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And is there a relationship between NVC and CL?


And is there a relationship between NVC and CL?

To find out, we interviewed two members of the Clean community who also have strong roots in the NVC community: Alison Kuy and Doris Leibold.

Let’s start with a couple of brief definitions and a bit of background:

Clean Language is a set of questions and a way of working with people developed by therapist David Grove in the 1980s and 90s. Clean Language is ‘clean’ because it keeps the facilitator from unwittingly introducing their metaphors, assumptions or suggestions into a conversation. Clean questions encourage metaphors, ideas, self-reflections and ah-ha’s to crystallise in awareness. When personal change is the goal, Clean Language invites a client’s perceptions to evolve and change organically — one question at a time

NVC, Non-Violent Communication, is a communication model developed by the American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s as he searched for a way to help people live in peace, and to learn how to communicate with respect, compassion and honesty. Initially working on the humanistic approach with luminaries such as Carl Rogers the model was developed over a period of thirty years and is built around a framework known in the NVC community as OFNR which stands for Observation, Feelings, Needs, and Requests. The underpinning ethos is for individuals to come to an agreement in a peaceful way.

Alison Kuy works in corporate settings as a Change Manager, mainly in Brighton and London. Alison has worked with teams for over 25 years and has studied and practised NVC since 2015. Her initial studies in NVC were with Gina Lawrie, who was trained directly by Marshall Rosenberg. Initially trained in clean in 2016 by Judy Rees as part of an NLP Master Practitioner Programme, Alison continues to work with Clean Language.

Doris Leibold is based in Germany and has a background in languages with a keen interest in words and their meaning. In 2013, Doris became interested in finding out ways of dealing with conflict and came upon NVC, which marked a turning point in her life. Her journey with clean evolved from her own mentor in NVC, the late Klaus Karstaedt, who mentioned Clean Language. She studied with Angela Dunbar and having met Marian in 2018 in Germany she subsequently signed up for the Systemic Modelling Rolling Programme. Doris uses resource-focused approaches with small teams in not-for-profit organisations and facilitates workshops on emotional well-being, dealing with drama and self-care. She also assists on Clean Learning trainings.

What have you noticed about Non-Violent Communication and Clean Language during your journey?

Alison: Within NVC there is a concept of universal human needs - needs that all human beings regardless of culture, nationality or religion have. Through his research Marshall Rosenberg identified and published a list of universal human needs. Some examples are: acceptance, autonomy, celebration, community, love, physical nurturance, play, spiritual communion and support.

The central theory of NVC is that however resourcefully or un-resourcefully a person behaves they are always trying to meet their underlying needs. When people are in conflict with one other it is their strategies for meeting their needs which are in conflict - not the actual needs themselves.

In the NVC model the emphasis is on being aware of your own needs and discovering the other person’s needs. Clean Language is of course ‘cleaner’ in the sense that there is not a requirement to focus on and understand human behaviours through the ‘lens’ of needs.

When people are practising NVC they follow a four-part model: 1. Observation, 2. Feelings, 3. Needs, 4. Requests.

The observation stage is what you can see or hear in a situation without evaluation or judgement.

The feelings stage relates to how you feel about an interaction. How did it positively or negatively impact you?

The next stage needs is where you check in with your own emotional architecture to try to identify which needs (from the NVC list) have or have not been met.

The final stage is requests. This can be requests to self or requests to others. To frame something as a request, you need to use language such as, ‘Would you be willing to xxx?’, ‘Would you like to xxx?’ rather than issuing an instruction or demand. The idea is to give the other person in the interaction the opportunity to say ‘No’ if they wish. NVC is all about empathy for self and others.

(Three of these four stages correlate (loosely) with different aspects of the Clean Feedback model:

  • Observation is the same as ‘evidence’.
  • Feelings might be part of the ‘impact’
  • Requests are similar to “What would work better for me is…”

Needs are not an explicit part of the Clean Feedback model, but may be inferred from the evidence, inference and impact that someone has chosen to focus on, as well as from the ‘what would work better’ part.)

A straightforward example could be two people who have decided they will eat a meal together, but who get into an argument about where to eat. One wants to eat at a popular restaurant with a lively atmosphere, the other wants to order a takeaway and have a quiet night at home. Each person is trying to meet their need for physical sustenance, however their strategies for meeting that need are in conflict. This is because there are other underlying needs; maybe one person wants to meet a need for celebration, whilst the other person wants to meet a need for peace. In this situation the underlying needs might be relatively clear to the people involved, however, many situations are much more complex with layers of needs.

What I have found is that incorporating clean questions into the four stages of NVC enables me to get a deeper understanding of y needs and the needs of others. For example, NVC will use questions such as ‘are you feeling angry?’ whereas a clean approach might be to say, ask, ‘What kind of xxx is that?’ or, ‘What kind of need for xx is that need?’ or ‘What would you like to have happen next?’ etc. With NVC and Clean Language I have an effective toolkit to help me untangle and defuse ‘drama’ situations in my life.

Doris: With NVC, what happens for many people when they learn about the OFNR model (1. Observation, 2. Feelings, 3. Needs, 4. Requests) they become aware of the impact of their language and decide to change it to develop new thought patterns. Clean Language invites you to explore the language you naturally use to find out more about your thinking and change follows from there.

Listening is a big thing for both NVC and clean.

When listening in NVC, your attention is on the needs and feelings behind the words someone uses. The skill is to help individuals to get their needs and feelings across to others so they can be seen and heard. So you tend to do a lot of ‘translating’ in NVC.


With Clean language, the listening is as critical yet your attention is really on the words themselves and you do not change or translate them.

When it comes to feedback, in clean everything can be deemed feedback. Whereas in NVC – the way Doris was taught – you talk about feedback when you offer someone a response to a learning situation. You aim to phrase feedback in a way that the other person can hear it. It is generally the case that – as Doris recalls Caitlin Walker saying – when we respond from drama we get drama. And, NVC provides a really powerful model for responding in an honest and caring way when you are in drama. Sharing the need and the feeling allows the other person to connect. There is no right and wrong and you are entitled to have your needs met and to ask for others to contribute to that.

And is tehre anything else about the relationship between NVC and Clean Language?

Alison: ‘In my experience using the NVC OFNR process helps people to feel heard and feeling heard transforms the quality of connection between people.

And using clean questions within the NVC framework both with myself and others helps me to gain greater clarity and depth of understanding on the perspectives of other people who may have very different ideas to me.

I dubbed it the Clean NVC approach, and initially I used it to improve my personal relationships but as I have become more experienced at both NVC and Clean I believe a fusion between the two could significantly improve team collaboration in the workplace and I am currently looking at ways of introducing a Clean NVC approach into the business community’

Doris: NVC and Clean can both take you to places from where you can see the beauty behind the things someone says or does – but while the pathways intersect, you will essentially take different routes and end up at different viewpoints. So both approaches are ways to gain greater understanding of oneself and others but lead to different insights.

And both NVC and Clean start from an assumption of good intention and seek to hold everyone in a positive regard.

I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to bring clean to the NVC community in my area. On my journey with Clean and NVC, I have found that a powerful way to make use of the two approaches is to deconstruct NVC models, take the individual steps as base layers and create new mini-models with the use of clean questions. The options are almost endless.

You can find out more about NVC:

www.Cnvc.org - which has generic NVC resources

www.nvcdancefloors.com - website for specifically for NVC dance floor resources

Non-Violent Communication - A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg



Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

About Cheryl Winter

Cheryl Winter's avatar

A fellow of the CIPD, NLP Master Practitioner and ILM certified coach, Cheryl delivers high quality coaching, supervision and training in all sectors. She is a specialist in neuro -diversity in the work-place, ILM quality assurance and coaching.

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