A Language of Life


A Language of Life

Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

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

email@PuddleDancer.com • www.PuddleDancer.com



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

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic, or electronic process, or in the form of a photographic recording, nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or otherwise copied for public or private use without the written permission of the publisher. Requests for permission should be addressed to:

PuddleDancer Press, Permissions Dept. P.O. Box 231129, Encinitas, CA 92023-1129 Fax: 1-858-759-6967, email@PuddleDancer.com

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

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



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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 _______________________________________

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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

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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

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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

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

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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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Two parts of NVC: 1. expressing honesty

through the four components

2. receiving empathically through the four components



word. The essence of NVC is to be found in our consciousness of these four components, not in the actual words that are exchanged.

Applying NVC In Our Lives And World When we use NVC in our interactions—with ourselves, with another person, or in a group—we become grounded in our natural state of compassion. It is therefore an approach that can be effectively applied at all levels of communication and in diverse situations:

intimate relationships families schools organizations and institutions therapy and counseling diplomatic and business negotiations disputes and conflicts of any nature

Some people use NVC to create greater depth and caring in their intimate relationships:

When I learned how I can receive (hear), as wellas give (express), through using NVC, I went beyond feeling attacked and ‘door mattish’ to really listening to words and extracting their underlying feelings. I discovered a very hurting man to whom I had been married for 28 years. He had asked me for a divorce the weekend before the [NVC] workshop. To make a long story short, we are here today—together, and I appreciate the contribution [it has] made to our happy ending. . . . I learned to listen for feelings, to express my needs, to accept answers that I didn’t always want to hear. He is not here to make me happy, nor am I here to create happiness for him. We have both learned to grow, to accept and to love, so that we can each be fulfilled.

—workshop participant in San Diego

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Others use it to build more effective relationships at work. A teacher writes:

I have been using NVC in my special educationclassroom for about one year. It can work even with children who have language delays, learning difficulties, and behavior problems. One student in our classroom spits, swears, screams, and stabs other students with pencils when they get near his desk. I cue him with, ‘Please say that another way. Use your giraffe talk.’ [Giraffe puppets are used in some workshops as a teaching aid to demonstrate NVC.] He immediately stands up straight, looks at the person towards whom his anger is directed, and says calmly, ‘Would you please move away from my desk? I feel angry when you stand so close to me.’ The other students might respond with something like ‘Sorry! I forgot it bothers you.’

I began to think about my frustration with this child and to try to discover what I needed from him (besides harmony and order). I realized how much time I had put into lesson planning and how my need for creativity and contribution were being short- circuited in order to manage behavior. Also, I felt I was not meeting the educational needs of the other students. When he was acting out in class, I began to say, ‘I need you to share my attention.’ It might take a hundred cues a day, but he got the message and would usually get involved in the lesson.

—teacher, Chicago, Illinois

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A doctor writes:

I use NVC more and more in my medical practice.Some patients ask me whether I am a psychologist, saying that usually their doctors are not interested in the way they live their lives or deal with their diseases. NVC helps me understand what the patients’ needs are and what they need to hear at a given moment. I find this particularly helpful in relating to patients with hemophilia and AIDS because there is so much anger and pain that the patient/healthcare- provider relationship is often seriously impaired. Recently a woman with AIDS, whom I have been treating for the past five years, told me that what has helped her the most have been my attempts to find ways for her to enjoy her daily life. My use of NVC helps me a lot in this respect. Often in the past, when I knew that a patient had a fatal disease, I myself would get caught in the prognosis, and it was hard for me to sincerely encourage them to live their lives. With NVC, I have developed a new consciousness as well as a new language. I am amazed to see how much it fits in with my medical practice. I feel more energy and joy in my work as I become increasingly engaged in the dance of NVC.

—physician in Paris

Still others use this process in the political arena. A French cabinet member visiting her sister remarked how differently the sister and her husband were communicating and responding to each other. Encouraged by their descriptions of NVC, she mentioned that she was scheduled the following week to negotiate some sensitive issues between France and Algeria regarding adoption procedures. Though time was limited, we dispatched a French-speaking trainer to Paris to work with the cabinet minister. She later attributed much

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of the success of her negotiations in Algeria to her newly acquired communication techniques.

In Jerusalem, during a workshop attended by Israelis of varying political persuasions, participants used NVC to express themselves regarding the highly contested issue of the West Bank. Many of the Israeli settlers who have established themselves on the West Bank believe that they are fulfilling a religious mandate by doing so, and they are locked in conflict not only with Palestinians but also with other Israelis who recognize the Palestinian hope for national sovereignty in this region. During a session, one of my trainers and I modeled empathic hearing through NVC, and then invited participants to take turns role-playing each other’s position. After twenty minutes, a settler announced her willingness to consider relinquishing her land claims and moving out of the West Bank into internationally recognized Israeli territory if her political opponents were able to listen to her in the way she had just been listened to.

Worldwide, NVC now serves as a valuable resource for communities facing violent conflicts and severe ethnic, religious, or political tensions. The spread of NVC training and its use in mediation by people in conflict in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere have been a source of particular gratification for me. My associates and I were once in Belgrade over three highly charged days training citizens working for peace. When we first arrived, expressions of despair were visibly etched on the trainees’ faces, for their country was then enmeshed in a brutal war in Bosnia and Croatia. As the training progressed, we heard the ring of laughter in their voices as they shared their profound gratitude and joy for having found the empowerment they were seeking. Over the next two weeks, during trainings in Croatia, Israel, and Palestine, we again saw desperate citizens in war-torn countries regaining their spirits and confidence from the NVC training they received.

I feel blessed to be able to travel throughout the world teaching people a process of communication that gives them power and

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joy. Now, with this book, I am pleased and excited to be able to share the richness of Nonviolent Communication with you.

Summary 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. NVC fosters deep listening, respect, and empathy and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. Some people use NVC to respond compassionately to themselves, some to create greater depth in their personal relationships, and still others to build effective relationships at work or in the political arena. Worldwide, NVC is used to mediate disputes and conflicts at all levels.

NVC in Action “Murderer, Assassin, Child Killer!”

Interspersed throughout the book are dialogues entitled NVC in Action. These dialogues intend to impart the flavor of an actual exchange where a speaker is applying the principles of Nonviolent Communication. However, NVC is not simply a language or a set of techniques for using words; the consciousness and intent that it embraces may be expressed through silence, a quality of presence, as well as through facial expressions and body language. The NVC in Action dialogues you will be reading are necessarily distilled and abridged versions of real-life exchanges, where moments of silent empathy, stories, humor, gestures, etc. would all contribute to a more natural flow of connection between the two parties than might be apparent when dialogues are condensed in print.

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I was presenting Nonviolent Communication in a mosque at Deheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem to about 170 Palestinian Moslem men. Attitudes toward Americans at that time were not favorable. As I was speaking, I suddenly noticed a wave of muffled commotion fluttering through the audience. “They’re whispering that you are American!” my translator alerted me, just as a gentleman in the audience leapt to his feet. Facing me squarely, he hollered at the top of his lungs, “Murderer!” Immediately a dozen other voices joined him in chorus: “Assassin!” “Child-killer!” “Murderer!”

Fortunately, I was able to focus my attention on what the man was feeling and needing. In this case, I had some cues. On the way into the refugee camp, I had seen several empty tear gas canisters that had been shot into the camp the night before. Clearly marked on each canister were the words “Made in U.S.A.” I knew that the refugees harbored a lot of anger toward the U.S. for supplying tear gas and other weapons to Israel.

I addressed the man who had called me a murderer:

I: Are you angry because you would like my government to use its resources differently? (I didn’t know whether my guess was correct, but what is critical is my sincere effort to connect with his feeling and need.)

He: Damn right I’m angry! You think we need tear gas? We need sewers, not your tear gas! We need housing! We need to have our own country!

I: So you’re furious and would appreciate some support in improving your living conditions and gaining political independence?

He: Do you know what it’s like to live here for twenty- seven years the way I have with my family—children and all? Have you got the faintest idea what that’s been like for us?

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I: Sounds like you’re feeling very desperate and you’re wondering whether I or anybody else can really understand what it’s like to be living under these conditions. Am I hearing you right?

He: You want to understand? Tell me, do you have children? Do they go to school? Do they have playgrounds? My son is sick! He plays in open sewage! His classroom has no books! Have you seen a school that has no books?

I: I hear how painful it is for you to raise your children here; you’d like me to know that what you want is what all parents want for their children—a good education, opportunity to play and grow in a healthy environment . . .

He: That’s right, the basics! Human rights—isn’t that what you Americans call it? Why don’t more of you come here and see what kind of human rights you’re bringing here!

I: You’d like more Americans to be aware of the enormity of the suffering here and to look more deeply at the consequences of our political actions?

Our dialogue continued, with him expressing his pain for nearly twenty more minutes, and I listening for the feeling and need behind each statement. I didn’t agree or disagree. I received his words, not as attacks, but as gifts from a fellow human willing to share his soul and deep vulnerabilities with me.

Once the gentleman felt understood, he was able to hear me as I explained my purpose for being at the camp. An hour later, the same man who had called me a murderer was inviting me to his home for a Ramadan dinner.

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Communication That Blocks Compassion

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged . . .

—Holy Bible, Matthew 7:1

In studying the question of whatalienates us from our natural state of compassion, I have identified specific forms of language and communication that I believe contribute to our behaving violently toward each other and ourselves. I use the term “life-alienating communication” to refer to these forms of communication.

Moralistic Judgments One kind of life-alienating communication is the use of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values. Such judgments are reflected in language such as, “The problem with you is that you’re too selfish.” “She’s lazy.” “They’re prejudiced.” “It’s inappropriate.” Blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticism, comparisons, and diagnoses are all forms of judgment.

The Sufi poet Rumi once wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right- doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

• 15 •

Certain ways of communicating alienate us from our natural state of compassion

In the world of judgments, our concern centers on WHO “IS” WHAT.



Life-alienating communication, however, traps us in a world of ideas about rightness and wrongness—a world of judgments; it is a language rich with words that classify and dichotomize people and their actions. When we speak this language, we judge others and their behavior while preoccupying ourselves with who’s good, bad, normal, abnormal, responsible, irresponsible, smart, ignorant, etc.

Long before I reached adulthood, I learned to communicate in an impersonal way that did not require me to reveal what was going on inside of 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 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

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.”

It is my belief that all such analyses of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own values and needs. They are tragic because, when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance to them among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us. Or, if they do agree to act in harmony with our values because they concur with our analysis of their wrongness, they will likely do so out of fear, guilt, or shame.

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Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.



We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs, not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we will experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of either external or internal coercion. They, too, pay emotionally, for they are likely to feel resentment and decreased self-esteem when they respond to us out of fear, guilt, or shame. Furthermore, each time others associate us in their minds with any of those feelings, we decrease the likelihood of their responding compassionately to our needs and values in the future.

It is important here not to confuse value judgments and moralistic judgments. All of us make value judgments as to the qualities we value in life; for example, we might value honesty, freedom, or peace. Value judgments reflect our beliefs of how life can best be served. We make moralistic judgments of people and behaviors that fail to support our value judgments, e.g. “Violence is bad. People who kill others are evil.” Had we been raised speaking a language that facilitated the expression of compassion, we would have learned to articulate our needs and values directly, rather than to insinuate wrongness when they have not been met. For example, instead of “Violence is bad,” we might say instead, “I am fearful of the use of violence to resolve conflicts; I value the resolution of human conflicts through other means.”

The relationship between language and violence is the subject of psychology professor O.J. Harvey’s research at the University of Colorado. He took random samples of pieces of literature from many countries over the world and tabulated the frequency of words that classify and judge people. His study shows a high correlation between the frequent use of such words and incidences of violence. It does not surprise me to hear that there is considerably less violence in cultures where people think in terms of human needs than in cultures where people label one another as “good” or “bad” and believe that the “bad” ones deserve to be punished. In 75 percent of the television programs shown during hours when

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American children are most likely to be watching, the hero either kills people or beats them up. This violence typically constitutes the “climax” of the show.

Viewers, having been taught that bad guys deserve to be punished, take pleasure in watching this violence.

At the root of much, if not all, violence—whether verbal, psychological, or physical, whether among family members, tribes, or nations—is a kind of thinking that attributes the cause of conflict to wrongness in one’s adversaries, and a corresponding inability to think of oneself or others in terms of vulnerability—what one might be feeling, fearing, yearning for, missing, etc. We saw this dangerous way of thinking during the Cold War. Our leaders viewed Russians as an “evil empire” bent on destroying the American way of life. Russian leaders referred to the people of the United States as “imperialist oppressors” who were trying to subjugate them. Neither side acknowledged the fear lurking behind such labels.

Making Comparisons Another form of judgment is the use of comparisons. In his book, How to Make Yourself Miserable, Dan Greenberg demonstrates

through humor the insidious power that comparative thinking can exert over us. He suggests that if readers have a sincere desire to make life miserable for themselves, they might

learn to compare themselves to other people. For those unfamiliar with this practice, he provides a few exercises. The first one displays full-length pictures of a man and a woman who embody ideal physical beauty by contemporary media standards. Readers are instructed to take their own body measurements, compare them to those superimposed on the pictures of the attractive specimens, and dwell on the differences.

This exercise produces what it promises: we start to feel miserable as we engage in these comparisons. By the time we’re as depressed as we think possible, we turn the page to discover that

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Classifying and judging people promote violence.

Comparisons are a form of judgment.



the first exercise was a mere warm-up. Since physical beauty is relatively superficial, Greenberg now provides an opportunity to compare ourselves on something that matters: achievement. He resorts to the phone book to give readers a few random individuals to compare them-selves with. The first name he claims to have pulled out of the phone book is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Greenberg lists the languages Mozart spoke and the major pieces he had composed by the time he was a teenager. The exercise then instructs readers to recall their own achievements at their current stage of life, to compare them with what Mozart had accomplished by age twelve, and to dwell on the differences.

Even readers who never emerge from the self-induced misery of this exercise might see how powerfully this type of thinking blocks compassion, both for oneself and for others.

Denial Of Responsibility Another kind of life-alienating communication is the denial of responsibility. Life-alienating communication clouds our awareness that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. The use of the common expression “have to” as in “There are some things you have to do, whether you like it or not” illustrates how personal responsibility for our actions is obscured in such speech. The phrase “makes one feel” as in “You make me feel guilty” is another example of how language facilitates the denial of personal responsibility for our own feelings and thoughts.

In her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, which documents the war crimes trial of Nazi officer Adolph Eichmann, Hannah Arendt quotes Eichmann saying that he and his fellow officers had their own name for the responsibility-denying language they used. They called it “Amtssprache,” loosely translated into English as “office talk” or “bureaucratese.” For example, if asked why they took a certain action, the response might be, “I had to.” If asked why they “had to,” the answer would be,

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Our language obscures awareness of personal responsibility.



“Superiors’ orders.” “Company policy.” “It was the law.” We deny responsibility for our actions when we attribute their

cause to: • Vague, impersonal forces

“I cleaned my room because I had to.” • Our condition, diagnosis, personal or psychological history

“I drink because I am an alcoholic.” • The actions of others

“I hit my child because he ran into the street.” • The dictates of authority

“I lied to the client because the boss told me to.” • Group pressure

“I started smoking because all my friends did.” • Institutional policies, rules, and regulations

“I have to suspend you for this infraction because it’s the school policy.”

• Gender roles, social roles, or age roles “I hate going to work, but I do it because I am a husband and a father.”

• Uncontrollable impulses “I was overcome by my urge to eat the candy bar.”

Once, during a discussion among parents and teachers on the dangers of a language that implies absence of choice, a woman objected angrily, “But there are some things you have to do whether you like it or not! And I see nothing wrong with telling my children that there are things they have to do too.” Asked for an example of something she “had to do,” she retorted, “That’s easy! When I leave here tonight, I have to go home and cook. I hate cooking! I hate it with a passion, but I have been doing it every day for twenty years, even when I’ve been as sick as a dog, because it’s one of those things you just have to do.” I told her I was sad to hear her spending so much of her life doing something she hated because she felt compelled to, and hoped that she might find happier possibilities by learning the language of NVC.

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I am pleased to report that she was a rapid student. At the end of the workshop, she actually went home and announced to her family that she no longer wanted to cook. The opportunity for some feedback from her family came three weeks later when her two sons arrived at a workshop. I was curious to know how they had reacted to their mother’s announcement. The elder son sighed, “Marshall, I just said to myself, ‘Thank God!’” Seeing my puzzled look, he explained, “I thought to myself, maybe finally she won’t be complaining at every meal!”

Another time, when I was consulting for a school district, a teacher remarked, “I hate giving grades. I don’t think they are helpful and they create a lot of anxiety on the part of students. But I have to give grades: it’s the district policy.” We had just been practicing how to introduce language in the classroom that heightens consciousness of responsibility for one’s actions. I suggested that the teacher translate the statement “I have to give grades because it’s district policy” to “I choose to give grades because I want . . . ” She answered without hesitation, “I choose to give grades because I want to keep my job,” while hastening to add, “But I don’t like saying it that way. It makes me feel so responsible for what I’m doing.” “That’s why I want you to do it that way,” I replied.

I share the sentiments of French novelist and journalist George Bernanos when he says,

I have thought for a long time now that if, some day, the increasing efficiency for the technique of destruction finally causes our species to disappear from the earth, it will not be cruelty that will be responsible for our extinction and still less, of course, the indignation that cruelty awakens and the reprisals

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We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel.

We can replace language that implies lack of choice with language that acknowledges choice.



and vengeance that it brings upon itself . . . but the docility, the lack of responsibility of the modern man, his base subservient acceptance of every common decree. The horrors that we have seen, the still greater horrors we shall presently see, are not signs that rebels, insubordinate, untamable men are increasing in number throughout the world, but rather that there is a constant increase in the number of obedient, docile men.

Other Forms Of Life-Alienating Communication Communicating our desires as demands is another form of language that blocks compassion. A demand explicitly or implicitly threatens listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply. It is a common form of communication in our culture, especially among those who hold positions of authority.

My children gave me some invaluable lessons about demands. Somehow I had gotten it into my head that, as a parent, my job was

to make demands. I learned, however, that I could make all the demands in the world but still couldn’t make the children do anything. This is a humbling lesson in power for those of

us who believe that, because we’re a parent, teacher, or manager, our job is to change other people and make them behave. Here were these youngsters letting me know that I couldn’t make them do anything. All I could do was make them wish they had—through punishment. Then eventually they taught me that any time I was foolish enough to make them wish they had complied by punishing them, they had ways of making me wish that I hadn’t!

We will examine this subject again when we learn to differentiate requests from demands—an important part of NVC.

Life-alienating communication is also associated with the concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment. This thinking is expressed by the word “deserve” as in

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We can never make people do anything.

Thinking based on “who deserves what” blocks com- passionate communication.



“He deserves to be punished for what he did.” It assumes “badness” on the part of people who behave in certain ways, and calls for punishment to make them repent and change their behavior. I believe it is in everyone’s interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they see the change as benefiting themselves.

Most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing. I believe life-alienating communication is rooted in views of human nature that have exerted their influence for several centuries. These views stress our innate evil and deficiency, and a need for education to control our inherently undesirable nature. Such education often leaves us questioning whether there is something wrong with whatever feelings and needs we may be experiencing. We learn early to cut ourselves off from what’s going on within ourselves.

Life-alienating communication both stems from and supports hierarchical or domination societies. Where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals for their own benefit, it would be to the interest of kings, czars, nobles, etc. that the masses be educated in a way that renders them slave-like in mentality. The language of wrongness, “should” and “have to” is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good and bad. When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings.

Summary It is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving compassionately. We have, however, learned many forms of “life-alienating communication” that lead us to speak and behave in ways that

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Life-alienating communication has deep philosophical and political roots.



injure others and ourselves. One form of life-alienating communication is the use of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness or badness on the part of those who don’t act in harmony with our values. Another form of such communication is the use of comparisons, which can block compassion both for others and ourselves. Life-alienating communication also obscures our awareness that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Communicating our desires in the form of demands is yet another characteristic of language that blocks compassion.

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Observing Without Evaluating

“OBSERVE!! There are few things as important, as religious, as that.”

—Frederick Buechner, minister

I can handle your telling me what I did or didn’t do. And I can handle your interpretations but please don’t mix the two.

If you want to confuse any issue, I can tell you how to do it: Mix together what I do with how you react to it.

Tell me that you’re disappointed with the unfinished chores you see, But calling me “irresponsible” is no way to motivate me.

And tell me that you’re feeling hurt when I say “no” to your advances, But calling me a frigid man won’t increase your future chances.

Yes, I can handle your telling me what I did or didn’t do, And I can handle your interpretations, but please don’t mix the two.

—Marshall Rosenberg

• 25 •



The first component of NVC entails the separation of observationfrom evaluation. We need to clearly observe what we are seeing, hearing, or touching that is affecting our sense of well-being, without mixing in any evaluation.

Observations are an important element in NVC, where we wish to clearly and honestly express how we are to another person. When we combine observation with evaluation, however, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message. Instead, they are apt to hear criticism and thus resist what we are saying.

NVC does not mandate that we remain completely objective and refrain from evaluating. It only requires that we maintain a separation between our observations and our evaluations. NVC is a process language that discourages static generalizations; instead,

evaluations are to be based on observations specific to time and context. Semanticist Wendell Johnson pointed out that we create many problems for ourselves by

using static language to express or capture a reality that is ever changing: “Our language is an imperfect instrument created by ancient and ignorant men. It is an animistic language that invites us to talk about stability and constants, about similarities and normal and kinds, about magical transformations, quick cures, simple problems, and final solutions. Yet the world we try to symbolize with this language is a world of process, change, differences, dimensions, functions, relationships, growths, interactions, developing, learning, coping, complexity. And the mismatch of our ever-changing world and our relatively static language forms is part of our problem.”

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