needed for one or both parties. Marshall Rosenberg says that once people have heard each other’s needs, then the solution usually comes in less than 15 mins. However, it can take a long time to get the needs identified and heard, and empathy is often what takes up the time.

3. Care of Physical Needs

A break, protein snack, rest, different activity or some exercise is needed first.

4. Trust building

When there is a lack of trust in the process or those involved, that needs to be addressed first. I suggest finding some examples of where it has worked. There are links to videos that might help with this.

There is a lack of trust in the process, that needs to be addressed first. I suggest finding some examples of where it has worked. There are links to videos that might help with this.

A spiral staircase, photographed from the top. It is a confusing image to understand what is going on, as the concentric circle gets smaller and smaller as it goes down.
Sometimes we are confused and cannot grasp what is going on for us easily. This is a confusing image of a staircase.

5. Healing

If neither party is finding it easy to meet their own needs already or to find help to meet those needs may be you or they are confused about what is going on at a deeper level? Some healing or clarity may be needed to make a difference. You could ask an NVC friend/empathy buddy to offer active listening, empathy and compassion to one or other in the conflict. Or you can have a series of sessions with me if you think the issue is deeper.

6. Third Person Facilitating.

This could be a friend who has some NVC skills, or you might want to call me in for Loving Mediation.

I would love to hear from you where you have got stuck, or how this article has helped you. If you are happy to share publically, please write a comment below and others can benefit too.

Sarah Sims Williams BSc (Hons) Psychology, Counselling & Communication Level 2, NVC IIT Certificate.

I have been practising NVC since 2008 and sharing since 2010. I am an un-Certified member of, & a member of the UK organisation: NVC Matters.

Escape Your Chains guides clients to getting more of what they want, to be freer. We predominantly use a tool called Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

Many words are violent, and people don’t realise how much freedom they lose by the language we all use. Take “should” – it is one of the most violent words in the dictionary according to Marshall Rosenberg who developed NVC. You may not notice you are thinking in shoulds, or may suppress them because you don’t know how to translate them – feel free to ask us in the comments.

If you want to know more about what we offer, check out more info & articles, read posts on our Facebook page or contact us here.

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