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A nice framework, but lacking in perspective and depth
on June 3, 2015
Rosenberg's technique to facilitating communication and providing conflict resolution has some very nice sentiments, and I can see how the techniques may help in many if not most situations (especially in interpersonal relationships between children and parents, siblings, or significant others). Nevertheless, I suspect the technique is facile and insufficient owing to the author's rather myopic and unrealistic worldview. Furthermore, the topic is hamstrung somewhat by a poor presentation involving repetitious role-playing sessions and little supporting material.
The technique of NVC has an intuitive bent; the idea is that if we can move past our mutual assessments of others' needs and focus on cogently presenting our own needs, we help clear away any communication blockages that result from a lack of consensus. Expressing one's needs clearly also paves the way for empathy. I'm satisfied with these things insofar as these techniques seem like they would facilitate conflict resolution. What is lacking is actual science. Besides anecdotes, there is nothing substantive in the author's claims in this realm: no studies, no sources, no data.
For the first couple of chapters, the author focuses on presenting needs and hearing needs, almost entirely in a variety of transcribed role playing sessions. However, even in subsequent chapters, the author glosses over resolution. It is possible the author assumes that resolution is only a matter of establishing mutual empathy, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt by assuming he is aware that conflict resolution involves other action when the parties in conflict aren't merely involved in moderated role-playing sessions.
This being said, there is ample evidence that the author does not see the distinction. One of the tenants of NVC is the notion that this world provides ample resources for everyone, and thus, all individual needs are satiable. From my initial reading of the book, there appears to be nothing to substantiate this, and if anything, there are numerous examples (I won't bore you, gentle Amazon customer) to the contrary. Even if so, it is pure anthropocentric hubris to claim that in general a person is perfectly altruistic and intends (or is able) to satisfy others' needs whenever he or she is aware of them; people are naturally selfish and may have their needs in conflict or opposition to others intrinsically. This is something the author utterly rejects without analysis.
Facilitating the cogent sharing of needs means setting aside our analysis and judgement, says the author. "Names are simply tragic expressions of unmet needs. NVCers know there is no such thing as normal, abnormal, right, wrong, good, or bad. They all know that all of those are a product of language that has trained people to live under a king." The author makes similar statements throughout. The problem with this view - an extreme moral relativism - is a total lack of moral assessment.
Even for the most extremely morally relativistic individual it is difficult not to make moral evaluations of actions - clearly rape is wrong, killing is wrong, etc. If we ignore this throughout conflict resolution, it may be difficult for a victim to have justice served when the opposition is clearly wrong and needs to make a concession. Survivors of Union Carbide's ecological fiasco in Bhopal, for example, probably need corrective action over empathy alone. However, the debate about the disaster rages on. Withholding any moral assessment of the situation is a grave injustice to the victims and is likely to leave them empty handed.
The extreme moral relativism of the author, without edification, is either glib or naive. The lack of academic rigor of the book lends no more to my credulity. Otherwise, I'm reasonably happy with knowing more about how to express needs, give empathy, and receive it.