Using the ‘Communication Model’ to De-escalate within NVR

The ‘Communication Model’ is reported by parents to be an invaluable NVR tool.

It is used:

  • as part of de-escalation;
  • for relationship (re)building – it feels nice to be heard; it feels safe and can encourage children to say more.
  • as part of increasing adult or parental presence – through ‘listening’ the adult is much more present for the child;
  • as part of self-care – parents know what to say or do in those moments when they do not know what to say or do and acts as a ‘shield’ to protect parents from taking in the very challenging and difficult feelings the child is expressing.


Communication is a priority in human relationships (we are a language-based species).  Nevertheless, approximately 70-80% of our communication is non-verbal – body posture (defeated, fearful, threatening, aggressive), tone of voice, facial expressions (frowning, smirking, horror, etc.) and gestural (shaking one’s head, wagging a blaming finger).

However, when we need to fix or resolve issues, we use verbal communication and verbal communication can get tangled very easily.  We can assume that what we’ve said is heard and understood by the person we’re speaking to/with, when it may not actually be the case.  Often, verbal communication can go wrong and assumptions can be incorrect.  We can assume that we’ve understood what the other person meant, but can be wrong – what is said and what is heard is often not the same thing at all!

Therefore, it is important to check in to ensure that what is said and what is heard are in line with each other; it is especially important to do this before attempting to find a solution.

One Communication Model we use in NVR is similar to the model used in Imago Therapy, sometimes used in Couples Therapy and Attachment Communication Therapy (ACT) although neither of these are the original source for this model.  It is a mirroring process whereby each speaker reflects back to the other exactly what they’ve heard them say.



Put aside or put on hold your own feelings and reactions to what has been said to you and feed back to the other person what they said, word for word.  You can say “You said […]” or just repeat exactly what they said.  It is important not to alter the words they said as if you do so, they will not feel heard.  It is also important not to say “I heard you say […} as the use of the “I” transfers the attention from them to you and then they are likely not to be fully heard and understood.

If you are accused of mimicking, stop or explain that “what you’re saying is very important and I want to make sure I’ve heard you correctly”.


The ‘cycle of communication’:

A talks to B

B feeds back to A what has been heard and understood by B

A acknowledges this is correct or not correct

If correct, that is a complete cycle of communication

If not correct, either:

  • because B has not heard correctly; or
  • upon hearing what they have said, A wishes to adjust or change the communication.

If (i), A repeats what they said for B to feed this back a second (or third) time.

If (ii), A indicates what they have said is not what they are trying to convey, and they adjust what they want to say again for B to hear and feedback what they have heard and understood.

If now correct, A may wish to say a bit more, or they can change positions, and B communicates what they want to say and are heard by A with the same care, attention and respect.


Why does the ‘Communication Model’ work?

As humans, we need to be heard and understood.  We would like to be agreed with, but we can cope with not being agreed with provided we are heard and understood.  The need to be heard and understood is especially true of emotions.  The human system is a self-healing, self-regulating system that given half a chance will seek and find equilibrium.  Therefore, if emotions are heard and understood, they naturally shift, usually towards a positive direction.  If, on the other hand, emotions are not heard and understood, they stick and solidify.  There may be some healing, but it would be like putting a plaster over a cut with a foreign object in it – the surface would heal but the skin would still be irritated by the foreign object; the slightest knock or scratch and the pain would return.  The same is true for emotions.  If they are not heard and understood, the speaker is left with the original upsets and in addition there is further upset feelings about not being heard, along with frustration, confusion, anger or eventually despondency.  When the communication is problematic over a prolonged period of time, the speaker will inevitably give up trying to communication – ‘there is not point’.  This is not a good outcome for the relationship.   Furthermore, in families where there are difficulties and/or CPV, miscommunication can lead to escalation



The ‘Communication Model’:

  • encourages conversation
  • assists in (re)building relationships
  • engages the thinking brain and allows time for de-escalation to take place
  • enables emotions to shift and change.

However, … the ‘Communication Model’ should NOT BE USED FOR INSTRUCTIONS!! (go and tidy your room – what did you hear me say?) – but for relationship building.

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