A Language of Life

Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 231129, Encinitas, CA 92023-1129

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Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life © 2005 by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. A PuddleDancer Press Book

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Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life 2nd Edition Printing, August, 2003

Author: Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. Editor: Lucy Leu Project Director: Jeanne Iler Cover and interior design: Lightbourne, www.lightbourne.com Cover photograph of Jerusalem artichoke: Eric Dresser

Manufactured in the United States of America 2nd Edition, 1st Printing, August 2003

20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11

ISBN 13: 978-1-892005-03-8 ISBN 13 PDF: 978-1-892005-37-3

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rosenberg, Marshall B. Nonviolent communication : a language of life / by Marshall B.

Rosenberg. — 2nd ed. p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN: 1-892005-03-4

1. Interpersonal communication. 2. Interpersonal relations. I. Title.

BF637.C45R67 2003 153.6–dc21


What People Are Saying About NVC TM:

“Nonviolent Communication is a simple yet powerful methodology for communicating in a way that meets both parties’ needs. This is one of the most useful books you will ever read.”

—WILLIAM URY, co-author of Getting to Yes and author of The Third Side

“Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, is essential reading for anyone who wants to improve their communication skills. Applying the concepts within the book will help guide the reader towards a more loving, compassionate, and nonviolent way of understanding and functioning with others, and foster more compassion in the world. I highly recommend this book.”

—MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, author of Everyday Grace, President Global Renaissance Alliance

“The extraordinary language of Nonviolent Communication is changing how parents relate to children, teachers to students, and how we all relate to each other and even to ourselves. It is precise, disciplined, and enormously compassionate. Most important, once we study NVC we can’t ignore the potential for transformation that lies in any relationship difficult—if we only bother to communicate with skill and empathy.”

—BERNIE GLASSMAN, President and Co-Founder Peacemaker Community

“Nonviolent Communication is a powerful tool for peace and partnership. It shows us how to listen empathically and also communicate our authentic feelings and needs. Marshall Rosenberg has a genius for developing and teaching practical skills urgently needed for a less violent, more caring world.”

—RIANE EISLER, author of The Chalice and The Blade, Tomorrow’s Children, and The Power of Partnership

“We learned to speak but not communicate and that has led to so much unnecessary personal and social misery. In this book you will find an amazingly effective language for saying what’s on your mind and in your heart. Like so many essential and elegant systems, it’s simple on the surface, challenging to use in the heat of the moment and powerful in its results.”

—VICKI ROBIN, co-author of Your Money or Your Life

“Marshall Rosenberg provides us with the most effective tools to foster health and relationships. Nonviolent Communication connects soul to soul, creating a lot of healing. It is the missing element in what we do.”

—DEEPAK CHOPRA, author of Ageless Body, Timeless Mind

“I believe the principles and techniques in this book can literally change the world, but more importantly, they can change the quality of your life with your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your co- workers and everyone else you interact with. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”

—JACK CANFIELD, Chicken Soup for the Soul series

“Marshall Rosenberg’s dynamic communication techniques transform potential conflicts into peaceful dialogues. You’ll learn simple tools to defuse arguments and create compassionate connections with your family, friends, and other acquaintances. I highly recommend this book.”

—JOHN GRAY, PH.D., author of Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus

“Rosenberg starts with the question: What happens to disconnect us from our compassion, leading us to behave violently and exploitively? Rosenberg makes some challenging points: that compliments and apologies operate in a system of oppression; that rewards are as harmful as punishment, that killing is the easy way out. His distinction between punitive and protective force—and how to discern when force is necessary—should be required reading for anyone making foreign policy or policing our streets. Demanding the ultimate form of responsibility—and vulnerability—it’s no wonder that Rosenberg has received little media and mass attention. Well-written and laid out this book is accessible and easy to read.”

—D. KILLIAN, On The Front Line, Cleveland Free Times

“Changing the way the world works sounds daunting, but Nonviolent Communication helps liberate us from ancient patterns of violence.”


“Marshall’s unique message gives teachers easy steps for peaceful communication and a new way to work with children and parents.”

—BARBARA MOFFITT, Executive Director, National Center for Montessori Educators

“I appreciate how well Nonviolent Communication reduces a very complex and needful topic to utter simplicity.”

—HAL DOIRON, Director, Columbine Community Citizen’s Task Force

“Nonviolent Communication is a masterwork. Nationally, we talk peace. This book goes far beyond mere talk . . . it shows us how to TEACH peace.”

—JAMES E. SHAW, PH.D., Jack and Jill, Why They Kill

“In our present age of uncivil discourse and mean-spirited demagoguery, racial hatreds and ethnic intolerance, the principles and practices outlined in Nonviolent Communication are as timely as they are necessary to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, personal or public, domestic or international.”


“Nonviolent Communication is filled with stories of mediations in many different situations: families, corporations, cops and gangs, Rwandan village tribal chiefs, Israelis and Palestinians. The author describes how, in numerous conflicts, once ‘enemies’ have been able to hear each other’s needs, they are able to connect compassionately and find new solutions to previously ‘impossible’ impasses. He has compiled his ideas into an easy-to-read book that clearly explains this communication model. If you want to learn ways of more skillful speech, I highly recommend this book.”

—DIANA LION, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Turning Wheel Magazine

“I highly recommend Nonviolent Communication to anyone interested in creating more intimate relationships or exploring the connection between language and violence.”

—KATE LIN, The New Times

“We have lived traumatic moments over and over again, moments of fear and panic, incomprehension, frustrations, disappointment, and injustice of all sorts, with no hope of escape. Those who have participated in Marshall Rosenberg’s training have a real desire to use Nonviolent Communication as a peaceful alternative for ending this interminable Rwandan conflict.”

—THEODORE NYILIDANDI, Rwandan Dept. of Foreign Affairs – Kigali, Rwanda

“This book is essential reading for anyone seeking to end the unfulfilling cycles of argument in their relationships. Marshall Rosenberg offers a radical challenge to centuries of thought and language that create violence. If enough people actually learn Nonviolent Communication we may soon live in a more peaceful and compassionate world.”

—WES TAYLOR, Progressive Health

“With the growth in today’s dysfunctional families and the increase of violence in our schools, Nonviolent Communication is a godsend.”

—LINDA C. STOEHR, Los Colinas Business News

“I had come to realize that my old communication style was very judgmental and full of faultfinding. Both my work associates and I were unhappy. My life is significantly changed due to practicing Nonviolent Communication. I am more settled and relaxed even when I am busy. I no longer feel the need to discover fault or place blame. Everyone is happy to be working with me for the first time in my 33 years of owning and operating my own businesses.”

—A businessman in California

“If you care about healing the offender and the victims in the community, then it’s paramount that beginnings be made. Nonviolent Communication is a very large step toward that goal.”

—A prison inmate

“In addition to saving our marriage, Marshall’s work is helping us to repair our relationships with our grown children and to relate more deeply with our parents and siblings. Marshall has shown a way to not only live, speak and act nonviolently, but a way to do so without sacrificing or compromising yourself or others. If angels do manifest in physical form here on this earth, then Marshall Rosenberg must be one.”

—A reader in Arizona

“Nonviolent Communication has catalyzed a process of clarification/ healing/empowerment in me that I could never have imagined. This process has impacted every area of my life and continues to unfold. For me, it unifies the spiritual truths I’ve found in all the world’s religions. It facilitates and strengthens connections to others and its truths are experientially testable. In a workshop Marshall Rosenberg said that all the great religions have ‘love’ at their heart, and ‘I’m just trying to figure out how to do that.’ I stand in awe of the model this book teaches as a means of learning how to ‘do’ love and of its elegant simplicity.”

—A reader in Florida

“Applying these principles to my life and using this easy four-step process has helped me change old conditioned beliefs and ways of acting. Nonviolent Communication allowed me to overcome my toxic conditioning and find the loving parent and person that was locked inside. Dr. Rosenberg has created a way to transform the violence in the world.”

—A nurse in California

“As a professional in the field, I have read many books touting most of the topics covered in this book. But today I am ordering SEVERAL of these, particularly for the teenagers in my life. This book practices what it preaches, and I found the step-by-step approach, exercises, and examples to be clear and easy to practice.”

—A reader in Maryland

I have never read a clearer, more straightforward, insightful book on communication. After studying and teaching assertiveness since the 70s, this book is a breath of fresh air. Rosenberg adds the brilliant insight into the linkage of feelings and needs and taking responsibility and creates a true tool. Amazingly easy to read, great examples, and challenging to put into practice—this book is a true gift to all of us.

—A reader in Washington

“The single toughest, most dangerous opponent I’d ever faced—the one that truly hurt me the most, causing me to spend 30 years of my life behind bars—was my own anger and fear. I write these words now, a gray haired old man, hoping to God—before you suffer what I’ve suffered—that it will cause you to listen and learn Nonviolent Communication. It will teach you how to recognize anger before it becomes violence, and how to understand, deal with, and take control of the rage you may feel.”

—A prisoner writing to fellow inmates

“As a teacher, the process of Nonviolent Communication enables me to connect more deeply; children love and respond to that deep recognition. Parents remark that they feel heard. Solutions come more easily and naturally. Conflicts and misunderstandings with colleagues now become opportunities to create deeper connections. Anger, depression, shame and guilt become friends that help me wake to some vital need that is not being met. Read the book!”

—A teacher in Oregon

“My relationship with my husband, which was good already, has become even better. I have taught the method to many parents who have reported having gained a deeper understanding of their children, thus enhancing their relationship and decreasing tension and conflict.”

—A reader in Illinois


Acknowledgements • xiii Foreword • xv

Chapter 1: Giving From the Heart • 1 The Heart of Nonviolent Communication • 1 Introduction • 1 A Way to Focus Attention • 3 The NVC Process • 6 Applying NVC in Our Lives and World • 8 NVC in Action: “Murderer, Assassin, Child Killer!” • 12

Chapter 2: Communication That Blocks Compassion • 15 Moralistic Judgments • 15 Making Comparisons • 18 Denial of Responsibility • 19 Other Forms of Life-Alienating Communication • 22

Chapter 3: Observing Without Evaluating • 25 The Highest Form of Human Intelligence • 28 Distinguishing Observations From Evaluations • 30 NVC in Action: The Most Arrogant Speaker We’ve Ever Had! • 32 Exercise 1: Observation or Evaluation? • 34

Chapter 4: Identifying and Expressing Feelings • 37 The Heavy Cost of Unexpressed Feelings • 37 Feelings Versus Non-Feelings • 41 Building a Vocabulary for Feelings • 43 Exercise 2: Expressing Feelings • 47

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• x •

Chapter 5: Taking Responsibility for Our Feelings • 49 Hearing a Negative Message: Four Options • 49 The Needs at the Root of Feelings • 52 The Pain of Expressing Our Needs

Versus the Pain of Not Expressing Our Needs • 55 From Emotional Slavery To Emotional Liberation • 57 NVC in Action: Bring Back the Stigma of Illegitimacy! • 61 Exercise 3: Acknowledging Needs • 65

Chapter 6: Requesting That Which Would Enrich Life • 67 Using Positive Action Language • 67 Making Requests Consciously • 72 Asking for a Reflection • 74 Requesting Honesty • 76 Making Request of a Group • 77 Requests Versus Demands • 79 Defining Our Objective When Making Requests • 81 NVC in Action: Sharing Fears About a Friend’s Smoking • 85 Exercise 4: Expressing Requests • 88

Chapter 7: Receiving Empathically • 91 Presence: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There • 91 Listening for Feelings and Needs • 94 Paraphrasing • 96 Sustaining Empathy • 101 When Pain Blocks Our Ability to Empathize • 103 NVC in Action: A Wife Connects With Her Dying Husband • 105 Exercise 5: Differentiating Receiving Empathically from

Receiving Non-Empathically • 109

Chapter 8: The Power of Empathy • 113 Empathy that Heals • 113 Empathy and the Ability to be Vulnerable • 115 Using Empathy to Defuse Danger • 117

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Empathy in Hearing Someone’s “No!” • 120 Empathy to Revive a Lifeless Conversation • 121 Empathy for Silence • 123

Chapter 9: Connecting Compassionately with Ourselves • 129 Remembering the Specialness of What We Are • 129 Evaluating Ourselves When We’ve Been Less Than Perfect • 130 Translating Self-Judgments and Inner Demands • 132 NVC Mourning • 132 Self-Forgiveness • 133 The Lesson of the Polka-Dotted Suit • 134 Don’t Do Anything That Isn’t Play! • 135 Translating Have-To to Choose-To • 136 Cultivating Awareness of the Energy Behind Our Actions • 138

Chapter 10: Expressing Anger Fully • 141 Distinguishing Stimulus From Cause • 141 All Anger Has a Life-Serving Core • 144 Stimulus Versus Cause: Practical Implications • 145 Four Steps to Expressing Anger • 148 Offering Empathy First • 149 Taking Our Time • 152 NVC in Action: Parent and Teen Dialogue

A Life-Threatening Issue • 154

Chapter 11: The Protective Use of Force • 161 When the Use of Force is Unavoidable • 161 The Thinking Behind the Use of Force • 161 Types of Punitive Force • 162 The Costs of Punishment • 164 Two Questions that Reveal the Limitations of Punishment • 165 The Protective Use of Force in Schools • 166

________________________________________________________ CO N T E N T S

Chapter 12: Liberating Ourselves and Counseling Others • 171 Freeing Ourselves from Old Programming • 171 Resolving Internal Conflicts • 172 Caring for Our Inner Environment • 173 Replacing Diagnosis with NVC • 175 NVC in Action: Dealing with Resentments and Self-judgment • 180

Chapter 13: Expressing Appreciation in Nonviolent Communication • 185 The Intention Behind the Appreciation • 185 The Three Components of Appreciation • 186 Receiving Appreciation • 188 The Hunger for Appreciation • 190 Overcoming the Reluctance to Express Appreciation • 191

Epilogue • 193

Bibliography • 197

Index • 201

Note Pages • 209

How You Can Use the NVC Process • 213

Some Basic Feelings and Needs We All Have • 214

About PuddleDancer Press • 215

About CNVC and NVC • 216

Trade Books from PuddleDancer Press • 217

Trade Booklets from PuddleDancer Press • 221

About the Author • 222

NO N V I O L E N T CO M M U N I C AT I O N _______________________________________

• xii •


I’m grateful that I was able to study and work with Professor CarlRogers at a time when he was researching the components of a helping relationship. The results of this research played a key role in the evolution of the process of communication that I will be describing in this book.

I will be forever grateful that Professor Michael Hakeem helped me to see the scientific limitations and the social and political dangers of practicing psychology in the way that I had been trained: a pathology-based understanding of human beings. Seeing the limitations of this model stimulated me to search for ways of practicing a different psychology, one based on a growing clarity about how we human beings were meant to live.

I’m grateful, too, for George Miller’s and George Albee’s efforts to alert psychologists to the need of finding better ways for “giving psychology away.” They helped me see that the enormity of suffering on our planet requires more effective ways of distributing much-needed skills than can be offered by a clinical approach.

I would like to thank Lucy Leu for editing this book and creating the final manuscript; Rita Herzog and Kathy Smith for their editing assistance; and for the additional help of Darold Milligan, Sonia Nordenson, Melanie Sears, Bridget Belgrave, Marian Moore, Kittrell McCord, Virginia Hoyte, and Peter Weismiller.

Finally, I would like to express gratitude to my friend Annie Muller. Her encouragement to be clearer about the spiritual foundation of my work has strengthened that work and enriched my life.

• xiii •


Arun Gandhi Founder/President, M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence

As a person of color growing up in apartheid South Africa in the1940’s was not something anyone relished. Especially not if you were brutally reminded of your skin color every moment of every day. And then to be beaten up at the age of 10 by white youths because they consider you too black and then by black youths because they consider you too white is a humiliating experience that would drive anyone to vengeful violence.

I was so outraged that my parents decided to take me to India and leave me for some time with grandfather, the legendry M. K. Gandhi, so that I could learn from him how to deal with the anger, the frustration, the discrimination and the humiliation that violent color prejudice can evoke in you. In the 18 months I learned more than I anticipated. My only regret now is that I was just 13 years old and a mediocre student at that. If only I was older, a bit wiser and a bit more thoughtful I could have learned so much more. But, one must be happy with what one has received and not be greedy, a fundamental lesson in nonviolent living. How can I forget this?

One of the many things I learned from grandfather is to understand the depth and breadth of nonviolence and to acknowledge that one is violent and that one needs to bring about a qualitative change in one’s attitude. We often don’t acknowledge our violence because we are ignorant about it; we assume we are not violent because our vision of violence is one of fighting, killing, beating, and wars the type of things that average individuals don’t do.

To bring this home to me grandfather made me draw a family tree of violence using the same principles as we do a genealogical tree. His argument was that I would have a better appreciation of nonviolence if I understood and acknowledged the violence that exists in the world. He assisted me every evening to analyze the

• xv •

day’s happenings—everything that I experienced, read about, saw or did to others—and put them down on the tree either under “physical” if it was violence where physical force was used or under “passive” if it was the type of violence where the hurt was more emotional.

Within a few months I covered one wall in my room with acts of “passive” violence which grandfather described as being more insidious than “physical” violence. He then explained that passive violence ultimately generated anger in the victim who, as an individual or as a member of a collective, responded violently. In other words it is passive violence that fuels the fire of physical violence. It is because we don’t understand or appreciate this that all our efforts to work for peace have either not fructified or that peace has been temporary. How can we extinguish a fire if we don’t first cut off the fuel that ignites the inferno?

Grandfather always vociferously stressed the need for nonviolence in communications—something that Marshall Rosenberg has been doing admirably for several years through his writings and his seminars. I read with considerable interest Mr. Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication—A Language of Life and am impressed by the depth of his work and the simplicity of the solutions.

As grandfather would say unless “we become the change we wish to see in the world” no change will ever take place. We are all, unfortunately, waiting for the other person to change first.

Nonviolence is not a strategy that can be used today and discarded tomorrow; nonviolence is not something that makes you meek or a pushover; nonviolence is about inculcating positive attitudes to replace the negative attitudes that dominate us. 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. None of these negative concepts are conducive to building a homogenous family, community, society or a nation.

It is not important that we come together in a moment of crisis and show our patriotism by flying the flag; it is not enough that

NO N V I O L E N T CO M M U N I C AT I O N _______________________________________

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we become a super-power by building an arsenal that can destroy this earth several times over; it is not enough that we subjugate the rest of the world through our military might because peace cannot be built on the foundations of fear.

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. We often hear people say: This world is ruthless and if you want to survive you must become ruthless too. I humbly disagree with this contention.

This world is what we have made of it. If it is ruthless today it is because we have made it ruthless by our attitudes. If we change ourselves we can change the world and changing ourselves begins with changing our language and methods of communication. I highly recommend reading this book, and applying the Nonviolent Communication process it teaches. It is a significant first step towards changing our communication and creating a compassionate world.

—Arun Gandhi

_______________________________________________________ FO R E WO R D

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Words are Windows (or They’re Walls)

I feel so sentenced by your words, I feel so judged and sent away, Before I go I’ve got to know Is that what you mean to say? Before I rise to my defense, Before I speak in hurt or fear, Before I build that wall of words, Tell me, did I really hear? Words are windows, or they’re walls, They sentence us, or set us free. When I speak and when I hear, Let the love light shine through me. There are things I need to say, Things that mean so much to me, If my words don’t make me clear, Will you help me to be free? If I seemed to put you down, If you felt I didn’t care, Try to listen through my words To the feelings that we share.

—Ruth Bebermeyer


Giving from the Heart The Heart of Nonviolent Communication

What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based

on a mutual giving from the heart. —Marshall Rosenberg


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?

My preoccupation with these questions began in childhood, around the summer of 1943, when our family moved to Detroit, Michigan. The second week after we arrived, a race war erupted over an incident at a public park. More than forty people were killed in the next few days. Our neighborhood was situated in the center of the violence, and we spent three days locked in the house.

When the race riot ended and school began, I discovered that a name could be as dangerous as any skin color. When the teacher called my name during attendance, two boys glared at me and hissed, “Are you a kike?” I had never heard the word before and

• 1 •

didn’t know some people used it in a derogatory way to refer to Jews. After school, the two were waiting for me: they threw me to the ground, kicked and beat me.

Since that summer in 1943, I have been examining the two questions I mentioned. What empowers us, for example, to stay connected to our compassionate nature even under the worst circumstances? I am thinking of people like Etty Hillesum, who remained compassionate even while subjected to the grotesque conditions of a German concentration camp. As she wrote in her journal at the time,

I am not easily frightened. Not because I am brave butbecause I know that I am dealing with human beings, and that I must try as hard as I can to understand everything that anyone ever does. And that was the real import of this morning: not that a disgruntled young Gestapo officer yelled at me, but that I felt no indignation, rather a real compassion, and would have liked to ask, ‘Did you have a very unhappy childhood, has your girlfriend let you down?’ Yes, he looked harassed and driven, sullen and weak. I should have liked to start treating him there and then, for I know that pitiful young men like that are dangerous as soon as they are let loose on mankind.

—Etty Hillesum: A Diary.

While studying the factors that affect our ability to stay compassionate, I was struck by the crucial role of language and our use of words. I have since identified a specific approach to communicating—speaking and listening—that leads us to give 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. While we may not consider the way we

NO N V I O L E N T CO M M U N I C AT I O N _______________________________________

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talk to be “violent,” our words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or ourselves. 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 NVC is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. It contains nothing new; 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.

NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. 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 a 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

___________________________________________ GI V I N G F R O M T H E HE A R T

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NVC: a way of communicating that leads us to give from the heart.

We perceive relationships in a new light when we use NVC to hear our own deeper needs and those of others.

observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness, and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart.

Although I refer to it as “a process of communication” or a “language of compassion,” NVC is more than a process or a language. On a deeper level, it is an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking.

There is a story of a man under a street lamp searching for something on all fours. A policeman passing by asked what he was doing. “Looking for my car keys,” replied the man, who appeared slightly drunk. “Did you drop them here?” inquired the officer. “No,” answered the man, “I dropped them in the alley.” Seeing the policeman’s baffled expression, the man hastened to explain, “But the light is much better here.”

I find that my cultural conditioning leads me to focus attention on places where I am unlikely to get what I want. I developed

NVC as a way to train my attention— to shine the light of consciousness— on places that have the potential to yield what I am seeking. What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.

This quality of compassion, which I refer to as “giving from the heart,” is expressed in the following lyrics by my friend, Ruth Bebermeyer:

NO N V I O L E N T CO M M U N I C AT I O N _______________________________________

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Let’s shine the light of consciousness on places where we can hope to find what we are seeking.

I never feel more given to than when you take from me — when you understand the joy I feel

giving to you. And you know my giving isn’t done

to put you in my debt, but because I want to live the love

I feel for you. To receive with grace may be the greatest giving. There’s no way I can separate

the two. When you give to me, I give you my receiving. When you take from me, I feel so

given to.

—Song “Given To” (1978) by Ruth Bebermeyer from the album, Given To.

When we give from the heart, we do so out of a joy that springs forth whenever we willingly enrich another person’s life. This kind of giving benefits both the giver and the receiver. The receiver enjoys the gift without worrying about the consequences that accompany gifts given out of fear, guilt, shame, or desire for gain. The giver benefits from the enhanced self-esteem that results when we see our efforts contributing to someone’s well-being.

The use of NVC does not require that the persons with whom we are communicating be literate in NVC or even motivated to relate to us compassionately. If we stay with the principles of NVC, motivated solely to give and receive compassionately, and do everything we can to let others know this is our only motive, they will join us in the process and eventually we will be able to respond compassionately to one another. I’m not saying that this always happens quickly. I do maintain, however, that compassion

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inevitably blossoms when we stay true to the principles and process of NVC.

The NVC Process To arrive at a mutual desire to give from the heart, we focus the light of consciousness on four areas—referred to as the four components of the NVC model.

First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or 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, etc.? And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified. An

awareness of these three components is present when we use NVC to clearly and honestly express how we are.

For example, a mother might express these three pieces to her teenage son by saying, “Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the rooms that we share in common.”

She would follow immediately with the fourth component—a very specific request: “Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine?” This fourth component addresses what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives or make life more wonderful for us.

Thus, part of NVC is to express these four pieces of information very clearly, whether verbally or by other means. The other aspect of this communication consists of receiving the same four pieces of information from others. We connect with them by first sensing what they are observing, feeling, and needing, and then

NO N V I O L E N T CO M M U N I C AT I O N _______________________________________

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Four components of NVC: 1. observation 2. feeling 3. needs 4. request

discover what would enrich their lives by receiving the fourth piece, their request.

As we keep our attention focused on the areas mentioned, and help others do likewise, we establish a flow of communication, back and forth, until compassion manifests naturally: what I am observing, feeling, and needing; what I am requesting to enrich my life; what you are observing, feeling, and needing; what you are requesting to enrich your life. . . .

N V C P r o c e s s The concrete actions we are

observing that are affecting our well-being

How we feel in relation to what we are observing

The needs, values, desires, etc. that are creating our feelings

The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives

When we use this process, we may begin either by expressing ourselves or by empathically receiving these four pieces of information from others. Although we will learn to listen for and verbally express each of these components in Chapters 3–6, it is important to keep in mind that NVC does not consist of a set formula, but adapts to various situations as well as personal and cultural styles. While I conveniently refer to NVC as a “process” or “language,” it is possible to experience all four pieces of the process without uttering a single

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