Being a regular surfer (with a computer and not a board!) I sometimes come across articles critical of NVC. Actually I’m surprised there aren’t more of them and it means either NVC is not as well-known as I would like or it is beyond criticism. I suspect the former!

One criticism I often read is that NVC is manipulative and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot recently. I like to take criticism and really push myself to explore it as a way to learn and clarify my own views and experiences.

Here’s my short response to the title question.

What is manipulation?

At the risk of averting attention from the answer I believe, in the interests of mutual understanding it’s helpful to start with a definition.

Dictionary definition:

manipulate (məˈnɪpjʊˌleɪt) — verb

1. to handle or use, especially with some skill, in a process or action: to manipulate a pair of scissors

2. to negotiate, control, or influence (something or someone) cleverly, skilfully, or deviously

3. to falsify (a bill, accounts, etc) for one’s own advantage

I’m guessing those who are wary of NVC and manipulation are worried about it being used to ‘control or influence … deviously’ or ‘to falsify‘. That somehow there is something about NVC that doesn’t meet their needs around open, honest authentic communication, autonomy, freedom and independence.

I share this concern about manipulation. I’m also sad imagining NVC being used in this way, as I believe it can.

Skillful Communication

I’m certain NVC increases communication skills.

Clearly it would be crazy to suggest I shouldn’t learn NVC because it makes me more skillful. It gives greater awareness of what’s going on, access to deeper levels of self-expression and helps focus when listening to others. If words are the tools of communication then it most definitely is manipulation in terms of ‘handle or use, especially with some skill, in a process or action’.

If my intention is to win at the cost of the other, then yes, NVC can help me do that in the same way a chess player can beat a less skilled opponent. NVC might also give me a level of understanding and skill I could use deceptively to give me an advantage.

The question then is, can I use this skill in a way that serves everyone I come in contact with, especially with those less skilled?

NVC is very clear about intention. It is not about winning or getting my way, but about connecting and meeting all our needs. A good analogy is a dance pair. The partner with the greater skill uses this to help both dance to the highest standard possible.

NVC is about honest expression free from the habitual ways we manipulate such as reward/punishment, denial of choice, inducing guilt or a whole host of other tried and trusted methods.

I’m convinced the majority of those using NVC like it because of the underlying intention and are helping the world dance more peacefully. I’m also sure there are some who have taken NVC as a tool to help themselves at the expense of others. My own focus then is to make sure numbers of the former grow faster than the latter.