Nonviolent communication – Nonviolent Communication — Wikipedia


Nonviolent Communication — Wikipedia

Nonviolent Communication (abbreviated NVC, also called Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication) is an approach to nonviolent living developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s.[1][2][3] It is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence or behavior that harms themselves and others when they do not recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs.[4] Habits of thinking and speaking that lead to the use of violence (social, psychological and physical) are learned through culture. NVC theory supposes all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs and that these needs are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that people identify shared needs, revealed by the thoughts and feelings that surround these needs, and collaborate to develop strategies that meet them. This creates both harmony and learning for future cooperation.[5]

NVC supports change on three interconnected levels: with self, with others, and with groups and social systems. As such it is particularly present in the areas of personal development, relationships, and social change. NVC is ostensibly taught as a process of interpersonal communication designed to improve compassionate connection to others. However, due to its far-reaching impact it has also been interpreted as a spiritual practice, a set of values, a parenting technique, a method of social change, a mediation tool, an educational orientation, and a worldview.

Effective Communication Skills and Communication Training


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If “violent” means acting in ways that result in hurt or harm, then much of how we communicate—judging others, bullying, having racial bias, blaming, finger pointing, discriminating, speaking without listening, criticizing others or ourselves, name-calling, reacting when angry, using political rhetoric, being defensive or judging who’s “good/bad” or what’s “right/wrong” with people—could indeed be called “violent communication.”

Nonviolent Communication is the integration of 4 things:

  • Consciousness: a set of principles that support living a life of compassion, collaboration, courage, and authenticity
  • Language: understanding how words contribute to connection or distance
  • Communication: knowing how to ask for what we want, how to hear others even in disagreement, and how to move toward solutions that work for all
  • Means of influence: sharing “power with others” rather than using “power over others”

NVC serves our desire to do three things:

  1. Increase our ability to live with choice, meaning, and connection
  2. Connect empathically with self and others to have more satisfying relationships
  3. Sharing of resources so everyone is able to benefit


What People Are Saying About Nonviolent Communication

“Nonviolent Communication shows us a way of being very honest, without any criticism, insults, or put-downs, and without any intellectual diagnosis implying wrongness.”

— Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD



«Human beings have enormous power to enrich life. We can use words to contribute to people’s enjoyment, their wisdom. We can use words that can make life miserable for people. So our words are very powerful. We can touch people in ways that give great pleasure, great nurturing, support. We are powerhouses, and there’s nothing we enjoy doing more than to use that power we have to enrich lives. So isn’t it wonderful that we have this power and the joy it brings when we use it? That’s to be celebrated. Wow! And the more we celebrate that, the less we will be willing to do anything else.»

— Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD

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Upon becoming CEO of Microsoft, Nadella asked his top executives to read Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication “Why else is empathy important? Nadella states: You have to be able to say, ‘Where is this person coming from?’” he says. “‘What makes them tick? Why are they excited or frustrated by something that is happening, whether it’s about computing or beyond computing?’”

«In our present age of uncivil discourse and mean-spirited demagoguery, the principles and practices of Nonviolent Communication are as timely as they are necessary to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, personal or public, domestic or international.»


On Nonviolent Communication – Erik Torenberg – Medium

The below are my takeaways from the book, Nonviolent Communication. You can find the book here:


I posted the following status on Facebook last week:

“Nonviolent Communication is the most impactful book I’ve read all year.”

Some people asked me in private: “Are you violently fighting with someone?” At first I was surprised by their question, but then I understood. If I posted “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book is the most impactful book I’ve read,” some people may ask me when’s the next AA meeting.

Some friends I told about the book also admitted to have reading it — as if it were a confession — but hadn’t met anyone else who had. Because of the title’s implications, they were shy about sharing how impactful the book was for them. For this reason, I’ve argued that the title should be rebranded to appeal to a wider audience. Perhaps “Compassionate Communication”.

At the same time, however, by calling the book “Nonviolent Communication,” Marshall Rosenberg forces us to realize how violent we are in our daily communication with each other.

The book has had a surprisingly profound impact on me — on my relationship with myself and others — and I’m writing this piece to encourage other people to read and practice it.

The book, Nonviolent Communication, 3rd edition.

Before I get into it, here’s a quick summary:

Non Violent Communication — NVC — is a framework of communication for speaking and listening that helps us get what we want in ways we are proud of and meet everyones needs.

Below I show 17 takeaways from the book. Have patience while reading — some things sound cliche but the implications are profound. Consider the phrase “Take responsibility for your thoughts, actions, and feelings.” That sounds trite on its own, but in NVC, it isn’t, because the implication is that we have to change how we communicate in ways that are difficult. For example, below are examples of things we say everyday. The parentheses following the statements indicate who or what we deem responsible for the actions (instead of ourselves).

“I cleaned my room because I had to.” (Blames Vague impersonal forces)

“I drink because I am an alcoholic.” (Blames Our condition, diagnosis, or personal or psychological history)

Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication Primer

By Inbal and Miki Kashtan

Introduction to Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

Nonviolent Communication has been described as a language of compassion, as a tool for positive social change. NVC gives us the tools to understand what triggers us, to take responsibility for our reactions, and to deepen our connection with ourselves and others, thereby transforming our habitual responses to life. Ultimately, it involves a radical change in how we think about life and meaning.

Nonviolent Communication is based on a fundamental principle: Underlying all human actions are needs that people are seeking to meet. Understanding and acknowledging these needs can create a shared basis for connection, cooperation, and more harmonious relationships on both a personal and global level. Understanding each other at the level of our needs creates this possibility because, on the deeper levels, the similarities between us outweigh the differences, giving rise to greater compassion.

When we focus on needs – without interpreting or conveying criticism, blame, or demands – our deeper creativity flourishes, and solutions arise that were previously blocked from our awareness. At this depth, conflicts and misunderstandings can be resolved with greater ease.

The language of Nonviolent Communication includes two parts: honestly expressing ourselves to others, and empathically hearing others. Both are expressed through four components — observations, feelings, needs, and requests – though observations and requests may or may not be articulated.

Practicing NVC involves distinguishing these components from judgments, interpretations, and demands, and learning to embody the consciousness embedded in these components. This compassionate approach allows us to express ourselves and hear ourselves and others in ways more likely to foster understanding and connection. It allows us to support everyone involved in getting their needs met, and to nurture in all of us a joy in giving and in receiving.

The practice also includes empathic connection with ourselves — «self-empathy.» The purpose of self-empathy is to support us in maintaining connection with our own needs, thus encouraging us to choose our actions and responses based on self-connection and self-acceptance.

NVC was developed by Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, who has introduced it to individuals and organizations world-wide. It has been used between warring tribes and in war-torn countries; in schools, prisons, and corporations; in health care, social change, and government institutions; and in intimate personal relationships. Hundreds of certified trainers and many more non-certified trainers around the world are sharing NVC in their communities.

The Components of Nonviolent Communication

1. Observations

Observations are what we see or hear that we identify as the stimulus to our reactions. Our aim is to describe what we are reacting to concretely, specifically and neutrally, much as a video camera might capture the moment. This helps create a shared reality with the other person. The observation gives the context for our expression of feelings and needs.

The key to making an observation is to separate our own judgments, evaluations or interpretations from our description of what happened. For example, if we say: «You’re rude,» the other person may disagree, while if we say: «When you walked in you did not say hello to me,» the other person is more likely to recognize the moment that is described.

When we are able to describe what we see or hear in observation language without mixing in evaluation, we raise the likelihood that the person listening to us will hear this first step without immediately wanting to respond, and will be more willing to hear our feelings and needs.

Learning to translate judgments and interpretations into observation language moves us away from right/wrong thinking. It helps us take responsibility for our reactions by directing our attention to our needs as the source of our feelings, rather than to the faults of the other person. In this way, observations – paving the way towards greater connection with ourselves and with others – emerge as a crucial building block towards more meaningful connection.

2. Feelings

Feelings represent our emotional experience and physical sensations associated with our needs that have been met or that remain unmet. Our aim is to identify, name and connect with those feelings. The key to identifying and expressing feelings is to focus on words that describe our inner experience rather than words that describe our interpretations of people’s actions.

For example: «I feel lonely» describes an inner experience, while «I feel like you don’t love me» describes an interpretation of how the other person may be feeling. When we express our feelings, we continue the process of taking responsibility for our experience, which helps others hear what’s important to us with less likelihood of hearing criticism or blame of themselves. This increases the likelihood that they will respond in a way that meets both our needs.

A list of feelings to explore is available here.

3. Needs

Our needs are an expression of our deepest shared humanity. All human beings share key needs for survival: hydration, nourishment, shelter, and connection to name a few. We also share many other needs, though we may experience them to varying degrees, and may experience them more or less intensely at various times.

In the context of Nonviolent Communication, needs refer to what is most alive in us: our core values and deepest human longings. Understanding, naming, and connecting with our needs helps us improve our relationship with ourselves, as well as foster understanding with others, so we are all more likely to take actions that meet everyone’s needs.

The key to identifying, expressing, and connecting with needs is to focus on words that describe shared human experience rather than words that describe the particular strategies to meet those needs. Whenever we include a person, a location, an action, a time, or an object in our expression of what we want, we are describing a strategy rather than a need.

For example: «I want you to come to my birthday party» may be a particular strategy to meet a need for love and connection. In this case, we have a person, an action, and an implied time and location in the original statement.

The internal shift from focusing on a specific strategy to connecting with underlying needs often results in a sense of power and liberation. We are encouraged to free ourselves from being attached to one particular strategy by identifying the underlying needs and exploring alternative strategies.

Feelings arise when our needs are met or not met, which happens at every moment of life. Our feelings are related to the trigger, but they are not caused by the trigger: their source is our own met or unmet needs. By connecting our feelings with our needs, therefore, we take full responsibility for our feelings, freeing us and others from fault and blame.

And by expressing our unique experience in the moment of a shared human reality of needs, we create the most likely opportunity for another person to see our humanity and to experience empathy and understanding for us.

A list of needs to explore is available here. It is offered as a resource for identifying and experiencing your own needs and guessing others’ needs. The needs on this list appear in their most abstract, general and universal form. Each person can find inside herself or himself the specific nuance and flavor of these broader categories, which will describe more fully her or his experience.

4. Requests

In order to meet our needs, we make requests to assess how likely we are to get cooperation for particular strategies we have in mind for meeting our needs. Our aim is to identify and express a specific action that we believe will serve this purpose, and then check with others involved about their willingness to participate in meeting our needs in this way.

In a given moment, it is our connection with another that determines the quality of their response to our request. Therefore, when using NVC, our requests are «connection requests,» intended to foster connection and understanding and to determine whether we have sufficiently connected to move to a «solution request.»

An example of a connection request might be: «Would you tell me how you feel about this?» An example of a solution request might be «Would you be willing to take your shoes off when you come in the house?» The spirit of requests relies on our willingness to hear a «no» and to continue to work with ourselves or others to find ways to meet everyone’s needs.

Whether we are making a request or a demand is often evident by our response when our request is denied. A denied demand will lead to punitive consequences; a denied request most often will lead to further dialogue. We recognize that «no» is an expression of some need that is preventing the other person from saying «yes».

If we trust that through dialogue we can find strategies to meet both of our needs, «no» is simply information to alert us that saying yes to our request may be too costly in terms of the other person’s needs. We can then continue to seek connection and understanding to allow additional strategies to arise that will work to meet more needs.

To increase the likelihood that our requests will be u

Therapy for Nonviolent Communication, Therapist for Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent communication (NVC), sometimes referred to as compassionate communication, is an approach to communicating designed to help people connect more compassionately with themselves and others. Nonviolent communication can transform interactions, as it enables people to become more aware of their feelings, needs, and desires, as well as those of others, in a given situation.

This form of communication can promote greater self-awareness and personal growth, to foster deeper interpersonal relationships, and to effectively settle conflicts and disputes at all levels of society. Those attempting to strengthen nonverbal communication skills may find the support of a mental health professional to be helpful.

Development and History of Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent communication was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s and is based on several core assumptions. First, Rosenberg proposed that humans are innately compassionate. The NVC model emerged from his ongoing attempt to understand the factors that influence this innate compassionate nature and his realization that language is one of the most crucial.

According to Rosenberg, it is our nature to behave compassionately, but many of us have learned how to speak and act in ways that are harmful to others. We learn to judge, withdraw, defend, and attack, all of which alienates us from others and from our natural state of compassion. NVC was designed to help us overcome these negative tendencies so that we can connect with others on a deeper personal level.

Rosenberg also believed that all humans share certain universal needs. When these needs are satisfied, we experience pleasant emotions such as happiness and contentment; when they are not, we develop negative feelings such as anger and disappointment. Our feelings, therefore, indicate whether our needs are being met.

Rosenberg’s model of nonviolent communication was influenced by the principles of humanistic psychology as well as the Gandhian principle of nonviolence. The core components of NVC are outlined by Rosenberg in his well-known book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

The Goal of Nonviolent Communication

The focus of nonviolent communication is to help people rethink and restructure the way in which they express themselves and listen to others. As humans, we learn to respond to certain situations in an automatic manner. When asked «How are you?» for example, the automatic response might be «I’m fine,» although this might be far from the truth.

Such habitual responses are functional, in that they help conserve time and cognitive resources and allow us to react quickly in emergency situations. Nevertheless, they prevent us from being truly authentic. The end goal of NVC is to develop a mutually satisfying exchange, one in which the needs of all parties involved are met through compassionate giving.

The principles of NVC serve a dual purpose. They allow people to become more aware of what they are perceiving, feeling, and wanting in a given moment while also helping them become more attuned and empathetic to the needs, emotions, and circumstances of others. As a result, people are able to replace their habitual reactions with more conscious and honest responses and interact with others in a more respectful and empathic manner.

The Process of Nonviolent Communication

The process of NVC involves four key components:

  • Observations
  • Feelings
  • Needs
  • Requests

First, individuals observe what is happening in a given situation without any form of judgment. Next, they express how these observations make them feel and what needs, values, or desires are related to these feelings. Finally, they make clear, specific requests based on what they need to enrich their lives, instead of demanding these from others. For example, a wife whose husband shouted at her at a social function might express these four components by saying, «When you shout at me in public (observation) I feel humiliated (feeling) because I value respect, especially in the presence of others (need). When we have a disagreement in public, would you be willing to wait until we can discuss the matter in private (request)?»

Since communication is a two-way street, the process would not be complete unless both people are willing to accept the same four pieces of information from each other. That is, they must discern what others are observing, feeling, and needing, without evaluating, and they must be open to receiving their requests. The four components of nonviolent communication need not be expressed in the same order each time. The process allows for some creativity so that the verbal exchange does not become mechanical and formulaic.  

Nonviolent Communication Techniques and Exercises

There is no one set of tools available for teaching nonviolent communication. However, some techniques and exercises are common. For example:

  • In the initial stage of training, a list of judgments, needs, and feelings may be given to participants so that they can learn to distinguish between them and respond more accurately.
  • Participants may be asked to read, relate, or role-play a conflict situation, after which they practice identifying the unmet needs of all persons involved.
  • Language-reframing exercises may be employed to foster more honest expression of feelings and needs. Among other things, participants may be taught to:
    • Watch for sweeping judgments, such as «You always…» or «You never…» and replace these with more specific, concrete observations.
    • Own their feelings (e.g. «I feel…») instead of blaming others for them (e.g. «You make me feel…»).
    • Focus less on what we are (e.g. labels and diagnoses such as «nerd» and «abnormal») and more on how we are.
    • Avoid language that suppresses choice, such as «must,» «should,» and «have to.»

In What Settings Is Nonviolent Communication Used?

A therapist skilled in nonviolent communication can help nearly anyone become a better communicator. The principles of nonviolent communication can be applied in the

We Need to Talk (about Nonviolent Communication

I‘ve traditionally been a bit of cack-handed communicator.

In everyday communication and when nobody’s got any beef, I’m totally fine. The challenges come during high stake moments, and specifically in knowing how to express my needs in a way that isn’t either too weak or overly forceful. I didn’t even think in such terms until quite recently.

And so I was very happy to discover Marshall Rosenberg’s compassionate communication process, nonviolent communication. And if you have yet to discover it, I think you’ll be too. Because it isn’t just me – everyone has challenges in communicating.

According to researchers, being a compelling communicator boils down to projecting two qualities: warmth and strength. Being compelling is important, but it doesn’t help you to navigate potential conflict.

Nonviolent communication does. In fact, practicing NVC can lead you to completely rethink your values, but more on that later. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the nonviolent communication model is that it gets you to focus your attention in more productive ways during potentially heated exchanges.

This post is intended to be a starting place for how to practice nonviolent communication, and discusses some other ways to become a more effective communicator.

What exactly is nonviolent communication, and what problem does it solve?

Nonviolent communication is the most widely used self-help process for communication. Psychologist and mediator Marshall Rosenberg developed the process in the 1960s. So what problem was Marshall looking to solve?

Rosenberg found that most of us have been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand and diagnose, and to think and communicate in terms of what is right and wrong. We tend to express our feelings in terms of what another person has ‘done to us’, therefore absolving ourselves of responsibility (and by extension, making solutions harder to come by).

We’ve been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand and diagnose. Click To Tweet

Also, we struggle to understand what we want or need in the moment, and how to effectively ask for what we want without using unhealthy demands, threats or coercion. Needless to say, communicating this way can create misunderstanding and frustration, or simply keep us from getting what we want.

The nonviolent communication principles help to overcome this by having us focus on hearing the true needs of others with less effort, and asking for what we need without being douchebags. Rosenberg says “we perceive relationships in a new light when we use NVC to hear our own deeper needs and those of others.”

Marshall makes the interesting point in the book that nonviolent communication is especially important for lawyers, engineers and corporate managers, because such professions particularly discourage demonstrating emotion and feeling. 

Specific problems with the way we communicate

In the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (which is a must-read by the way), Rosenberg describes a few common ways of communicating which serve to alienate us from our natural state of compassion. You may recognise some of these.

Language that absolves responsibility

The language we use can obscure our awareness of our responsibility. For example, we begin sentences with ‘I should’ or ‘I have to’ and we also make others responsible for our emotions and feelings.

Using language that absolves responsibility is harmful as your language defines your self-concept, attitudes and behaviour. Nonviolent communication helps you to use language that acknowledges choice, rather than a lack of choice.

Failing to separate observations from evaluations

When we share our observations with others and combine them with some sort of an evaluation, they are going to hear that as criticism. Nonviolent communication helps you to become more aware of when you are communicating in an evaluative way.

Failing to distinguish feelings from thoughts

We tend to start a sentence with ‘I feel’, but actually end it with a thought. For example, we might say ‘I feel like you aren’t taking me seriously.’ That’s a judgment and it isn’t telling the person how their behaviour is making you really feel, i.e. sad.

I found this section of the book really enlightening, and I realise I often try to make my feelings known through the language of thoughts.

The problem with expressing your problem with thoughts rather than feelings is that other people don’t connect with thoughts. You are much more likely to make yourself understood if you talk about how you feel.

Nonviolent communication helps you to distinguish your feelings from your thoughts. Therefore it improves the prospects that others empathizing with you.

We aren’t clear in making our requests

If you haven’t identified the clear action that a person can make to meet your needs, your needs are unlikely to be met. Nonviolent communication helps you to get clarity over that.

We make demands, not requests

Nonviolent communication brings your awareness to how often your requests are actually veiled demands. You know you have made a demand when you take it badly that someone refuses what you are asking.

We fail to listen with empathy

In seeking to empathize with others, we tend to fudge it by offering sympathy or consolation without asking whether advice or reassurance was wanted. NVC says that empathy is emptying our minds and listening with our whole being. And that intellectual understanding blocks empathy.

The process says ‘don’t just do something – stand there’.

Being indirect, i.e. being passive aggressive

Being passive aggressive, which is one of the confrontation styles, is a common but alienating way of communicating needs. Nonviolent communication involves a commitment to handling things directly.

Nonviolent communication – how to do it

There are four components to nonviolent communication:

  1. Observations: The concrete actions we observe that affect our wellbeing.
  2. Feelings: How we feel in relation to what we observe.
  3. Needs: What we need in relation to how we feel.
  4. Requests: The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives.

Note that NVC is about speaking and listening. You apply these principles to what you are hearing so that no matter what people say, you only hear what they are (1) observing, (2) feeling, (3) needing, and (4) requesting.

Although it seems pretty rigid and unnatural, you can just use the components as guiding posts as you talk and listen.

The four NVC elements are observation, feeling, need and request Click To Tweet

If you had to name the value underlying the NVC process, you would call it compassion. But there are also the values of clarity and truth. As I often repeat on this blog, so much of how we listen is influenced by our unique filters on the world, determined by our egos. As the expression goes, we tend to see things not as they are, but how we are. So it is good to know that by using NVC, you help to avoid the negative effects of your ego in your listening and speaking.

Let’s look at each element in more depth.

Making observations

Firstly, you identify what it is that you observe that does not contribute to your wellbeing. For example, it may be something that someone has said or done.

The trick when communicating what you have noticed is to do so without evaluating. This is quite hard to do for us. Perhaps that’s why observing without evaluating has been described by Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti as the highest form of human intelligence.

Your observations should be purely factual observations, with no component of judgment or evaluation. Directly observable facts provide a common ground for communication.

Neutral observations versus judgments:

‘When I see you give away your lunch money, I think you are being too generous’  (observation) versus ‘you are too generous’ (judgment).

‘It was 3am and I could hear your music playing‘ (O) versus ‘It’s too late to play your music’ (J).

‘Nem only studies for exams the night before‘ (O) versus ‘Nem procrastinates’ (J).

Expressing feelings

Next, you identify how you really feel in relation to what you observed that caught your attention. In NVC, you distinguish between words that express actual feelings and words that describe what we think we are. A few examples might help.

Expressing what we think, versus our feelings:

‘I feel inadequate as a piano player ‘ versus ‘I feel disappointed in myself as a piano player’.

‘I feel unimportant and under-appreciated at work’ versus ‘I feel sad/misunderstood/discouraged’. 

‘I feel like you don’t miss me when you’re not here’ versus ‘I feel sad you’re leaving.’

Notice that expressing our feelings is a lot more vulnerable. Also note that to do this, you may need to develop your feelings vocabulary.

Identifying needs

Next, you identify what it is that you need, that caused the feeling. The more that we are able to connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately. By tuning into the feeling, you can often find the underlying need.

Examples of acknowledging needs:

‘I’m feeling uncomfortable because I’m needing connection right now. Is now a good time to hang out?’

‘I’m feeling angry you said that, because I am wanting respect and I hear your words as an insult.’

‘I’m sad that you won’t be coming home for dinner as I was looking forward to spending time with you.’

Note that the statements all show the speaker taking responsibility for their feelings.

Making requests

The final part is to make a concrete request, framed in positive terms, for action to meet the need just identified. Ask clearly and specifically for what you want right now, rather than hinting or stating only what you don’t want.

For the request to really be a request, and not a demand, allow the other person to say no or propose an alternative. It’s a request if the speaker then shows empathy towards the other person’s needs. You take responsibility for getting your own needs met, and you let them take responsibility for theirs.

Examples of concrete requests:

‘I’d like you to tell me one thing that I did that you appreciate’.

‘I would like you to drive at or below the speed limit.’

Examples of vague requests:

‘I’d like to get to know you better’.

‘I’d like you to prepare dinner more often’.

‘I’d like you to show respect for my privacy’

Other habits of effective communicators

Nonviolent communication is the closest thing I have found to a complete toolkit on communication, and it is especially essential for conflict resolution. This next section is about how to be a more effective communicator generally.

Expressing a clear growth mindset, entrepreneur Brian Tracy said “communication, like riding a bicycle or typing, is a skill that you can learn. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”

Here are some things you may want to think about:

Develop simplicity

Simple messages and communications convey sincerity, integrity, confidence and truth. Make an effort to streamline your communications. This is particularly important when saying no. Do not feel a need to provide excuses and explanations. You don’t want people to think that your no is up for argument.

Speak with purpose

Get to the point. If you tend to babble, reflect on what it is you want from conversations in advance. It should help you to be more intentional in your speech.

Cut the negative crap

Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” Become a great mind. If you want to demonstrate trust and openness, and create a safe space for people to be frank with you, then avoid sharing your endless opinions. They often don’t add anything. And definitely avoid gossip.

Say what you mean, mean what you say

One of the famous four agreements is being impeccable with your word. Our language is where we show our integrity, and integrity matters. It is how others learn to trust in us.

Be natural

Own your unique self expression, as it is a major way you can cultivate self-love. Don’t over fixate on eloquence; concentrate on being distinct and real.

Be really present

Get really mindful of knowing when your mind is drifting in conversation.

Check your non-verbal communication isn’t giving off wrong signals

Keep an eye on yours and other people’s body language (watch those closed arms.)

Know your audience

Meet people where they are instead of where you are.

Don’t always rush to fill silences

It takes confidence initially, but allowing for pause in conversation gives everyone the permission to think a bit more about their responses. Plus, this allows for conversation to become more creative.

Eliminate distractions

Do not use your smartphone (or keep it in eye-shot) when you are speaking with people unless you have to for some reason. Remember how it feels when other people do that to you, and that the biggest gift you can give anyone is your attention.

Final thoughts

I think that the nonviolent communication process offers the potential to be truly life-changing for most of us. Not only does it improve how we speak but it changes how we listen, which in my view is equally if not more important.

My experience is that NVC is incredibly simple to learn, but putting it into practice consistently is testing. However it is something that I believe is truly worth the effort.

It isn’t just about communication. Nonviolent communication is a values system Click To Tweet

Using this model helps to remind you to keep your attention focused on a place where you are more likely to get what you are seeking.

If you want to explore NVC principles in greater depth, I really recommend that you read Marshall’s book.

Summary of Nonviolent Communication


Nonviolent Communication is a communication and conflict-resolution process developed by the psychologist Marshall Rosenberg. The book focuses on how to express ourselves in a way that inspires empathy in others, and how to listen to them empathically in turn. This system radically changed my understanding of human interactions, and using these techniques with myself greatly reduced my own level of self-judgment. I highly recommend this book.

Four Key Steps

  • Observation – specific facts/data, no evaluation/judgment
  • Feeling – state how we feel (many failure modes here)
  • Need – the need underlying this feeling
  • Request – must be specific action to address need

“When ___, I feel ___, because I am needing ___. Therefore, I would now like ___.”

Life-alienating forms of communication

  • Moralistic judgments
  • Comparisons
  • Making demands
  • Denying responsibility :
    • Vague, impersonal forces
    • Condition, diagnosis, psychological history
    • Actions of others
    • Dictates of authority
    • Group pressure
    • Policies, rules, regulations
    • Social roles: gender, age, etc.
    • Uncontrollable impulses



Specific observations – what we are sensing: sight, sound, touch

Observation with evaluation is received as criticism

  • Evaluation words: Always, never, ever, whenever, frequently, seldom…



The actions of others may be a stimulus, but not a cause, of our feelings

Clear expression: “I feel (emotion)”

Feeling not expressed clearly when “I feel” followed by:

  • Like, that, as if
  • Pronouns
  • Other people
  • Description of what we think we are
  • How we think others perceive us

Ways to mask accountability

  • Starting sentence with it or that
  • Only mention actions of others
  • “I feel (emotion) because (anyone other than I) …”
  • Substitute, “I feel (emotion) because I …”



Basic human needs:

  • Autonomy: to choose one’s goals, values, plans
  • Celebration: creation of life and goals fulfilled, celebrate loss through mourning
  • Integrity: authenticity, creativity, self-worth
  • Interdependence: acceptance, appreciation, community, enriching life, safety, empathy, honesty, love, respect, support, trust, understanding
  • Play: fun, laughter
  • Spiritual Communion: peace, harmony, beauty
  • Physical Nurturance: food, exercise, rest, sex, shelter, touch, protection

Judgments of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs

Asking to have our needs met directly makes compassion easier for others: people hear criticism and attempt defense/counterattack when indirect

Stages of Emotional Liberation:

  1. We believe we are responsible for the feelings of others (keep everyone happy)
  2. We no longer want to be responsible for the feelings of others (anger at our own unmet needs)
  3. We take responsibility for our actions, respond to the needs of others out of compassion

Assessing needs is especially important when addressing a group!

  • Much time is wasted when speakers aren’t clear what response they want back – so ask them!
  • Also unclear when needs are actually met, we can signal by saying things like “got it”



Request what we want, not what we don’t want

  • Negative requests can cause confusion and resistance

Make requests for specific actions

  • Avoid vague, abstract, ambiguous phrasing
  • Vague language also results in internal confusion
  • More likely to get what we want

Ask the listener to reflect it back in their own words

  • Express appreciation, say “I’m grateful to you for telling me what you heard.”
  • Don’t chastise them for getting it wrong, say “I didn’t make myself as clear as I would have liked, let me try again.”
  • Empathize with the listener who doesn’t want to reflect back

After we’ve expressed ourselves, we often want to know:

  • What the listener is feeling
  • What the listener is thinking, specify what thoughts we want them to share
  • Whether the listener is willing to take a particular action

Requests are not always implicitly understood from feelings/needs

  • Requests without feelings/needs can sound like demands
  • We may not even be conscious of what we are requesting

Requests are received as demands when they think they will be blamed/punished for non-compliance

  • Two options with demands: submit or rebel
  • The more we did this in the past, the more our current actions are perceived as such (poisoned relationships)
  • Figures of authority also face the same challenge
  • Do not interpret non-compliance as rejection
  • Empathizing with someone’s “no” protects us from taking it personally
  • Do not engage in persuasion until we have empathized with what prevented that person’s acceptance
  • Signs we will judge others for non-compliance: saying should, supposed to, justified, have a right


Listening empathically

No matter what words people use, listen for the four steps.

Empathy is emptying the mind and listening with our entire self, which only occurs when we have shed preconceived notions and judgments.

Reflect back to others what we heard

  • This reveals our understanding, while eliciting necessary corrections
  • Offers them some time to reflect on their own words
  • Don’t ask for information without first sensing the speaker’s reality (e.g. “Why are you feeling that way?”)
  • If we do that, at least first state our own feelings and needs behind the question
  • Hearing a paraphrase will be more reassuring than simply saying you understand
  • Reflection is most desired when their message is emotionally charged
  • Be very careful with tone of voice, people are sensitive to criticism/sarcasm, or a declarative tone
  • If others are routinely skeptical of your motives, check your intentions

Allow others to fully express themselves before turning to requests or solutions

  • The initial feeling might be followed by related, unexpressed emotions
  • Persist in empathy until the speaker has exhausted all of their feelings, marked by a release of tension in the body, or the speaker stops talking
  • Recognize the release of tension in their body by feeling a corresponding release in our own

The best time to interrupt a conversation is when we’ve heard one more word than we want to hear

  • Interrupt with empathy, they might be needing it without realizing
  • Openly express our desire to be more connected and request information
  • Lifeless conversations for the listener are equally so for the speaker
  • It is more considerate to interrupt than to pretend to listen

When we have trouble empathizing with others, it is a sign we require empathy ourselves

  • Listen to what is going on in ourselves using the same empathy we give others
  • Scream nonviolently, by calling attention to our own desperate pain and need in the moment, they may listen even through their own distress
  • Physically remove ourselves from the situation

Common behaviors we do instead of empathy

  • Advising
  • One-upping
  • Educating
  • Consoling
  • Story-telling
  • Shutting them down
  • Sympathizing
  • Interrogating
  • Explaining
  • Correcting

Intellectual understanding blocks empathy

  • We are not present when analyzing their words to see how they fit our model
  • Be with them and their experience entirely
  • We may sympathize by feeling their feelings, but this is not being present either

It may be difficult to empathize with those who are closest to us



NVC’s most important application!

We have all learned limiting beliefs

  • Transforming this destructive thinking requires a literacy of needs and self-awareness
  • NVC allows us to recognize this conditioning through the four main steps

Self-judgments, like judgments of others, are expressions of unmet needs

  • Critical self-concepts prevent us from seeing our beauty, only our shortcomings
  • When we are motivated by shame, we are allowing our learning to by guided by self-hatred
  • When motivated by fear/guilt/shame/hatred, our actions do not feel playful/joyful
  • We should be stimulated by a clear desire to enrich life for ourselves and others (positive motivation)
  • Negative motivations include:
    • Extrinsic reward: money, approval
    • Escape punishment
    • Avoid shame
    • Avoid guilt
    • Sense of duty

Steps to attain self-empathy

  • Recognize self-judgment and focus on the underlying needs
  • First ask what needs lie behind the judgment
  • Then ask what needs lie behind the judged action
  • By focusing on our needs, we will naturally begin to figure out ways to meet them

Translate “I have to…” to “I choose to… because I want…” to gain awareness of our actions


Expressing anger

Acknowledge that we are responsible for our own anger, others are stimulus not cause

  • Confusing this boundary is used to motivate others by guilt
  • Anger is judgment generated by disconnection to our needs
  • We can also look at the other person’s feelings and needs and empathize with them to understand their behavior

Anger is valuable as a warning that we have unmet needs

  • Yet also makes it unlikely for our needs to be met
  • People are unable to hear our pain if they believe they are at fault
  • Directs energy towards punitive action

Steps to fully express anger:

  1. Stop and breathe
  2. Identify judgmental thoughts
  3. Connect with our needs
  4. (If necessary, empathize with the other person)
  5. Express our feelings and unmet needs


Expressing appreciation

Everyone yearns to be genuinely appreciated. Don’t assume that other people know the intensity of our appreciation.

Judgments, even positive ones, are still judgments: statements like “you are a good person” reveal nothing of what is going on for the speaker.

Three components of appreciation:

  • The specific actions which contributed to our well-being
  • The needs of ours that have been fulfilled
  • The pleasurable feelings engendered by fulfillment of those needs

Receive appreciation with the same empathy we give other messages

  • We tend to search for improvements instead of celebrating how well things are going
  • We are often uncomfortable receiving praise, don’t receive with superiority or false humility
  • When we listen to the effect we have had on others, we can realize the joyous reality that we can make each other’s lives better

Cultivate an awareness of what others are doing that enriches our lives, and tell them!

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