Constant communication is the cornerstone of today’s workplace, yet many of us allow frustration or anger toward a colleague to linger until a conflict arises. This communication style is not only inefficient; it is also unproductive. There’s a better way to get your point across.

First developed in the 1960s by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, nonviolent communication is a multifaceted discipline. The tactic that is most effective in the workplace is “Observation, Feelings, Needs and Request” (OFNR). This method has been used to defuse heated situations and to allow both parties to reach common ground and a purposeful goal.

Here’s how to use OFNR to communicate with a colleague and achieve what you want.

Observation: Just the Facts

Observation is the first step toward clear communication. When you stand back from a situation (especially a heated one) and pause, you’ll notice that a few things immediately happen:

  • You gain a clearer perspective of the situation.
  • You see things that you may not have seen before.
  • You can begin to separate fact from fiction.

Details like time, place and recorded actions are facts. Everything else is assumption and shouldn’t be included in the observation phase of OFNR. Once you have discerned the facts, you can move onto the next stage of this process.

Feelings: Important and Essential

Despite recent interest and research, discussing feelings in the workplace still feels taboo in many situations. However, bringing feelings to the table is a necessary part of nonviolent communication.

  • How did the situation make you feel?
  • What assumptions did you make?
  • How did you interpret actions? Were those interpretations actually assumptions?

Discussing how a situation made you feel will help the other person realize how you interpreted an action and how those interpretations can be detrimental. Often, people are unaware of how simple actions can result in negative or destructive feelings.

Needs: The Collective Good

When a situation results in conflict, frustration or anger, it means certain needs are not being met. They could be the needs of a team, project, organization or individual, but regardless of whose needs they are, take a step back and ask:

  • What should the outcome be?
  • What needs were not met?
  • What would the ultimate goal be?

You cannot achieve goals or meet needs when anger and frustration muddle communication.

Request: Not a Demand

The request phase is essential, because it sets the stage for the way you should handle future situations. The word “request” is used here, because you cannot force a person to handle a situation differently — but you can ask.

  • How would you prefer that the person behave next time?
  • What steps could that person take to behave differently?

It’s important to reiterate that the OFNR nonviolent method is not one-sided. It’s not meant to be delivered on a pulpit or from a soapbox, and it shouldn’t be a lecture that a leader gives to an employee.

ONFR is a dialogue that has proven to diffuse heated situations so that they can result in beneficial outcomes for all parties. By using nonviolent communication, you can replace presumptions with facts, keep yourself from bottling up your feelings and leaving them to brew, ensure that the needs of the organization take precedence, and clarify requests for handling future situations.