So how does the language of NVC work? Let me give you a
brief example. Let’s say I passed a bulldozed lot in our area of
Hawaii. I used to say (or think) something like, “Grrrrrrr,
those stupid people! They’re destroying what little Nature we’ve got
left. They should go back to wherever they came from and not ruin our
However, if I were to use NVC, I wouldn’t communicate in
condemning thoughts and righteous demands. Instead, I’d communicate in
the four parts of NVC—observations, feelings, needs, and requests,
which clarify what’s actually alive in me. Then the sentence might
When I look at that bulldozed lot . . .
FEELINGS: . . .
I feel outraged and powerless. . .
NEEDS: . . .
because I want protection for the Earth’s ecosystems and for the
natural beauty of our island.
you be willing to brainstorm with me ways I can change how land is
developed here, so it becomes something I can support?
With NVC, there’s no suppression of feelings and no
false niceness. There’s also no blame, shame, or judging of others (or
myself!). All that energy is redirected towards identifying my feelings
and needs. Then I ask for that which would actually enrich my life. For
me, this is a profound breakthrough. By using this form, I'm
able to communicate about any topic or feeling in a way that maximizes
my chances of getting my needs met. Whereas before, I spoke
in a way that practically guaranteed my needs would NOT get met.
But all this is only half of the equation. Perhaps even
more unique to NVC is the practice of empathic listening. When
listening empathically, I again translate whatever is spoken into
observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Let’s say my partner comes
up to me and says, “You’re a lazy, messy bum, and I’m sick of
putting up with your junk all over the house!!!” Using
empathic listening, I can do something besides collapse, defend myself,
or attack back. In this case, I might pause, reflect, and ask:
When you came home and saw my clothes and towel on the floor . . .
FEELINGS: . . .
were you upset . . .
NEEDS: . . .
because you’d like to have order in the house?
Notice, I don’t take on the condemnation, nor do I
condemn back. Instead, I listen for feelings and needs, and then make
my best guess at what is actually going on with the other person. Empathy!
Hearing this, she might say, “Yeah, but what I’m really
aggravated about [feeling]
is all the traffic and the fact that I was working all day while you
stayed home [observation].”
Then I might say, ““Sounds like after being at work and driving home [observation] you’re feeling
burned out [feeling]
and really wanting peace and relaxation [need]“Yeah.
You know, what I’d love is to take the weekend off [request] to chill out and be
together [need].” “Wow,
I’m happy [feeling] to
hear that [observation],
because I’ve been wanting to connect [need].
I was actually bored [feeling]
sitting around the house today [observation].
I would have liked some company [need].”
“Cool. And about the house [observation],
would you be willing to put your things away after you’re done with
them [request]?” “OK.”
This dialogue is an example of how NVC can take a
potential fight and turn it into an intimate connection. By focusing on
the feelings and needs of each person, it’s possible for everyone to
get their needs met. And it only takes one person speaking this
language to make it happen.
Beyond its obvious merit in personal relationships, NVC
has been used successfully in all kinds of settings — including
families, schools, businesses, and other organizations. It’s helped
bring peace and change to prisons, war-torn areas, and volatile
conflict-situations all over the world. It seems to work for people of
all races, classes, backgrounds, and locations. This excites me,
because I want to be able to communicate with everyone in a way that is
respectful and effective, while still being sincere and passionate.
Prior to NVC, I didn't see how that was possible. Now I see it as
If you’re interested in exploring NVC, here are a few
avenues you can explore:
Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall
Rosenberg, which completely explains this practice, in detail, with
many real life examples. Order it here.
Check out the NVC
websites on our Links page.
Attend an Introductory Workshop in Compassionate
Communication, or a 6-week Basic Skills Class,
which focus on the fundamentals of NVC. For more information, contact us.
Schedule a Compassionate
Communication coaching session with me. I work
with individuals, families, schools, businesses, and other
organizations. I also offer mediation services for couples and groups.
For more information, contact
Join our Compassionate
Communication practice group if your on the on the Big Island
or join a local NVC practice group in your area. If there isn’t one
available, read the NVC book and form your own
Practice, practice, practice!