Non-violent communication: What is it, and how can my startup use it?

Communication is the foundation of any thriving startup. There are a few factors that can ‘make or break’ a new venture but you can almost guarantee that behind every success story there’s a great team and behind every great team, there’s solid communication. 

When communication isn’t prioritised however, the consequences are hard to ignore. Studies have shown that 60% of new ventures fail due to team related problems, including lack of communication. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for fluid and transparent communication in the workplace is ever growing. While there’s no one-size-fits all when it comes to people management strategies for startups, the Non-violent Communication framework is being used increasingly to help teams succeed, even during uncertain times.

We look at what’s behind the NVC method, how to use it in the workplace and why it’s so effective in a startup environment. 

What’s Non-Violent Communication about?

Despite its growing popularity over recent years, Non-violent Communication was actually developed in the 1960’s by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg with a focus on finding a new approach to conflict resolution.

The framework itself is based on openness and trust-based vulnerability. Recognising the value of transparent, honest, non-aggressive interactions, it can be transformational in overcoming team dysfunctions in a startup setting. As for team culture? It helps create a foundation of empathy, trust and constructive feedback.

It’s made up of four key steps: Observations, feelings, needs and requests. By following this structure, team members are more likely to get to the crux of conflict without being held back by guilt or fear to speak up.

How to implement NVC in a startup environment

NVC can sometimes take some time to get used to, even in a dynamic startup setting. However, a simple way to start is by including the language in the 4 steps above in conversation. It’s usually most effective if this happens in a non-judgemental space where team members are prepared to give and receive feedback. 

Firstly, begin with an observation. This allows you to take a step back and see a situation for what it is and not how you feel about it. Try to hold back from opinions and take a neutral approach. 

The next steps are to voice your emotions and what needs emerge as a result of them. It’s good practice to make a list of the needs that come as a result of those feelings since there may be a few. For example, if you’re feeling left out of the team dynamic, you may need support, inclusion or more one-to-one spaces.

Finally, put together requests which are the actionable steps you or others will take to work towards fulfilling your needs. This could be organising a bi-weekly check-in as for the case above. 

What makes NVC effective for startups?

The main reason NVC is useful for startups is because it responds to the need to overcome conflict effectively in a fast paced environment. As every founder knows, in the ever changing startup life, there’s little time to be held back by grudges. The model allows for issues to be discussed openly and resolved in a practical way.

By encouraging trust-based vulnerability, NVC builds a culture of authenticity. It clears the path for communication to facilitate growth, not work against it.