Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Nonviolent Communication

Summary of Non-violent communication: A language of life”: (…) “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 Non-violent communication: A language of life and applying the non-violent communication process it teaches. It is a significant first step toward changing our communication and creating a compassionate world.”

Arun GANDHI, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi in his preface to the book.

By Marshall Rosenberg, 2003 (2nd edition), 1999 for the 1st edition, 259 pages

Note: This is a guest chronicle written by Sébastien, from the blog Vers une vie sereine, in which he shares his experience as someone who used to be stressed and helps us to lead a more confident and serene life.

Chronicle and summary of “Non-violent communication: A language of life”

Non-violent communication: a language of life is an introduction to empathic communication, communication from the heart. In this book, Marshall Rosenberg presents the process that will enable us to communicate more calmly with others and with ourselves.

It breaks down into two major parts: Expressing yourself with sincerity and listening with empathy.


Chapter 1: Giving from the heart: at the source of Non-violent communication

According to Marshall Rosenberg, non-violent communication (abbreviated to NVC), is a way of communicating that encourages genuine dialogue.

Learn to focus your attention

To apply this method of communication, we must pay more attention to the words we use, as well as to what the other person is saying. With NVC, we learn to express our deepest needs and to listen to those of others.

The NVC process

NVC possesses four components:

  • An observation
  • A feeling
  • A need
  • A request

First, I observe a situation. Then I recognise the feelings that this situation awakens. After, I look at what needs are related to these feelings. Finally, I look at what I can ask for in concrete terms to satisfy these needs.

For example, the mother of a teenager might say to her son: “When I see your things lying around the living room (observation), this puts me in a bad mood (feeling) because I need the spaces that we share to be tidier (need). Could you put them away? (request)”

Applying NVC to life

This method of communication allows us to become more benevolent, authentic and empathic with each other. It can be used in all everyday interactions: as a couple, with your children, at work… NVC can prove to be a very effective way to manage conflicts, and also allows you to better identify your own needs.

Chapter 2: Communication that blocks compassion

Nonviolent Communication

Marshall Rosenberg says that over the years, we develop 4 types of alienating language, which are obstacles to compassion:

  • Moralistic judgements: issuing sanctimonious judgements about people whose acts do not correspond to our values.

Example: “He’s lazy” “She’s a layabout”

  • Making comparisons is the second obstacle. Comparing oneself to others is a form of judgement, and it can prevent compassion towards oneself and towards others.
  • A third obstacle to compassion according to the author is denying responsibility. This prevents the individual from being fully aware that we are responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and acts. The often-used expression “I have to” is a good example.
  • Finally, communicating your desires in the form of a demand is another obstacle to compassion. The other person will feel the threat of punishment or reproach if he or she does not respond favourably to the request.

Chapter 3: Observing without evaluating

The first component of NVC is distinguishing between observation and evaluation. If we mix them up, the person we are talking to may feel that they are being criticised, and resist.

  • An observation would be “Jean was late twice this week”.
  • An evaluation would be “Jean is really not a punctual person”.

Chapter 4: Identifying and expressing feelings

Identifying and expressing our feelings corresponds to the second stage of the process.

Unfortunately, many of us have learned to work with our head rather than with our heart. Therefore, we must learn the language of the heart all over again.

Distinguishing feelings from mental interpretations

Marshall Rosenberg insists on the importance of differentiating feelings from mental interpretations. We often use the words “feel” and “feeling”, not to express a feeling but to express a thought:

  • “I feel like a failure” is a mental interpretation
  • “I feel that this is useless” is a mental interpretation


“I feel sad” expresses a feeling in the same way as “I can’t wait to get started”

A vocabulary for feelings

Sometimes, we need to develop a vocabulary of feelings in order to be able to express our feelings and emotions clearly. This will also allow us to more easily establish a sincere link to other people.

Chapter 5: Taking responsibility for our feelings

Taking responsibility for our feelings and discovering the needs behind them is the third step in non-violent communication.

When faced with a negative message, the author identifies 4 ways to respond:

  • Feel at fault
  • Blame the other person
  • Perceive our feelings and needs
  • Try to perceive the feelings and needs of the other person

Let’s use an example to look at the various cases and their consequences:

Marie says to her husband Douglas “You forgot to buy me butter! Even though I asked you last night.”

Here are the 4 ways that Douglas can respond:

“Yes, you’re right. I’m so forgetful.”

He feels at fault. The associated feelings are lack of self-esteem, guilt and depression.

“You should have reminded me this morning or sent me a message so I’d remember!” He blames his wife. This increases the feeling of anger.

“When you express yourself like that, I don’t feel respected, because I need you to accept that I am capable of forgetting things.” Here, he becomes aware of his feeling and expresses the need associated with it.

“Do you feel angry because you have the impression that I wasn’t listening to you and because you need consideration?” Douglas considers his wife’s feelings and attempts to express the associated need.

The last two ways are good ways to use non-violent communication and allow a sincere dialogue based on mutual understanding. Expressing your needs and feelings this way is not easy, especially in today’s society, where discretion is de rigueur. But it is the most effective way to communicate calmly, in a spirit of genuine exchange that respects the other person.

Chapter 6: Requesting that which would enrich life

Making a request is the 4th and last step of the process. The author recommends that we respect a few criteria:

Use positive language

First of all, he advises using language of positive action, because a negative message requires our interlocutor to guess what we really want.

Make a clear request

For the request to be clear, we must express it in a sincere, concise and precise way. The more specific our request, the more likely we are to obtain it.

Have the request reformulated

In order to avoid misunderstandings, we sometimes have to ensure that the request is understood (by rewording it for example).

Request and demand

Finally, it is very important that the other person does not feel that the request is a demand. For a request to be a request and not a demand, the person opposite must be able to respond in a negative manner without fear of reproach.

Nonviolent Communication


Empathy is a way of respectfully understanding the experience of others.

Chapter 7: Receiving empathically

Marshall Rosenberg tells us that to listen with empathy, we should not listen with our head, but with our entire being. We have to “forget ourselves” to listen to the other person. We tend to want to offer advice, comfort or our opinion, when the other person simply wants to be heard.

Listening for feelings and needs

In non-violent communication, receiving empathically means simply listening to the other person: their observation, their feelings, their needs and finally their request.


We can paraphrase their words to tell them what we have understood. The person opposite will then be able to confirm or correct the message if it is not fully understood. The author insists on the importance of the tone we use: the person must feel that we are simply trying to understand, and not stating that we have understood.

Sustaining empathy

The objective is to sustain empathy until we have fully heard what the other person has to say. We must listen until the end, and continue to reformulate until the person opposite feels that they have been fully heard. Only after complete understanding will we will try to offer advice or an opinion or to seek solutions if necessary.

Pain blocks our ability to empathize

“It is impossible to give something to another if we don’t have it ourselves”.

Before we can offer empathy to others, we have to offer empathy to ourselves. We can (and must) offer ourselves the same quality of listening and thus better identify our own needs prior to dealing with those of others.

Chapter 8: The power of empathy

Developing our ability to be empathic gives us access to new resources. According to Marshall Rosenberg, using empathy allows us to remain both sincere and vulnerable, which creates a genuine link with the person opposite. Sometimes, this allows us to heal suffering by breaking down some psychological barriers. Empathy alone can defuse danger and the risk of violence. It allows us to accept a refusal without seeing it as rejection, to restore life to a conversation and sometimes even to understand what is not being expressed in words.

Chapter 9: Connecting compassionately with ourselves

It is undoubtedly in our relationship with ourselves that NVC plays its most important role. It is difficult to be compassionate towards others if we are violent and sanctimonious toward ourselves.

NVC mourning

When we find ourselves criticising ourselves, the author advises us to stop and ask the question: “What unsatisfied need is being expressed through this moral judgement?” This corresponds to NVC mourning: it connects to the unsatisfied needs and the feelings associated with that. Evaluate how the behaviour that we regret has gone against our need, and welcome the feeling that emerges from this awareness.


Further to this mourning, we can forgive ourselves by offering empathy to the part of ourselves that acted in the past. To forgive ourselves, we pinpoint the need that has led to our behaviour in the past, and we create this empathic link, without judgement.

Don’t do anything that isn’t play

In this part of Non-violent communication, Marshall Rosenberg insists that our actions our desire for life should determine our actions, not fear, shame or a sense of obligation. As an example, he gives all the sentences that we begin by saying “I have to”, “I must”.

Translating “have to” to “choose to”

One solution that he offers is to translate “I have to” into “I choose to”. In this way, we become entirely responsible for our actions. He goes further and suggests that we take all the things that we “have to do”, everything that we force ourselves to do without joy and create phrases using the new formula:

“I choose to…. because I want to….”

In this way, we realise what motivates our actions. We become increasingly in tune with our needs, allowing us to better identify our values and to be more honest with ourselves.

Chapter 10: Expressing anger fully

When we hear talk about “non-violent” communication, we tend to believe that anger has no place in the process. This is not exactly the case. Marshall Rosenberg encourages us to fully express our anger.

Distinguishing stimulus from cause

The first step to fully expressing your anger is to take full responsibility for it. Another person can be a trigger factor, but is in no case responsible for our emotions. We need to focus our full attention on our feelings and our needs. The author emphasizes that we have a significantly greater chance of getting what we want when we express our needs, rather than when we judge, criticise or punish the other person.

Four steps to expressing anger

Marshall Rosenberg counts four steps that are required for healthy expression of anger:

  • Stop for a moment and take a deep breath
  • Identify our judgemental thoughts
  • Connect with our needs
  • Express our feelings and unmet needs

Taking our time

To correctly learn and apply the NVC process, it is essential to take our time. We need to break with our conditioning. Judging and criticising are deeply rooted in our habits. According to the author, the learning process is long, and so is its application.

Nonviolent Communication

Chapter 11: The protective use of force

When the use of force is unavoidable

Very rarely, however communication becomes impossible, in the event of imminent danger for example. Protective use of force may be inevitable and itis used only out of concern for protection.

Punitive use of force and punishment

According to Marshall Rosenberg, punitive force is not effective. The use of force generates resistance to the behaviour that we are seeking to elicit. When it comes to punishment, it reduces the sincerity of the relations and focuses attention to what will happen if we act poorly, not towards the quality of the act in itself. For example, an employee who is afraid of sanctions will do his job, but without any desire or enthusiasm. In the long term, he will be less productive and the relationship with his employer will not be healthy…

Chapter 12: Liberating ourselves and counselling others

Freeing ourselves from old programming

NVC promotes a new relationship towards ourselves. We should, however, begin by freeing ourselves from our old conditioning. Nowadays, displaying sensitivity is seen as a sign of weakness, and expressing our needs is a sign of selfishness. We can put an end to this cultural conditioning, and express our needs and feelings in a more systematic way.

Resolving inner conflicts

Using the NVC process on ourselves allows us to better identify and take into account our own needs and feelings. Sometimes this will have the effect of resolving inner conflicts and avoiding depression. The use of empathy towards ourselves allows us to lead a more serene existence.

Chapter 13: Expressing appreciation

According to Marshall Rosenberg, compliments often take the form of judgements, even when they are positive. They can even be used to influence another person’s behaviour.

The three components of appreciation:

  • The actions that have contributed to our well-being
  • Our needs that were fulfilled
  • The positive feeling born of this satisfied need

Example: “Sébastien, when you published that article about NVC, I felt filled with hope. I was looking for a way to communicate with my son and this article gave me the direction I was seeking.”

Book critique of “Non-violent communication: A language of life”

NVC is an extraordinary tool, and everyone should know about it. This method of communication allows us to not only communicate in a more sincere way with others, but also better to listen to ourselves and have better self-knowledge.

Up to the age of 20, I refused to listen to my needs and to communicate my feelings. I bottled everything up inside… Then one day everything blew up and I had no other choice than to take those needs into account.

I discovered Non-violent communication at that precise moment and it changed my life. It has enabled me to be more honest with others in expressing my needs and taking full responsibility for them. Conversely, I realised that I was not responsible for the needs and feelings of others. Thanks to NVC, I learned how to be empathic without taking all the misfortunes of the world on myself. I learned how to help someone just by listening and without taking responsibility for his or her needs and feelings.

Peace of mind in difficult situations

NVC also (and especially) taught me to be at peace with myself, even when faced with all sorts of situations. Thanks to this book, I learned to stop evaluating myself, judging myself, criticising myself…; I gradually made peace with myself. By identifying the need hiding behind each of my thoughts, I gradually became more aware of my needs and my values, and I now know what is important to me.

The process is a learning one and requires a lot of practice. However, the results in terms of personal development are major. For me it was even more important, since this method allowed me to make peace with myself and better manage my emotions. For example, NVC considerably reduced my anger towards others and towards myself. The empathy that I carry towards myself and to others is much greater today, and it is all thanks to this book. I am much more serene, and this book has contributed greatly to that.

Strong points :

  • The book proposes exercises at the end of each chapter
  • Marshall Rosenberg exposes a number of practical cases from his long experience
  • The language used throughout the book is simple and can be understood by everyone
  • NVC is a new way to communicate, creating more sincere links, offering a better option for conflict resolution
  • It allows us to resolve our own conflicts and to better identify our needs

Weak points :

  • A relatively complex process that needs to be learned and then applied
  • Requires a certain amount of time before it can be mastered

My rating : language process life language process life language process lifelanguage process lifelanguage process lifelanguage process lifelanguage process lifelanguage process lifelanguage process life

Have you read “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”? How do you rate it?

Mediocre - No interestReasonable - One or two interesting paragraphsIntermediate - Some goods ideasGood - Had changed my life on one practical aspectVery Good - Completely changed my life ! (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)