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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg

I finished this book in December 2023. I recommend this book 9/10.

Everyone should probably read this book. Most of us are not great at listening to others; we judge others and ourselves too quickly and are not clear about what we want from others. This book tries to change some of that.

Get your copy here.

🚀 The book in three sentences

  1. This book will make you a better listener and communicator.

  2. Our brains and culture are wired to judge others and not express ourselves clearly.

  3. Listen to what the other person is feeling and needing. Confirm you understand. Then, think about your feelings and needs before responding.

🎨 Impressions

This book will take you behind that protective layer I feel we all put up to protect ourselves in the day-to-day.

✍️ My favorite quotes

Epictetus said, "People are disturbed not by things but by the view they take of them."

📝 My notes and thoughts

  • P6. Four components of NVC:

  • Observations

  • feelings

  • needs

  • requests

  • P12. NVC helps us connect with each other and ourselves in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish. It guides us to reframe the way we express ourselves and listen to others by focusing our consciousness on four areas: what we are observing, feeling, and needing, and what we are requesting to enrich our lives.

  • P16. I learned to communicate in an impersonal way that did not require me to reveal what was going on inside myself. When I encountered people or behaviors I either didn't like or didn't understand, I would react in terms of their wrongness. If my teachers assigned a task I didn't want to do, they were "mean" or "unreasonable." If someone pulled out in front of me in traffic, my reaction would be, "You idiot!" When we speak this language, we think and communicate in terms of what's wrong with others for behaving in certain ways or, occasionally, what's wrong with ourselves for not understanding or responding as we would like. Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others need and are not getting. Thus, if my partner wants more affection than I'm giving her, she is "needy and dependent." But if I want more affection than she is giving me, then she is "aloof and insensitive." If my colleague is more concerned about my details than I am, he is "picky and compulsive." On the other hand, if I am more concerned about details than he is, he is "sloppy and disorganized."

  • P32. The first component of NVC entails the separation of observation from evaluation. When we combine observation with evaluation, others are apt to hear criticism and resist what we are saying. NVC is the process language that discourages static generalizations. Instead, observations are to be made specific to time and context, for example, "Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games," rather than "Hank Smith is a poor soccer player."

  • P33. Observe; don't add judgment to the end; just observe.

  • P46. The second component necessary to expressing ourselves is feelings. By developing a vocabulary of feelings that allows us to clearly and specifically name or identify our emotions, we can connect more easily with one another. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts. NVC distinguishes the expression of actual feelings from words and statements that describe thoughts, assessments, and interpretations.

  • P49. Epictetus said, "People are disturbed not by things but by the view they take of them."

  • P49. Four options for receiving negative messages:

  • Blame ourselves

  • Blame others

  • Sense our own feelings and needs

  • Sense others' feelings and needs

  • P52. The basic mechanism of motivating by guilt, is to attribute the responsibility for one's own feelings to others. When parents say, "It hurts Mommy and Daddy when you get poor grades at school." They are implying that the child's actions are the cause of the parent's happiness or unhappiness. On the surface, taking responsibility for the feelings of others can easily be mistaken for positive caring. It may appear that the child cares for the parent and feels bad because the parent is suffering. However, if children who assume this kind of responsibility change their behavior in accordance with parental wishes, they are not acting from the heart but acting to avoid guilt.

  • P53. Unfortunately, most of us have never been taught to think in terms of needs. We are accustomed to thinking about what's wrong with other people when our needs aren't being fulfilled. Thus, if we want coats to be hung up in the closet, we may characterize our children as lazy for leaving them on the couch. Or we may interpret our co-workers as irresponsible when they don't go about their tasks the way we would prefer them to.

  • P55. In a world where we're often judged harshly for identifying and revealing our needs, doing so can be very frightening. Women, in particular, are susceptible to criticism. For centuries, the image of the loving woman has been associated with sacrifice and the denial of one's own needs to take care of others. Because women are socialized to view the caretaking of others as their highest duty, they often learn to ignore their own needs. At one workshop, we discussed what happens to women who internalize such beliefs. These women, if they ask for what they want, will often do so in a way that both reflects and reinforces the beliefs that they have no genuine right to their needs and that their needs are unimportant. For example, because she is fearful of asking for what she needs, a woman may fail to simply say that she's had a busy day, is feeling tired, and wants some time in the evening to herself; instead, her words come out sounding like a legal case: "You know I haven't had a moment to myself all day. I ironed all the shirts, did the whole week's laundry, took the dog to the vet, made dinner, packed the lunches, and called all the neighbors about the block meeting, so [imploringly] ... so how about you...?"

  • P60. The third component of NVC is the acknowledgment of the needs behind our feelings. What others say and do may be the stimulus for, but never the cause of, our feelings. When someone communicates negatively, we have four options as to how to receive the message: (1) blame ourselves, (2) blame others, (3) sense our own feelings and needs, (4) sense the feelings and needs hidden in the other person's negative message. Judgments, criticisms, diagnoses, and interpretations of others are all alienated expressions of our own needs and values. When others hear criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack. The more directly we can connect our feelings to our needs; the easier it is for others to respond compassionately. In a world where we are often harshly judged for identifying and revealing our needs, doing so can be very frightening, especially for women who are socialized to ignore their own needs while caring for others. In the course of developing emotional responsibility, most of us experience three stages: (1) "emotional slavery"—believing ourselves responsible for the feelings of others, (2) "the obnoxious stage"—in which we refuse to admit caring what anyone else feels or needs, and (3) "emotional liberation"—in which we accept full responsibility for our own feelings but not the feelings of others while being aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others.

  • P78. I then addressed the man who had initiated the discussion: "Can you tell me, when you brought up the newspaper article, what response you were wanting from the group?" "I thought it was interesting," he replied; I explained that I was asking what response he wanted from the group rather than what he thought about the article. He pondered awhile and then conceded, "I'm not sure what I wanted." And that's why, I believe, twenty minutes of the group's valuable time had been squandered on fruitless discourse. When we address a group without being clear about what we want back, an unproductive discussion will often follow. However, if even one member of a group is conscious of the importance of clearly requesting the response that is desired, he or she can extend this consciousness to the group. For example, when this particular speaker didn't define what response he wanted, a member of the group might have said, "I'm confused about how you'd like us to respond to your story. Would you be willing to say what response you'd like from us?" Such interventions can prevent the waste of precisely group time. Conversations often drag on and on, fulfilling no one's needs because it is unclear whether the initiator of the conversation has gotten what she or he wanted.

  • P85. The fourth component of NVC addresses the question of what we would like to request of each other to enrich each of our lives. We try to avoid vague, abstract, or ambiguous phrasing and remember to use positive action language by stating what we are requesting rather than what we are not. Each time we speak, the clearer we are about what we want back, the more likely we are to get it. Since the message we send is not always the message that's received, we need to learn how to find out if our message has been accurately heard. Especially when we are expressing ourselves in a group, we need to be clear about the nature of the response we are wanting. Otherwise, we may be initiating unproductive conversations that waste considerable group time.

  • P104. Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. We often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feelings. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our minds and listen to others with our whole being. In NVC, no matter what words others may use to express themselves, we simply listen to their observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Then, we may wish to reflect back, paraphrasing what we have understood. We stay with empathy and allow others the opportunity to fully express themselves before we turn our attention to solutions or requests for relief. We need empathy to give empathy. When we sense ourselves being defensive or unable to empathize, we need to (1) stop, breathe, give ourselves empathy, (2) scream nonviolently, or (3) take time out.

  • P108. Listen for feelings and needs. Use paraphrasing. Look out for how you feel before responding—do you need to give yourself empathy?

  • P115. When we work in a hierarchically structured institution, there is a tendency to hear commands and judgments from those high up in the hierarchy. While we may easily empathize with our peers and with those in less powerful positions, we may find ourselves being defensive or apologetic instead of empathic in the presence of those we identify as our "superiors."

  • P127. Our ability to offer empathy can allow us to stay vulnerable, defuse potential violence, hear the word no without taking it as a rejection, revive a lifeless conversation, and even hear the feelings and needs expressed through silence. Time and again, people transcend the paralyzing effects of psychological pain when they have sufficient contact with someone who can hear them empathically.

  • P133. When we listen empathically to ourselves, we will be able to hear the underlying need. Self-forgiveness occurs the moment this emphatic connection is made. Then, we are able to recognize how our choice was an attempt to serve life, even as the mourning process teaches us how it fell short of fulfilling our needs. An important aspect of self-compassion is to be able to empathically hold both parts of ourselves—the self that regrets a past action and the self that took the action in the first place. The process of mourning and self-forgiveness frees us in the direction of learning and growing. In connecting moment by moment to our needs, we increase our creative capacity to act in harmony with them.

  • P140. The most crucial application of NVC may be in the way we treat ourselves. When we make mistakes, instead of getting caught up in moralistic self-judgments, we can use the process of NVC mourning and self-forgiveness to show us where we can grow. By assessing our behaviors in terms of our own unmet needs, the impetus for change comes not out of shame, guilt, anger, or depression but out of the genuine desire to contribute to our own and others' well-being. We also cultivate self-compassion by consciously choosing in daily life to act only in service to our own needs and values rather than out of duty, for extrinsic rewards, or to avoid guilt, shame, and punishment. If we review the joyless acts to which we currently subject ourselves and make the translation from "have to" to "choose to," we will discover more play and integrity in our lives.

  • P164. Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of the steps involved in resolving a conflict between ourselves and somebody else. There are five steps in this process. Either side may express their needs first, but for the sake of simplicity in this overview, let's assume we begin with our needs.

  • First, we express our own needs.

  • Second, we search for the real needs of the other person, no matter how they are expressing themselves. If they are not expressing a need but instead an opinion, judgment, or analysis, we recognize that and continue to seek the need behind their words, the need underneath what they are saying.

  • Third, we verify that we both accurately recognize the other person's needs and, if not, continue to seek the need behind their words.

  • Fourth, we provide as much empathy as is required for us to mutually hear each other's needs accurately.

  • Fifth, having clarified both parties' needs in the situation, we propose strategies for resolving the conflict, framing them in positive action language.

  • P202. That NVC urges me to ask myself the following questions rather than think in terms of what is wrong with a patient: "What is this person feeling? What is she or he needing? How am I feeling in response to this person, and what needs of mine are behind my feelings? What action or decision would I request this person to take in the belief that it would enable them to live more happily?" Because our responses to these questions would reveal a lot about ourselves and our values, we would feel far more vulnerable than if we were to simply diagnose the other person.

  • P203. NVC enhances inner communication by helping us translate negative internal messages into feelings and needs. Our ability to distinguish our own feelings and needs and to empathize with them can free us from depression. By showing us how to focus on what we truly want rather than on what is wrong with others or ourselves, NVC gives us the tools and understanding to create a more peaceful state of mind. Professionals in consulting and psychotherapy may also use NVC to engender mutual and authentic relationships with their clients.

  • P210. NVC clearly distinguishes three components in the expression of appreciation:

  • The actions that have contributed to our well-being

  • The particular needs of ours that have been fulfilled

  • The pleasureful feelings engendered by the fulfillment of those needs.

  • P212. Hearing all three pieces of information—what I did, how she felt, and what needs of hers were fulfilled—I could then celebrate the appreciation with her. Had she initially expressed her appreciation in NVC, it might have sounded like this: " Marshall, when you said these two things (showing me her notes), I felt very hopeful and relieved because I've been searching for a way to make a connection with my son, and these gave me the direction I was looking for."

  • P214. I wrote this question: "What appreciation might someone give you that would leave you jumping for joy?"

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