In a video on YouTube, called Nonviolent Communication and Corporations, Dr Marshall Rosenberg talks specifically about how the old domination structure affects how businesses function. As he passed away, this is the closest I can get to sharing his teaching; I have transcribed his words to share how he thought about this topic – radically different to our usual way of thinking and very inspiring. In the first part, Marshall explains mainly about Nonviolent Communication and less about Corporations – although he refers to them as gangs, in the middle of this interview (if you want to skip to that part). I also like how he describes sticking to solely the profit motive may be life-alienating rather than life-serving for businesses.
Paula (Paula Gloria): In this show, we explore the limits and the potentials of human consciousness; maybe we can say the ‘unlimited-ness’. Today, we have a really special guest, Dr Marshall Rosenberg, who is the founder of a process called Nonviolent Communication. And I think, as we talk to Marshall Rosenberg, we’ll hear that indeed what we thought was limited in human ability to communicate, to share and to understand, is I feel with his method really unlimited. So, thank You, Marshall, for joining us.
Marshall: I’m very glad to.
Paula: How did you develop this process of Nonviolent Communication?
Marshall: Well, I started it by some questions that have been in me, deep in me, since I’ve been very young. My family moved to Detroit Michigan- just in time for the race riots of 1943. Thirty some people were killed in our neighbourhood in four days. We were locked in the house during that time, and this was a powerful learning experience for me as a young boy; that this is a world in which people may want to harm you for no reason other than your skin colour.
Shortly after I went to school, I found out that not only my skin colour could be a stimulus for violence, but my name could be a stimulus for violence. So that’s really what got me started in this work- just that consciousness that this is a world where people can want to hurt others for such reasons.
And that developed in me a deep interest as a boy. Why is this so? What happens to human beings that makes them so violent in regards to such things? And I was fortunate to see that of course; not everybody is this way. I saw people who were just the opposite- very compassionate, very loving.
So, I had in my consciousness as a boy growing up to learn about this. Why do some people respond compassionately to others and why are others so violent, so those questions got me started. I studied clinical psychology hoping that this would give me some insights into this but what I saw in clinical psychology was really a perpetuation of the violence. Because it was based on looking at people who behave in ways we don’t like as though there’s something wrong with them, as though they’re mentally ill and at that time I was starting to see that this was part of the problem. This kind of labelling of people, this kind of dehumanisation that comes through our language in which we think in terms of wrongness. So I then started to study people who were really living in a way that I valued, to try to see what contributed to their being able to stay compassionate even in the face of violence around them.
Paula: Can you give examples of some of those people?
Marshall: Well, in my book I mentioned one of them. I was very fortunate as a young boy to have an uncle who came to our house each evening and my grandmother was totally paralysed and was on a bed in the dining room. And each evening, he would come home from his hard work, he worked eight hours, and then he would come over to our house, and help my mother take care of my grandmother and the whole time he was taking care of her, he had the most wonderful smile on his face.
Well, whereas in the streets I saw the smile on the people’s faces who were beating me because I was Jewish and the observers watching it and enjoying it- I saw that kind of smile. And then I came into my house, and I saw the smile on the face of my uncle as he was taking care of my grandmother. And of course, I saw many such examples of people like my uncle that no matter what’s going on around them they got more pleasure out of contributing to people’s well-being than getting caught up in the violence.
Paula: Some people would say you create your reality. So, in a certain way, the fact that you were able to draw into your life more better examples than worse examples – it might have shaped your direction. Because you’re certainly not a wimp; you don’t avoid conflict or helping people who are not the benevolent “smilers” so to speak, you see the good in others?
Marshall: I like your concept that we create our reality but we got to, and I’m sure you’re aware that this can often be heard in a way that implies we’re blaming the victim for their conditions.
Paula: Oh, I agree with you.
Marshall: So, yes to a large degree how we look at things and how we behave creates our reality. But of course, we need to be conscious, that to a large degree, gangs create our reality. Some gangs call themselves gangs; some gangs call themselves multinational corporations, some gangs call themselves governments and these gangs create a lot of our reality.
Paula: But you’re not.. You’re not afraid of these gangs; you use Nonviolent communication to reach in and make your life more beautiful as a result of that reaching in.
Marshall:. Yes, one of one of the aspects of our training is not only to train people to be more compassionate to themselves and to be able to connect with others in a compassionate way. But to transform whatever structures are making it difficult to relate in a compassionate way. To transform the structures -the gangs as I’m calling them; to transform them, so they support people contributing to one another’s well-being rather than people competing with each other or dominating each other.
Paula: Well, many experts who have analysed the whole multinational corporate structure, you know, wind up giving data that’s very discouraging. It’s not like any one person’s trying to hurt things – but like there’s a momentum of the machinery that set up, that’s not helping people get the most of what they can with the planetary resources.
Marshall: If you see those structures and what power they have, and how many people support them, it certainly can be scary. Even if you’re as fortunate as I am to work in many countries with people who are banding together and getting things done, and transforming these structures, it’s very encouraging. Especially in the last few years, as more and more people become conscious of how these gangs function, and what we can do when we get together to transform them – it’s very encouraging.
Paula: So, you help these groups of people to communicate better and also can you give an example of how they can communicate with the corporations using your methods?
Marshall: Well, first of all, to get the access to the people who maintain the corporations is a very big step. So, our training shows people how to use our training, to get access to the people we need to communicate with.
Almost all of us know someone, who knows someone, who can get us in touch with the people we need to communicate with. But we need to communicate with these people; we need to communicate clearly what our life-serving vision is; we intend no destruction of corporations or structures. We want to transform them so that they serve life rather than whether wittingly or unwittingly oppress people.
So, our training can be shown in how you get this access to people in power positions. Part of our training shows once you have this precious time that they give you, how to make the best use of it- how not to get enemy images in the way so that they think that we are attacking them or accusing them. We want to use that precious time to really find a way to get their needs met, and our needs met.
Another thing- to get that done often requires a team effort. It’s not that easy for one person to go through all of the access getting that’s necessary, all of the communication that’s necessary. So what we need to do, is also use Nonviolent communication to organise a support team of people working together, but after we organise them most of the political teams that we see organised – they spend as much of their energy fighting within as putting energy outward to transform the structures.
So we show them how Nonviolent communication can be used to get our own group to deal with its conflicts in a way, that all of our energy doesn’t get burned out within, but we have energy left to now go and transform the structures.
Paula: I would imagine that some of these powerful individuals, probably mostly men who were running the corporations, some percentage of them do become interested from their side in your work, and probably ask you to bring this knowledge into their business?
Marshall: Well, we’re working within many businesses showing them how to look first at their vision. Is it really a life-serving vision or not? Or is it mainly basically making profit for a few stockholders? If so, everybody pays for it in that structure. So, we try to then help people see how to transform their vision to be a truly life-serving one. And yes, they are very interested in our training, once they see that we don’t have them locked into enemy images; and that we are not there wanting them to do anything, except look for other ways of getting their needs met, that meet ours as well.
Paula: Right. Can you explain a little bit what Nonviolent communication is because you mentioned even in our words, even in our language, it can be alienating, and we can view others… Blaming them, judging them and not allowing the goodness to come forth.
Marshall: What Nonviolent communication is, is really a synthesis, not only of communication but of intentionality- consciousness about how we choose to live. So Nonviolent communication begins with getting people clear of this consciousness; a life-serving consciousness that we call it. And then we show them, language that we think… Language and communication that we see serving… life-serving consciousness. And now, the process itself, the language and communication is remarkably simple.
Almost everybody who studies it says two things about it how simple it is; the next thing they say how difficult it is. Now what makes it simple is that it basically suggests that we keep our consciousness at all times on two things -what’s alive in us and what would make life more wonderful. See, what’s alive in us…what’s alive in others…what would make life more wonderful for us…what would make life more wonderful. Now, that’s simple; however, what makes it complicated, we haven’t been taught to think and communicate in terms of what’s alive in us. We have been taught to think in terms of moralistic judgments – who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s normal, who’s abnormal. So when you have been educated for about 10,000 years as we had to, think and communicate in moralistic judgments- which incidentally out of the basic religions have warned us for centuries, do not use moralistic judgments. The Christian tradition says it very clearly – judge not others lest ye be judged.
Marshall: But we hear that, but we have been trained from the time we’ve been infants to think in terms of moralistic judgments. Our parents and teachers use moralistic judgments with us – ‘that’s a good girl’, ‘that’s a bad boy,’ ‘that’s a very smart thing you did,’ ‘that’s a stupid thing you did’. So, having been trained so thoroughly for so long in moralistic judgments, it’s very difficult for people to do what our training shows how to do – which is stay conscious, moment by moment- what’s alive in us and what would make life more wonderful. Now the ‘what’s alive in us’ basically focuses on human needs – what needs of yours are being met at a given moment, what needs are not being met. What needs of others are being met, not being met and then what could make life more wonderful – means what do we want, what requests do we have to contribute to human needs being better met? So, that’s the simplicity of the process – what’s alive in us and what would make life more wonderful?
Paula: And, so when you’re going out, and you’re using this in the case of a corporation, how… You would say the corporation has a need for profits?
Marshall: We show that profits are not a need. A very important part of our training is to help people see a difference between needs and strategies. See, strategies are ways of getting needs met, so some people think that profits, financial gain is a need. No- it’s a strategy that might or might not meet certain needs.
Paula: What would be a need of a corporation?
Marshall: Well the need of the people in the corporation the… probably I hope, be the strongest need that human beings have – a need to contribute to life.
Marshall: Some people would call this a need for meaning, some would call it a need for purpose, but I call it a need to contribute to life – to see that our efforts are really going to serving life, making somebody’s life more wonderful. That’s what all of the Corporations I think, say in their vision basically that they are trying to serve people. But when you really look at their actions, I think that they’re getting needs mixed up with strategies and their real interest is in how to make profits.
That’s what all of the Corporations I think, say in their vision, basically that they are trying to serve people. But when you really look at their actions, I think that they’re getting needs mixed up with strategies and their real interest is in how to make profits.
Paula: Why is that, what is…?
Marshall: Well, because for 10,000 years we have been educated to live within domination cultures in which a few people benefit at the expense of many. So, people in the structures… they have been educated this way…they really see that this is the world for those in power to get their needs met, and to use others in the service of their own needs.
Paula: Now, that trickles down into the rest of society where you… even in a marriage… each partner fears to be dominated by the other.
Marshall: Yes, if you have people educated in a domination structure, much of the definitions of what love means, is all mixed up with domination.
Paula: Can you elaborate on that?
Marshall: Yes. For example, we often work with people, who are having trouble in their marriages. And, we asked them first, what are your needs that are not getting met? One time, a woman said to her husband, ‘well my need for love isn’t getting met’. And he says ‘well, I love you’ and she says ‘no, you don’t.’ He says, ‘yes, I do’. I said, ‘hold it, what are you requesting of him, when you say that your need for love isn’t getting met, what do you want him to do, to better meet your need for love. She looked at him and said, ‘well, you know’ and he says, ‘no, I don’t know’; well, she says’ it’s hard to say in so many words’, and he said, ‘if it’s hard for you to say, can you see how hard it would be for me to do?’
So, I said to her, ‘so tell him concretely, what do you want him to do to meet your need for love’ and then she looked at me, and she says, ‘it’s embarrassing’ I said,’ yes, it’s often embarrassing to see the oppressive games we’re playing in the service of getting certain needs met – so what do you want him to do to meet your need for love’. She says,’ I want you to guess what I want before I even know what it is and then I want you always to do it see well’. That’s a very domination kind of concept because you play the game that if you really loved me, you would know what I want and do it. So, people don’t usually say that out loud, but they keep that within because that’s how you oppress people in a domination culture; you try to use guilt by saying if you loved me you would do this.
Paula: Why do we think that somebody else is responsible for our happiness because we all seem to grow up believing that and it’s so hard to stop blaming and saying somebody else caused our happiness or unhappiness?
Marshall: That’s again because, in a domination culture, you want to use guilt, as a tool for getting people to do what you want. Our training shows that certain strategies are very destructive, in trying to influence people. One is punishment. Another is reward, another is guilt, which we’re talking about now, another is shame, and another is the concepts of duty and obligation. But, let’s look at guilt – because it relates to this oppression… of trying to communicate to other people, that they’re responsible for our feelings.
See, if you want to manipulate children by guilt, for example, you have to teach them very young that they can make other people feel bad. So, a mother or father might say to the child, “it hurts me when you don’t clean up your room.” And if the child has been educated to believe that you can make people feel as they do, then the child’s going to feel guilty- to see that his behaviour creates such pain. In our training, we show people that it’s very important to be conscious of what we are responsible for, and what we’re not responsible for. Because if you don’t get that clear, then you get what in modern terminology is called a blurring of the boundaries, or co-dependency- when you don’t get these concepts of responsibility clarified.
So we suggest, that we are responsible for our intentions, and our actions. How others interpret our actions or our intentions is what creates their feelings, and we can’t be responsible for something over which we have no control. I can control my intentions; I can control my actions, I’m responsible. So, I have the intention to express honestly to you something that you’ve done that is not in harmony with my needs, that’s my intention. And I do it the best way I can, I say to you I’m frustrated when you keep interrupting when I talk because I have a need to be understood and …and.. be respected and it isn’t met? Now you say, that hurts me when you say that. See now what hurt you, it would hurt you if…
Paula: I say it hurts me because I feel that I haven’t figured out what you needed?
Marshall: If you said that I’m feeling hurt because I’m not clear… Notice you’re saying I’m feeling hurt because I, you’re taking responsibility – so that would be in harmony with what we’re showing people. But if when I said what I did, you took it as a criticism, you hear that you’re being criticised and feel hurt… It wouldn’t be my statement that hurt you; it would be how you received it- you received it as a criticism.
Marshall: So, therefore we are responsible for how we feel because how we feel depends on how we interpret things. Other people are responsible for their intentions and their actions but not for how we interpret them and not therefore for how we feel.
Paula: So, basically, we get clear ourselves, and we’re confident of our needs and feelings. And to go about getting these needs met- and then in the process of interacting with other people- we hold this clarity, and we can keep pulling them up. Even if they start to say, they’re unworthy in… They won’t say it in words… But maybe through their actions?
Marshall: Well, in our training, one of the things that people like most about our training, is that its utilisation doesn’t depend on the other person’s cooperation. So, we can show people how to stay with the process that will end with everybody’s needs getting met, even if the other person doesn’t have the skills to communicate in this way. So, for example, and that… what we were talking about earlier… if I say to somebody, I’m feeling frustrated, when you start to talk before I finish… Because I have a real need for space to communicate. And the other person gets hurt and says, ‘that hurts me when you say that’. I might say to the person, ‘could you tell me what you heard me say?’. ‘Yes, you said I was rude’.
Marshall: You see…okay. So, now I can see that the problem wasn’t what I said, it’s how they took it. So, I say thank you. Why do I say thank you…? I ask him to tell me what they heard, they did. See, if I said… that isn’t what I said; they’d hear it as an attack, so I say, thank you, I can see I didn’t make myself clear. I was trying to communicate my feelings and needs, not criticise you for what you did. Let me try again- I’m feeling frustrated… because my need for space to communicate, doesn’t get met.
Can you tell me what you heard? ‘I’m sorry’. Before you apologise, could you tell me what you heard? See to get another person, who is not trained to be conscious of what’s alive in us; they’ve been trained to hear criticism.. to make criticism. I’m not saying it’s easy to pull their attention, so they can hear what’s alive in you… But you can do it. We teach people how to help the other person to hear a difference between you criticising them, and you’re simply expressing what’s alive in you.
Paula: So that kind of answers a question I had about Nonviolent communication not being used to control…or… Somebody or achieve a certain end, even to try to achieve a connection with them, so that they know what we’re feeling. It could be viewed by some as manipulation because you’re trying to make them feel what you’re feeling. But it seems to me, what you’re saying is that other people can actually be taken to a place, where they not only understand what you’re feeling but they’re actually having a greater repertoire of feelings themselves.
Marshall: We help them to develop the repertoire because our training shows us how to hear feelings behind any message that comes at you. So even if the other person has almost zero consciousness of what’s alive in them, no matter what they say, we’re trained to sense what they might be feeling, and in this way, we can help them get more in touch with it. Now we need to clear up one thing about the intention of Nonviolent communication. As you suggested, it’s very important… that we do not mix up the intention of creating a connection in which everybody’s needs can get met– that’s the intention of Nonviolent communication.
Paula: It’s not getting our way.
Marshall: It’s not getting our way. Exactly. It’s not getting the other person to do what you want. But that’s a very hard intention to get through to people who have been educated in a culture who interpret that it is their objective to get the other person to do what you want. For example, many parents will say to me something like one did recently. She said, ‘Marshall how do I get my son to clean up his room?’ I said, ‘is that your objective?’. She said, ‘yes,’ I said, ‘then he won’t’. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘so I’m supposed just to let him do whatever he wants, and I have to do all the cleaning?’
See, she could only see two objectives- to either get him to do what she wants or she had to be a loser and not get her needs met. I said, I’d like you to see another possibility… what we’re saying is to create the quality of connection that will allow your needs to get met and your son’s needs to get met. But in order for that to happen, you can’t get addicted to the strategy of getting him to clean up his room. He may very well end up cleaning up the room once he sees what your needs are and trust that you are equally concerned with his needs.
Paula: Maybe this process makes us get a better idea of who we are, we may come in thinking that we want something but working with these connections with people, we may find as a result of listening to the feelings and needs of someone else, we may actually want something different… Greater… Better…
Marshall: This is why differences and conflict are wonderful if we go about it with certain consciousness. Yes, very often we come out with something far richer than we go in with- in terms of various strategies, that might be effective in meeting our needs. If what we go in with, we see it doesn’t meet the other person’s needs, through an exploration of them, how can we find a way to get everybody’s needs met, we often do come out with a much more creative resolution.
Paula: Why are you so confident that everybody can get their needs met because I feel you’re very optimistic and you’re very convinced that there are no differences that can’t be resolved?
Marshall: Many times people say, ‘yes how do you have this belief in the innate goodness of people’ and I say, it has nothing to do with a belief or a faith. In my work, I do a lot of conflict resolution, and a lot of it is between people that hold deep pain between themselves. I’ve mediated between tribes in northern Africa, where a quarter of the population were killed in the year before I started to work with them. I mediate between teams and groups of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi. I’ve worked in Sierra Leone with the people who have had horrible thing happen with the other people in the room with them. I’ve worked between Israelis and Palestinians but actually, some of them are the most bitter conflicts I’ve been through are through husbands and wives, children and their parents.
Marshall: So, then an answer to your question, why do I have this trust that everybody’s needs can get met? Because, I find out that when I can get both sides hearing what the other side is needing, what needs of theirs… what human needs are not getting met, you see, and what pain do they feel as a result of it. When I can get both sides seeing that, getting rid of all enemy images So that nobody is saying the other side is wrong, oppressive, stupid, anything that implies a criticism… but I can get both sides, at that level, they see each other’s unmet needs, they don’t hear any criticism… I get to find that the conflict almost doesn’t resolve itself.