Nonviolent Communication: Bullet-Point Summary
11 min read

Nonviolent Communication: Bullet-Point Summary

Nonviolent communication is a framework for communication and a language of compassion. It involves using conscious language that's based on awareness of our feelings (words have tremendous power in communication). The ultimate goal of nonviolent communication is mutual compassion. We are conditioned against hearing our own feelings and needs and empathizing with them, but can liberate ourselves from this cultural conditioning to live less stressful lives.

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD
Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD

Buy the book here:

I took a stab at summarizing the major concepts in the book in a hierarchical format below. View the original Notion page here (with bullet-point drop-downs, makes for easier reading):

NVC: the two main parts in principle

Giving: expressing honestly through 4 components


  • Must be free of judgement or else it's useless:
  • When we combine observation with evaluation, people will hear criticism
  • Observation without evaluation is the highest form of enlightenment
  • Avoid the words "always", "never", "frequently", "seldomly" which exaggerate
  • Oftentimes taking the judgment out means making it more specific:
  • For example: "Hank's bad at soccer" → "Hank hasn't scored in 20 games"
Good observation: "Sam didn't ask for my opinion during the meeting"
Bad observation: "My father is a good man":
  • Should me more like: "My father gives money to charity every year"


  • Identifying and expressing our feelings:
  • Heavy cost of unexpressed feelings; society conditions us to not expose
  • Many say "feel" without expressing feelings. Feelings are not thoughts:
  • Don't use the words "that", "like", "as if":
  • For example: "I feel that you should know better" isn't a feeling
  • Don't use the pronouns "I", "you", "he", "she", "they", "it":
  • For example: "I feel I am constantly on call" isn't a feeling
  • Don't use names or nouns referring to people:
  • For example: "I feel Amy has been pretty responsible" isn't a feeling
  • Don't use a description of what you think you are:
  • For example: "I feel inadequate as a piano player"
  • Assessing ability as a guitar player, not clearly expressing feelings
  • Instead, say "I feel disappointed in myself as a guitar player"
  • Or, say "I feel impatient with myself as a guitar player"
  • Or, say "I feel frustrated with myself as a guitar player"
  • Don't use words describing how other people feel about you:
  • For example, "I feel unimportant to my coworkers" isn't your feeling
  • Build a "vocabulary for feelings":
  • Don't use generic words: "I feel good" or "I feel bad"; not specific enough
  • The more specific the better
  • Examples of specific words to use for feelings where needs are being met:
  • Amazed, Blissful, Comfortable, Eager, Friendly, Glad, Inspired, Joyous
  • Examples of specific words to use for feelings where needs not being met:
  • Afraid, Ashamed, Disturbed, Forlorn, Guilty, Hesitant, Irate, Lonely
  • Taking responsibility for our feelings:
  • What others do may be the stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause
  • Four options for receiving negative feelings:
  • Blame ourselves:
  • For example: "you're self-centered" reaction "wow I'm self-centered"
  • Blame others:
  • For example: "you're self-centered" reaction "you're have no right to say"
  • Sense our own feelings and needs:
  • For example: "you're self-centered" reaction "I feel hurt"
  • Sense others' feelings and needs:
  • For example: "you're self-centered" reaction "do you need attention"
  • How to communicate negative feelings:
  • Connect your feeling with your need: "I feel...because...":
  • For example: "I feel mad about spelling errors cuz I value our image"
  • Don't use impersonal pronouns like "it" and "that":
  • For example: "that bugs me a lot" doesn't describe your feelings
  • Don't use "I feel (emotion) because (person or pronoun other than I)":
  • For example: "I feel angry because you broke your promise" shifts blame
  • Don't use statements only mentioning the actions of others:
  • For example: "Mom's disappointed you didn't finish your food"
  • Don't motivate with guilt:
  • For example: "It hurts me when you get poor grades at school"
Good feelings statement: "I feel scared when you say that"
Bad feelings statement: "I feel worthless"
  • Should be more like: "I feel skeptical about my own talents"


  • If we express our needs clearly we have a better chance of getting them met
  • We're not accustomed to thinking about our own needs
  • If we don't value our needs, others might not either
  • We usually blame others when our needs aren't being met
  • Women: more accustomed to taking care of others, often ignore their needs
  • Examples of the large categories of basic human needs we all share:
  • Autonomy, celebration, integrity, play, physical nurture, etc
  • Stages: unaware of needs → aware (emotional slavery → emotional liberation):
  • Stage 1: emotional slavery: we feel responsible for the feelings of others
  • Stage 2: obnoxious stage: angry, no longer responsible for others' feelings
  • Stage 3: emotional liberation: take responsibility for intentions and actions
Good need statement: "I feel angry when you say that cuz I need respect"
Bad need statement: "I feel scared when you raise your voice"
  • Should be more like: "When you yell, I feel scared, because I need to feel safe"


  • When making requests, remember goal: relationship has honesty, empathy
  • You need requests after expressing feelings, or it's useless
  • For example: "I feel thirsty" but you want them to get you a cup of water
  • You also need the feelings + needs before requests, or it sounds like a demand
  • Use positive language:
  • For example: don't express what you are NOT requesting, common error:
  • For example: wife says "don't work so much" husband goes golfing more
  • Wife wanted husband to be home, should have used a DO statement
  • Use clear, concrete action language:
  • For example: "Just let me be me" → "I want your approval for my actions"
  • Vague language contributes to internal confusion
  • The clearer we are about what we want, the more likely we are to get it
  • You can ask for people to reflect your request back to you to ensure they got it:
  • Do this if you're uncertain the person has received your message as intended
  • If they say something different back, thank them, then explain yourself better
  • Also empathize with a listener who doesn't want to reflect back:
  • For example: if the other person says "I heard you I'm not stupid":
  • Say "you feeling annoyed because you want respect for your listening?"
  • After requesting, you can ask for three things:
  • What the listener is feeling:
  • For example: "I'd like you to tell me how you feel about what I just said"
  • What the listener is thinking:
  • For example: "I'd like you to tell me what you think about what I just said"
  • Whether the listener would be willing to take a particular action:
  • For example: "I'd like you to tell me if you'd be willing to (task here)"
  • Especially important to have clear requests of groups:
  • Or else you'll have a lot of useless meetings:
  • For example: someone in a group shares a story, no request, point is unclear
  • Requests are different than demands:
  • People don't like demands, they see two options: submit or rebel
  • To tell request vs demand: observe what speaker does if request not met:
  • For example: it's a demand if the speaker lays a guilt trip
  • For example: it's a request if speaker has empathy for requestee's needs
Good request: "I'd like you to tell me one thing I did that you appreciate"
Bad request: "I want you to understand me"
  • Should be more like: "I want you to tell me what you heard me say"

Example of using all four components:

"Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the rooms that we share in common. Would you be willing to put your rocks in your room or in the washing machine?"

Receiving: receiving empathetically through the four components

Connect compassionately with others

  • Empathy involves emptying your mind and listening with your whole being:
  • "Don't just do something, stand there"
  • Ask before offering advice
  • Otherwise, people will think you're rushing or preaching
  • Intellectual understanding blocks empathy
  • For example, if some says "I look so ugly", don't say "you look pretty":
  • Instead, say "are you feeling disappointed with your looks today"
  • Don't just ask, allow them to fully express themselves before offering advice
  • Avoid doing these things, which involve you talking and not listening:
  • Advising: "I think you should..."
  • One-upping: "that's nothing, wait till you hear..."
  • Educating: "this could be positive if you just..."
  • Consoling: "it wasn't your fault because..."
  • Storytelling: "this reminds me of the time when..."
  • Shutting down: "cheer up, don't feel so bad..."
  • Sympathizing: "oh your poor thing..."
  • Interrogating: "when did this begin..."
  • Explaining: "I would have called but..."
  • Correcting: "that's not how it happened..."
  • Observe carefully for what they're observing, feeling, needing, and requesting:
  • Listen to what people are needing rather than what they are thinking:
  • When you listen for feelings / needs, you no longer see ppl as monsters
  • You can try paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions:
  • Say this: "Are you reacting to how many evenings I was gone last week?"
  • And not this: "What did I do that you are referring to?"
  • Could also try: "I'm frustrated I don't understand, could you tell me..."
  • Always reflect back messages that are emotionally charged
  • Paraphrase only when it contributes to greater compassion / understanding
  • Paraphrasing can save time, rather than take up more time
  • Behind intimidating messages / insults, are people expressing their needs
  • Keep with empathy, asking questions till speaker's finished expressing all needs
  • Speaker has received adequate empathy if: release of tension, or stop talking
  • We need empathy to give empathy
  • Empathy is a powerful tool to help resolve conflicts and hear people
  • It's harder to empathize with certain types of people:
  • People who have more power / status / resources than you, like a boss:
  • "We hear you, you're worried about X, need reassurance about Y..."
  • People who are very close with you
  • When someone says "no" don't take it personally, empathize with them
  • Try to figure out what needs stem from them saying no, and empathize
  • Empathize with silence by listening for the feelings and needs behind it

Connect compassionately with ourselves

  • When you make mistakes, don't get caught in moralistic self-judgement
  • This may be NVC's most important use: self-compassion:
  • NVC mourning: connect with feelings, needs from past regretted actions
  • For example: trying to sign autographs, author spilled pen on himself
  • At first, super mad, it was a new suit
  • Then: saw need to take better care of himself
  • Then: saw need to take care of others' needs (signing autographs)
  • Finally, didn't blame himself, felt compassion for himself
  • NVC self-forgiveness: connect with the need you were trying to meet
  • Just as you should try not to judge others harshly, don't judge yourself:
  • Avoid "should'ing" yourself: "I should have done this"
  • Enlightenment = being conscious of the need behind every choice, thought:
  • With every choice you make, be conscious of the need it serves
  • Try the exercise translating "have to" → "choose to"
  • Write everything you feel you "have to" do that you don't enjoy
  • Then write them out replacing "have to" with "choose to"
  • Then elaborate "I choose to...because I want...":
  • You could uncover the following motivations:
  • Money, approval, avoid punishment, avoid shame, avoid guilt, duty
  • Understand the price you pay for desire for money, approval, etc
  • The most dangerous behaviors: doing things cuz we're "supposed to"

NVC: blockers

  • Obscures our awareness and sense of responsibility
  • Called life-alienating communication, opposite of NVC
  • Has deep philosophical and political roots


  • Usually follows the general structure: who is what
  • For example: "she is lazy" or "they're prejudiced"
  • Judgements of others are actually expressions of our own needs
  • For example: if you judge your partner is "distant," you need affection
  • Moralistic judgements are different than value judgements
  • For example: value judgements are valuing honesty, liberty, equality
  • Judgements and classifications of other people promotes violence
  • For example: in the Cold War the USA viewed the U.S.S.R as an "evil empire"
  • Comparisons of yourself to others will makes you miserable
  • For example: Mozart was a composer and spoke many languages as a teen
  • Comparisons are a form of judgement

Denial of responsibility:

  • Words like "have to" and "make me feel" muddle personal responsibility
  • Amtssprache = Nazi officers excusing themselves of responsibility
  • Replace "I have to" -> "I choose to" to become aware of your choices / feelings


  • We can never make people do anything, they have to want to do it
  • For example: motivate someone with fear, make them choose to out of fear

NVC: anger

  • Blaming other people is superficial expression of anger
  • The cause of anger lies in thinking (thoughts of blame and judgement):
  • For example, if someone's late and we're angry, it's not because they're late
  • It's because we might have a need for our time to be spent productively
  • Consider: they're late, our need is for 30 mins of solitude; we're not angry
  • Use anger as a wake-up call to help get in touch with your needs:
  • When we're aware of our needs, anger gives way to life-serving feelings
  • When we judge and get angry with others, we contribute to violence:
  • Violence comes from: belief that other people cause our pain, need punishment
  • If you're angry with someone and struggling with empathy, remember:
  • The more we hear the other person, the more they'll hear you
  • Stay conscious of the thoughts arising in your mind, without judging them
  • When we hear another person's needs, we recognize our common humanity
  • Our need is for the other person to truly hear our pain
  • When people think they're at fault, they don't hear our pain

Four steps to expressing anger:

  1. Stop, breathe
  2. Identify judgmental thoughts
  3. Connect with our needs
  4. Express our feelings and unmet needs

NVC: conflict mediation

  • Creating a connection between people is the most important thing, not facts
  • When you make this connection, the problem usually solves itself
  • It's important to try your best to make people meet face-to-face
  • If you can't, try for some kind of audio recording
  • Avoid overdoing it with intellectual analysis:
  • This can often be received as criticism
  • Criticism and diagnosis get in the way of peaceful resolution of conflicts
  • Make sure both sides feel their side is being heard
  • Keep careful track of the "bouncing ball" of conversation, make sure it's even
  • Whiteboards can help both sides visually see their opinions are being heard
  • "No" is not a rejection; it reveals a need that's not being met
  • As the mediator, don't be afraid to interrupt to keep the dialogue on track
  • The purpose of interrupting is to restore the process

Five major steps:

  • Express our own needs
  • Avoid the use of language that implies wrongness
  • Search for real needs of other person
  • If they're expressing opinions / analysis, continue to seek the real needs
  • Verify we both accurately recognize the other person's needs
  • If not verified, continue to seek needs behind both parties' words
  • Provide as much empathy as is required to hear other person's needs accurately
  • People often need empathy before they can hear what other person's saying
  • Propose strategies for resolving the conflict
  • Frame in present and positive action language
  • For example: "I'd like for you to tell me if you'd be willing to..."

NVC: use of force

  • The intention is to protect, not to punish:
  • For example: child running into street, hold them back don't hit them
When we fear punishment, we focus on consequences, not our own values
  • Fear of punishment diminishes self-esteem and goodwill
  • For example: mom wants kid to be clean, punishes kid for not cleaning room:
  • Backfires: kid will only clean out of fear, out of the house will be messy
  • Originally, mom's goal: kid WANTS to be clean, not to be clean from fear

NVC: compliments

  • Compliments are often judgements – however positive – of others:
  • For example: "good job on that report": that person's judgement of good
  • Always express appreciation to celebrate, not to manipulate
  • Template for expressing a good compliment in NVC:
  • This is what you did, this is what I feel, this is the need of mine that was met
  • For example: When you said X, I felt Y, because it helped me Z
  • Receive appreciation without feelings of superiority OR FALSE HUMILITY:
  • "Don't be so humble, you're not that great"

Thanks for checking out these project ideas! If you have any questions or comments don't hesitate to reach out to me via my contact info below. Thanks!

Jack McClelland – LinkedIn | Twitter | Email

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