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This book is a detailed guide for by Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC)—an empathic way of thinking and communicating that leads to connection, mutual understanding, and solutions that can satisfy all parties’ needs. This approach can be applied to all types of situations, from intimate relationships to organizational and diplomatic relations. In this free Nonviolent Communication summary, you’ll learn how apply the 4 components of NVC to listen and express yourself effectively.

What is Nonviolent Communication (NVC)?

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) was developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg. It trains us to carefully observe and identify behaviors/conditions that affect us, express ourselves effectively, and listen deeply to foster respect and understanding.

NVC is both a process and a mindset. It’s a way to see other people in a compassionate way even under trying circumstances, to listen and speak from the heart, and connect deeply with ourselves and with one another.

• It is not meant to be applied rigidly like a fixed formula, but to be adapted flexibly to suit different types of situations, relationships, and conflicts. This book captures the concepts, principles and approaches for NVC.

Nonviolent Communication summary - introduction

Principles of NonViolent Communication

How We Alienate Others

When we interact with others, we may unknowingly read into their messages, defend ourselves, or attack what they say. We think we’ve expressed ourselves clearly, when we may not even know what we truly want or need. Rosenberg identifies several types of communication that alienate people and block compassion:

• When others don’t act in alignment with our values, we make moralistic judgments that imply they are bad or wrong. We use labels like “lazy,” “selfish,” “racist,” to judge or classify people, blocking empathy and understanding.

• We make comparisons between people to create feelings of superiority or inferiority. These hinder empathy or appreciation for others’ unique traits and circumstances.

• We deny personal responsibility and blame our thoughts, feelings, or actions on other people, external circumstances, social norms, rules or policies. We say things like “I have to…” “They made me…” or “The boss said so…”

• We express our desires as demands, making explicit/implicit threats to punish others if they don’t do what we want. We seek to change other people, and push them to do what we want (regardless of what they want). When they don’t act the way we expect or approve of, we believe that they deserve to be punished. In turn, others feel resentful or resistant for being coerced.

Communicating with Compassion

By contrast, NVC uses 4 key components to communicate clearly and empathically, without blame or criticism:

Observations: Observe the concrete actions that affect us.

Feelings: Identify and express how we feel in relation to those observations.

Needs: Identify the needs, wants, and values that create those feelings.

Requests: Make specific requests that fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.

For example, instead of making sarcastic remarks or demanding that your partner puts away his phone during dinner, you might say: “When I notice that you are on your phone during dinner time (observation), I feel neglected (feeling) because I need connection and presence during our shared moments (need). Would you be willing to put your phone away when we eat (request)?”

Nonviolent Communication summary - The 4 NVC components

In our full 15-page NonViolent Communication summary, we’ll be breaking down these 4 components in 2 parts, with detailed tips, examples, and sample phrases to provide a step-by-step guide for how to:

• Honestly express our needs and feelings; and

• Empathically receive others’ needs and feelings

In this free summary, we’ll outline the ideas briefly.

Expressing Yourself Honestly

Use the 4 components of NVC to (i) observe a situation, (ii) articulate how you feel, (iii) express what you need, and (iv) make a specific request.

1. Observe Without Evaluation

Separate observations from evaluations. Describe only what you can see or hear, i.e. things that can be captured in a video. Exclude your interpretations, analyses, or judgments.

2. Identify and Express How You Feel

This is about identifying and expressing how you feel due to the observations. Be careful not to confuse your feelings with our thoughts or opinions.

3. Identify and Express the Underlying Needs

Your feelings come from your own needs, expectations, and perceptions. Other people’s words and actions might trigger feelings in you, but they cannot cause those feelings. This component is about taking emotional responsibility (rather than blaming others for how you feel), and uncovering the underlying needs or values that lead to your feelings.

4. Make Requests to Meet Your Needs

After expressing your observations, feelings and needs, you can now convey clear, specific requests that would satisfy your needs and enrich your life. This component is about making your requests effectively, including getting specific feedback about others’ thoughts/feelings in response to what you’ve just shared.

In our complete NonViolent Communication summary, we dive into each of the 4 components above to explain: the key NVC principles, dos and don’ts, practical tips, and detailed examples (including sample phrases and common mistakes).

Receiving Empathically

This is about listening actively to the other person’s observations, feelings, needs, and requests, without hearing blame or criticism.

How to Receive Empathically

To practice empathy, you must listen with your entire being, not only with your head. Shed all preconceived notions, and be fully present to what the other person is communicating.

No matter what they say, focus only on their observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Paraphrase or reflect back what you heard, e.g. “Are you feeling overwhelmed because you need help with your workload?” or “Are you feeling anxious because you would like more certainty about our plans?”

The goal is to sustain empathy until you have fully heard the other person’s observations, feelings, needs and requests. When the other person feels understood, they will probably stop talking, and you can sense a release of tension. You can confirm by asking “Is there more that you wanted to say?”

Applying NVC in Real Life

In our full book summary, we’ll elaborate more on:

Common mistakes to avoid during listening;

• How to exercise self-compassion using NVC (especially when you’re in pain);

• How to express anger fully and resolve the underlying causes of your anger;

• How to convey appreciation and receive appreciation with empathy; and

• How to apply NVC in mediation and conflict resolution, with the goal to fulfill the needs of all parties. NVC is built on the belief that all conflicts arise from unmet needs. Once those needs are understood and respected, you can find strategies that meet everyone’s needs quickly. This approach can be used to resolve both external and internal conflicts.

• When/how to apply protective use of force if necessary.

Getting More from Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication helps to cultivate new relationships with yourself and others, to understand and fulfil mutual needs in relationships, and achieve true peace and harmony. If you’re interested to understand and apply NVC, do get a step-by-step guide—with specific insights, examples, and applicable tips—from our full book summary bundle. This includes an infographic, 15-page text summary, and a 29-minute audio summary.
Nonviolent Communication summary - book summary bundle

The book is packed with detailed case studies and sample conversations to help readers to understand and apply the NVC principles and components. It also includes a list of universal human needs, a list of words to express feelings specifically, as well as other tips for professional mediator, therapists, and counsellors. You can purchase the book here or visit cnvc.org for more details and resources.

If you enjoyed this summary, you may also like the following summaries on communciation, EQ and conflict-management: Emotional Intelligence, The Anatomy of Peace, and Difficult Conversations.

About the Author of Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life was written by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg—an American psychologist, mediator, author, and teacher, best known for developing Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to help people with for relationships and conflict resolution. He founded the Center for Nonviolent Communication (an international peacemaking organization), authored 15 books, and received numerous awards and accolades for his work in developing and propagating NVC.

Nonviolent Communication Quotes

“NVC helps us connect with each other and ourselves in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish.”

“Judgments of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.”

“What others say and do may be the stimulus, but never the cause, of our feelings.”

“We talk to others or at them without knowing how to engage in a dialogue with them.”

“It can be difficult to make clear requests. But think how hard it will be for others to respond to our request if we’re not even clear what it is!”

“Empathy…calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.”

“Behind intimidating messages are merely people appealing to us to meet their needs.”

“The cause of anger lies in our thinking—in thoughts of blame and judgment.”

“When we hear another person’s feelings and needs, we recognize our common humanity.”

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Click here to download Nonviolent Communication book summary & infographic

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