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Q&A with Sylvia Haskvitz, RD

Q: What is nonviolent communication?

A: It’s both a process and language of communication and a consciousness: How can I communicate my needs effectively, efficiently and connectively? How can I receive other people’s messages in the way they were trying to convey them? The consciousness, to me, is the bigger piece of NVC. NVC can be seen as a manipulation if there is still some sort of judging, labeling, blaming or criticizing—even if these happen in the mind. A lot of violence can happen silently when feelings are stirred up and people don’t speak their truth.

Q: Most people think of NVC as highly applicable in their personal relationships. Why would you bring it into the workplace?

A: It’s not just about the needs of the individual; each business has needs as well. The needs of the business, very clearly, are the needs for resources both in human capital and in money. How we relate and interact with each other and how we do customer service are key in people getting their needs met.

Q: How do you think NVC can enhance retail relationships?

A: Any time people can speak more clearly and succinctly, it’s going to be helpful. They will save a lot of time and resources. Part of the process of NVC is getting clear on what your individual needs are at any moment. Then you can put out a request of what you want from someone in that moment. Customer service is huge in the retail business. An employee should think, “What am I willing to do to meet the needs of the customer? If I don’t know something, am I willing to refer them to someone else? Am I willing to look it up myself? If my goal is to contribute, then how best can I do that?”

Q: Give us an example of how retailers would use NVC to enhance employee relationships.

A: Let’s say it’s time for a yearly or six-month review. Rather than using static language and saying, “You did a good job this year,” retailers should make a clear observation of what’s happening, or what’s not happening, that’s leaving them wanting. For example, a retailer might say to an employee, “I noticed when a customer is not having an easy time finding something, I don’t hear you asking to help them.” It’s not about saying, “You’re lazy.” The retailer is not putting the employee into a box or labeling the employee. Positive or negative labels keep us separate from the person we’re trying to connect with. Instead, NVC is a way to say what it is you’re wanting. NVC is about the speaker’s needs. For example, it’s saying, “I really have a need to contribute to the company, and I’m worried that we’re not doing the best job. I have some ideas for ways that we could work together more as a team that would benefit everybody.”

Q: Give me an example of how it might be used to improve employee-customer relationships.

A: Take the example of a customer not being able to find a product. The customer says to an employee, “I can’t believe it. Why can’t all your stores have the same products? It’s so irritating. I have to go to two separate stores to get what I want.” An employee can say, “I’m sensing the frustration and guessing you’d like some ease.” Just acknowledging a person and saying you care with that quick sentence connects you to the person, and through connection, solutions or strategies emerge effortlessly to meet your needs, the needs of the customer and the needs of the store.

Nonviolent communication was founded by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, PhD. Learn more at

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