Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg is an essential book on for anyone hoping to make life easier and more enjoyable for himself and people around. The book is plentiful in examples and summaries making it easy to adopt suggested methods and thoughts. Overall, the tone of the book is friendly and clear. The sections flow nicely one in to another slowly building upon the knowledge learned. Some examples in the book seem to be far-fetched hurting on the credibility of the book, despite that it still holds great value and provides great insight into what empathy really means.

Here’s my “brief” summary of the book

Four components of NVC

  • observations
  • feelings
  • needs
  • requests

We need to keep in mind that for MVC to work we should:

  • express honestly through the four components
  • receive empathically through the four components

In the end, the process looks like this:

  1. the concrete actions that we observe that affect our well-being
  2. how we feel in relation to what we observe
  3. the needs, values, desires, etc. that create our feelings
  4. the concrete actions we request in order to enrich our life

Communication that blocks compassion

  • moralistic judgements
  • making comparisons
  • denial of responsibility
  • thinking based on “who deserves what”

Observing without evaluating

Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence

It’s easier to provide a few examples:

  • “You are too generous” vs. “When I see you share your lunch with other I think you are being too generous”
  • “She’s ugly” vs. “Her looks don;t appeal to me”
  • “If you don’t eat healthy you will be fet” vs. “If you don’t eat healthy I fear you might become fet”

Identifying and expressing feelings

It’s easier to connect with one another if we can better express our feelings. For that we need larger vocabulary, good and bad won’t be enough. And we need to keep following things in mind:

  • distinguish between what we feel and what we thing others react or behave toward us.
  • distinguish feelings from thoughts.
    • “I feel like a failure” vs. “I feel sad because my plans are failing”.
  • distinguish between what we feel and what we think we are
    • “I feel inadequate as a waitress” vs. “I feel frustrated with myself as a waitress”

Taking responsibility for our feelings

Our feelings result from how we choose to receive what others say and do. E.g. what others say and do might be the stimulus four our feelings but never the cause.

We can deepen our awareness of our own responsibility for our feelings by connecting our feelings with our needs, e.g.: “I feel …, because I need…”.

  • distinguish between giving from the heart and being motivated by guilt

    “Mommy and daddy are sad when you get poor grades at school”

    The child will be motivated by guilt instead of giving from heart

  • judgement of others is alienated expression of our own unmet needs

    e.g. we tend to judge other instead of expressing our own needs that make us feel certain way.

  • if we don’t value our needs others may not either

    e.g. it is important to express our needs correctly, accompanied by our feelings. We can’t blame others when our needs are unmet if we don’t express them (obviously).

From emotional slavery to emotional liberation

Three stages:

  1. emotional slavery - we believe ourselves resonsible for feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy and this overwhelms us.

  2. obnoxious stage - we feel angry and no longer want to be responsible for feelings of others.

  3. emotional liberation - we respond to feelings of others out of compassion, never out of feat, guilt, or shame. We accept full responsibility for our own intentions and actions, but not for the feelings of others.

Requesting that which would enrich live

  • use positive language when making request

    i.e. express what are you requesting instead of what you are not requesting.

  • make requests in clear, positive, concrete action language

    vague language contributes to confusion, we might be requesting one thing, but the other person might understand it in different way and no one is to blame.

Make requests consciously

Simply expressing our feelings it might not be clear to the listener what we actually want.

  • accompany the requests with feelings and needs, otherwise they might sound like demands

Asking for reflection

Ask for reflection to make sure the message we send is the same as the message that was received.

  • ask the listener to reflect it back
  • show appreciation when the listener tries to meet your request for reflection
  • empathize with the listener if he doesn’t want to reflect back

Requesting honesty

After we express ourselves vulnerably we often want to know:

  1. What the listener is feeling (“I would like to know what you feel about what I just said”)
  2. What the listener is thinking (“I would like you to tell me whether you think that my proposal will go through”)
    • note that we again want to use concrete language instead of asking vaguely (“What do you think about that?")
  3. Whether the listener would be willing to take particular action (“I would like to know whether you are willing to postpone the meeting”)

Making requests of a group

In groups time is waster when the speaker isn’t certain what response they want.

Requests vs. Demands

When other person hears demand from us they have two options: to submit or to rebel.

  • to tell if it’s demand or request observe what the speaker does if the request is not complied with
  • it’s demand if the speaker then criticizes or judges our decision
  • it’s demand if the speaker then lays a guilt trip
  • it’s request if the speaker then shows empathy toward the other person’s needs

Defining objective when making requests

Our objective is a relationship based on honesty and empathy. We shouldn’t want to change other people mind. Instead, our objective should be for others to change/respond but only if they decide to.

When making request, it is helpful to scan our minds for thoughts that automatically turn requests into demands:

  • He should be cleaning after himself
  • I deserve a raise
  • I have right to spend more time off

Receiving Empathically

Now let’s turn the things around and learn how to apply the same four-components to hearing what others are observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.

Don’t just do something, stand there

  • empathy requires us to focus full attention on the other person’s message

  • ask before offering advice or reassurance, e.g. don’t do following:

    • advising (“I think you should …")
    • one-upping (“That’s nothing, wait till you hear what happened to me”)
    • educating (“This could turn into a good thing”)
    • consoling (“It wasn’t your fault, don’t worry”)
    • sympathizing (“Oh, you poor thing…")
    • explaining (“I would have called, but …")
    • correcting (“That’s not what actually happened”)
    • interrogating (“When did this started?")
    • shutting down (“Cheer up, there’s nothing to worry about”)
  • intellectual understanding blocks empathy, it doesn’t have to make sense, we just need to listen

  • no matter what others say, we only hear what they are

    1. observing
    2. feeling
    3. needing
    4. requesting
  • listen to what other people need rather than what they are thinking

  • sometimes we first need empathy before being able to give empathy


Reflect back to the other person by paraphrasing what you understand. The speaker will either confirm it or we gave him the opportunity to correct us. Another advantage of reflecting is that we offer the other party time to reflect on what they’ve just said.

  • paraphrase by question that reveals our understanding while bringing out anything that needs correction. Some examples:

    • Are you reacting to how many days I was gone last week?
    • Are you feeling hurt because you would like more appreciation of your efforts?
    • Are you wanting me to tell you my reasons for saying what I just said?
  • important: always sense the speakers' reality first (“Are you feeling hurt because …?” versus “How are you feeling?")

  • in case we want to ask directly without sensing first, we should first express our feelings and needs (“I’m frustrated because I don’t understand what you need from me. Would you be willing to tell me what I’ve done that makes you see me this way?")

  • reflect back messages that are emotionally charged

  • paraphrase only when it contributes to greater compassion (sometimes it isn’t necessary to paraphrase, only listen)

  • behind intimidating messages are merely people wanting us to meet their needs

Sustaining empathy

  • allow others to first fully express their feelings before turning our attention to solutions
  • staying with empathy allows the speaker to reach deeper levels of their feelings
  • speaker has received adequate empathy when:
    1. we sense release of tension
    2. the flow of words comes to a halt

The power of empathy

  • it’s hard to empathize with those that appear to posses more power, status, or resources
  • the more we empathize with one another the safer we feel

Using empathy to defuse danger

  • rather than put “but” into the face of angry person, empathize
  • listening for feelings and needs helps us see other people in better light

Empathy to revive a lifeless conversation

  • to bring conversation back to life: interrupt with empathy
  • what bores the listener bores the speaker too
  • it’s better to interrupt rather than pretend to listen

Empathy for silence

  • sometimes empathy lies in our ability to be present and nothing more is needed

Connecting compassionately with ourselves

  • use NVC to evaluate yourself in ways that engender growth rather than self-hatred
  • avoid the should as in “I should have known better” or “I shouldn’t have don that”.
  • connect with feelings and needs stimulated by past actions that we regret
  • self-forgiveness: connecting with the need that we tried to meet when we took the action that we now regret
  • be ever of the needs behind our actions

Expressing anger fully

  • we are always angry because of ourselves, not because of what other people do or say, it’s a choice
  • steps to expressing anger:
    1. calm down
    2. identify our judgmental thoughts
    3. connect with our needs
    4. express our feelings and unmet needs

Conflict resolution and mediation

  • learn to hear needs instead of how people express them
  • avoid criticism and diagnoses
  • people often need empathy before they hear what’s being said
  • maintaining respect is key to successful conflict resolution
  • use role-play to speed up the process

Protective use of force

  • two questions that reveal the limitation of punishment:
    1. What do I want this person to do?
    2. What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing it?

Expressing appreciation

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


Title: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships
Author: Marshall Rosenberg
ISBN10: 189200528X
ISBN13: 9781892005281