Stress is becoming more of a concern in our modern lifestyle. Many of us work in a stressful environment and find ourselves vulnerable to sleep disorders, feeling overworked, anxiety, frustration, and even depression, just to name a few. Can we change our perception of stress and turn a negative emotion into a more positive experience?

  • A survey done in Great Britain estimated that 595,000 workers suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long standing) in 2017/18 & 15.4 million working days are lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18. 44% of the reasons were due to workload.[1]

  • In August 2017, the American Psychological Association (APA), conducted its annual Stress in America Survey to investigate Americans’ relationship with stress — how stressed they feel, what keeps them up at night and how they deal with the stress in their lives. Most common sources of stress were the future of their nation, money & work related.[2]

  • 80% of workers feels stressed on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. And 42% say their co-workers need such help – American Institute of Stress.[3]

In essence, we experience stress when our needs are not met, this can relate to our individual needs, the needs of others, or even the needs of a larger group or community. A sense of feeling disappointed, guilty, unhappy, unsuccessful, useless, unappreciated, unheard, etc. are all linked to stress. The backbone of what can make any company thrive and stand out from the rest is the team’s ability to communicate clearly and constructively.

Psychologist, mediator, healer and teacher Marshall Rosenberg developed Nonviolent communication (NVC) in the 1960s to help but not be limited to such scenarios.

NVC is a model that enables us to respond compassionately to ourselves and to others. NVC aims to strengthen our ability to inspire compassion from others, or simply put ‘to empower functional giving and receiving’.[4] It lets us reframe how we express ourselves and hear others. NVC allows us to speak in terms of what we observe, how we are feeling, what our needs are and how we respond to others’ requests.

NVC suggests all humans have the capacity for compassion and empathy, but most resort to more harmful approaches that emotionally affect themselves and those around them. Consequently, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC takes a universal theory to suggest that all human behaviour stems from attempts to meet universal human needs such as self-expression, friendship, support, hope, acceptance as opposed to thinking because we are good, or evil, or selfish or because we should. NVC also supports change on 3 interconnected levels: with self, with others, and with groups and social systems. There are four main components of NVC known as OFNR:

Observation: The facts, what I observe (see, hear, remember, imagine). What YOU observe (see, hear, remember, imagine), free from evaluation, that does or does not contribute to your well-being.

Take away: This is an important step, so often people get stuck on a preconceived set of feelings that they already have judgments on what they hear and see, they think too soon and immediately act. Take a moment longer to listen and digest information, you may find you connect better.

Feelings: Emotions or sensations free of thought. How YOU feel in relation to what YOU observe. Do you feel hurt, frustrated, happy? Try to avoid using words that may place blame on another such as feeling intimidated, unheard or pressured as your true feelings are more likely to be misunderstood.

Take away: Vulnerability plays a key role here. Acknowledging and expressing our emotions or sensations free of thought to ourselves or others can be difficult. If the culture, we live in influences us to imply wrongness in people who behave in ways that we don't like then It can be intimidating to be vulnerable. For example, in most business environments people often hide their vulnerabilities, because it is a competitive environment. However, communicating in a vulnerable way can provoke a more empathetic response. The person you are expressing your feelings to may find it easier to appreciate how you feel deep inside.

Needs: What I need or value (rather than a preference, or a specific action) that are connected to MY feelings. What YOU need or value (rather than a preference, or a specific action) that are connected to YOUR feelings.

Take away: When expressing our needs to someone, rather than saying you would like the kitchen kept clean because it is inappropriate to have a mess (to which the person you are expressing this to may simply respond in saying to relax a little), you could express that having a clean kitchen would make you feel more relaxed and comfortable.

You have expressed your needs in association with your feeling. When listening to someone else express their needs having a sense of curiosity can go a long way. Especially if the person does not communicate very clearly. Think about what is going on for them, what kind of needs they are trying to meet and how they are feeling and would like to feel. Remember these needs are not materialistic but rather a deep energy of life that flows within us.

Request: Requesting that which would enrich MY life without demand, empathetically receiving that which would enrich YOUR life without hearing any demand.

Take away: The words and tone of our request can change a person's response. The person receiving the request will probably feel more inclined to listen, empathise and say yes if you say ‘would you be willing to…’ instead of ‘can you do…’ which would be considered a demand rather than an open-hearted request. Requests are distinguished from demands in that one is open to hearing a response of “no” without this triggering an attempt to force the matter. If one makes a request and receives a “no” as an answer it is recommended not that one give up, but that one empathise with what is preventing the other person from saying “yes”, before deciding how to continue the conversation.

It can take some time to grasp NVC and the main components of OFNR. We will put it in a simple scenario, within the kitchen setting to give a clearer idea. You come home to find the kitchen in the same mess from the last few days and you talk to your flatmate who is responsible for the mess.

Observation: what am I observing?

Remember to keep free from building up thoughts of what we think and stick to what we see. For example “I see the kitchen is in a mess, there are plates and pots everywhere...” as opposed to “I see you leave the kitchen in a mess ,there are plates and pots everywhere clearly you don't care about our home…”.

Feelings: what am I feeling as a result?

Try to connect what you observe with how it makes you feel, use phrases like “I feel as if...” or “you make me feel like...”. For example “I see the kitchen is a mess, there are plates and pots everywhere, I feel disappointed…”.

Needs: what are the needs at the core of how you are feeling?

This is an opportunity to get to the bigger picture of why your need is not met that is creating this feeling. For example, “I see the kitchen in a mess, there are plates and pots everywhere, I feel disappointed because I like to be organised as it help me stay relaxed”.

Request: without demanding make a reasonable request

For example, “would you be willing to tidy up the kitchen before I get back home” as opposed to “tidy up before I get home”.

Task: It takes time to improve interpersonal skills, they can generally be correlated with higher resiliency, satisfaction and productivity. Take the opportunity to reflect on a scenario that you know of or affected you personally for each of the components of NVC and think about how you could have reacted in a different way to receive a more compassionate response. Hopefully this will give you an alternative approach of how to deal with something for a more fulfilling response.

The value of learning to manage stressful situations can go a long way in improving your health, sleep, and social interactions with other people. NVC might seem a little uncomfortable at the start but give it try and see if you can notice the effects OFNR has on your stress management.


[1] Work related stress depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain, Annual statistics, 2018
[2] Stress in America, The state of our nation, American Psychological Association. 2017
[3] Association of Global Organization for Stress,

[4]Power up your team with nonviolent communication principles, Management magazine,