The School of Empathy
2 min readNov 28, 2023

Myths of Non Violent Communication Nr. 1

Many times I have been asked: “does NVC work with racists? Multinationals? kids?” “What do you mean by work?” I would ask.

The conversation that unfolds then regularly clarifies that “work” would mean that the other person eventually will see that we are right and will do what we want. There is the idea that NVC would be a way to make people do or think what we want in a very peaceful way without any annoyment, frustration or anger. If our goal is to make others do what we want, the current system, that is based on domination, gives us short term effective ways of doing so like using punishment and recompensation.

NVC however catapults us into the partnership paradigm. NVC abandons the goal of getting other people to do what we want as well as the idea that we have to do what others want for that matter. NVC launches the invitation to prioritize connection beyond right and wrong. To meet at a place where all needs matter, to develop power together by engaging in conversations with curiosity about what we can do that would meet all needs.

So what would that look like?

When I guided an exhibition around the colonial era of Belgium in Congo, a participant said: “But the regime of Leopold II was very short, I don’t know why everyone gets so excited about it”. From there on I can take a lot of different ways. I can ignore it. I can roll my eyes and look around for confirmation that this guy is annoying. I can hear it as playing down the gravity of what has happened and say something like: “he cut off the hands of the people… that´s what you call not so bad?”, … Or I can be curious about where he comes from and engage into a conversation.

“You seem annoyed?” I said. “Well yeah, it’s always about Leopold II and nobody talks about the belgium state”. “You would like to put some light on the broader picture?”. “Yes, and it’s not the Belgium people who did something… I never harmed anybody”. “So I guess you would like to be recognized for that?” “Well, yes, of course”…

So we went from the idea that Leopold II was not so bad to the need for recognition that he does not harm people. At this point of the conversation he could hear my ideas about the subject and we had a rich exchange.

At first I was reluctant to engage in this way with him, because I was afraid that the other participants would think that I agree with his opinions. My first impulse was to say that I do not agree with him, to assure myself that my need for belonging with those who think like me would be met. But I took a deep breath and chose to take another way: AND being curious about what is alive in the other AND expressing my own truth.

The School of Empathy

Annick Nölle is an artist and gives workshops in Non Violent Communication.