Marshall Rosenberg - “Nonviolent Communication”

Nonviolent communication is about establishing a relationship of honesty and empathy. Here’s my notes from reading the book.

The nonviolent communication process

“Identify observable behavior. Identify feeling. Identify reason for feeling. Identify needs and wants. Put that out. Make sure other person connects with it.”

If approached

  1. Hear out the other person.
  2. Confirm in your own words if you understand what they are feeling. Don’t be afraid to state how you feel about it.
  3. Ask them what they need.
  4. Confirm in your own words if you understand what they need.

If approaching

State your reasons as follows in this order:

  1. I feel [actual feeling] because
  2. my need for [actual basic human need] and
  3. I would like [a want that can help fulfilling the need]
  4. [then hear out the other person’s viewpoint like in “If approached”

Your expectations

  1. Don’t expect your wish will be granted every time. Fortunately, there’s other possible ways to satisfy your need.
  2. But don’t demand for it to be satisfied. It might be conflicting with the other person’s needs. It might need time or resources.
  3. Most importantly, don’t coerce anybody to satisfy your want. It’s shortsighted. The underlying goal is not to get what you want right now but to make the other person understand you better and through that lens find reasons to behave differently next time (or maybe even this time).

Basic needs of everybody

  1. Sustenance (Food, Clothing, Shelter)
  2. Safety (Protection)
  3. Empathy (Understanding)
  4. Honesty
  5. Celebration (Play, Rest)
  6. Creativity
  7. Love (not a feeling)
  8. Community
  9. Autonomy
  10. Meaning and Purpose (a need to contribute to life)

Related: Manfred Max-Neef’s Fundamental human needs

Express your needs with a Santa Claus attitude

Myth: “needs are needy”. Women are taught to sacrifice their needs. Men are taught that brave men have no needs of their own, follow the leader and the cause.

Don’t express your needs in a “kick me” attitude (a self-deprecating manner). Your needs are not a burden. This attitude shows you don’t value your needs, and so it tells other people that they should not value your needs either.

How to present your needs

  1. Assert your own needs in simple explicit language, joyfully. You are building a bridge of understanding.
  2. Be equally interested in needs of others.
  3. Remember that needs are not requests: needs do not reference a specific person nor a specific action. Instead, they refer to internal life in action within us. If you reference other people

Don’t judge

Don’t apply labels

They are always unfair and can remove agency.

What’s alive in you?

We should fight the urge of our trained judgmental language to fill our inner voice. Instead, think and talk in terms of your needs and wants. Acknowledge what’s subjective. Remember about gratitude. Express gratitude also in terms of feelings and needs. Again, don’t apply labels, even in praise.

Use “I feel [feeling] because I…”

It’s important that [feeling] is an actual feeling, not a judgement. It’s important to not justify the feeling with external causes, especially ones that point back at the other person. Wanting a need to be met by alienating the other side is self-deprecating.

Don’t attribute your feelings to others’ actions

You are not responsible for feelings of others. They are not responsible for yours either.

Request with positive language action

State requests in the positive, not the negative. Don’t negate what somebody is doing, it’s criticism.

Avoid vague language. Request concrete action that allows the other person to meet the need you have. What would you want them to do that would satisfy your need?

Lack of awareness of one’s actual, concrete wants often leads to ambiguous language. If we don’t know what we really want ourselves, it’s hard to expect others to guess.

Don’t present your requests as demands

It leaves the listener to either reject your demand or to submit to it. It denies them their autonomy.

Don’t treat non-compliance as rejection.

Be aware of your objective: nonviolent communication is about establishing a relationship of honesty and empathy, it’s only about a positive response if it’s a willing and compassionate response. The underlying purpose is not to get what you want but to get the quality of connection that gives compassionate giving possible.


Modern language has been shaped by hierarchical societies to serve the needs and wants of the rulers, often absolute monarchs. To this day there’s a lot of words and expressions that downplay needs and wants of self versus the needs and wants of others. Examples:

  • “I must” - removes autonomy, choice
  • “I should”
  • “How could I have been so…?” - internalized guilt, shame
  • “Needy” - pejorative

Use of Force

Punitive use of force

Cause people to suffer for their misdeeds. Punitive action designed to make people see the error of their ways, repent and change.

Punitive action often causes resentment and hostility. Resistance to the behavior we want to instill.

Protective use of force

Protect people from injury or other immediate danger.

Expressing anger

Behavior of others can be a stimulus for our anger but it’s never the cause.
Images in our heads and interpretations of our own cause anger.

What did you tell yourself when the stimulus happened?

Take responsibility for your anger. Don’t blame the other person, don’t be punitive.

Anger is about judgment, not about needs not being met. It’s dangerous because provokes violence. But at the root, it’s a tragic expression of a need. Focus on it and that helps to get the need met. Don’t focus on blame and punishment.

Responding when angry

  1. Stop.
  2. What are they feeling?
  3. What might I be needing?
  4. Translate alienating messages from your adrenaline-high brain into language of feelings and needs.
    • don’t use labels
    • don’t judge, blame, seek punitive action