Fostering Empathetic Career Development Through Non-Violent Communication Principles

By Aysegul Zeren

In the dynamic career development landscape, career services professionals often find themselves guiding students through crucial decisions that can significantly impact their lives. Effective career services demand a deep understanding of oneself, one’s options, and decision-making (Sampson et al., 2004). Empathy is a significant component of this process.

Building on Carl Rogers’ core facilitative conditions and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education’s relational competencies, Hughey (2011) argued that demonstrating empathy reassures students that they are respected and valued. Empathy fosters trust between career services professionals and students, permitting students to seek guidance without fear of judgment, regardless of their circumstances and decisions (Hughey, 2011). An empathetic approach to career development, rooted in genuine care and understanding, allows career services professionals to establish meaningful relationships and provide non-judgmental support to those they assist.

Empathetic communication plays a pivotal role, especially in assisting students with handling self-defeating beliefs. These thoughts might hinder students’ decision-making confidence. Social cognitive career theorists encourage individuals to actively evaluate and reframe these thoughts to build self-efficacy and enhance students’ ability to select career paths that align with their true aspirations (Sampson et al., 2004).

Career services professionals can embody compassion and essential dialogue skills by embracing Nonviolent Communication (NVC) principles. This framework can aid career services professionals in serving as powerful role models for students entering the job market. Students will feel empowered to navigate the professional world with increased emotional intelligence. Influential leaders like Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, recognized the significance of NVC. When he became the CEO of Microsoft in 2014, Nadella decided to use the NVC framework to change the company culture (Abadi, 2018).

What is NVC?

Marshall Rosenberg (2002) developed NVC as a communication process that enables creative conflict resolution and fosters compassionate connections. NVC is a language of empathy and a catalyst for positive societal shifts. It equips individuals with the awareness and skills to comprehend their triggers and reactions, promoting deeper connections within themselves and with others (Kashtan & Kashtan, 2002). NVC involves honest expressions, empathic listening, new understanding, and joy by giving and receiving in relationships (Kashtan & Kashtan, 2002).

At its core, NVC centers on four key components:

1. Observation: NVC encourages individuals to describe observable facts without judgment like the way a video recording captures facts. This eliminates blame or criticism in communication and provides a neutral and fair starting point for discussions.

2. Feeling: NVC encourages honest communication of feelings and their validation without judgment since rational thinking cannot be possible without this process. Some feeling words that people often use are judgments. For example, words like ignored, misunderstood, or criticized necessitate the presence of someone else contributing to these feelings. However, practitioners who adopt an NVC framework teach individuals to own their feelings and use alternative feeling words such as hurt, insecure, or uncomfortable instead.

3. Need: NVC theorists emphasize that all individuals have universal human needs, such as belonging, safety, and purpose. Understanding and communicating one's needs is vital to finding mutually satisfying solutions.

4. Request: In practicing NVC, individuals learn to make requests clearly and without demands to meet their needs.

Many professionals have been utilizing NVC in diverse settings worldwide, spanning conflict zones, corporate settings, parenting, clinical therapies, and multiple educational institutions. Intentional execution of NVC in career development is exceptionally fitting, given the long-standing presence of humanizing frameworks in the history of career development.

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How can NVC be integrated into the realm of career development?

Career services professionals play a pivotal role in guiding students through the complex process of exploring career paths and making well-informed decisions. NVC components can help career services professionals cultivate an empathetic and supportive environment where students can openly express their thoughts, ideas, fears, feelings, and aspirations. Career services professionals can apply the components below during their career conversations with students.


  • Career services professionals can begin by observing the student’s situation without passing judgment, while also being mindful that judgement can manifest not only verbally but also nonverbally. Rather than imposing their own assumptions, career services professionals can listen actively to students’ narratives, allowing them to express their concerns and goals freely.
  • When students discuss their career development needs, career services professionals can observe the words and emotions conveyed. Rather than immediately offering solutions, they can aim to fully understand the narrative.
  • Career services professionals can assist students in objectively identifying the challenges they face. This may involve discussing skills/education gaps or limited job opportunities.
  • Career services professionals can help students objectively assess the source of their career-related stress or anxiety. This may involve identifying external factors such as a volatile job market or internal factors like self-doubt.


  • Career decisions can be emotional. When career services professionals acknowledge or validate these feelings, students feel understood and valued. Encouraging students to share their emotions openly fosters an environment of trust.
  • Career services professionals can create an environment that embraces open and transparent dialogue where students can express their frustrations or anxieties without fear of judgment. This process might reinforce a sense of empowerment and an ability to make career decisions. Similarly, career services professionals can celebrate excitement about career choices as it might reinforce motivation and resilience.


  • Identifying and discussing the student’s needs is crucial. Some may seek job security, while others crave personal growth. By understanding these needs, career services professionals can better tailor their guidance.
  • By actively listening to students’ needs, career services professionals can help them clarify their priorities and what truly matters to them in their careers.
  • Listening to needs can help career services professionals provide better recommendations ranging from simple reassurance to practical guidance.


  • In career services, a request can be as simple as suggesting a self-assessment exercise or questions inviting students to explore their career options further, set clear goals, and take meaningful action toward the goal. For example, the career services professional may ask:
    • “Could you share more about what excites you in your summer internship?”
    • “Could you outline three short-term and three long-term career goals?”
    • “Could you list the top three values you want your career to align with?”
    • “Could you identify three organizations/companies you want to work at?”
    • “Could you identify three professionals you want to connect with via informational interviews?”

In conclusion, career services professionals play a crucial role in guiding students through the complex process of career exploration and decision-making. By incorporating NVC principles such as observation, feelings, needs, and requests, career services professionals can create a supportive and empathetic environment, understand students' unique situations without judgment, address emotional aspects of career development, tailor guidance to individual aspirations, and facilitate meaningful conversations. This empowers career services professionals to assist students in making well-informed career choices, shaping their future success and fulfillment.



Abadi, M. (2018). When CEO Satya Nadella took over Microsoft, he started defusing its toxic culture by handing each of his execs a 15-year-old book by a psychologist. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-satya-nadella-nonviolent-communication-2018-10

Hughey, J. K. (2011). Strategies to enhance interpersonal relations in academic advising. NACADA Journal, 31(2), 22–32.

Kashtan, I., & Kashtan, M. (2002). Basics of nonviolent communication.  https://baynvc.org/basics-of-nonviolent-communication/

Rosenberg, M. B. (2002). Nonviolent communication: A language of compassion. PuddledancerPress.

Sampson, J. P., Jr., Peterson, G. W., Reardon, R. C., & Lenz, J. G. (2004). Career counseling & services: A cognitive information processing approach. Brooks/Cole.


Aysegul ZerenAysegul Keskin Zeren, Ph.D. is the Assistant Director for Student Experience at the Career Center at Case Western Reserve University. She works with students interested in public service and healthcare careers and assists exploratory students in finding their professional paths. She also works as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Political Science department, teaching conflict resolution and human rights courses. She has more than a decade long experience working as an instructor in communication skills, empathy, and conflict resolution methods such as negotiation and mediation, as well as conflict coaching. Before joining CWRU, she worked at John Carroll University, University of Notre Dame, Kent State University, and Cuyahoga Community College. You can reach her at aysegul.keskinzeren@case.edu.

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