Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

The Book in a Few Sentences

I believe this is one of the most important books ever written. Fundamentally it is about getting our needs met. More profoundly, it is a way of connecting from the heart.

Nonviolent Communication summary

This is my book summary of Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. My summary and notes include the key lessons and most important insights from the book.


Arun Gandhi

Nonviolence is not a strategy that can be used today and discarded tomorrow; nonviolence is not something that makes you meek or a pushover.

Everything that we do is conditioned by selfish motives—what’s in it for me. More so in an overwhelmingly materialistic society that thrives on rugged individualism.

Nonviolence means allowing the positive within you to emerge.

Be dominated by love, respect, understanding, appreciation, compassion, and concern for others rather than the self-centered and selfish, greedy, hateful, prejudiced, suspicious, and aggressive attitudes that dominate our thinking.

If we change ourselves we can change the world, and changing ourselves begins with changing our language and methods of communication.

1: Giving From the Heart

The Heart of Nonviolent Communication


  • Believing that it is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving in a compassionate manner, I have been preoccupied most of my life with two questions: what happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?
  • And conversely, what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?
  • I have since identified a specific approach to communicating—both speaking and listening—that leads us to get from the heart, connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish.
  • I call this approach Nonviolent Communication, using the term nonviolence as Gandhi used it—to refer to our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart.
  • In some communities, the process I am describing is known as Compassionate Communication; the abbreviation NVC is used throughout this book to refer to Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication.

A Way to Focus Attention

  • All that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know—about how we humans were meant to relate to one another—and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.
  • 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.
  • What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.
  • When we give from the heart, we do so out of the joy that springs forth whenever we willingly enrich another person's life.
  • The giver benefits from the enhanced self-esteem that results when we see our efforts contributing to someone's well-being.

The NVC Process

  • First, we observe what is actually happening any situation: what we are observing others saying we're doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life. The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don't like.
  • Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated?
  • And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified.
  • The fourth component addresses what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives or make life more wonderful for us.
  • The other part of this communication consists of receiving the same four pieces of information from others.
  • NVC is not simply a language or a set of techniques for using words; the consciousness and intent that it embraces may be expressed through silence, a quality of presence, as well as through facial expressions and body language.

2: Communication That Blocks Compassion

Moralistic Judgments

  • 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.
  • Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others need and are not getting.
  • Thus if my partner wants more affection than I’m giving her, she is “needy and dependent.” But if I want more affection than she is giving me, then she is “aloof and insensitive.”
  • Sooner or later, we will experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of either external or internal coercion. They, too, pay emotionally, for they are likely to feel resentment and decreased self-esteem when they respond to us out of fear, guilt, or shame.
  • 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; for example, “Violence is bad. People who kill are evil.”
  • Had we been raised speaking a language that facilitated the expression of compassion, we would have learned to articulate our needs and values directly, rather than to insinuate wrongness when they have not been met.
  • At the root of much, if not all, violence—whether verbal, psychological, or physical, whether among family members, tribes, or nations—is a kind of thinking that attributes the cause of conflict to wrongness in one’s adversaries, and a corresponding inability to think of oneself or others in terms of vulnerability—that is, what one might be feeling, fearing, yearning for, missing, etc.

Making Comparisons

  • Another form of judgment is the use of comparisons. In his book How to Make Yourself Miserable, Dan Greenburg demonstrates through humor the insidious power that comparative thinking can exert over us.
  • This type of thinking blocks compassion, both for oneself and for others.

Denial of Responsibility

  • The use of the common expression have to, as in “There are some things you have to do, whether you like it or not,” illustrates how personal responsibility for our actions can be obscured in speech.
  • The phrase “You make me feel guilty,” is another example of how language facilitates denial of personal responsibility for our own feelings and thoughts.

Other Forms of Life-Alienating Communication

  • 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. It is a common form of communication in our culture, especially among those who hold positions of authority.
  • The concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment is also associated with life alienating communication. This thinking is expressed by the word deserve as in “He deserves to be punished for what he did.”
  • 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.
  • We learn to cut ourselves off from what's going on within ourselves.
  • 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're being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad.
  • When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings.

3: Observing Without Evaluating

  • The first component of NVC entails the separation of observation from evaluation.
  • 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 does not mandate that we remain completely objective and refrain from evaluating. It only requires that we maintain a separation between our observations and our evaluations.

The Highest Form of Human Intelligence

  • The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.


  • When we combine observation with the evaluation, others are apt to hear criticism and resist what we are saying.
  • Instead, observations are to be made specific to time and context, for example,"Hank Smith has not scored a goal in 20 games," rather than "Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.”

4: Identifying and Expressing Feelings

  • The first component of NVC is to observe without evaluating; the second component is to express how we are feeling.
  • We are trained to be “other directed” rather than to be in contact with ourselves. We learn to be "up in her head," wondering,"What is it that others think is right for me to say and do?”
  • This difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings is common, and in my experience, especially so among lawyers, engineers, police officers, corporate managers, and career military personnel—people whose professional codes discourage them from manifesting emotions.
  • For families, the toll is severe when members are unable to communicate emotions.
  • The benefits of strengthening our feelings vocabulary are evident not only in intimate relationships but also in the professional world.

Feelings versus Non-Feelings

  • A common confusion, generated by the English language, is our use of the word feel without actually expressing a feeling.
  • For example, in the sentence, "I feel I didn't get a fair deal,” the words I feel could be more accurately replaced with I think.
  • In general, feelings are not being clearly expressed when the word feel is followed by:
  • 1. Words such as that, like, as if
    “I feel as if I’m living with a wall.”
  • 2. The pronouns I, you, he, she, they, it
    “I feel I am constantly on call.”
  • 3. Names or nouns referring to people:
    “I feel my boss is being manipulative.”
  • Conversely, in the English English language, it is not necessary to use the word feel at all when we are actually expressing a feeling: we can say, “I’m feeling irritated,” or simply, “I’m irritated.”
  • In NVC, we distinguish between words that express actual feelings and those that describe what we think we are:
  • Description of what we think we are:
    “I feel inadequate as a guitar player.”
    In this statement, I am assessing my ability as a guitar player, rather than clearly expressing my feelings.
  • 2. Expressions of actual feelings:
    “I feel disappointed in myself as a guitar player.”
    Likewise, it is helpful to differentiate between words that describe what we think others are doing around us, and words that describe actual feelings.
  • “I feel unimportant to the people with whom I work.”
    The word unimportant describes how I think others are evaluating me, rather than an actual feeling, which in this situation might be “I feel sad” or “I feel discouraged.”

Building a Vocabulary for Feelings

  • In expressing our feelings, it helps to use words that refer to specific emotions, rather than words that are vague or general.
  • For example, if we say,"I feel good about that,” the word good could mean happy, excited, relieved, or a number of other emotions.
  • Words such as good and bad prevent the listener from connecting easily with what we might actually be feeling.
  • How we are likely to feel when our needs are being met
  • absorbed
  • How we are likely to feel when her needs are not being met
  • afraid

Taking Responsibility for our Feelings

  • Hearing a Negative Message: Four Options
  • The third component of NVC entails the acknowledgment of the root of our feelings.
  • NVC heightens our awareness that what others say and do maybe the stimulus, but never the cause, of our feelings.
  • With this third component, we are led to accept responsibility for what we do to generate our own feelings.
  • When someone gives us a negative message, weather verbally or nonverbally, we have four options as to how to receive it.
  • One option is to take it personally by hearing blame and criticism. We accept the other person's judgment and blame ourselves.
  • A second option is to fault the speaker. When we receive messages this way, and blame the speaker, we are likely to feel anger.
  • When receiving negative messages, our third option would be to shine the light of consciousness on our own feelings and needs.
  • By focusing attention on our own feelings and needs, we become conscious that our current feelings of hurt derives from a need for our efforts to be recognized.
  • Finally, a fourth option on receiving a negative message is to shine the light of consciousness on the other person's feelings and needs as they are currently expressed.
  • As we shall see, the more we are able to connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately.
  • It is helpful to recognize a number of common speech patterns that tend to mask accountability for our own feelings:
  • In each of these instances, we can deepen our awareness of our own responsibility by substituting the phrase, “I feel…because I…”
  • “I feel angry that the supervisor broke her promise, because I was counting on getting that long weekend to visit my brother.”
  • The basic mechanism of motivating by guilt is to attribute the responsibility for one’s own feelings to others. When parents say, “It hurts Mommy and Daddy when you get poor grades at school,” they are implying that the child’s actions are the cause of the parents’ happiness or unhappiness.

The Needs at the Roots of Feelings

  • If someone says, “You never understand me,” they are really telling us that their need to be understood is not being fulfilled. If a wife says, “You’ve been working late every night this week; you love your work more than you love me,” she is saying that her need for intimacy is not being met.
  • Unfortunately, most of us have never been taught to think in terms of needs. We are accustomed to thinking about what’s wrong with other people when our needs aren’t being fulfilled.  
  • It has been my experience over and over again that from the moment people begin talking about what they need rather than what’s wrong with one another, the possibility of finding ways to meet everybody’s needs is greatly increased.  

The Pain of Expressing Our Needs versus the Pain of Not Expressing Our needs

  • In a world where we’re often judged harshly for identifying and revealing our needs, doing so can be very frightening. Women, in particular, are susceptible to criticism.  
  • Because women are socialized to view the caretaking of others as their highest duty, they often learn to ignore their own needs.  

From Emotional Slavery to Emotional Liberation

  • In our development toward a state of emotional liberation, most of us experience three stages in the way we relate to others.  
  • 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. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it. This can easily lead us to see the very people who are closest to us as burdens.  
  • 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.  
  • I refer jokingly to this stage as the obnoxious stage because we tend toward obnoxious comments like, “That’s your problem!” When presented with another person’s pain.  
  • As we emerge from the stage of emotional slavery, we may continue to carry remnants of fear and guilt around having our own needs.  
  • Thus it is not surprising that we end up expressing our needs in ways that sound rigid and unyielding to the ears of others.  
  • 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.  
  • 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.  
  • Emotional liberation involves stating clearly what we need in a way that communicates we are equally concerned that the needs of others be fulfilled.  NVC is designed to support us in relating at this level.


  • The third component of NVC is the acknowledgment of the needs behind our feelings.  
  • What others say and do may be the stimulus for, but never the cause of, our feelings.  
  • When someone communicates negatively, we have four options as to how to receive the message: 1: blame ourselves, 2: blame others, 3: sense our own feelings and needs, 4: sense the feelings and needs hidden in the other person’s negative message.  
  • Judgments, criticisms, diagnoses, and interpretations of others are all alienated expressions of our own need and values.  
  • The more directly we can connect our feelings to our needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately.  
  • In a world where we are often harshly judged for identifying and revealing our needs, doing so can be very frightening, especially for women who are socialized to ignore their own needs while caring for others.  
  • As often happens when there is a mixture of feelings present, the speaker will return to those that have not received empathic attention.  
  • It is not necessary for the listener to reflect back a complex mixture of feelings all at once; the flow of compassion will continue as each feeling comes up again in its turn.  

Exercise 3: Acknowledging Needs

  • To practice identifying needs, please circle the number in front of each statement where the speaker is acknowledging responsibility for his or her feelings.  
  • 1. “You irritate me when you leave company documents on the conference room floor.”
  • 2. “I feel angry when you say that, because I am wanting respect and I hear your words as an insult.”
  • 3. “I feel frustrated when you come late.”
  • 4. “I’m sad that you won’t be coming for dinner because I was hoping we could spend the evening together.”
  • 5. “I feel disappointed because you said you would do it and you didn’t.”

Chapter 6: Requesting That Which Would Enrich Life

  • The fourth and final component of this process addresses what we would like to request of others in order to enrich life for us.  
  • When our needs are not being fulfilled, we follow the expression of what we are observing, feeling, and needing with a specific request: we ask for actions that might fulfill our needs.  

Using Positive Action Language

  • First of all, we express what we are requesting rather than what we are not requesting.  
  • A woman at a workshop, frustrated that her husband was spending so much time at work, described how her request had backfired: “I asked him not to spend so much time at work. Three weeks later, he responded by announcing that he’d signed up for a golf tournament!”
  • She had successfully communicated to him what she did not want—his spending so much time at work—but had failed to request what she did want.  
  • In addition to using positive language, 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.  
  • Often, the use of vague and abstract language can mask oppressive interpersonal games.  

Making Requests Consciously

  • My belief is that, whenever we say something to another person, we are requesting something in return.  
  • It may simply be an empathic connection-a verbal or nonverbal acknowledgment...that our words have been understood.  
  • The clearer we are on what we want back from the other person, the more likely it is that our needs will be met.  

Asking for a Reflection

  • As we know, the message we send is not always the message that’s received.  
  • On some occasions, a simple question like, “Is that clear?” will suffice. At other times, we need more than “Yes, I understood you,” to feel confident that we’ve been truly understood.  
  • When we first begin asking others to reflect back what they hear us say, it may feel awkward and strange because such requests are rarely made.  
  • We make clear that we’re not testing their listening skills, but checking out whether we’ve expressed ourselves clearly.  

Requesting Honesty

  • After we’ve openly expressed ourselves and received the understanding we want, we’re often eager to know the other person’s reaction to what we’ve said.  
  • Usually the honesty we would like to receive takes one of three directions:  
  • Sometimes we’d like to know the feelings that are stimulated by what we said, and the reasons for those feelings.  
  • Sometimes we’d like to know something about our listener’s thoughts in response to what they just heard us say.  
  • Sometimes we’d like to know whether the person is willing to take certain actions that we’ve recommended.  

Making Requests of a Group

  • It is especially important when we are addressing a group to be clear about the kind of understanding or honesty we want back after we’ve expressed ourselves.  
  • 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.  
  • For example, when this particular speaker didn’t define what response he wanted, a member of the group might have said, “I’m confused about how you’d like us to respond to your story. Would you be willing to say what response you’d like from us?”

Requests versus Demands

  • When people hear a demand, they see only two options: submission or rebellion.  
  • We can help others trust that we are requesting, not demanding, by indicating that we would only want them to comply if they can do so willingly.  
  • Thus we might ask, “Would you be willing to set the table?” Rather than “I would like you to set the table.”  
  • However, the most powerful way to communicate that we are making genuine request is to empathize with people when they don’t  agree to the request.  
  • We demonstrate that we are making a request rather than a demand by how we respond when others don’t comply.  

Defining Our Objective When Making Requests

  • The objective of NVC is to establish a relationship based on honesty and empathy.  
  • When others trust that our primary commitment is to the quality of the relationship, and that we expect this process to fulfill everyone’s needs, then they can trust that our requests are true requests and not camouflaged demands.  
  • When we give people labels, we tend to act in a way that contributes to the very behavior that concerns us, which we then view as further confirmation of our diagnosis.  
  • When making a request, it is also helpful to scan our minds for the sort of thoughts that automatically transform requests into demands:
  • He should be cleaning up after himself.  
  • She’s supposed to do what I ask.  
  • I deserve to get a raise.  
  • I’m justified in having them stay later.  


  • The objective of NVC is not to change people and their behavior in order to get our way; it is to establish relationships based on honesty and empathy that will eventually fulfill everyone’s needs.  
  • Exercise 4: Expressing Requests
  • 2. “I’d like you to tell me one thing that I did that you appreciate.”
  • 4. “I want you to stop drinking.”
  • 7. “I would like you to drive at or below the speed limit.”
  • 8. “I’d like to get to know you better.”

Chapter 7: Receiving Empathically

  • Now we turn from self-expression to apply these same four components to hearing what others are observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.  
  • We refer to this part of the communication process as receiving empathically.  
  • Presence: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There
  • Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.  
  • Empathy with others occurs only when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgments about them.  
  • 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.  
  • We give to others the time and space they need to express themselves fully and to feel understood.  
  • Believing we have to “fix” situations and make others feel better prevents us from being present.  
  • When we are thinking about people’s words and listening to how they connect to our theories, we are looking at people-we are not with them.  
  • The key ingredient of empathy is presence: we are wholly present with the other party and what they are experiencing.  
  • This quality of presence distinguishes empathy from either mental understanding or sympathy.  

Listening for Feelings and Needs

  • 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.  
  • Questions may focus on these components:
  • 1. What others are observing: “Are you reacting to how many evenings I was gone last week?"
  • 2. How others are feeling and the needs generating their feelings: “Are you feeling hurt because you would have liked more appreciation of your efforts than you received?”
  • 3. What others are requesting: “Are you wanting me to tell you my reasons for saying what I did?”
  • Notice the difference between these questions and the ones below:
  • 1. “What did I do that you are referring to?”
  • 2. “How are you feeling?” “Why are you feeling that way?”
  • 3. “What are you wanting me to do about it?”
  • This second set of questions asks for information without first sensing the speaker’s reality.  
  • If we do decide to ask for information in this way, however, I’ve found that people feel safer if we first reveal the feelings and needs within ourselves that are generating the question.  
  • …we might say, “I’m frustrated because I’d like to be clearer about what you are referring to. Would you be willing to tell me what I’ve done that leads you to see me in this way?”
  • There are no infallible guidelines regarding when to paraphrase, but as a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume that speakers expressing intensely emotional messages would appreciate our reflecting these back to them.  
  • We also need to be prepared for the possibility that the intention behind our paraphrasing will be misinterpreted.  
  • “Don’t pull any of that psychology crap on me!” We may be told.  
  • The more we practice in this way, the more we realize a simple truth: 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 we receive messages with this awareness, we never feel dehumanized by what others have to say to us.  
  • Paraphrasing tends to save, rather than waste, time.  
  • 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.  
  • It is a poignant experience to receive concrete evidence that someone is empathically connected to us.  

Sustaining Empathy

  • I recommend allowing others the opportunity to fully express themselves before turning our attention to solutions or requests for relief.  
  • By maintaining our attention on what’s going on within others, we offer them a chance to fully explore and express their interior selves.  
  • What evidence is there that we’ve adequately empathized with the other person?
  • First, when an individual realizes that everything going on within has received full empathic understanding, they will experience a sense of relief.  
  • We can become aware of this phenomenon by noticing a corresponding release of tension in our own body.  
  • A second, even more obvious sign is that the person will stop talking.  
  • If we are uncertain as to whether we have stayed long enough in the process, we can always ask, “Is there more that you wanted to say?”

When Pain Blocks Our Ability to Empathize

  • It is impossible for us to give something to another if we don’t have it ourselves.  
  • Likewise, 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.  

Chapter 8: The Power of Empathy

Empathy and the Ability to Be Vulnerable

  • The more we connect with the feelings and needs behind their words, the less frightening it is to open up to other people.  
  • 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.  
  • In situations of pain, I recommend first getting the empathy necessary to go beyond the thoughts occupying our heads and recognize our deeper needs.  

Using Empathy to Defuse Danger

  • A metropolitan police officer attending a follow-up training in NVC once greeted me with this account:
  • I’m sure glad you had us practicing empathy with angry people that last time…

Empathy in Hearing Someone’s “No!”

  • When we shine the light of consciousness on the feelings and needs behind someone else’s “no,” however, we become cognizant of what they are wanting that prevents them from responding as we would like.  
  • Vitality drains out of conversations when we lose connection with the feelings and needs generating the speaker’s words, and with the requests associated with those needs.  
  • Instead of being engaged in an exchange of life energy with other human beings, we see ourselves becoming wastebaskets for their words.  
  • Thus, if an aunt is repeating the story about how twenty years ago her husband deserted her and her two small children, we might interrupt by saying, “So Auntie, it sounds like you are still feeling hurt, wishing you’d been treated more fairly.”  
  • People are not aware that empathy is often what they are needing.  
  • Another way to bring a conversation to life is to openly express our desire to be more connected, and to request information that would help us establish that connection.  
  • I have since discovered that conversations that are lifeless for the listener are equally so for the speaker.  
  • Their answers gave me courage by convincing me that it is more considerate to interrupt people than to pretend to listen.  
  • All of us want our words to enrich others, not to burden them.  

Empathy for Silence

  • I continue to be amazed by the healing power of empathy.  
  • Time and again I have witnessed people transcend the paralyzing effects of psychological pain when they have sufficient contact with someone who can hear them empathically.  
  • As listeners, we don’t need insights into psychological dynamics or training in psychotherapy.  
  • What is essential is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within-to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.  

Chapter 9: Connecting Compassionately with Ourselves

  • When we are internally violent toward ourselves, it is difficult to be genuinely compassionate toward others.  

Remembering the Specialness of What We Are

  • Conditioned to view ourselves as objects—objects full of shortcomings—is it any wonder that many of us end up relating violently to ourselves?
  • An important area where this violence can be replaced with compassion is in our moment-to-moment evaluation of ourselves.  

Evaluating Ourselves When We’ve Been Less Than Perfect

  • 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.  
  • In our language there is a word with enormous power to create shame and guilt.  
  • It is the word should, as in “I should have know better” or “I shouldn’t have done that.”
  • Human beings, when hearing any kind of demand, tend to resist because it threatens our autonomy-our strong need for choice.  
  • We have this reaction to tyranny even when it’s internal tyranny in the form of a should.
  • We were not meant to succumb to the dictates of should and have to, whether they come from outside or inside of ourselves.  
  • And if we do yield and submit to these demands, our actions arise from and energy that is devoid of life-giving joy.  

Translating Self-Judgments and inner Demands

  • 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.  
  • If the person we are judging happens to be ourselves, what we are saying is, “I myself am not behaving in harmony with my own needs.”  
  • I am convinced that if we learn to evaluate ourselves in terms of whether and how well our needs are being fulfilled, we are much more likely to learn from the evaluation.  

NVC Mourning

  • ..we can train ourselves to recognize judgmental self-talk and to immediately focus our attention on the underlying 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.  
  • When our consciousness is focused on what we need, we are naturally stimulated toward creative possibilities for how to get that need met.  


  • We follow up on the process of mourning with self-forgiveness.  
  • I believe that human beings are always acting in the service of needs and values.  
  • When we listen empathically to ourselves, we will be able to hear the underlying need.  
  • Self-forgiveness occurs the moment this empathic connection is made.  

Don’t Do Anything That Isn’t Play!

  • When I advise, “Don’t do anything that isn’t play!” Some take me to be radical, even insane.  
  • When we are conscious of the life-enriching purpose behind an action we take, when the sole energy that motivates us is simply to make life wonderful for others and ourselves, then even hard work has an element of play in it.  

Cultivating Awareness of the Energy Behind Our Actions

  • I am convinced that after we gain clarity regarding the need being served by our actions, we can experience those actions as play even when they involve hard work, challenge, or frustration.  
  • Our culture has educated us to hunger for reward.  
  • We do things to get people to like us and avoid things that may lead people to dislike or punish us.  
  • If we do something stimulated solely by the urge to avoid shame, we will generally end up detesting it.  
  • There is a world of difference between doing something for others in order to avoid guilt and doing it out of a clear awareness of our own need to contribute to the happiness of other human beings.  
  • The first is a world filled with misery; the second is a world filled with play.  
  • 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.  

Chapter 10: Expressing Anger Fully

  • The process we are describing, however, does not encourage us to ignore, squash, or swallow anger, but rather to express the core of our anger fully and wholeheartedly.  

Distinguishing Stimulus from Cause

  • The first step to fully expressing anger in NVC is to divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger.  
  • We can identify the other person’s behavior as the stimulus, but it is important to establish a clear separation between stimulus and cause.  
  • The first step in the process of fully expressing our anger is to realize that what other people do is never the cause of how we feel.  
  • When we are connected to our need, whether it is for reassurance, purposefulness, or solitude, we are in touch with our life energy.  
  • Anger is a result of life-alienating thinking that is disconnected from needs.  
  • It indicates that we have moved up to our head to analyze and judge somebody rather than focus on which of our needs are not getting met.  

All Anger Has a Life-Serving Core

  • Thus anger can be valuable if we use it as an alarm clock to wake us up-to realize we have a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely to be met.  
  • To fully express anger requires full consciousness of our need.  
  • Anger, however, co-opts our energy by directing it toward punishing people rather than meeting our needs.  
  • This may take extensive practice, whereby over and over again, we consciously replace the phrase “I am angry because they …” with “I am angry because I am needing …”
  • …It’s not what the other person does, but the images and interpretations in my own head that produce my anger.  

Stimulus versus Cause: Practical Implications

  • 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.  

Four Steps to Expressing Anger

  • Stop. Breathe.
    Identify our judgmental thoughts.
    Connect with our needs.
    Express our feelings and unmet needs.

Offering Empathy First

  • …If we want them to hear us we would need first to empathize with them.  
  • When we settle our attention on other people’s feelings and needs, we experience our common humanity.  
  • When my consciousness is focused on another human being’s feelings and needs, I see the universality of our experience.  
  • As soon as people think that they have done something wrong, they will not be fully apprehending our pain.  

Taking Our Time

  • Probably the most important part of learning how to live the process we have been discussing is to take our time.  
  • …If our intention is to consciously live life in harmony with our values, then we’ll want to take our time.  


  • Blaming and punishing others are superficial expressions of anger.  
  • By expressing our needs, we are far more likely to get them met than by judging, blaming, or punishing others.  

Chapter 11: The Protective use of Force

  • In some situations, however, the opportunity for such dialogue may not exist, and the use of force may be necessary to protect life or individual rights.  
  • If we do, NVC requires us to differentiate between the protective and the punitive uses of force.  

The Thinking Behind the Use of Force

  • The intention behind the protective use of force is to prevent injury or injustice.  
  • When we grab a child who is running into the street to prevent the child from being injured, we are applying protective force.  
  • The punitive use of force, on the other hand, might involve physical or psychological attack, such as spanking the child or saying, “How could you be so stupid!  You should be ashamed of yourself!”  
  • When we exercise the protective use of force, we are focusing on the life or rights we want to protect, without passing judgment on either the person or the behavior.  

Types of Punitive Force

  • When parents opt to use force, we may win the battle of getting children to do what we want, but, in the process, are we not perpetuating a social norm that justifies violence as a means of resolving differences?  

The Costs of Punishment

  • If a worker’s performance is prompted by fear of punishment, the job gets done, but morale suffers: sooner or later, productivity will decrease.  
  • Self-esteem is also diminished when punitive force is used.  
  • Two Questions That Reveal the Limitations of Punishment
  • What do I want this person to do that’s different from what he or she is currently doing?
  • What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing what I’m asking?
  • NVC, however, fosters a level of moral development based on autonomy and interdependence, whereby we acknowledge responsibility for our own actions and are aware that our own well-being and that of others are one and the same.  


  • The intention behind the protective use of force is to prevent injury or injustice, never to punish or to cause individuals to suffer, repent, or change.  
  • The punitive use of force tends to generate hostility and to reinforce resistance to the very behavior we are seeking  
  • Punishment damages goodwill and self-esteem…

Chapter 12: liberating Ourselves and Counseling Others

  • In the same way, pain engendered by damaging cultural conditioning is such an integral part of our lives that we can no longer distinguish its presence.  
  • It takes tremendous energy and awareness to recognize this destructive learning and to transform it into thoughts and behaviors that are of value and of service to life.  
  • The masses, discouraged from developing awareness of their own needs, have instead been educated to be docile and subservient to authority.  

Resolving Internal Conflicts

  • We can apply NVC to resolve the internal conflicts that often result in depression.  
  • In his book The Revolution in Psychiatry, Ernest Becker attributes depression to “cognitively arrested alternatives.”
  • Depression is indicative of a state of alienation from our own needs.  

Caring for Our Inner Environment

  • NVC helps us create a more peaceful state of mind by encouraging us to focus on what we are truly wanting rather than on what is wrong with others or ourselves.  

Chapter 13: Expressing Appreciation in Nonviolent Communication

  • The Intention Behind the Appreciation
  • “You did a good job on that report.”
  • “You are a very sensitive person.”
  • “It was kind of you to offer me a ride home last evening.”
  • Such statements are typically uttered as expressions of appreciation in life-alienating communication.  
  • I define judgments-both positive and negative-as life-alienating communication.  
  • When we use NVC to express appreciation, it is purely to celebrate, not to get something in return.  
  • Our sole intention is to celebrate the way our lives have been enriched by others.  

The Three Components of Appreciation

  • NVC clearly distinguishes three components in the expression of appreciation:
  • 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  
  • “Marshall, when you said these two things (showing me her notes), I felt very hopeful and relieved, because I’ve been searching for a way to make a connection with my son, and these gave me the direction I was looking for.”  

Receiving Appreciation

  • For many of us, it is difficult to receive appreciation gracefully.  
  • NVC encourages us to receive appreciation with the same quality of empathy we express when listening to other messages.  
  • We take into our hearts the joyous reality that we can each enhance the quality of others’ lives.  
  • Usually it is received from one of two polar positions.  
  • At one end is egotism, believing ourselves to be superior because we’ve been appreciated.  
  • At the other extreme is false humility, denying the importance of the appreciation by shrugging it off: “Oh, it was nothing.”  
  • If I am aware that it is this power of God working through me that gives me the power to enrich life for others, then I may avoid both the ego trap and the false humility.  

The Hunger for Appreciation

  • Paradoxically, despite our unease in receiving appreciation, most of us yearn to be genuinely recognized and appreciated.