Flow is Indeed Sustainability – the Importance of Nonviolent Communication Skills

I enrolled in the Ph.D. program of the Corvinus University of Budapest in the autumn of 2021. This was my first semester as a teacher and a young researcher. In September I still felt so much like a freshly graduated master’s student, and I was both excited (and quite stressed) about my first teaching experience. Thus when I saw Dr. Zoltan Buzady’s ‘Experiential Learning, Flow & Serious Gaming offering among our Ph.D. course list I became very excited to learn more about this topic and the art of ‘how to teach’.

My research area includes sustainability communication and the rhetorics of climate change. The first two courses I got to teach as a graduate teaching assistant were Professional Portfolio at Corvinus University of Budapest and Applied Management of Change and Innovation for Sustainability at Jönköping University. Therefore my key goal this semester was not only to become motivated in researching sustainability communication myself but also to learn how to encourage students to become interested and successful in sustainability and communication science. I share the following opinion:

“Saving our planet is now a communications challenge. We know what to do, we just need the will.”

David Attenborough

For this reason, I decided to learn more about how to communicate the ongoing transformation that impacts the conditions of the planet’s natural ecosystems. I would like to use this knowledge in my future research, as well as in teaching.

I have always wondered how to encourage pro-environmental behavior change as a leader. Despite tackling climate change and protecting the environment having key importance this century, encouraging people to become engaged in pro-environmental behavior is challenging. The dominant approach of communicating climate change and environmental issues is through threats, shock and fear (Drews & Kaltenbacher, 2020). However, several studies have examined the effects of threatening communication and found that the expected behavior change only occurs in rare cases (de Hoog, Stroebe & de Wit, 2007), and can also lead to the subjects underestimating or denying the problem (Peters, Ruiter & Kok, 2014). Moreover, the slow development of the visible consequences of sustainability threats can let

the human brain perceive them as having their impact in the distant future, in a distant place (Robertson, 2018). In order to lead society towards a more sustainable future, one needs to practice a sustainable way of leading.

The Experiential Learning, Flow & Serious Gaming course has taught me about several different leadership skills and what their characteristics are. I can absolutely stand up for the fact that people need a fairly objective system to show their leadership skills, and this course has given a great tool for that. The Fligby game not only provides a fun few hours for the player but also a way to do proper self-assessment about one’s own leadership skills. One skill I especially found very present in Fligby was empathetic and nonviolent communication.

Like my interest in exploring ways of engaging people in pro-environmental behavior, as an alternative to mainstream threatening communication, I usually suggest using nonviolent communication for communicating sustainability threats. Nonviolent communication focuses on communicating without blame, judgment, or domination, on contributing to the well-being of people, and it has been widely applied in social relationships (PuddleDancer Press, n.d). Fligby provided an excellent way to practice this skill. I was pleasantly surprised how big of a role sustainability played in the game, and how the best way to create a sustainable business seemed to be through person-centered, empathetic communication. The characters managed to reach the flow and stay there on the long-run while working on a more environmentally friendly vineyard and creating a wonderful relationship with the community.

I am pleased to conclude that Fligby is an excellent platform to practice nonviolent communication skills while working towards sustainable development.

Leading people (even if only imaginary) to reach the flow, creating a good business and becoming sustainable has been a wonderful practical experience. The cherry on the top was of course winning the Spirit of the Wine award while keeping the business environmentally conscious. All in all the Experiential Learning, Flow & Serious Gaming course has given me an invaluable experience of how to lead and teach people to establish a more sustainable future.


de Hoog, N., Stroebe, W., & de Wit, J. B. F. (2007). The impact of vulnerability to and severity of a health risk on processing and acceptance of fear-arousing communications: A meta-analysis. Review of General Psychology, 11(3),258–285; Witte, K. (1992). Putting the fear back into fear appeals: The extended parallel process model. Communication Monographs, 59(4), 329–349.

Drews, S., & Kaltenbacher, M. (2020). An Inconvenient Joke? A Review of Humor in Climate Change Communication. Environmental Communication, 1–13.

Peters, G. J., Ruiter, R. A., & Kok, G. (2014). Threatening communication: a qualitative study of fear appeal effectiveness beliefs among intervention developers, policymakers, politicians, scientists, and advertising professionals. International journal of psychology: Journal international de psychologie, 49(2), 71–79.

PuddleDancer Press (n.d). Nonviolent Communication Research. Retrieved 13 January 2021 from: https://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/learn-nonviolent-communication/research-on-nvc/

Robertson, M. (2018). Communicating Sustainability. Routledge.

#sustainability #environment #nonviolentcommunication #empatheticcommunication #sustainabilityleadership

Anilla Till

Ph.D. student and sustainability communication specialist, researching nonviolent environmental communication and the rhetorics of climate change in the context of planetary health.