Illustration picture from OsloMet by John Anthony Hughes/OsloMet

Nonviolent communication helps students collaborate

By learning about the importance of empathy in communication, computer science students collaborate better across their differences.

Nonviolent Communication is about how connection can contribute to communication, how to ask for what you need, listen to others even in disagreement, and move towards mutual empathy that can lead to solutions that work for all. 

This allows for better connections, more satisfying relationships and sharing of resources so everyone is able to benefit.

All this in contrast to: judging others, bullying, blaming, finger pointing, discriminating, speaking without listening, criticizing, name-calling, using political rhetoric, being defensive or categorising as “good and bad” or “right or wrong”.

Important because computer science professionals work in diverse groups

‘Nonviolent communication is very important to computer science students. In a global industry, they have to find ways to work with very diverse groups of people’ says associate professor G. Anthony Giannoumis. 

‘In Norway, you have to work with people with different and very diverse backgrounds.’ 

‘Nonviolent Communication is a key competence for computer science students and technology professionals. OsloMet is the first university in Norway which includes Nonviolent Communication as a mandatory part of its Computer Science curriculum.’

Clear and distinctive communication

On the results of introducing Nonviolent Communication to their team, student Andrea Bjørge says: 

‘My experience is that we get in touch with each other. We understand each other’s needs, and that makes our communication much better. Our team is really benefiting from using this framework’

‘It is important to be clear and distinctive with your intentions, what you mean and what you would like others to do.’

She admits they still have some way to go with how they formulate and get it into everyday practice. 

Hearing and seeing the other person

Student Ana Flávia adds that Nonviolent Communication is also very much about listening to what the other person says. 

‘You also need to try to connect to the other person without judging their feelings, and sometimes reflect back to them, by asking if you correctly understood their observations, feelings, needs/values and requests.’ 

“Is this what you meant?”, and then the person is free to acknowledge, “Yes, that was what I meant,” or “No, that was not what I meant.” It helps to make the situation clear, so that both people are on the same page about each other’s perceptions.

Enrich each other’s differences

‘The goal is to stay away from violence and the confrontational mind-set at all times,’ says Ana.

‘In Nonviolent Communication, the point is not that one needs to prevail over the other. On the contrary, we want to enrich each other’s differences.’ 

Nonaggressive behaviour

‘I think we can include nonviolent communication as nonaggressive behaviour,’ says Anthony. 

‘It is about empathy, setting yourself to empathize with other people. This is maybe very optimistic of me, but I believe the majority of people are humanitarians at heart. When they see someone that is in need, they want to help that person’. 

Useful for new students

Nonviolent Communication is especially useful for new students that have recently met each other. For them, it is very important to be clear about what their needs and expectations are. As they don’t yet know each other, having this common “language” allows for better mutual understanding.

‘Students have come to me saying how valuable this has been for their abilities to communicate more effectively, and hear other people’s needs.’ 

As an introduction, the students are given access to materials related to the book: Nonviolent Communication: a Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg.

A tool for students with social disabilities

‘For students with social disabilities this is an incredible tool to enable them to communicate more effectively with their peers and their future co-workers,’ says Anthony. 

Three hundred and eighty students involved

As many as 380 Computer Science students are involved, and the course managers have developed different learning materials for them, including reading, videos and presentations and practical activities. 

‘Computer Science is one of the disciplines that has grown up around programming, and we find out that students have significant limitations. All they have done is programming, being able to code,’ says Anthony. 

‘Therefore, we are trying to develop our young professionals in ways that they can compete internationally and fulfil their responsibilities as future technology developers.’ 

The Department of Computer Science has included Nonviolent Communication in the course “Web Development and Inclusive Web Design”. It is a part of project management and user experience design. 

It is for all first-semester computer science students, and they will become the first generation of computer science professionals educated in these communication skills.

For other study programmes and research projects, too

‘Do you have any plans to develop this, put more knowledge into it?’

‘The plans are to integrate Nonviolent Communication in our Master’s degree programme curriculum that focuses on interdisciplinary innovation. It is a key for interdisciplinary work,’ says Anthony.

‘From there we will integrate it in our research and innovation projects that I am leading, and OsloMet is involved in. In the EQUALS-EU project, for example, we are going to use nonviolent communication as a framework to promote more consensus-driven discussions and less conflict-driven discussions.

‘Do you recommend it for other study programmes outside computer science?’

‘Yes, absolutely, even study programmes where communication may not seem like a career key,’ says Anthony. 

‘Any discipline will benefit from this approach, including professions that are communication-oriented like teaching. I believe it would be ideal for teachers to learn to communicate non-violently with students, and I think this is also the case for healthcare professions.’

‘From my personal experience with law, I would say the legal field could also greatly benefit from Nonviolent Communication’, says Ana Flávia. 

‘This is a method for conflict resolution that goes beyond the adversarial logic of a courthouse. Nonviolent Communication allows people to come to terms with their different interests and even find something that works for everyone.’

For all aspects of life

‘Because this framework is about human connection, it be useful anywhere: your workplace, friendships, family and romantic relationships.' 

I started applying it to all aspects of everyday communication, and it really changed my life. – Ana Flávia

Illustration picture from OsloMet at the top. The picture is not related to people mentioned in the article. Photo by John Anthony Hughes/OsloMet.

More about study programmes at Department of Computer Science.


Published: 30/10/2020 | Olav-Johan Øye