Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication By Marshall B. Rosenberg

Few skills if any are as important yet as challenging as communication. In “Nonviolent Communication” Marshall B. Rosenberg teaches us how to both simplify and enrich our communication process. Rosenberg shows us that identifying feelings and needs in ourselves and others are the keys to diffusing conflict and creating connection. The simple 4 step process of NVC (nonviolent communication) can prove to be life-changing for anyone willing to learn and practice it.






Chapter 1 – Giving from the heart

Four components of NVC:

  1. Observations – The concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being
  2. Feelings – How we feel in relation to what we observe
  3. Needs – The needs, values, desires, etc. that create our feelings
  4. Requests – The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives

Chapter 2 – Communication that blocks compassion 

-One kind of life-alienating communication is the use of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values.

-Blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticism, comparisons, and diagnoses are all forms of judgment.

-Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.

-Classifying and judging people promotes violence

-Communication is life-alienating when it clouds our awareness that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

-We deny responsibility for our actions when we attribute their cause to factors outside ourselves.

-We can replace language that implies lack of choice with language that acknowledges choice.

-We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel.

-Communicating our desires as demands is yet another form of language that blocks compassion. A demand explicitly or implicitly threatens  listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply.

-Most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.


Chapter 3 – Observing Without Evaluating

-We need to clearly observe what we are seeing, hearing, or touching that is affecting our sense of well-being, without mixing in any evaluation.

-NVC is a process language that discourages static generalizations; instead, evaluations are to be based on observations specific to time and context.

-We create many problems for ourselves by using static language to express or capture a reality that is ever changing.

-When we combine observation with evaluation, people are apt to hear criticism.

-Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence


Chapter 4 – Identifying and expressing feelings

-Expressing our vulnerability can help resolve conflicts

-Distinguish feelings from thoughts

-Feelings are not being clearly expressed when the word feel is followed by: words such as that, like, as if…pronouns I, you, he, she, they and it….. names or nouns referring to people

-Distinguish between what we feel and how we think others react or behave toward us.

-Words such as good and bad prevent the listener from connecting easily with what we might actually be feeling.


Chapter 5 – Taking Responsibility for our feelings

-What others do may be the stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause.

Four options for receiving negative messages:

  1. Blame ourselves
  2. Blame others
  3. Sense our own feelings and needs
  4. Sense others’ feelings and needs

-The more we are able to connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately.

-Connect your feeling with your need: “I feel X because I need Y”

-The basic mechanism of motivating by guilt is to attribute the responsibility for one’s own feelings to others.

-Judgments of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.

-If we express our needs, we have a better chance of getting them met.

Some of the basic human needs we all share:

-1St stage ….Emotional slavery is the belief that we are responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it.

-2nd stage….. We are become clear that we are not responsible for others feelings although we have yet to learn how to be responsible to others in a way that is not emotionally enslaving.

-Stage 3…… In Emotional Liberation we respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt, or shame. We accept full responsibility for our own intentions and actions, but not for the feelings of others. At this stage, we are aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others.


Chapter 6 – Requesting that which would enrich life

-Use positive language when making requests…asking for what you would like not what you would not like

-We also want to word our requests in the form of concrete actions that others can undertake and to avoid vague, abstract, or ambiguous phrasing.

-When we simply express our feelings, it may not be clear to the listener what we want them to do.

-Requests may sound like demands when unaccompanied by the speaker’s feelings and needs.

-To make sure the message we sent is the message that’s received, ask the listener to reflect it back.

-Express appreciation when your listener tries to meet your request for a reflection.

-Ask what the listener is feeling or thinking once you made your request

-When we address a group without being clear what we are wanting back, unproductive discussions will often follow.

-Our requests are received as demands when others believe they will be blamed or punished if they do not comply.

-It’s a request if the speaker then shows empathy toward the other person’s needs.


Chapter 7 – Receiving Empathically

-Believing we have to “fix” situations and make others feel better prevents us from being present.

-Intellectual understanding blocks empathy.

-Listen to what people are needing rather than what they are thinking.

-After we focus our attention and hear what others are observing, feeling, and needing and what they are requesting to enrich their lives, we may wish to reflect back by paraphrasing what we have understood.

-When asking for information, first express our own feelings and needs.

-It is safe to assume that speakers expressing intensely emotional messages would appreciate our reflecting these back to them.

-Paraphrase only when it contributes to greater compassion and understanding

-When we paraphrase, the tone of voice we use is highly important. When hearing themselves reflected back, people are likely to be sensitive to the slightest hint of criticism or sarcasm.

-Behind all those messages we’ve allowed ourselves to be intimidated by are just individuals with unmet needs appealing to us to contribute to their well-being.

-When an individual realizes that everything going on within has received full empathic understanding, they will experience a sense of relief.

-If we find ourselves unable or unwilling to empathize despite our efforts, it is usually a sign that we are too starved for empathy to be able to offer it to others.

-Sometimes, if we openly acknowledge that our own distress is preventing us from responding empathically, the other person may come through with the empathy we need.


Chapter 8 – The Power of Empathy

-It’s harder to empathize with those who appear to possess more power, status, or resources.

-The situations where we are the most reluctant to express vulnerability are often those where we want to maintain a “tough image” for fear of losing authority or control.

-Rather than put your “but” in the face of an angry person empathize

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

-To bring a conversation back to life: interrupt with empathy.

-Speakers prefer that listeners interrupt rather than pretend to listen.

-Empathize with silence by listening for the feelings and needs behind it


Chapter 9 – Connecting Compassionately With Ourselves

-Avoid should yourself

-A basic premise of NVC is that whenever we imply that someone is wrong or bad, what we are really saying is that he or she is not acting in harmony with our needs.

-Mourning in NVC is the process of fully connecting with the unmet needs and the feelings that are generated when we have been less than perfect.

-NVC self-forgiveness: connecting with the need we were trying to meet when we took the action that we now regret.

-We want to take action out of the desire to contribute to life rather than out of fear, guilt, shame, or obligation.

-What do you do in your life that you don’t experience as playful? List on a piece of paper all those things that you tell yourself you have to do. List any activity you dread but do anyway because you perceive yourself to have no choice.

-With every choice you make, be conscious of what need it serves.

-The most dangerous of all behaviors may consist of doing things “because we’re supposed to.”


Chapter 10 – Expressing Anger Fully

-We are never angry because of what others say or do

-The cause of anger lies in our thinking in thoughts of blame and judgment.

-Anger can allow us to realize that we have a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely to be met.

-It’s not what the person does, but the images and interpretations in my own head that produce my anger.

-Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment.

-Judgments of others contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies

Steps to expressing anger:

  1. Stop. Breathe.
  2. Identify our judgmental thoughts.
  3. Connect with our needs.
  4. Express our feelings and unmet needs.

-The more with empathize with others the more likely they will hear us

-People do not hear our pain when they believe they are at fault.

-Practice translating judgments into unmet need


Chapter 11 – Conflict Resolution and Mediation

-When resolving a conflict avoid the use of language that implies wrongness

-Intellectual analysis is often received as criticism

-Learn to hear needs regardless of how people express them. It takes some guessing and practice but eventually we can check in with others and then help them put their need into words.

-When people are upset, they often need empathy before they can hear what is being said to them.

-A present language statement refers to what is wanted at this moment.

-The clearer we are regarding the response we want right now from the other party, the more effectively we move the conflict toward resolution.

-One way to determine that someone is listening is to have that person reflect back what had been said.

-Non-action language, such as “Give me the freedom to grow” often exacerbates conflict.

-When someone says “No” to our request, they have a need that keeps them from saying “yes”.


Chapter 12 – The Protective Use of Force

-When we fear punishment, we focus on consequences, not on our own values.

-Fear of punishment diminishes self-esteem and goodwill.


Chapter 13 – Liberating Ourselves and Counseling Others

-Depression is indicative of a state of alienation from our own needs

-The ability to hear our own feelings and needs and empathize with them can free us from depression

-Focus on what we want to do rather than what went wrong


Chapter 14 – Expressing Appreciation in Nonviolent Communication

-I define judgments – both positive and negative – as life-alienating communication

-Express appreciation to celebrate, not to manipulate

NVC’s 3 components of apperciation:

  1. The actions that have contributed to our well-being
  2. The particular needs of ours that have been fulfilled
  3. The pleasureful feelings engendered by the fulfillment of those needs

Saying “thank you” in NVC: “This is what you did; this is what I feel; this is the need of mine that was met.”

-Receive appreciation without feelings of superiority or false humility