In “Nonviolent Communication”, Marshall Rosenberg asks 2 big questions. The first is:

What gets into us that turns us into violent people?

We tend to have in our minds that we are not violent because we don’t beat someone up or kill someone.

When the truth is, is that all of us are emotionally violent to some degree. And it is this emotional violence that can eventually trigger in some people – actual violence.

The second question he asks is:

What can we do to maintain our compassionate nature?

Nonviolent communication helps to facilitate our compassionate nature. One way to think about this is compassionate giving. That is, while we are communicating with someone, we are compassionately giving to them.

What’s alive in you?

Ask this question of others helps us to see and empathize with our fellow humanity.

What’s alive in you? What would make life more wonderful? For you and for me?

I remember I used to work with some people who had the exact opposite political views as me. So while we enjoyed a good debate, we also remembered to focus on what we had in common. In this case, it happened to be “Star Wars”.

When we can see the humaneness in each other then we can easily get through the conflict.

We were taught to dominate

Nonviolent communication stays away from the language we were taught. Our language style we were taught is how to “dominate”.

For example, we were taught that communication is evaluating people with moralistic judgements according to “right and wrong”, “good or bad”, and “beautiful or ugly.”

This world of right or wrong implies that someone needs to be punished or rewarded.

Is this behavior serving life or not?

The author is not saying we shouldn’t judge or evaluate. But rather, that we should have a different way of evaluating.   And this evaluation should focus on the way of life instead of the way of moralist judgements.

And so with this new mode of evaluation, we ask: “Is this behavior serving life or not?”

“Out beyond this place of right and wrong, there is a field…I will meet you there.”


The Goal

The goal is not to get people to do what we want them to do. The goal is to create the quality of connection necessary for everyone’s needs to get met compassionately.

At times this requires letting people know what they are doing is either meeting our needs or not meeting our needs. This means we want to make a clear observation without mixing in an evaluation.

This is because if we mix in an evaluation, others will only hear a criticism of what we are saying.

“Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.”

-Indian philosopher Jadu Krishnamurti

NVC is an Art Form

During these stressful times of political division and Covid-19, it’s super hard to navigate our way around these relationships. Throw in Christmas and Thanksgiving which are right around the corner, and it feels like the odds are always against us.

This made me pick up “Non-Violent Communication”.

I’ve always been fascinated by people like Gandhi who were able to inspire millions of people. Communicating to people from different faiths is very hard as we know in today’s day and age. But expressing ourselves honestly and listening honestly has always been difficult and is not unique to the time we live in.

So it can be done.

NVC is an art form that inspires empathy in others, and to listen to them empathetically in return.

You can uses these ideas when you want to get through a conflict:

Four Key Steps to remember:

Observation – Specific facts and data about what is observed. Like a movie camera. No evaluation or judgement.
Feeling – State how we feel.
Need – The need that we have underlying this feeling.
Request – This must be a specific action to address the need.

In practice, this becomes:

“When I observe _____, I feel ______, because I need_____. Therefore, I would now like______.”

I remind myself of the 4 key steps by thinking of an imaginary person called “Mr. OFNR.”

Observation (without evaluation)

Specific observations help. This is like a movie camera. Think of sight, sound, and touch.

Make sure not to evaluate or to judge!

Stay away from words like: always, never, ever, whenever, frequently, and seldom.


Use: “I feel versus I think” type of language.

So when you say a feeling, keep it as a feeling.

For example: “I feel (emotion).”

I feel sad.
I feel lonely.
I feel angry.

Feelings that are not expressed clearly are followed by:

Like, that, as if

Pronouns (I, me, he, she, herself, you, it, that, they, each, few, many, who, whose, someone, everybody, etc.)

Other people

Descriptions of what we think we are

How we think other people perceive us

Notice how these sentences are not feelings:

I feel like you are going to leave me.
I feel like you aren’t listening to me.
I feel like those guys just aren’t going to show up.

These are all thoughts! Feelings are emotions or sensations. We shouldn’t put our focus on people when it comes to our feelings. So it might be better to say:

I feel scared.
I feel angry.
I feel frustrated.

Be careful not to “diagnose” because diagnoses often come true.

For example:

Talking to you is like talking to a wall.

And if you keep talking to the person like this, then one day you might be alone, talking to an actual wall. So instead, don’t diagnose the person. Focus on how you are feeling and not on the other people:

I feel sad and helpless because I hate feeling out of control.

It’s scary to express your feelings and to be vulnerable!

Again, we have been trained to be cool, logical machines. We didn’t learn about feelings and emotions in school. I don’t remember learning about them at all. It was always about what “I think”.

Feelings versus Describing

In NVC we distinguish between actual feelings and those words that describe what we think we are. For example:

I feel inadequate as a guitar player.

Notice this statement is assessing my ability as a guitar player rather than saying a feeling. So here is a better way to state a feeling:

I feel impatient with my guitar playing.

I feel discouraged with my guitar playing.

I feel sad about my guitar playing because I haven’t taken guitar lessons yet.

These words are not “feeling” words:

I feel betrayed, abandoned, put down, ignored.

These words are not how I am actually feeling.

Versus: I feel sad because I don’t want to be betrayed.

But people who study successful relationships, and being successful in life, say that EQ (emotional intelligence) is actually much more important than IQ. Stating your feelings and how you are vulnerable often is the key to getting what you need.


When we ask to have our needs met directly it makes empathy and compassion easier for others. On the other hand, when people hear criticism they will attempt a defense or counterattack.

So it’s best to stick with needs instead of judging or criticism if your goal is to get along and work through the problem.

Interestingly, the author says that judgements of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs. We’re projecting.

This is a study

Nonviolent Communication is an art form that takes work. This is because we have not been taught how to speak like this in our society. And the more we do this, the author says, the less we are focused on the life within ourselves and to our own human emotions.

So to truly learn this, read the book and watch the Youtube videos. It helps to take notes and just write down one thought, and put it on a post it note to remember, like from this blog.

And just start practicing it!