Nonviolent Communication

date Feb 28, 2021
authors Marshall B. Rosenberg
reading time 17 mins

Why did I decide to read this book?

It’s also the first book Satya Nadella asked his leadership team to read, which is meaningful.”… Nadella states: “You have to be able to say, ‘Where is this person coming from? What makes them tick? Why are they excited or frustrated by something that is happening, whether it’s about computing or beyond computing?’”

Table of Contents


From automatic reactions to awareness

In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. NVC trains us to observe carefully, and to be able to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in any given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative. As NVC replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimized. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion.

The process

If our objective is only to change people and their behavior or to get our way, then NVC is not an appropriate tool. The process is designed for those of us who would like others to change and respond, but only if they choose to do so willingly and compassionately. The objective of NVC is to establish a relationship based on honesty and empathy.


  1. observations
  2. feelings
  3. needs
  4. requests


Moralistic judgements

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.

Dichotomous thinking

Life-alienating communication, however, traps us in a world of ideas about rightness and wrongness — a world of judgments. It is a language rich with words that classify and dichotomize people and their actions. When we speak this language, we judge others and their behavior while preoccupying ourselves with who’s good, bad, normal, abnormal, responsible, irresponsible, smart, ignorant, etc. In

Value judgements

It is important here not to confuse value judgments and moralistic judgments. All of us make value judgments as to the qualities we value in life; for example, we might value honesty, freedom, or peace. Value judgments reflect our beliefs of how life can best be served. We make moralistic judgments of people and behaviors that fail to support our value judgments.

Labeling vs Needs

It does not surprise me to hear that there is considerably less violence in cultures where people think in terms of human needs than in cultures where people label one another as “good” or “bad” and believe that the “bad” ones deserve to be punished.

Changing people

I believe it is in everyone’s interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they see the change as benefiting themselves.

Moralistic judgements means looking outside

The language of wrongness, should, and have to is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad.

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.


Common speech patterns that tend to mask accountability for our own feelings

  • Use of impersonal pronouns such as it and that: “It really infuriates me
  • Statements that mention only the actions of others: “When you don’t call me

Start with “I feel”

In each of these instances, we can deepen our awareness of our own responsibility by substituting the phrase, “I feel … because I … Connect your feeling with your need: “I feel … because I need …” When we express our needs indirectly through the use of evaluations, interpretations, and images, others are likely to hear criticism. And when people hear anything that sounds like criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack… Instead, the more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately.


Typical action from guilt

It may appear that the child cares for the parent and feels bad because the parent is suffering. However, if children who assume this kind of responsibility change their behavior in accordance with parental wishes, they are not acting from the heart, but acting to avoid guilt… Distinguish between giving from the heart and being motivated by guilt.

Typical mother’s needs

For centuries, the image of the loving woman has been associated with sacrifice and the denial of one’s own needs to take care of others. Because women are socialized to view the caretaking of others as their highest duty, they often learn to ignore their own needs… Eventually she grew to fear that asking for what she needed would only lead to disapproval and judgment.

Emotional slavery - we are not responsible for other’s happiness all the time

Stage 1: In this stage, which I refer to as emotional slavery, we believe ourselves responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy.

High cost of assuming other’s happiness

Stage 2: In this stage, we become aware of the high costs of assuming responsibility for others’ feelings and trying to accommodate them at our own expense. When we notice how much of our lives we’ve missed and how little we have responded to the call of our own soul, we may get angry.

Empathy for others without taking responsbility for their feelings

I also clarified ways she could empathize with people when they were upset without taking responsibility for their feelings.

Emotional liberation

Stage 3: At the third stage, emotional liberation, we respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt, or shame. Our actions are therefore fulfilling to us, as well as to those who receive our efforts.

Developing emotional responsibility

  1. “emotional slavery” — believing ourselves responsible for the feelings of others
  2. “the obnoxious stage” — in which we refuse to admit to caring what anyone else feels or needs
  3. “emotional liberation” — in which we accept full responsibility for our own feelings but not the feelings of others, while being aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others.


How do we express our requests so that others are more willing to respond compassionately to our needs? First of all, we express what we are requesting rather than what we are not requesting.

Use clear simple language

Often, the use of vague and abstract language can mask oppressive interpersonal games… We often use vague and abstract language to indicate how we want other people to feel or be without naming a concrete action they could take to reach that state.

Rephrasing requests

“Why don’t you go and get a haircut?” can easily be heard by youngsters as a demand or an attack unless parents remember to first reveal their own feelings and needs: “We’re worried that your hair is getting so long it might keep you from seeing things, especially when you’re on your bike. How about a haircut?”

Addressing the requests of a group

When we address a group without being clear what we are wanting back, unproductive discussions will often follow. However, if even one member of a group is conscious of the importance of clearly requesting the response that is desired, he or she can extend this consciousness to the group.

Negative interpretations of requests

Our requests are received as demands when others believe they will be blamed or punished if they do not comply. When people hear a demand, they see only two options: submission or rebellion.

Rejection of our requests

The more we interpret noncompliance as rejection, the more likely our requests will be heard as demands. This leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy, for the more people hear demands, the less they enjoy being around us.

Request vs demand

If we are prepared to show an empathic understanding of what prevents someone from doing as we asked, then by my definition, we have made a request, not a demand.

Be careful of being in a position of authority

Sometimes, however, even when we’re conscious of our intent and express our request with care, people may still hear a demand. This is particularly true when we occupy positions of authority and are speaking with those who have had past experiences with coercive authority figures.

Communication process

Communication process as receiving empathically

  1. expressing honestly
  2. receiving empathically

Pre-requisite of empathy

Empathy with others occurs only when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgments about them.

Full attention

Instead of offering empathy, we tend instead to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, on the other hand, requires us to focus full attention on the other person’s message.

What prevents us from being empathetic:

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

Don’t take it personally

I think you’ll find people to be less threatening if you hear what they’re needing rather than what they’re thinking about you.

Repeat what has been said so far

Studies in labor-management negotiations demonstrate that the time required to reach conflict resolution is cut in half when each negotiator agrees, before responding, to accurately repeat what the previous speaker had said.

The critical self

When critical self-concepts prevent us from seeing the beauty in ourselves, we lose connection with the divine energy that is our source. Conditioned to view ourselves as objects - objects full of shortcomings — is it any wonder that many of us end up relating violently to ourselves?

Change should be stimulated by a clear desire

Our challenge then, when we are doing something that is not enriching life, is to evaluate ourselves moment by moment in a way that inspires change both (1) in the direction of where we would like to go, and (2) out of respect and compassion for ourselves, rather than out of self-hatred, guilt or shame.

Why shame is not good

If the way we evaluate ourselves leads us to feel shame, and we consequently change our behavior, we are allowing our growing and learning to be guided by self-hatred. Shame is a form of self-hatred, and actions taken in reaction to shame are not free and joyful acts.

Examples of Motivations

  • FOR MONEY Money is a major form of extrinsic reward in our society.
  • FOR APPROVAL Like money, approval from others is a form of extrinsic reward.
  • TO ESCAPE PUNISHMENT Some of us pay income tax primarily to avoid punishment.
  • TO AVOID SHAME There may be some tasks we choose to do just to avoid shame.
  • TO AVOID GUILT In other instances, we may think, “If I don’t do this, people will be disappointed in me.”

Using a language that denies choice

When we use language which denies choice (for example, words such as should, have to, ought, must, can’t, supposed to, etc.), our behaviors arise out of a vague sense of guilt, duty, or obligation. I consider this to be the most socially dangerous and personally unfortunate of all the ways we act when we’re cut off from our needs.

Anger is an unfullfilled need

I see all anger as a result of life-alienating, violence-provoking thinking. At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.

Anger directs it towards punishing others

Anger, however, co-opts our energy by directing it toward punishing people rather than meeting our needs. Instead of engaging in “righteous indignation,” I recommend connecting empathically with our own needs or those of others.

Origin of resentment, anger and violence

All violence is the result of people tricking themselves, as did this young man, into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.

Is it a win if they change their behaviour because of fear, guilt or shame?

Of course, we may be successful in using such judgments to intimidate people into meeting our needs. If they feel so frightened, guilty, or ashamed that they change their behavior, we may come to believe that it is possible to “win” by telling people what’s wrong with them.

Longterm consequence of immediate behaviour change

We may have solved an immediate problem, but we will have created another one. The more people hear blame and judgment, the more defensive and aggressive they become and the less they will care about our needs in the future.


Blaming is easy. People are used to hearing blame; sometimes they agree with it and hate themselves—which doesn’t stop them from behaving the same way—and sometimes they hate us for calling them racists or whatever—which also doesn’t stop their behavior.

Eexpressing anger

  1. stop and breathe
  2. identify our judgmental thoughts
  3. connect with our needs
  4. express our feelings and unmet needs.


Connection first before agreement

Many mediators define their role as a “third head” trying to think of a way to get everybody to come to an agreement. They are not at all concerned with creating a quality of connection, thus overlooking the only conflict resolution tool I have ever known to work.

Conflict resolution process

  1. First, we express our own needs.
  2. Second, we search for the real needs of the other person, no matter how they are expressing themselves.
  3. Third, we verify that we both accurately recognize the other person’s needs,
  4. Fourth, we provide as much empathy as is required for us to mutually hear each other’s needs accurately.
  5. Fifth, having clarified both parties’ needs in the situation, we propose strategies for resolving the conflict,

What usually happens in a conflict

In a conflict, both parties usually spend too much time intent on proving themselves right, and the other party wrong, rather than paying attention to their own and the other’s needs.


If we could just say, “Here are the needs of both sides. Here are the resources. What can be done to meet these needs?,” conflicts would be easily resolved.

Mediator’s role

The mediator’s role is to create an environment in which the parties can connect, express their needs, understand each other’s needs, and arrive at strategies to meet those needs.

Ignorance includes

  1. a lack of awareness of the consequences of our actions
  2. an inability to see how our needs may be met without injury to others
  3. the belief that we have the right to punish or hurt others because they “deserve” it
  4. delusional thinking that involves, for example, hearing a voice that instructs us to kill someone.


Source of punitive action

Punitive action, on the other hand, is based on the assumption that people commit offenses because they are bad or evil, and to correct the situation, they need to be made to repent… In practice, however, punitive action, rather than evoking repentance and learning, is just as likely to generate resentment and hostility and to reinforce resistance to the very behavior we are seeking.

Their “correction” is undertaken through punitive action designed to make them

  1. suffer enough to see the error of their ways
  2. repent
  3. change.

Corporal punishment in children

My personal concern is that children’s fear of corporal punishment may obscure their awareness of the compassion that underlies parental demands. Parents often tell me that they “have to” use punitive force because they see no other way to influence their children to do “what’s good for them.”

But what’s the cost of these punitive actions in kids?

I wonder whether people who proclaim the successes of such punishment are aware of the countless instances of children who turn against what might be good for them simply because they choose to fight, rather than succumb, to coercion. Second, the apparent success of corporal punishment in influencing a child doesn’t mean that other methods of influence wouldn’t have worked equally well. Finally, I share the concerns of many parents about the social consequences of using physical punishment.

What happens when we do things to avoid punishment

When we submit to doing something solely for the purpose of avoiding punishment, our attention is distracted from the value of the action itself. Instead, we are focusing upon the consequences, on what might happen if we fail to take that action.

Consequence of punishment across the society

The masses, discouraged from developing awareness of their own needs, have instead been educated to be docile and subservient to authority. Our culture implies that needs are negative and destructive; the word needy applied to a person suggests inadequacy or immaturity. When


Saying Thank You

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

What good does it do to think small

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Think of stuff going right

my son Brett retorted, “Dad, are you aware how often you bring up what’s gone wrong but almost never bring up what’s gone right?” His observation stayed with me.