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10 September 2007 | 14:45 | Assertive Skills, Conflict Management, Interpersonal Relationships, Leadership, Parenting | 10 Comments
You’re about to unlock what I believe is the greatest human need in communication. I’m going to show you how to
connect with your fellow human being in the most intimate way possible – a way that many people have never
experienced their entire life. This is something I know the world so desperately needs. It is something that you so
desperately need. I would not pour excessive amounts of time and effort into this article if I failed to believe this
article would change how you think about communication forever.
See if you can figure out the common thread between the following short scenarios: Your partner leaves the room in
anger after another argument; A friend lashes out on you despite you having done nothing wrong; Your children’s
constant disobedience makes you extremely frustrated causing you to yell and do other things you later regret; Your
supervisor or boss orders you to complete a task leaving you to feel controlled like a puppet on a stick.
These are just a list of common scenarios where we know there is a better way to handle the situation, but we just
can’t figure it out. A lot of the times, our emotions get the better of us causing us to handle the situation poorly, yet
often in these times of conflict there is something we can’t quite put our finger on. We know something is wrong and
that we can fix it, but something we don’t know is going on is just out of our reach.
Why does your partner become angry at you when you remain calm and willing to communicate? Why would a friend
lash out on you despite you having done nothing wrong? Why does your children’s disobedience seem as though they
are doing it constantly on purpose? Why does communication at work seem to only be on the surface as it ignores the
more important issues skin-deep? There are thousands of similar situations to the ones listed above that all have a
Let’s face it, everything we say to another person attempts to get a response from them. Whether we are trying to get a
person to agree, comply with our request, conduct a certain behavior, feel a certain emotion, or simply listen in silence
– there is a response each of us seek because we want to be acknowledged that we were received (that’s a hint with
regard to the commonality amongst the above situations). Your partner would not become angry at you and your
children would work with you – instead of against you – if you followed this rule.
Everything we say to another person attempts to get a response from them.
It is said that all communication is hypnosis because all communication is about inducing states within people. Some
people are more effective in inducing states of emotion and thought within others because they have more effective
communication skills. A salesman who can induce the desired buying state of emotion and thought in a buyer will
likely make the sale instead of a salesman who desperately tries to persuade and sell. We are all constantly trying to
make others feel, think, or behave a certain way with our communication.
The process I’m about to discuss in this article is one created by the Center for Nonviolent Communication. The
organization is a nonprofit organization founded by Marshall Rosenberg who has written Nonviolent Communication:
A Language of Life. Marshall and a couple hundred other people who are well trained in the process, conduct
workshops throughout the world teaching people their techniques which is known as Nonviolent Communication
(NVC). The NVC process has changed the lives of millions of people who have learned the techniques directly and
those who have been fortunate enough to have those trained in the NVC process use the techniques on them.
By learning the NVC process, which I’m going to teach you below, you will be extremely effective in inducing a state
of connection with the person you are talking to. I’m talking about a level of connection that most people will never
experience in their entire life.
If you are after a process that changes a person’s behavior, then NVC is not the best one to use in your situation. NVC
is about building an intimate relationship and connecting with people at a deep level by using effective
communication to met the needs of both people involved. I’m not saying it can’t be used to change a person’s
behavior – it definitely can – but the underlying purpose of the process is to breakdown conflict to let people connect
at a very intimate level. Once you have sufficiently gone through certain steps in the process, then you can begin
using your negotiation skills to persuade the person. If you try to persuade the person upfront without having used the
NVC process, you will often find the person resisting you – emotionally blocking you out – and ignoring what you
have to say. This is especially true for you if you feel others don’t understand you.
When a person disagrees with you, refuses to comply with a request, or is angry at you, a poor communicator will
firstly try to express oneself. The person seeks to be understood before seeking to understand. An effective
communicator and one who uses the NVC process, will seek to understand the person, which in turn leads to their
own need of being understood. The secret to being understood is to understand.
The secret to being understood is to understand.
Remember that little teaser above where I said I’d tell you the commonality amongst the situations mentioned earlier?
What I said about the need to be understood is that shared relationship. Your angry partner wants to be understood.
Your friend wants to be understood and will have almost zero frustration once you understand. Your children want to
be understood which will lead them to talking to you about intimate issues. Even your boss and supervisor want to be
understood. The power of Nonviolent Communication lies in understanding others and having them understand you.
Answer this question truthfully. How many people in your life truly understand you on a frequent basis? Think about
the question for some time because it’s important to have an understanding of understanding.
If you’re like most people, you won’t have one person in your life that frequently and truly understands you when the
two of you communicate together. If you are fortunate enough to have someone who understands you when the two of
you are talking together, show your gratitude to the person by telling them right now how thankful you are. Phone the
person if need be. Having an understanding person in your life does amazing things for your mental health which is
why we need to be understanding and be understood.
I asked this question because I want to demonstrate the scarce number of people in this world who seek to intimately
understand the people they talk to. Very few people actually care about understanding others and as a result, they fail
to be understood. I believe this is why most individuals who complain about “no one understands me” are constantly
misunderstood. They live on a one-way street seeking to receive before they give. Violence is so widespread because
on one hand there is one person desperately wanting to be understood, and on the other hand is another person they
are in conflict with wanting to be understood.
The failure to see each other’s needs means neither has his needs met causing an outbreak of emotional or possibly
physical destruction. Ignorance to understanding another person without imposing judgments or solutions is what I
believe to be a secret of world peace. “Peace cannot be achieved through violence,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, “it
can only be attained through understanding.”
The anger and frustration present in everyday situations appears to be irrelevant to deeper issues, yet it is our little
bursts of anger that contribute to a global scale of war and hatred. Our everyday outbursts of anger, frustration, and
misunderstandings has as much – but probably greater – impact on peace and love than kind actions.
I’ve written about the reciprocation rule and how you can get a lot of the things you wish – often in greater quantities
– by firstly doing that which you wish to be done to you. That sounds a bit wishy-washy, but it is a universal law that
holds true in many of life’s situations. Once you learn to understand others, they will be far more willing to
The need to be understood is quite possibly the greatest unmet need amongst humankind. If you can fulfill someone’s
need to be understood, you will trigger amazing things that you’ve likely never experienced when communicating
with someone. Thanks to Dan Kennedy, a great marketer that I intently learn from, I came across a quote by Cavett
Robert, the founder of the National Speakers Association, who said, “Most people are walking around, umbilical cord
in hand, looking for a new place to plug it in.” If you can be that “socket” by understanding the person and
empathically receiving the person’s needs, you will build a powerful connection with the person. You will see
something about the person change before your very eyes. They will know something deep is going on as you build
an amazing connection and relationship.
The need to be understood is quite possibly the greatest unmet need amongst humankind.
The Nonviolent Communication process is a very simple technique once you understand it; though it is not exactly
simple to use because emotional pollution clogs your thinking. With practice, you will become better at implementing
the process and be more successful in your communication and relationships. Over time, provided you continually
practice the techniques and polish your skills, you will become excellent at using the process because you have got to
be willing to learn, change, and grow. Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw said, “Those who cannot change
their minds cannot change anything.”
The process has four steps: observing, feeling, needing, and requesting. There are really eight steps because you
firstly apply the four steps to the other person, then you apply them to yourself. Remember what I said before about
seeking to understand before being understood? Applying the stages firstly on the other person is a way of initiating
understanding so that you can be understood.
You firstly empathically go through the four steps with the other person, then you apply the four steps to yourself.
This is a very important concept to grasp. You go through the four steps first on the other person otherwise he or she
will not listen to what you’re saying. Use the visualization of picking up a vacuum and firstly having to empathically
“suck up” the person’s communication. You then turn on the reverse switch and “spit it out” in an empathic manner.
Having successfully done this process, you are then ready to use NVC on yourself.
Most people, including myself, identify a few problems in firstly focusing on the other person. If you haven’t
identified one or a few of these now, you’ll likely come across them as you continue to read about the process below.
The biggest concern when using NVC in this manner is that you are forgoing your own needs and concerns. People
think they have to suppress their own needs and emotions such as anger. The process actually encourages you to
express intense emotions – especially anger – but not in the way we are conditioned to believe that is good for us.
The first step of the process involves observing the other person. By far, the greatest mistake in this stage is observing
the person with an evaluation. People evaluate by using judgments in their observations which pollutes their
understanding of what they see and hear in the person they are listening to.
Think of a birdwatcher who is carefully and calmly admiring nearby birds. The birdwatcher doesn’t disturb the birds.
Rather, he carefully watches to see what the birds are doing while listening to the sounds they make. He may even
respond to a bird’s sound in the same manner by whistling. At the observation stage, if people were birdwatchers and
they were observing a bird (the other person), they would fire gunshots, scream, and throw rocks at the bird. Shooting
a gun, screaming, and throwing rocks at a bird is equal to evaluating the person you are “listening” to instead of just
I can almost guarantee you that when you’re listening to your partner, a customer, or coworker, that your “effective
communication” and “excellent listening skills” involve shooting a gun at the person by evaluating them through
judgments. I estimate that 99% of people using the process fail at this stage, but I occasionally fail at this stage so
don’t get discouraged. It is a tough concept to grasp for many people.
Evaluations can take many forms. An evaluation basically means you are not receiving someone’s communication for
what it truly is. You mostly “shoot a gun,” “scream,” and “throw rocks” when observing by judging, criticizing,
blaming, or using general words.
Those who have my communication secrets of making people like you program will deeply understand the common
ways we intoxicate our ability to listen to others. I believe your ability to actively listen without polluting the person’s
message with your thoughts and feelings is one of the greatest communication skills you can obtain. This is why I’ve
written separate chapters in the book on criticism, diagnosing, labeling, reassuring, and moralizing. They are the
greatest destroyers of relationships. Understanding them allows you to communicate in a “magnetic manner” that
builds a connection in your relationship.
I’ll give you some common examples of how people stuff up the listening process by using the 12 communication
barriers I give in my program. The first part of the dialog is person one, while the second part is person two who uses
the communication barriers:
1. Criticism - “I’m trying to improve my skills in that area.” “Good. Because you’ve really sucked at it recently.”
2. Labeling - “I wish you would do house work more often.” “You’re just a nagger.”
3. Diagnosing - “I don’t want to go out right now.” “You’re just saying that because you’re mad about last night.”
4. Praising - “There! Done! Happy I’ve done the work now?” “You’re great for doing that job!”
5. Ordering - “I need a break from working.” “It doesn’t matter. Do what I told you to do now.”
6. Threatening - “I need a break from working.” “It doesn’t matter. Do what I told you to do now or I’ll make you do
7. Questioning - “I’m feeling depressed about what happened today.” “You’re depressed again?”
8. Moralizing - “I don’t want to donate to charity.” “It’ll be good for you to help out.”
9. Advising - “I can’t believe my friendship has ended with Jenny.” “You shouldn’t have talked with her about Bob the
10. Logic - “I’m so angry right now because of my boss at work today!” “You’re a good worker and know what
11. Reassuring - “I’m worried about performing well at the presentation tomorrow.” “You’ve got great skill and will
12. Deflecting - “Argh! I can’t believe Jerry always bugs me.” “Oh yeah. Speaking of people being bugging, his
friend John annoyed me the other day.
There is a lot more to these 12 secrets so I encourage you to read more about them here. These are all times that we
should be observing the speaker instead of providing evaluations. Here are some more examples of evaluations and
the reason why they are evaluations:
“You’re very kind by helping out.” - The word “kind” is a moralistic word as it is judgmental and
distinguishes the behavior as good or bad.
“I reckon Mary is ugly.” - The adjective “ugly” evaluates Mary’s looks.
“All guys are clueless about managing a relationship.” - Too generalized and not specific enough.
“She avoids me.” - The person needs to provide evidence as to why the woman avoids him/her. Also, the word
“avoid” needs to not be used as it assumes the woman’s behavior is avoiding when in fact there are many other
“Britney, you don’t like my helping you.” - How does the person know Britney doesn’t like the person’s help?
The person tries to mind-read instead of stating some visible emotional or physiological aspect that gives the
signal of her dislike.
In Frogs Into Princes by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the authors discuss common words that damage
communication. Each of us have our own representational system where we access information based on how it feels,
sees, or smells. (If you don’t understand that, then I recommend you go visit my review of Frogs Into Princes and go
grab yourself a copy of the book.) You build rapport and connection by talking directly to the person’s
representational system. If the person uses seeing words in their language, then you can use seeing words to build
rapport. A problem arises when words such as think, believe, or sense are used as they are to general and confusing.
They don’t match any representational system, but more detrimental is the fact that they can be misinterpreted.
When you use generalized words or what is known as “Universal Quantifiers” such as always, never, ever, at all, and
anytime, you are polluting your observation with an evaluation. You evaluate that the situation occurs always or never
instead of truly observing when it happens. These examples are often exaggerations and not the truth – hence an
evaluation. Using those words will likely evoke defensive behaviors and intensify arguments.
A wife who wants more intimacy with her husband may use the following statement to evaluate her husband,
“Whenever I try and communicate or be intimate with you, you always avoid me.” Using such a statement will
stimulate a typical response to an evaluating observation: the person will feel cornered and become extremely
defensive. Arguments will break out and nothing good will come out of the conversation.
It’s vital to be specific in your wording. You can be specific by recalling a past situation and directly referring to it.
The wife would be better off saying, “Last night when I tried to talk with you while we were sitting down and
watching T.V., I felt unhappy because I needed to share my experiences with you.” That statement incorporates the
next two step we will soon discuss.
An alternative application of universal quantifiers is clarifying someone else’s communication. Sally says, “My
husband never appreciates me”, to which an effective communicator would reply, “Are you sure he never has?”
Because we often use universal quantifiers as unconscious exaggerations to make a point more profound, clarifying
the exaggeration and helping the person to become more aware and specific allows a solution to be more easily
An effective observing statement typically starts off with, “When you hear…” or “When you see…” The goal of this
stage is to reflect back to the person what you are observing. As stated, it must be free of evaluations.
Don’t be focused on the intellectual level when reflecting back what you are observing. It will greatly hurt the
person’s feeling of connection with you. (There’s a whole chapter in my communication secrets program on the
balance of logic and emotion in your communication.) It’s vitally important to be focused on emotion and not logic.
In other words, reflect back the person’s feelings and not what the person is thinking. Reflecting back what the person
is thinking involves judgment and evaluation on your part because you don’t know what they are thinking.
Some good examples of observing are:
“When you hear me tell you to do work around the house…”
“I see that you’re unhappy with the changes in the office?”
“It sounds to me as though you’re worried about losing a friend.”
“I see that you’re excited about winning tonight!”
These statements are all free from polluting judgments and other evaluations – allowing you to build understanding
and empathy. A lot of times your observation may be incorrect, but this doesn’t matter when you observe without
evaluating because the person will correct you.
When using the observation step on yourself (think of it as the fifth step), it is again vitally important to remove
evaluations. This will help you gain clarity as to what you really need which will help you fulfill that need. You are
verbalizing these observations to the person you are communicating with once you have used the four stages on the
Observing statements of yourself that you communicate to the other person typically start off with, “When I hear…”
or “When I see…” Examples include:
“When I hear you speak loudly…”
“When I see you walk away from me…”
“When I come home from work…”
“When I don’t hear your appreciation of my cooking…”
It’s just as important to not include evaluations from the observations of yourself. Your goal is to communicate
yourself clearly such that the other person understands what you’re feeling. Evaluative statements of the above
examples with regards to observing yourself would include:
“When I hear you become angry…”
“When I see you avoid me…”
“When I come home from work and see you annoy me…”
“When you don’t like my cooking…”
Bad, bad, bad. These are all evaluative statements. Here you are judging the person to be angry or avoiding you. You
criticize the person that they annoy you or dislike your cooking. Again, I highly recommend you read about my
program by clicking here and grab your copy to learn more about ways you “poison” communication.
Having observed the person, you’re next step is to identify the feelings he or she is experiencing. Like the first step,
there are a few common mistakes made at this stage that destroy effective communication.
But before I list the common mistakes and how to express the person’s feelings as well as your own feelings, I’ll give
you a few successful feeling statements to give you an idea of what this step involves. Continuing on from the
provided examples in the observing stage for the other person:
“When you hear me tell you to do work around the house, you feel overwhelmed…”
“I see that you’re unhappy with the changes in the office? This makes you feel restless…”
“It sounds to me as though you’re worried about losing a friend. This makes you feel brokenhearted…”
“I see that you’re excited about winning tonight! You feel energetic…”
Also, continuing on from the provided examples in the observing stage for yourself:
“When I hear you speak loudly, I feel scared…”
“When I see you walk away from me, I feel detached…”
“When I come home from work, I feel exhausted…”
“When I don’t hear your appreciation of my cooking, I feel depressed…”
Upon seeing those statements, which involve the observing and feeling steps, you’re probably thinking that the
feeling stage is very simple. You might be saying, “Cool. All I gotta say is what the other person feels and what I
feel.” If it only were that simple people wouldn’t go wrong at this stage.
One of the greatest mistakes made is choosing the wrong feeling. I consider myself an emotionally aware guy with
regards to my own emotions and others’ emotions, yet I still incorrectly state my own and other’s feelings. However,
incorrectly expressing someone’s feelings isn’t as much a concern as incorrectly expressing your own feelings. It is
more important to accurately express your own emotions than it is to accurately express the other person’s emotions.
When expressing other’s feelings, it doesn’t really matter if you incorrectly express their feelings because the person
will likely correct you. But unless the person has good communication skills and a good ability to interpret emotions,
you’re the only person who will accurately express your feelings so it’s important to choose an accurate feeling.
Having a good emotional vocabulary is an essential part of the Nonviolent Communication process. In the example,
“When I see you walk away from me, I feel detached…”, if the person instead said, “When I see you walk away from
me, I feel angry…” a huge misunderstanding will occur – assuming that the person actually feels detached instead of
angry. It is easy to confuse feeling detached with anger. The person may be angry, but what’s more important is their
feeling of anger coming from the disconnection occurring from the detachment. Saying that oneself is angry is too
vague in this example because it can be misinterpreted in various ways. The Nonviolent Communication book has a
useful large list of feelings when our needs are being met and when our needs aren’t being met. I encourage you to
read up on the list a few times to expand your emotional vocabulary. Alternatively, you can view a list of feelings
After not having a large emotional vocabulary, another big mistake is the wrong level of responsibility for your own
and others’ emotions. You need to take complete responsibility for your own emotions while not taking responsibility
for other people’s emotions. Let me explain.
You need to take complete responsibility for your own emotions while not taking responsibility for other people’s
Firstly, when failing to take responsibility for how you feel, you will blame, condemn, and criticize others for how
you feel. You feel a victim of this world. Other people become the reason for your pain. I believe we all have to
continually remind ourselves to take responsibility for how we feel because we often see ourselves as a victim of
In addition to taking responsibility for your own feelings, it’s important to not be responsible for other people’s
feelings. When relationships advance in importance, it’s common to begin feeling responsible for the person’s
emotions. If your partner is grumpy, then you may feel responsible to make him or her happy. If your partner is sad,
then you may feel responsible to lift them out of their depressing mood. Statements such as, “What did I do to make
you feel…” and “Have I caused you to feel…” are signs of feeling responsible for other person’s feelings. This
feeling of responsibility is dangerous to a happy and successful relationship. The person you feel responsible for
becomes a liability.
I’m not saying you must ignore the person’s emotions. Definitely not. Rather, you need to empathize with the person
instead of making yourself responsible. Observing without evaluation and expressing the person’s feelings is powerful
empathy at work. Take note of that. Express the person’s feelings; don’t express the person’s thoughts or words. This
process is far more helpful for you, your partner, and the relationship, than the many ways feeling responsible
Your partner storms into the room you are in and starts shouting at you. You will communicate poorly when engaging
an emotionally intense person with logical statements or making yourself responsible for how the person is feeling. In
this example, logical statements could include, “I didn’t do that,” “That isn’t what happened,” and “You’re missing
Instead of talking about the content of what your partner is saying and getting caught up in a logical battle that can’t
be won, you need to focus on the feelings by empathizing. An effective statement would be, “You feel angry because
you need…” With intense emotions, one or two empathizing statements are likely to not be enough. Just keep going
through the process and you’ll see amazing communication changes taking place. To continue the blatant selfpromotion, because I really believe you will benefit, I highly recommend you get my communication secrets program
by clicking here and reading the chapter on logic and emotion.
A lot of what I discussed in the feeling stage with regards to responsibility is just as important in the needing stage.
It’s common to blame and criticize others when stating your needs. You don’t actually state your need, but rather
complain about the person not doing something you want. You also must not feel responsible for the person’s needs.
Remember to empathize instead of feeling responsible. Once you do this, then you can take the necessary steps to
fulfill the person’s needs. I understand this is what people are trying to achieve when feeling responsible for other
people’s feelings and needs, but the outcome in doing so isn’t desirable and is often damaging to the relationship.
In the needing stage, your first goal is to express the other person’s needs so you and they know what it is that they
require. Your second goal is to express your needs to let the other person know what it is that you require. In the
Nonviolent Communication process, this is the third and seventh stage respectively. The definition of a “need” says it
is a requirement. For our use, it also incorporates something you or the other person wants like personal space,
quietness, or attention.
By focusing on the needs of those concerned and your own, you communicate at a whole new layer of
communication. When we want something, we complain about what we don’t want. There’s a very powerful
distinction here. A manager needs the status quo completed, but instead he blames employees and criticizes them with
statements like, “You’re not working fast enough. I can’t afford for you to be working at this pace.” In addition to the
criticizing and vague statements, the manager hasn’t stated what he wants. He has just said that he “…can’t afford for
you to be working at this pace.” The manager may have the goal of achieving the status quo and a good intention to
not hurt employees, but this isn’t the message that is being received. The employees will feel attacked in addition to
not knowing what exactly their manager wants. I highly doubt this manager will have a happy and productive
A husband comes home from work and needs some personal space, while his wife needs some intimacy and
communication. Instead of the husband saying he needs personal space, he’ll say what he doesn’t want like, “I don’t
want you to bug me” or “not now.” Instead of the wife saying she needs intimacy, she’ll criticize her husband or state
what she doesn’t want like, “You never want to talk to me” or “I don’t like when you avoid me.” Not only is this
couple failing to express their needs correctly, but they are also completely failing to perceive their partner’s needs.
You’ll also notice that those statements include evaluations instead of pure observations.
Continuing on from the provided examples in the observing and feeling stages for the other person:
“When you hear me tell you to do work around the house, you feel overwhelmed because you need rest…”
“I see that you’re unhappy with the changes in the office? This makes you feel restless because you need
“It sounds to me as though you’re worried about losing a friend. This makes you feel brokenhearted. You need
someone very close to you…”
“I see that you’re excited about winning tonight! You feel energetic because you have a need to win this
A common problem nearly every person makes when talking to someone who is angry is they feel attacked and also
become angry. There is an amazing thought that has worked for me so well to overcome this problem. It is something
I use just about everyday to separate myself from other people’s below average behavior and communication. It is a
way of not dragging myself down in someone else’s anger, poor communication, or rudeness.
When I feel an urge of anger towards someone, I simply think, “They aren’t making me angry. It’s my response. The
way I’m reacting is making me angry.” I aim to reframe my thoughts using various reframing techniques from NLP.
Possible reframes you could use include, “They aren’t making me angry. It’s my response.” “I know the person cares
about me because of what the person did last night for me.” and “He’s probably angry because he has had a tiring
day.” No one can control how you feel without your permission. As Marshall Rosenberg said, “I never have to worry
about another person’s response, only how I react to what they say.”
No one can control how you feel without your permission.
Think about this concept of anger very deeply. Someone doesn’t make you angry. This is usually a life-changing “Ahha!” moment for many people. The messages you run through your mind after observing a person’s anger is what
makes you angry. You “reason with yourself” what their shouting, swearing, and anger means. You’ll probably think
that such messages mean they don’t respect you, care for you, or want to hear your opinion. It is this rationalizing
process that makes you angry. The person doesn’t make you angry; it is how you react that makes you angry. If you’re
reacting instead of responding, chances are that you’re angry. The reframing examples I gave you above are ways of
controlling your interpretation of the person’s behavior so that you can think more calmly and maintain your poise.
When someone is expressing anger, they have a need. As hard as it is to think that way in an emotionally intense
situation, their anger is a poor attempt to fulfill an unmet need. Knowing that a person’s anger is originating from an
unmet need prevents you from taking it personally.
So far in this stage you’ve learned about other’s needs and a little about your own, so let’s discuss expressing your
own needs more in depth. Continuing on from the provided examples in the observing and feeling stages for yourself:
“When I hear you speak loudly, I feel scared because I need emotional safety…”
“When I see you walk away from me, I feel detached. I need physical closeness…”
“When I come home from work, I feel exhausted. I need to relax…”
“When I don’t hear your appreciation of my cooking, I feel depressed because I need to be appreciated…”
Many of us think we know our needs, but it’s not funny how far out of tune we are with our own personal needs. If
you can’t correctly express your need, let a lone have awareness of your need, then good communication is very
When you come to the needing stage, you’ll probably catch yourself out a few times in saying an incorrect want or
saying what you don’t want. You want to be accepted yet say “I need to not be ignored.” You want to be touched yet
say “I need you to not be so distanced.” You want to be understood yet say “I need to feel connected.” When you
aren’t in tune with your own needs or when you express what you don’t want, you can’t expect someone to magically
fulfill your needs. As with feelings, you don’t have to be sure of what the other person needs. Empathically receiving
and giving allows you to help build clarification so that you can later correctly express their needs.
Thinking at a level of needs makes you see the deeper reasoning behind a person’s actions.
By accurately “tuning in” to your own needs, it becomes so much easier to “tune in” to another’s needs. I think this is
because we begin to think at a level of needs. We become aware of the needs instead of missing them purely because
of our focus of consciousness. We see a deeper reason behind each word and body gesture. The person has a need
somewhere and they are trying to make you aware of it – often in an unconscious manner. As I said earlier, all
communication is trying to induce certain states of feelings and thoughts in others. Thinking at a level of needs makes
you see the deeper reasoning behind a person’s actions.
The final stage of the Nonviolent Communication process is the simplest so there isn’t much need to discuss this stage
in depth. It is also the most powerful in changing a person’s behavior. The most important thing to keep in mind when
making a request is it needs to be specific and not general. A request cannot be accurately fulfilled if it is vague.
Continuing on from the provided examples in the observing and feeling stages for the other person:
“When you hear me tell you to do work around the house, you feel overwhelmed because you need rest.
Would you be willing to workout a weekly plan regarding the household chores?”
“I see that you’re unhappy with the changes in the office? This makes you feel restless because you need
consideration. Would you be willing to accept the changes this time and in the future we’ll ask you for your
thoughts regarding the issue?”
“It sounds to me as though you’re worried about losing a friend. This makes you feel brokenhearted. You need
someone very close to you. Would you be willing to solve the issue with your friend?”
“I see that you’re excited about winning tonight! You feel energetic because you have a need to win this
important game.” (Doesn’t really have a requesting stage because it’s an unusual application of the NVC
process. You could say, “Would you be willing for me to come watch?”)
The request you make is dependent on what you are trying to achieve. In the third example regarding the friend, you
may be annoyed about the person complaining about their friend and not doing something about it. Your request
would therefore be something along the lines of, “Would you be willing to discuss the issue more in depth with your
friend?” However, losing a friend will probably not even require a requesting statement. All you are likely to be doing
is listening to the person, empathizing, and comforting them (not reassuring), instead of bringing about changes to the
The requesting stage is usually only made once or twice during the whole process, while the first, second, and third
stages can occur many times. The provided examples shouldn’t be fully used in one statement. By reading those
examples above, you can probably see that it lacks empathy. That’s why you don’t just say the observation, need,
feeling, and request, one after the other.
You can observe, feel, observe, feel, need, feel, need, and then request. It all depends on what is appropriate for the
situation. Remember the analogy I mentioned earlier about the vacuum. “Suck up” the person’s communication first
before moving on. You will probably “miss a few spots” and constantly have to go back through several stages.
Marshall Rosenberg says you will know when you’ve adequately empathized when the tension reduces or the person
doesn’t have anything else to say.
Having successfully used the NVC process, you are then ready to use NVC on yourself. You can run through the
NVC on yourself in your mind to control your emotions, but also be aware that in doing so, you will not be conscious
enough of the other person to adequately empathize.
Continuing on from the provided examples in the observing and feeling stages for yourself:
“When I hear you speak loudly, I feel scared because I need emotional safety. Would you be able to not yell
the next time we argue?”
“When I see you walk away from me, I feel detached. I need physical closeness. Would you like to cuddle
when we’re alone and together?”
“When I come home from work, I feel exhausted. I need to relax. Would you allow me to sit down for 15 or so
minutes after work?”
“When I don’t hear your appreciation of my cooking, I feel depressed because I need to be appreciated. Would
you say ‘thank you’ or give another form of appreciation around once a week?”
“Would you like…” is the typical requesting statement made when making a request because it doesn’t order,
threaten, or blatantly advise the other person.
When someone tries to connect with you by reflecting back what you are saying, the worst thing you can do is
become angry and condemn them for not understanding you. Thank them for making an effort and then clarify
yourself. I know someone who gets frustrated when you don’t hear or understand what he says. The people talking
with him are afraid to seek clarification. What then happens is people pretend to hear him as a means of avoiding his
Let’s say you tell somebody you’re angry about work and they reflect back that you’re depressed. What you do is
thank them for trying to reflect back your feelings and follow that by clarifying yourself; not by saying “You don’t
listen” or “You never understand me.”
Another brief note worth mentioning is repeating what I said earlier regarding what you want in the needing stage.
When making a request, don’t say what you don’t want. Say what you do want. Be clear, be specific, and make it
actionable. An example is not saying you’d like the person to work harder. Say something along the lines of, “Would
you be willing to complete the daily report by 5pm each day?”
A Complete Application of the NVC Process
You’ve now learned a lot about empathizing, listening, and the entire Nonviolent Communication process. It’s time to
give you an example of the entire process at work in a real-life example. The main points I want to demonstrate is
how the process is applied and that the application of the process isn’t as logical as sequentially going through the
The non-italicized text in brackets is my discussion of what is going on so that you can deeply understand the
communication taking place and the reasoning behind the person who is attempting to communicate effectively. All
the italicized text is provided to create and describe the scenario. You’ll see in the following example that you don’t
have to use the techniques perfectly for them to work.
Ryan and Jessica are married. Recently, Ryan has been watching a lot of television, playing computer games, going
out with friends, and working. He hasn’t been giving Jessica much intimacy as she would like despite her efforts of
pointing out the problem and providing a solution. Ryan arrives home late at night after going out with friends and
did not tell Jessica that he went out. He enters their house and the couple makes eye contact. Jessica has recently
learned the Nonviolent Communication process so she is keen to use it and is likely to make some mistakes.
Jessica: (Jessica has been anxious about Ryan for hours and greets him inside their house with a very unhappy face.)
Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you.
Ryan: (Ryan has a smile on his face after arriving home from a good night out.) Chill out. I’ve been out having a good
time with my mates.
Jessica: (Jessica’s emotions get intense causing her to become angry and forget the effective communication skills she
has been learning.) You want me to chill out while you’re out partying? Are you kidding me? You didn’t even tell me
you were going out. You’ve been out having fun all the while I’ve been stuck here at home! (Here Jessica has been
caught up in a logical battle with Ryan. She is talking about facts and trying to logically argue with him. The issue
here is an emotional one which means her focus needs to be on emotions.)
Ryan: (Ryan starts to become angry and joins Jessica in the conflict by using the communication mistakes of
diagnosing, criticizing, and labeling.) That’s why I don’t tell you because all you’re gonna do is annoy me. You’re a
nagger. It’s not like I have to tell you everything.
Jessica: (Jessica takes Ryan’s criticism as a personal attack and becomes angrier because she has failed to recognize
that Ryan was purely trying to met one of his needs.) Ha! You’re like a little child. You don’t take responsibility for
anything. I do all the work in this relationship. (Jessica has criticized, labeled, and used universal quantifiers – all
things that will make Ryan defensive.)
Ryan: Oh! And you’re little miss perfect? You’re just a big pain in the a**!
Jessica: (Jessica realizes that she has forgotten the Nonviolent Communication process and tries to begin using the
communication techniques. She takes a moment of silence and breathes deeply to clear her head.) You feel annoyed
and this makes you angry. (Jessica has turned her focus towards Ryan and first seeks to empathically receive what he
has to say. The NVC process successfully begins!)
Ryan: You do more than annoy me! All you do is tell me what to do! You’re a stupid control freak and a b****!
Jessica: When you hear me tell you what to do, you feel controlled. (Jessica has reflected back another one of his
statements by using the observation and feeling stage. She begins to see that he has an unmet need of freedom which
prevents her from feeling attacked.)
Ryan: Yes! I hate it when you constantly nag me! I just want to have fun without you being a damn pest!
Jessica: So I can understand what is annoying to you, is what I said tonight an example of the nagging? (Jessica is
unsure of what he means by “nag” and so she asked a good question to clarify what he means. She needs to be careful
about taking responsibility for the way Ryan feels.)
Ryan: That’s just one small example of you being a damn pain.
Jessica: When you hear me ask you what you did, you feel irritated because you need freedom. (Jessica has observed,
felt, and identified a need.)
Ryan: (Ryan begins to calm down though he is still agitated.) No! I… I just don’t like having to run everything
through you like your some boss. (Jessica wrongly identified one of Ryan’s needs, though it didn’t matter because he
then provided clarification.)
Jessica: When you hear me ask you what you did, you feel irritated because you need independence. (Jessica has
rephrased her previous statement with a different need. She is attempting to identify what unmet need Ryan has
because this will result in a solution.)
Ryan: I do need independence and you’re not giving it to me. You control me. You’re not fun at all. You’re just a pain.
Jessica: You feel detached from me when you hear me telling you what to do. (Jessica jumps back to the beginning of
the NVC process by shifting her focus onto another feeling. Notice how she is empathizing with him instead of
Ryan: I guess that’s right. You’re no fun anymore. All you do now is annoy.
Jessica: When you hear me tell you what to do, you feel annoyed because you need more joy with me.
Ryan: That’s right.
Jessica: Would you be willing to help me become more fun? (Jessica sensed the tension in the air dissipate and felt
Ryan has said what he wants. Therefore, she made a requesting statement.)
Ryan: I’d love to.
Jessica has used all four stages of the NVC process on Ryan and knows she is now able to use the process to express
her feelings and needs, as well as making a request for Ryan to change his behavior.
Jessica: When you constantly go out without me, I feel detached. (Jessica has made a poor observation as she has
made an evaluation with the word “constantly.”)
Ryan: I don’t constantly go out!
Jessica: You feel frustrated because you don’t go out much. (Jessica realizes Ryan may have another need and so she
switches her focus back on him.)
Jessica: (Jessica senses the number of times he goes out isn’t an issue and so she switches her focus back on herself.)
When you do not go out with me like tonight, I feel alienated from you. I need to be close to you. (Jessica has made
an accurate observation without evaluation and has given Ryan a specific example of the behavior she dislikes. She
has also been able to identify her need of intimacy with Ryan.)
Ryan: I see. You need to be with me whenever I go out?
Jessica: Thanks for telling me your understanding of what I need. To clarify what I meant, I don’t mind if you go out
by yourself, but for example, like tonight I wanted to go out with you because I need physical closeness. (Jessica
thanks Ryan for trying to understand her even though he misunderstood.)
Jessica: Would you be willing to tell me what you’re doing so that we can go out more often? (After having
completed all seven stages, Jessica finally makes her request to change Ryan’s behavior. This is usually the first thing
people do; not the last.)
Ryan: Sure. Provided that you become more fun like we said earlier.
Jessica: (Jessica hugs and kisses Ryan in huge relief as she has solved a problem that has annoyed her for months.)
There are many possibilities that could have taken place in the above scenario and changed the communication, but I
think this scenario nicely demonstrates how the Nonviolent Communication is applied to real-life.
Some people, who for the first time use this powerful process that I have described, may find their partner or
themselves breaking down in tears out of relief. That’s perfectly okay as it’s likely to be a release of mental and
emotional tension that has built up after years of being entirely misunderstood and ignored. When someone observes
without evaluation, accurately sees your feelings, and is able to identify an unmet need you have, it builds a
connection of understanding that most people will never experience in their entire lifetime.
Overall, the Nonviolent Communication process isn’t about getting people to do what you want. It isn’t a persuasive
process. It is a method used to build compassion and connection in a relationship. In a world where we desperately
need to be understood by others, there is a gap that Nonviolent Communication fills as it connects two people who
would otherwise remain distanced, frustrated, and in ongoing conflict. Begin using this process today and I know you
will begin to have more intimate relationships in your personal and professional world. Doing so will bring us closer
to world peace. “We can never obtain peace in the outer world,” said the Dalai Lama, “until we make peace with
I highly recommend you go read my review of Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and visit the
provided link where you can order a copy of the book today. Secondly, if this article interested you, you can receive
Nonviolent Communication skills training online. Lastly, you can get my communication secrets program here to
discover more skills that work extremely well with the Nonviolent Communication process.
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