The Complete Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Process for Compassion, Understanding, and Peace
You are about to unlock what I believe is the greatest human need in communication. I will show you how to connect with another human in the most intimate way possible – a way most never experience. This is something the world so desperately needs. It is something you so desperately need.
What is the link between the following scenarios:
- Your partner leaves the room in anger after another argument
- A friend lashes out at you despite you having done nothing wrong
- A child’s constant disobedience makes you frustrated and causes you to yell things you later regret
Thousands of situations like the ones above all have a common thread that play out in your life every year. There is a better way to handle the situation, but you cannot figure it out. Your emotions get the better of you and others as you poorly handle the situation. The answers and the secret human need I will show you how to fulfill is through a method of communication called “nonviolent communication”, also known as NVC.
The Answer to World Peace and Our Greatest Need?
The process I am about to discuss in this article is one created by the Center for Nonviolent Communication. The organization is a nonprofit organization founded by Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Rosenberg and a couple hundred other NVC trainers, conduct workshops throughout the world where they teach their nonviolent communication model. The NVC process has changed millions of people who learned the techniques directly from trainers or Rosenberg’s book, and people who have been fortunate enough to have those trained in the NVC process use the model on them.
If you are after a process that changes a person’s behavior, NVC is not the best one to use. NVC builds a deep intimate relationship and connection with effective communication by satisfying people’s needs. It achieves a level of connection most people never experience. It can be used to change a person’s behavior, but the primary purpose of the process is to help people face what matters with compassion to connect at a very intimate level.
Once you have gone through the process, then you can use your negotiation skills to persuade the person. If you try to persuade the person upfront before you use NVC, you will often find you are resisted and ignored.
When a person disagrees with you, refuses to comply with a request, or is angry at you, a poor communicator tries to firstly express oneself. The person seeks to be understood before seeking to understand. An NVC user seeks to understand the person, which in turn leads to their own need of being understood. Once you understand others, they often want to understand you.
Once you understand others, they often want to understand you.
The commonality of the situations mentioned earlier, and thousands of situations you experience throughout the year, is people’s desperation to be understood. Your angry partner wants to be understood. Your friend wants to be understood and will have almost zero frustration once you understand. Children want to be understood, which naturally compels them to talk with you about intimate issues. Nonviolent communication helps you understand people and have them understand you.
The need to be understood is possibly the greatest unmet human need. Fulfill this need and you will trigger new experiences, intimate sharing, and connect with people at the heart. Thanks to Dan Kennedy, a great marketer I intently learn from, I came across a quote by Cavett Robert, founder of the National Speakers Association, who said, “Most people are walking around, umbilical cord in hand, looking for a new place to plug it in.” If you can be that “socket” by understanding the person and empathically receiving their needs, you automatically share an electrifying connection with the person. Something about the person will change before your eyes. They will know something deep is going on without knowing what you are doing.
Unfortunately, the majority of people never arrive at this stage of electrifying intimacy. Answer this question truthfully: How many people truly understand you on a frequent basis? Think about the question for some time because it is important to understand understanding.
I ask this not to make you blame others for their failure to understand you, but to show you the scarcity of people who seek to understand. If you are like most people, you will not have one person that frequently and truly understands you in conversations. Few people care about understanding others, which causes themselves to be misunderstood. People who complain that “no one understands me” are constantly misunderstood because they live on a one-way street seeking to receive before they consider giving.
Violence is widespread because one group wants to be understood while another they are in conflict with also wants to be understood. The failure to see the others’ needs means neither gets what they want. The result is emotional and physical destruction. So much pain in the world is caused by misunderstandings.
The need to be understood is possibly the greatest unmet human need.
The anger and frustration present in everyday situations appears to be irrelevant to deeper issues, yet it is our inability to effectively face conflict that contributes to a global scale of war and hatred. Our everyday wallowing in resentment, frustration, and misunderstandings has as much – but probably greater – impact on peace and love than kind actions. If you cannot resolve your minor nuances in relationships that are suppose to be intimate and love-filled, you cannot expect nations who have hated each other for centuries to resolve major conflicts. To understand another person is a secret of world peace. “Peace cannot be achieved through violence,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, “it can only be attained through understanding.”
The nonviolent communication process is simple once you know the process; though it’s not always a fun slide to ride on because emotional pollution clogs your use of it. With practice, you will become better at NVC and be more successful in your communication and relationships. Over time, provided you continually practice the techniques and polish your skills, you will become excellent at the process.
An Overview of Nonviolent Communication: The Four Steps to Compassionate Communication
The process has four steps: observing, feeling, needing, and requesting. There are really eight steps, however, because you firstly apply the four steps to the other person, then you apply them to yourself. Remember what I said before about seeking to understand before being understood? The first four stages make you understand people so you can be understood when you apply the four steps on yourself. This is the most critical part of the concept to grasp.
Unless the person is a compassionate communicator, go through the four steps first on the other person otherwise he or she will not listen to you. Use the visualization of a vacuum empathically “sucking up” the person’s communication. Until the person feels “cleaned”, you will be unable to clean yourself. Once you have sucked up the person, and hence understood them, you are then ready to use NVC on yourself.
Most people identify a few problems in firstly focusing on the other person. If you have not identified one of these now, you will as you continue to read about the process. The biggest concern I had with NVC is that you forgo your own needs, concerns, and emotions like anger. NVC prevents destructive expressions of anger and frustration via harmful attitudes and behaviors like the sarcastic teenager or the employee who does poor quality work. The process encourages you to express intense emotions – especially anger – in a healthy way that fulfills the underlying need.
At first glance, I understand the model may overwhelm you, but keep at it and reread the pages in this article to refine your ability to understand people and be understood. The NVC process as described in this full article will give you a good idea of what to expect in my Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program should you want to invest in it. It could be one of the greatest investments you make. Once you know how to understand people and help them understand you, you can mold your relationships however you want. It is time to kick into the first stage: observing.
The first step of the process has you observe something specific about the person that impedes their wellbeing. One example is, “When you see your children hitting one another…” You separate the person from the behavior and refer to a specific circumstance. People make predictable mistakes at this step.
The greatest mistake at this stage is giving an evaluation instead of an observation – because of this, I will thoroughly teach you how to avoid evaluations and observe in this section of the article. An evaluation is a judgment of personal opinion that lacks detachment and objective evidence. Judgments prevent observations and the recipient from feeling understood.
Think of a birdwatcher who carefully and calmly admires nearby birds. The birdwatcher does not disturb the birds. He watches to see the behaviors of the birds as he listens to the sounds they make. He may even respond to a bird’s sound in the same manner by whistling.
If people were birdwatchers and they tried to observe a bird (the other person), they would fire gunshots, scream, and throw rocks at the bird. These dangerous actions for the bird is the emotional equivalent to judgments and evaluations for people in the listening process. When we feel judged and evaluated, it drives us insane! We fly away, avoid the person, and do not talk about what really matters as the judgmental person incorrectly blames and wonders what is wrong with us!
When you supposedly “listen” to your partner, a customer, or coworker, your “effective communication” and “excellent listening skills” has you fire a gun with evaluations and judgments. My experience in communication has me estimate 99% of people fail at this stage of NVC because of evaluations and judgments. I am no exception because, even now, I occasionally fail at this stage. Do not get discouraged. The migration from evaluation to observation fights communication habits you have adopted your entire life.
Evaluations can take many forms. It means you do not receive someone’s communication in its real form. You observe the bird, but do things to destroy its natural, beautiful presence. You mostly “shoot a gun,” “scream,” and “throw rocks” with judgments, criticisms, blame, or generalities. Other mistakes include labeling, questioning, deflecting, and other communication barriers I will soon describe.
An evaluation is a judgment of personal opinion that lacks detachment and objective evidence.
Valued customers of my Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program know the common ways we intoxicate our ability to listen to others. I believe your ability to actively listen and be in the present moment without polluting the person’s message with your thoughts and feelings is one of the greatest communication skills you can obtain.
I will give you common examples of how people fail to observe by applying the 12 communication barriers in my program. Never before has it been made in clear detail the common mistakes people make that kill conversations. The first part of the dialog is person one while the second part is person two who uses the communication barriers:
- Criticism – “I’m trying to improve my skills in that area.” “Good. Because you’ve really sucked at it recently.”
- Labeling – “I wish you would do house work more often.” “You’re just a nagger.”
- Diagnosing – “I don’t want to go out right now.” “You’re just saying that because you’re mad about last night.”
- Praising – “There! Done! Happy I’ve done the work now?” “You’re great for doing that job!”
- Ordering – “I need a break from working.” “It doesn’t matter. Do what I told you to do now.”
- Threatening – “I need a break from working.” “It doesn’t matter. Do what I told you to do now or I’ll make you do more.”
- Questioning – “I’m feeling depressed about what happened today.” “You’re depressed again?”
- Moralizing – “I don’t want to donate to charity.” “It’ll be good for you to help out.”
- Advising – “I can’t believe my friendship has ended with Jenny.” “You shouldn’t have talked with her about Bob the other day.”
- Reasoning – “I’m so angry right now because of my boss at work today!” “You need to focus on getting a new job.”
- Reassuring – “I’m worried about performing well at the presentation tomorrow.” “You’ve got great skill and will perform fine.”
- Deflecting – “Argh! I can’t believe Jerry always bugs me.” “Oh, yeah. Speaking of people being bugging, his friend John annoyed me the other day.”
Each time the second person judged and evaluated when he or she had the chance to provide a healthy observation. We hate being judged, evaluated, and told what to do. In response to the barriers, people become defensive, argumentative, frustrated, and resistant to persuasion.
To further demonstrate the barriers and help you grasp the observation stage because it is vital to understand, here are more examples of evaluations and the reasons they are evaluations:
- “You’re very kind by helping out.” – The word “kind” is a moralistic and judgmental word. It is distinguishes the behavior as good or bad. The person gets evaluated as good instead of the person’s behavior as good.
- “I reckon Mary is ugly.” – The adjective “ugly” evaluates and criticizes Mary’s looks. Ugly is dependent on each person. Other people will like Mary’s appearance.
- “All guys are clueless about managing a relationship.” – Too generalized and not specific enough. Nothing productive can come from such statements. Blame, misery, and a lack of change can only develop.
- “She avoids me.” – This is a diagnosis because the person tries to interpret and read into the person’s behavior. The person needs to provide evidence why the woman avoids him or her. Also, the word “avoid” needs to be replaced with something more concrete, like “walked away from”, because it assumes the woman’s behavior when there are many possibilities.
- “Britney, you don’t like my helping you.” – How does the person know Britney dislikes the person’s help? The person tries to mind-read instead of stating something more concrete like Britney’s emotions or physiology that communicate her possible dislike.
It can be overwhelming to hear about the communication barriers because they dissect the most common problems you have in your communication. In these frequent problems rest enormous potential and opportunity to be a powerful communicator. Should you see the barriers in your communication, you help transform yourself into someone who powerfully communicates with people. You may already be feeling the power of the communication barriers.
Some communication barriers in the above examples can be eliminated and evaluations be removed when you be specific. You can be specific by referring to a past situation. An effective observation typically begins with, “When you hear…” or “When you see…” The goal of this stage is to reflect your observation to the person. It cannot be repeated enough that it must be specific and free of evaluations.
One saleswoman knew the NVC process well. An angry manager approached her about a poor recent presentation she did. If most “good communicators” were in the lady’s shoes, they would respond along the lines of, “You’re angry at me about a bad presentation” or “You think I do not give good presentations”. At first glance, the examples may seem okay responses, but they are general evaluations. The manager may not be angry about a bad presentation. He may also think she is a good presenter.
The woman listened to the manager’s concerns and gave a good response: “When you hear me give a presentation that fails to persuade a potential buyer who could have given our company half a million dollars…” A couple of other good responses the saleswoman could use in different situations include: “It sounds to me as though you are gravely worried about the project not being accepted…” and “I see my exclusion of [so-and-so] facts made you frustrated…” All these examples are observations without evaluations. They are specific and show understanding and empathy.
Additional examples of the observation stage, which I will build on throughout the article to explain NVC, follow:
- “When you hear me tell you to do work around the house…”
- “I see that you’re unhappy with the changes in the office?”
- “It sounds to me as though you’re worried about losing a friend.”
- “I see that you’re excited about winning tonight!”
The four lines are free from judgments and other evaluations. They show understanding and empathy. They build a connection with people as they feel someone at last understands them! A lot of times your observation may be incorrect, but this does not matter when you observe without evaluation because the person will happily correct you.
Observations… build a connection with people as they feel someone at last understands them!
Now you know how to apply the observation stage on other people (the first step of the NVC), let’s learn how to apply the observation stage on yourself (think of it as the fifth step). When you use the observation stage on yourself, it is also necessary to remove evaluations. This will clarify what you require to fulfill that need.
Common evaluative statements and possible corrected observations (which I will build on throughout the article to explain NVC) include:
- “When I hear you become angry…” – Assumes the person is angry. You need to avoid judgments and say what lets you know the person is angry. Correct statements include, “When I hear you raise your voice…” or “When I feel intimidated around you…”
- “When I see you avoid me…” – Assumes the person avoids you. You need to say what it is that makes you think the person avoids you. Correct statements include, “When I see you walk away from me…” or “When I cannot make eye contact with you…”
- “When I come home from work and see you annoy me…” – This starts off well, but quickly deteriorates. The person will become defensive when you say he or she annoys you. What is it that annoys you? A correct statement could be, “When I come home from work and see you lying on the couch…”
- “When you don’t like my cooking…” – Contains a judgment because the person is evaluated to determine if they dislike your cooking. It misses the true emotional content of the conversation. A correct statement could be, “When I don’t hear appreciation of my cooking…”
As you can probably see, observation statements of yourself typically start off with: “When I hear…” or “When I see…” Such statements initiate concrete evidence that lead you to a pure observation without judgment. You cannot judge or evaluate when you express what you hear or see.
A pure observation instantly reduces interpersonal violence, makes people feel understood, and increases your power with people. People open themselves to intimate communication and persuasion from your healthy expression that you understand them. Your understanding of people gives you the power to mold your relationships into the shape you want.
(There is a lot more to the 12 barriers I cannot explain in this article. Of the hundreds of communication books and programs I have been through, no other program has explained and made it easy for you to know what prevents you from connecting with people. I highly recommend you read the program by clicking here and grab your copy to learn more about the 12 communication barriers that kill conversations.)
Once you observe the person, the second step of NVC is the feeling stage. The feeling stage has you identify the person’s feelings (the second step) and express your feelings (the sixth step).
Too often we get caught in the “what really happened” argument. Back and forth the argument goes to create destructive conflict. No one wins when logic gets the spotlight in conversations where people have an unmet emotional need. Feelings matter and deserve more attention than they get.
To continue from the example situations in the observation stage, the feeling stage of NVC follows:
- “When you hear me tell you to do work around the house, you feel overwhelmed…”
- “I see that you’re unhappy with the changes in the office? This makes you feel restless…”
- “It sounds to me as though you’re worried about losing a friend. This makes you feel brokenhearted…”
- “I see that you’re excited about winning tonight! You feel energetic…”
Also, to continue from the provided examples in the observation stage for yourself:
- “When I hear you speak loudly, I feel scared…”
- “When I see you walk away from me, I feel detached…”
- “When I come home from work, I feel exhausted…”
- “When I don’t hear your appreciation of my cooking, I feel depressed…”
Like the first step, people make common mistakes at the feeling stage that destroys effective communication. One of the greatest mistakes made at this stage is the inaccurate selection of feeling. I am an emotionally aware guy with regards to my own emotions and others’ emotions, yet I still express inaccurate feelings.
It is more important you accurately state your feelings than someone’s feelings because the person will likely correct their feelings you state. Unless the person has good communication skills and a good ability to interpret emotions, you are the only person who will accurately express your feelings. Choose an accurate feeling when you apply this stage of nonviolent communication on yourself otherwise the person will never understand how you truly feel.
To use the example “When I see you walk away from me, I feel detached…”, if the person instead said, “When I see you walk away from me, I feel angry…” a misunderstanding occurs (assuming the person feels detached). It is easy to confuse detachment with anger. The person may be angry, but anger is not the real concern because detachment drives that anger.
Be responsible for how you feel and do not be responsible for how people feel.
A good emotional vocabulary is essential to nonviolent communication. The Nonviolent Communication book has a large list of feelings when our needs are being met and when our needs are not being met. I encourage you to read the list a few times to expand your emotional vocabulary. Alternatively, you can view a list of feelings online. When you expand your emotional vocabulary, you more accurately state what someone feels and what you feel.
The second largest mistake people make at the feeling stage of NVC is the wrong level of responsibility for emotions. We blame people for how we feel and blame ourselves for how they feel – we get mixed up. Be responsible for how you feel and do not be responsible for how people feel.
When you fail to be responsible for how you feel, you blame, condemn, and criticize people. You feel a victim of this world. You believe people are the source of your pain. You believe other people need to change. We all need to be continually reminded to take responsibility for how we feel because it is too easy to see ourselves as victims of people’s actions.
The other lesson to keep in mind is to not be responsible for how people feel. When relationships advance in importance, it is common to feel responsible for your partner’s emotions. If your partner is grumpy, you may feel responsible to make your partner happy. If your partner is sad, you may feel responsible to lift your partner out of his or her depressed mood. Statements such as, “What did I do to make you feel…” and “Have I caused you to feel…” are signals you feel responsible for someone’s feelings. Feeling responsible for someone’s feelings is dangerous to a happy and successful relationship because the person you feel responsible for becomes a liability. You feel they weigh you down.
I do not advise you to ignore the person’s emotions. In replacement of feeling responsible, you need to empathize. The first two stages do just that. Observe without evaluation and express the person’s feelings; do not judge the person or try to mind-read. This is far more helpful for you, your partner, and the relationship than manifestations of thinking you are responsible for people’s feelings.
The last point I want to make about the feeling of stage of NVC is taken from my Communication Secrets of Powerful People program: avoid the logical argument and shift your focus on emotions.
Your partner storms into the room where you peacefully sit in your chair. “What the hell were you thinking when you did…!” Most people ignore the feeling and engage in a logical argument. In this example, logical statements could include, “I didn’t do that”, “That isn’t what happened”, and “You’re missing the point”.
Do not get entangled in a logical battle that cannot be won.
Do not talk about the content of your partner’s concerns. Do not get entangled in a logical battle that cannot be won. Focus on feelings through empathy. An effective statement would be, “You feel angry because you need…” This instantly shifts the conversation to what really matters: feelings.
One or two empathizing statements will not be enough when emotions are intense. Just keep going through the process and you will be amazed at the communication changes that take place. Follow the feeling stage of nonviolent communication, and you will understand people – and have them understand you.
The definition of a “need” says it is a requirement. For our use, it is also something you or the other person wants like personal space, silence, or attention. When you verbalize a person’s needs and your needs, two separated persons understand what it takes to resolve the problem and establish harmony.
Needs is a layer of communication that frequently gets submerged beneath the icy-cold waters of conflict. Rarely does someone express what they want. People prefer to destructively vent anger, complain about what they do not want, or whine about the problems that annoy them. Inside, they are frustrated individuals desperately wanting to be understood. When you look beneath the surface of someone’s behavior, you realize their feelings about unfilled needs is ignored.
Your first goal of the needing stage is to express the other person’s needs so both of you know what he or she wants. Your next goal is to express your needs to let the other person know what you want. These are the third and seventh respective stages of NVC. Once the two goals get ticked off, the couple understand one another, they become satisfied, and the relationship is more fulfilling.
To continue from the provided examples in the observing and feeling stages for the other person:
- “When you hear me tell you to do work around the house, you feel overwhelmed because you need rest…”
- “I see that you’re unhappy with the changes in the office? This makes you feel restless because you need consideration…”
- “It sounds to me as though you’re worried about losing a friend. This makes you feel brokenhearted. You need someone very close to you…”
- “I see that you’re excited about winning tonight! You feel energetic because you have a need to win this important game.”
There is one more stage to NVC, but you can already see the power in the process. The above incomplete examples have already shifted two frustrated individuals on different wavelengths to get in sync as they at last discover the needs of their conversational partner. Defined needs can be fulfilled (which is the purpose of the next step, requesting).
When you look beneath the surface of someone’s behavior, you realize their feelings about unfilled needs is ignored.
As with feelings, precision is not required when you express the person’s needs. People will correct you when you observe without judgment or evaluation. Listen to what they say. Empathically receive their hidden plea. If you do the observing and feeling stage then get confused at the feeling stage, ask them, “What is it you need?” Most times, if you say an incorrect need, your observation and feeling steps help them correct you.
Drawing back to the common mistakes people have when they try to express their needs, the lessons of responsibility in the feeling stage relate to the needing stage. It is common to blame and criticize others when you try state your needs.
A manager needs the daily quota completed, but he blames and criticizes employees in ways like, “You’re not working fast enough. I can’t afford for you to be working at this pace.” While the criticism and vague statements is an entire communication problem by itself, the manager has not said what he wants. The manager may want to achieve the daily quota and have good intention to help employees, but this is not the message received. The employees feel attacked and remain bewildered about their manager’s wants. I doubt this manager has a happy and productive workforce.
As another example of someone poorly saying their needs, a husband comes home from work and needs personal space. His wife needs intimacy and communication. The husband needs personal space, but instead says, “Not now”. The wife needs intimacy, but she uses the communication barrier of diagnosing by saying, “You never want to talk to me”. Not only has the couple failed to express personal needs, each partner also failed to provide a pure observation of their partner’s needs.
If you cannot express your needs, it is difficult for someone to fulfill them. That is obvious now, but the heat of conflict can burn your positive intent to follow the NVC process. You now know to express your needs – and follow other stages of NVC – but it is easy to blame, criticize, and avoid the techniques when anger gets the better of you.
In conflict, you feel attacked and mirror someone’s anger. This is not peaceful communication. You probably reason to yourself that if people change, then you would not become angry – that is reactive, blame-filled living.
There is an amazing thought that has worked for me to overcome this problem. It is something I use everyday to separate myself from people’s below-average behavior. The technique keeps my head above the water in difficult conversations as it prevents me from being dragged into the depths of someone’s anger, rudeness, and poor communication.
No one can control how you feel without your permission.
When I feel an urge of anger towards someone, I think, “They aren’t making me angry. It’s my response. The way I’m reacting is making me angry.” I allow my anger to surface (because anger is healthy) while reframing my thoughts. Possible reframes include, “They aren’t making me angry. It’s my response.” “I know she cares about me because of what she did for me last night.” and “He’s probably angry because he had a tiring day.” No one can control how you feel without your permission. As Marshall Rosenberg said, “I never have to worry about another person’s response, only how I react to what they say.”
This is gold. No one can make you angry; it is how you react that makes you angry. The messages you channel in your mind makes you angry. You “reason with yourself” the meaning of their shouting, swearing, and anger. You probably interpret such messages as signals of disrespect or their lack of care for you. It is this rationalization that makes you angry.
If you react instead of respond, you will be angry because your response is dependent on the person. The example reframes I gave you control your interpretation of the person’s behavior to help you be calm and maintain poise regardless of someone’s reaction. You become a powerful person when you are a rock of emotional stability. People cannot undermine your strong foundations. (Learn how to maintain your power and control in any tough situation by reading the Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program.)
When someone is angry, they have a need. It is hard to realize a need when you are fearful or angry, but an angry person poorly attempts to fulfill an unmet need by indirectly trying to make you aware of it. Knowing that a person’s anger originates from an unmet need prevents you from taking it personally. The needing stage of NVC helps you identify what they need.
It is crazy how out-of-tune you are with your needs. If you cannot express your need in a constructive and direct way – let alone have an awareness of your needs – it will always be a fight to effectively communicate. Be aware of your needs, then it becomes much easier to manage conflict, control your responses, and be nonviolent.
To continue from the provided examples in the observing and feeling stages for yourself:
- “When I hear you speak loudly, I feel scared because I need emotional safety…”
- “When I see you walk away from me, I feel detached. I need physical closeness…”
- “When I come home from work, I feel exhausted. I need to relax…”
- “When I don’t hear your appreciation of my cooking, I feel depressed because I need to be appreciated…”
Think at a level of needs to see the deeper, more powerful, reasons behind a person’s actions.
You may catch yourself saying an incorrect want or what you do not want. You want to be accepted, yet say, “I need to not be ignored”. You want to be touched, yet say, “I need you to not be distant”. You want to be understood, yet say, “I need to not feel misinterpreted”.
Do not expect someone to magically fulfill your needs when you fail to state what you want. Figure out your problems instead of traveling the easy path of blame.
If you have problems seeing someone’s needs, it may help to identify your needs throughout the day. Tune-in to your needs and it becomes easier to tune-in to someone else’s needs. I think this is because you begin to think at a level of needs. You become aware of what drives humanity. You see a deeper reason behind each word, gesture, attitude, and behavior. Think at a level of needs to see the deeper, more powerful, reasons behind a person’s actions.
You have discovered the first three stages of nonviolent communication: observing, feeling, and needing. The final stage of NVC is the simplest. It is the most powerful step to change a person’s behavior. Once you use the previous steps of NVC, you supercharge your power to get the request fulfilled because you have dealt with the emotional layer.
The requesting stage has you offer a solution that fulfills the need. The solution should prevent similar problems from reoccurring.
The most important technique to keep in mind when you make a request is to be specific (“Would you be willing to talk with me for 10 or so minutes after dinner just to chat?”); do not be general or vague (“I want you to be nicer to me.”) A request cannot be completed if it provides too much room for error.
Specificity does not mean you control everything. You can be specific in your desired outcome without being a frustrated control freak. I recommend you study my model of accountability, the decision tree of leadership, to learn more about responsibility and getting things done, which at the same time empowers people to be their own person.
To continue on from the provided examples in the observing, feeling, and needing stages for the other person:
- “When you hear me tell you to do work around the house, you feel overwhelmed because you need rest. Would you be willing to workout a weekly plan regarding the household chores?”
- “I see that you’re unhappy with the changes in the office? This makes you feel restless because you need consideration. Would you be willing to accept the changes this time and in the future we’ll ask you for your thoughts regarding the issue?”
- “It sounds to me as though you’re worried about losing a friend. This makes you feel brokenhearted. You need someone very close to you. Would you be willing to solve the issue with your friend?”
- “I see that you’re excited about winning tonight! You feel energetic because you have a need to win this important game.” (This example does not really have a requesting stage because it is an unusual application of the NVC process. You could say, “I would like to come watch you.”)
Once you apply the four steps of NVC on someone, you are ready to use NVC on yourself. To continue from the provided examples for yourself:
- “When I hear you speak loudly, I feel scared because I need emotional safety. Would you be able to keep a low voice the next time we argue?”
- “When I see you walk away from me, I feel detached. I need physical closeness. Would you like to cuddle when we’re alone and together?”
- “When I come home from work, I feel exhausted. I need to relax. Would you allow me to sit down for 15 or so minutes after work?”
- “When I don’t hear your appreciation of my cooking, I feel depressed because I need to be appreciated. Would you say ‘thank you’ or give another form of appreciation around once a week?”
“Would you like…” is the typical way to make a good request because it does not order, threaten, or blatantly advise the person. You can come up with and test peaceful ways to make a request.
If the person does not want to follow the request, you need to jump back through the stages to keep building empathy. “You do not like my solution of lowering your voice. You feel something else should be done.” You want compassion first, persuasion second.
Give people time and space to process what you observed, feel, need, and requested. When someone tries to connect with you by reflecting what you said, the worst thing you can do is condemn him for not understanding you. I know someone who gets frustrated when you do not hear or understand what he says. The people talking with him are afraid to seek clarification. They pretend to hear him to avoid his anger.
Somebody says that you are sad, but you are actually depressed. Do not say, “You don’t listen.” Thank them for their effort to understand then clarify your message.
Another helpful point from the needing stage is to say what you do want instead of what you do not want. Be clear, be specific, and make it actionable. As an example, do not say, “You need to work harder.” Say something along the lines of, “Would you be willing to complete the daily report by 5pm each day?” Nonviolent communication creates change when you are compassionate and specific.
A Complete Application and Case Study of the NVC Process
You learned a lot about empathy, listening, and the entire nonviolent communication process. It is time to give you a full example of the entire process. The main points I want to show you is the application and how it is not as sequential as the short examples you read.
Rarely do you say all four stages at once because it lacks empathy. Your partner says, “When I come home from work, I feel exhausted. I need to relax. Would you allow me to sit down for 15 or so minutes after work?” “Woah! Slow down tiger. You’re feeling what?” You need time to absorb what was said, why it was said, and what will be done about what was said. It is difficult to experience the depth of all NVC stages in one blow.
The first, second, and third stages often occur many times. You can observe, feel, observe, feel, need, feel, need, and then request. It all depends on what is appropriate for the situation. Think back to the analogy I mentioned about the vacuum. “Suck up” the person’s communication before moving on. You will always “miss a few spots” and need to return to stages. This is not backtracking or signs of failure – it is reality. Marshall Rosenberg says you will know when you adequately empathize when the tension reduces or the person has nothing else to say.
Onto the complete case study. The italicized text creates and describes the scenario. The non-italicized text in brackets is my discussion of what is going on to help you understand the communication dynamics taking place and the reasoning behind the person trying to use NVC. You can stuff up the process and still have it work out.
You will know when you adequately empathize when the tension reduces or the person has nothing else to say.
Ryan and Jessica are married. Recently, Ryan has been watching a lot of television, playing computer games, going out with friends, and working. He has not given Jessica the intimacy she wants. She has pointed out the problem and tried to provide a solution, but like everybody, she has repeatedly used the communication barriers, which block open communication and powerful change.
Ryan arrives home late one night after going out with friends. Jessica has no clue where he went. He enters the house where the couple make eye contact. Jessica is keen to use what she recently learned about nonviolent communication, but her newness to the model means she is likely to make mistakes.
Jessica: (Jessica has been anxious about Ryan for hours and greets him inside their house with a very unhappy face.) “Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you.”
Ryan: (Ryan has a smile on his face after arriving home from a good night out.) “Chill out. I’ve been out having a good time with my mates.”
Jessica: (Jessica’s emotions get intense causing her to become angry and forget the effective communication skills she learned.) “You want me to chill out while you’re out partying? Are you kidding me? You didn’t even tell me you were going out. You’ve been out having fun all the while I’ve been stuck here at home!” (Jessica has been caught in a logical battle with Ryan. She is talking about facts and trying to logically argue with him. The issue here is an emotional one, which means her focus needs to be on emotions.)
Ryan: “That’s why I don’t tell you because all you’re gonna do is annoy me. You’re a nagger. It’s not like I have to tell you everything.” (Ryan has become angry and joins Jessica in the conflict by using three communication barriers. He has diagnosed, criticized, and labeled.)
Jessica: “Ha! You’re like a little child. You don’t take responsibility for anything. I do all the work in this relationship.” (Jessica has criticized, labeled, and used universal quantifiers – all things that will make Ryan defensive. She has taken Ryan’s criticism as a personal attack and becomes angrier because she has failed to recognize that Ryan tried, though poorly, to met his needs.)
Ryan: “Oh! And you’re little miss perfect? You’re just a big pain in the a**!”
Jessica: (Jessica realizes she has forgotten nonviolent communication and sets herself back on the right path. She takes a moment of silence and breathes deeply to clear her head.) “You feel annoyed and this makes you angry.” (Jessica has turned her focus towards Ryan and first seeks to empathically receive what he has to say. NVC begins!)
Ryan: “You do more than annoy me! All you do is tell me what to do! You’re a stupid control freak and a b****!”
Jessica: (Most people say one good empathy statement and expect to receive an accolade. Few people notice it, but they will feel your empathy over time. Jessica keeps focused on the process.) “When you hear me tell you what to do, you feel controlled.” (Jessica has reflected back another one of his statements by using the observation and feeling stage. She begins to see he has an unmet need of freedom, which prevents her from feeling attacked.)
Ryan: “Yes! I hate it when you constantly nag me! I just want to have fun without you being a damn pest!”
Jessica: “So I can understand what is annoying to you, is what I said tonight an example of the nagging?” (Jessica is unsure of what he means by “nag” and so she asked a good question to clarify what he means. She needs to be careful about taking responsibility for the way Ryan feels.)
Ryan: “That’s just one small example of you being a damn pain.”
Jessica: “When you hear me ask you what you did, you feel irritated because you need freedom.” (Jessica has observed, felt, and identified a need.)
Ryan: (Ryan begins to calm down though he is still agitated.) “No! I… I just don’t like having to run everything through you like your some boss.” (Jessica wrongly identified one of Ryan’s needs, though it did not matter because he clarified himself.)
Jessica: “When you hear me ask you what you did, you feel irritated because you need independence.” (Jessica has rephrased her previous statement with a different need. She is attempting to identify Ryan’s unmet needs, which will lead to a solution.)
Ryan: “I do need independence and you’re not giving it to me. You control me. You’re not fun at all. You’re just a pain.”
Jessica: “You feel detached from me when you hear me tell you what to do.” (Jessica jumps back to the beginning of the NVC process by shifting her focus onto another feeling. Notice her empathy instead of reciprocating the attack.)
Ryan: (The tension is reducing.) “I guess that’s right. You’re no fun anymore. All you do now is annoy.”
(There is silence.)
Jessica: “When you hear me tell you what to do, you feel annoyed because you need more joy with me.”
Ryan: “That’s right.”
Jessica: “Would you be willing to help me become more fun?” (Jessica sensed the tension in the air dissipate and felt Ryan has said what he wants. Therefore, she made a request.)
Ryan: “I’d love to.”
(There is silence.)
(Jessica has used all four stages of the NVC process on Ryan. She is now able to use the process to express her observation, feelings, and needs, and make a request for Ryan to change his behavior.)
Jessica: “When you constantly go out without me, I feel detached.” (Jessica made a poor observation by evaluating with the word “constantly”.)
Ryan: “I don’t constantly go out!”
Jessica: “You feel frustrated because you don’t go out much.” (Jessica realizes Ryan may have another need then switches her focus back on him.)
Nonviolent communication is also known as compassionate communication because it aims to empathetically let everyone understand each other’s needs.
Our natural tendencies in communication evoke what NVC avoids like fear, shame, guilt, praise, and punishment. We have underlying needs and wants that get blocked by judgmental communication, blame-filled thoughts, and demands – problems addressed by each stage of NVC. Once you become more compassionate, manipulative tactics like punishment and reward that instill harmful states and dependencies are no longer required.
Jessica: (Jessica senses the number of times he goes out is not an issue and so she switches her focus back on herself.) “When you do not go out with me like tonight, I feel alienated from you. I need to be close to you a few nights per week.” (Jessica has made an accurate observation without evaluation and has given Ryan a specific example of the behavior she dislikes. She has also been able to identify her need of intimacy with Ryan.)
Ryan: “I see. You need to be with me whenever I go out?”
Jessica: “Thanks for telling me your understanding of what I need. To clarify what I meant, I don’t mind if you go out by yourself, but for example, like tonight I wanted to go out with you because I need physical closeness with you.” (Jessica thanks Ryan for trying to understand her even though he misunderstood. Most people would have felt frustrated, and started an argument, from Ryan’s excessive statement.)
Jessica: “Would you be willing to tell me what you’re doing so that we can go out more often?” (After completing all seven stages, Jessica finally makes her request to change Ryan’s behavior. This is usually the first thing people do; not the last.)
Ryan: “Sure – provided that you become more fun like we said earlier.”
Jessica: (Jessica hugs and kisses Ryan in huge relief. They have solved a problem ruining the relationship for months.) “Agreed.”
There are many possibilities that could have taken place in the above scenario and changed the communication, but the scenario beautifully demonstrates how nonviolent communication is applied to real life.
When you use this powerful type of communication for the first time, you may cry or have your conversation partner break into tears. Crying is good. When nonviolent communication opens the relationship, mental and emotional dams erected over years from misunderstanding smash down as intimacy gushes into the relationship. New emotional structures get built to form peaceful relationships when you use NVC overtime. “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process,” said John F. Kennedy, 35th American President, “gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
(Read my review of Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and visit the provided link where you can order a copy of the book today. Secondly, if you felt this article touched you, the “Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program” will bring more magic in your life because the skills and advice in the program strongly interconnect with nonviolent communication. Learn about the program here.)
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to https://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/