Have you ever watched Kevin O’Leary on “Shark Tank”? He’s an investor who tells people exactly what he really feels – whether they like it or not. He says this is because he feels like he is doing them a favor by cutting to the chase. And thus, if they have a bad idea or thought or whatever, they should just “Take that dog out to the barn in back and go and shoot it.”

The problem is, they love their dog.

Can you relate to this? When do you be honest with someone and when do you bite your tongue and try to speak more eloquently? And what does “more eloquently” mean?

Kevin O’Leary is how I have approached communicating with people, too, most of my life. The good part? You know exactly who your real friends are really quick. They bad part? Most people can’t handle it as it applies to conflict and it hurts a lot of people’s feelings. Plus, it’s not that eloquent.

What if Joe Biden told other leaders exactly what he thought of them on live television? “Putin, I think you are a crazy dictator and your country reminds me of that book ‘1984’. So does China by the way.”

How do you think Putin and the leader of China would interpret this? These are extreme examples but it kind of applies on the micro level in our day-to-day relationships. Remember that movie with Jim Carrey called “Liar Liar”?  It was a great movie because it showed what happens if we are just completely open and honest no-holds barred with everyone!

So here we are, talking to people in our day-to-day about our feelings on wearing masks or Trump or LGBTQ+ with people who have opposite beliefs as we do! Meaning, these are extremely sensitive times.

The New Communication

In today’s world, it’s easy to get wrapped up in our own lives and forget about the importance of communication. We communicate with our words, but we also communicate with our actions and our body language. When we’re not communicating effectively, it can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and even conflict.

One way to improve your communication is to practice Non-Violent Communication (NVC). NVC is a process developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. It’s based on the principles of nonviolence set forth by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Mahatma Gandhi - Wikipedia

NVC is all about understanding yourself and others and communicating in a way that leads to mutual understanding and respect.

What is the goal?

The goal of NVC is to improve relationships and communication by ensuring that all parties feel heard and understood. NVC promotes empathy, respect, and understanding, and it can be used in personal relationships as well as in professional settings such as therapy or mediation.

The process is based on the belief that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and that we can live happily and peacefully together if we learn to express ourselves honestly and openly by using a framework like the Four Components.

The Four Components of Non-Violent Communication

There are four main components of NVC: observations, feelings, needs, and requests.

two persons forming love fingers

These components provide a framework for understanding how we communicate with others and how we can best express our needs.


Observations are objective statements about what we see happening around us. They are free of judgment or evaluation. For example, an observation might be “I see you’re tired,” or “I noticed you didn’t pick up your clothes from the floor.” Or, “I noticed you crossed your arms and your body language seems closed off.”

Or, “I noticed this empty ice cream box is in the trashcan.”

To reiterate, it is important to start with observations rather than evaluations or interpretations. This helps to avoid triggering defensive reactions in the other person. For example, instead of saying “you’re such a slob!” you could say “I noticed there are dirty dishes in the sink.”


After making an observation, the next step is to express our feelings about what we observed. This step is important because it allows us to connect with our emotions and share how we’re feeling with our communication partner. It’s also important to remember that feelings are not the same as thoughts; rather, they are emotions that we experience in our bodies. Feelings are our subjective experiences of emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, or love. A feeling might be “I feel frustrated,” or “I feel happy.”

For example, we might say “I feel frustrated when I see you crossing your arms because it feels like you’re not open to hearing what I have to say.”


Needs are the universal human emotions that drive our behavior. Examples of needs include love, connection, belonging, security, independence, or self-expression. We all have needs, and when those needs are not met, it can lead to negative feelings.

Needs are the underlying reasons behind our feelings. They can be physical (e.g., I need food) or emotional (e.g., I need love). Our need might be “I need to feel heard and valued.”


Requests are specific actions that we would like others to take in order to meet our needs. Requests should be concrete, positive, achievable, and brief. For example, a request might be “Can you please pick up your clothes from the floor?” or “Would you be willing to help me with the dishes?”

man and woman holding each others hands

Non-violent communication is a process of communication based on the belief that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and that we can live happily and peacefully together if we learn to express ourselves honestly and openly. By using NVC in our daily lives, we can promote empathy, respect, and understanding – the key ingredients for lasting happiness and peace.

NVC is an effective way to communicate with others, especially when tempers are flared and emotions are running high. By following the four steps – observations, feelings, needs, requests – you can ensure that your message is heard and that everyone involved understands what is going on. With practice, NVC can help improve communication in all areas of your life.

Plus, it’s kind of fun!

For more information on this topic, check out “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg. Or, if you want another blog on NVC:

Kerry Heffelfinger is the co-founder of Sunflower Counseling in Missoula with his wife, Marie Pettit, LCPC. They created Sunflower together to help people get better counseling in their lives. With their team of therapists and client care coordinators, they have helped thousands of families in Montana by getting people the counseling they need. Before this, Kerry ran Highwood Music where he taught 80 students in classes how to play classical piano and guitar. He graduated from UM with a Master’s in Education.