International peacemaker and founder of the Centre for Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg passed away last month. Daren De Witt recounts his remarkable life and how he helped spread Nonviolent Communication throughout the world

Dr Marshall B. Rosenberg passed away peacefully, aged 80, of cancer, on 7 February. His process of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), now adopted by thousands of individuals and organisations in more than 100 countries, has helped parents communicate with children; couples with each other; staff with bosses; teachers with students; police with rioters; activists with authorities, and victims with perpetrators.

Born in Ohio in 1934 and raised in Detroit, Rosenberg’s life and the development of the NVC process were significantly influenced by being beaten when young because of his Jewish surname. It wasn’t the beatings that hurt so much, he later conveyed, as the smiles on the faces of the onlookers. Rosenberg’s later exploration into the causes of violence and ways of reducing it evolved into NVC, a process that facilitates stronger interpersonal communication, greater compassion and peaceful resolution of conflicts, as well as an enrichment of already harmonious relationships.

“A dedicated teacher, peacemaker and charismatic visionary, over his lifetime Rosenberg led NVC workshops and intensive trainings for thousands of people in over 60 countries.”

In 1961 Rosenberg received a PhD in Clinical Psychology from University of Wisconsin. There he met his mentor, psychologist Carl Rogers. Rosenberg credits Rogers with alerting him to the skill and value of empathic listening, and of smoothly integrating our thoughts, emotions, values, and spoken words.

Mahatma Gandhi also influenced Rosenberg. Rosenberg developed NVC in part as a simple practical process – a ‘how-to’ for manifesting Gandhi’s philosophy of ahimsa (sometimes translated as “the overflowing love that arises when all ill-will, anger, and hate have subsided from the heart”) into everyday words, actions, and thoughts. NVC focuses on three aspects of communication: self-empathy (defined as a deep and compassionate awareness of one’s own inner experience), empathy (defined as listening to another with deep compassion), and honest self-expression (defined as expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others).

In the 1960s Rosenberg worked closely with US civil rights activists, mediating between rioting students and college administrators and working to peacefully desegregate public schools. A dedicated teacher, peacemaker and charismatic visionary with a wonderful sense of humour, over his lifetime Rosenberg led NVC workshops and intensive trainings for thousands of people in over 60 countries, including war-torn regions and economically disadvantaged areas.

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One memorable encounter occurred when Rosenberg mediated between chieftains of warring Christian and Muslim tribes in northern Nigeria in the early 1990s. Before commencing, Rosenberg was advised that some of the chieftains in the room knew that others in the room had killed their children. Rosenberg applied his process of NVC to help the chieftains hear and understand each other. Eventually one chieftain jumped up, talking excitedly. Rosenberg’s translator told him the chieftain was saying “if we knew how to speak to each other this way we wouldn’t have to kill each other.” A similar sentiment was expressed by a prisoner during NVC training in a US jail, who said with deep sadness that if he had known how to communicate the way Rosenberg demonstrated, he wouldn’t have killed his best friend.

NVC has transcended its original function as a peacemaking tool, and today is valued as a process to support both inner personal growth and outer social change. Rosenberg’s legacy continues through the Center for Nonviolent Communication, incorporated in 1984. A network of certified trainers and thousands of NVC supporters in over 100 countries around the world engage in a range of activities, including prison projects, restorative justice projects with street children, schools programmes, and training for the general public and organisations.

Photo title: Marshall Rosenberg, who passed away on 7 February

Photo credit: © Centre for Nonviolent Communication

  • Janice Scott

    I am interested in this NVC, I have heard of it before and had the topic come up in several of my human service classes but now think perhaps it can help me communicate better with one of my daughters,whom I seem to argue with daily.

  • Daren De Witt

    Hi Janice
    I’m glad to know that NVC is being talked about on the human grapevine. :-) A lot of people have found it helpful in their relationships with their offspring, myself included. If you visit the website mentioned at the end of the article – – you may be able to find a training near you. These days there is also online training offered and there are several videos posted on Youtube of Marshall Rosenberg in seminar. A popular 3 hour seminar of Marshall is posted on Youtube here (if Positive News email system allows this link to be shared here):

  • Teresa

    Janice, Marshall Rosenberg’s book, ‘Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life’ would be helpful to you in learning how to better communicate with your daughters. Marshall’s work has touched me deeply, bringing more understanding and life to my relationships, it truly is a language to connect with life!

  • Chloe Tatum

    Hello Janice – I came across NVC 3yrs ago and I couldn’t imagine my life without it now. It has been absolutely key to the way I communicate, to the way I respond and to the way I listen to other people. NVC has offered me so many choices that I didn’t know I had. I would definitely recommend NVC, a language for life book by Marshall Rosenburg also try you tube there’s lots of his teachings on there with role plays which I found immensely helpful at the beginning. And following that I would recommend finding a NVC circle which will offer you a unique space to share NVC with fellow NVCers if their isn’t one local to you try facebook NVC groups as a good starting point.
    With warmth, Chloe.

  • Elie Kopiel

    Going on from Marshall’s book on NVC, another excellent book is: Respectful Parents RespectfulKids by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson (Based on NVC).

  • Shantigarbha

    Thanks Daren for writing this.
    This autumn I’m starting an NVC Year Programme in the UK with five international certified trainers. There will be five 3-day modules between September 2015 and June 2016. I will be the anchor trainer, with a different guest trainer at each module: Gina Lawrie (the inner dance, Beauty of Needs), Sylvia Haskvitz (Eat by Choice), Kirsten Kristensen (From Guilt and Shame to Freedom), Sabine Geiger (Restorative Circles, Body NVC), and Shona Cameron (NVC in schools as social change).
    More information here:
    Love and life, Shantigarbha