Wise Words Podcast Now available on all major podcast channels.


Nonviolent Communication Book Summary – Marshall B. Rosenberg

What you will learn from reading Nonviolent Communication:

– How to understand others needs.

– Why judgements and comparisons create violence.

– How to express your needs to get what you want.

Nonviolent Communication Book Summary:

Nonviolent Communication book summary explores how to communicate effectively with anyone. It starts with removing judgement and understand the needs of the other person. By the end of this book summary you will have the recipe to transform how you communicate with everyone. If you’re interested in learning how to understand conflict and others better than read on.

The only way to resolve all violence is to give up your story. No one can be enlightened who still has a personal stake in the worldThe third axiom of Ahimsa. 


What is Non Violent Communication (NVC)?

The 4 step NVC Process:

  1. The concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being.
  2. How we feel in relation to what we observe.
  3. The needs, values, desires, etc. that create our feelings.
  4. The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives.

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. 

Four components of NVC: 

  1. Observations 
  2. Feelings 
  3. Needs 
  4. Requests


Check your Observations:

The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.

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

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. 

When we combine observation with evaluation, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message. Instead, they are apt to hear criticism and thus resist whatever we are saying.

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. 

When someone communicates negatively, we have four options as to how to receive the message: (1) blame ourselves, (2) blame others, (3) sense our own feelings and needs, (4) sense the feelings and needs hidden in the other person’s negative message.


Judgements and Comparisons:

In the world of judgments, our concern centers on “who is what.”

Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others need and are not getting. 

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 disorganised.” Classifying and judging people promotes violence.  

Comparisons are a form of judgment.

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


Taking responsibility for our Feelings:

We deny responsibility for our actions when we attribute their cause to factors outside ourselves: Vague, impersonal forces—“I cleaned my room because I had to.” 

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

Communicating our desires as demands is yet another form of language that blocks compassion. A demand explicitly or implicitly threatens listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply. 

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. 


Look out for static language:

Wendell Johnson pointed out that we create many problems for ourselves by using static language. 

“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 symbolise with this language is a world of process, change, differences, dimensions, functions, relationships, growths, interactions, developing, learning, coping, complexity.” 

NVC is a process language that discourages static generalizations. Instead, observations are to be made specific to time and context, for example, “Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games,” rather than “Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.” 


Be specific with your feelings:

For example, in the sentence, “I feel I didn’t get a fair deal,” the words I feel could be more accurately replaced with I think. 

In general, feelings are not being clearly expressed when the word feel is followed by: Words such as that, like, as if: “I feel that you should know better.” “I feel like a failure.” “I feel as if I’m living with a wall.” 

Conversely, in the English language, it is not necessary to use the word feel at all when we are actually expressing a feeling: we can say, “I’m feeling irritated,” or simply, “I’m irritated.” 

“I feel unimportant to the people with whom I work.” The word unimportant describes how I think others are evaluating me, rather than an actual feeling, which in this situation might be “I feel sad” or “I feel discouraged.”


Express your needs:

Many of us have great difficulty expressing our needs: we have been taught by society to criticize, insult, and otherwise (mis)communicate in ways that keep us apart. In a conflict, both parties usually spend too much time intent on proving themselves right, and the other party wrong, rather than paying attention to their own and the other’s needs.

The basic premise of NVC is that whenever we imply that someone is wrong or bad, what we are really saying is that he or she is not acting in harmony with our needs.

The problem exists because we have been socialised to be skilled in analysing the perceived wrongness of others than in clearly expressing our own needs. 

When our consciousness is focused on what we need, we are naturally stimulated toward creative possibilities for how to get that need met.

When we express our needs indirectly through the use of evaluations, interpretations, and images, others are likely to hear criticism. And when people hear anything that sounds like criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack.

People do not hear our pain when they believe they are at fault. So, avoid the use of language that implies wrongness.

Remember – Judgments of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.

When you express your needs connect them with your feelings: “I feel … because I need 


Avoid motivating by Guilt:

To motivate by guilt, mix up stimulus and cause.

Avoid motivating someone using guilt. The basic mechanism of motivating by guilt is to attribute the responsibility for one’s own feelings to others. Distinguish between giving from the heart and being motivated by guilt. 

Motivating people for the right reasons:

Question 1: What do I want this person to do? 

Question 2: What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing it?


Making your request, specifially:

We need to express what we are requesting rather than what we are not requesting. “How do you do a don’t?” goes a line of a children’s song by Ruth Bebermeyer.

Vague language contributes to internal confusion. Don’t be vague when you’re asking for something.

Funny example:

In addition to using positive language, we also want to word our requests in the form of concrete actions that others can undertake and to avoid vague, abstract, or ambiguous phrasing. A cartoon depicts a man who has fallen into a lake. As he struggles to swim, he shouts to his dog on shore, “Lassie, get help!” In the next frame, the dog is lying on a psychiatrist’s couch. 

Requests may sound like demands when unaccompanied by the speaker’s feelings and needs. 

Our requests are received as demands when others believe they will be blamed or punished if they do not comply. When people hear a demand, they see only two options: submission or rebellion. 

The use of a present language request that begins with “Would you be willing to …” helps foster a respectful discussion.


Avoid giving advice till you know their needs:

Rule of thumb: Ask before offering advice or reassurance. 

Believing we have to “fix” situations and make others feel better prevents us from being present. Remember, we “say a lot” by listening for other people’s feelings and needs. 

Make sure to reflect what someone has said back to them. If you have accurately received the other party’s message, your paraphrasing will confirm this to them. If, on the other hand, your paraphrase is incorrect, you give the speaker an opportunity to correct you. 

It’s especially important to reflect back messages that are emotionally charged. 


How to take peoples criticisms:

The more we hear them, the more they’ll hear us.

The more we practice NVC, the more we realise a simple truth: behind all messages that we’ve allowed ourselves to be intimidated by are just individuals with unmet needs appealing to us to contribute to their well-being. 

Joseph Campbell suggested, “‘What will they think of me?’ must be put aside for bliss.” We begin to feel this bliss when messages previously experienced as critical or blaming begin to be seen for the gifts they are: opportunities to give to people who are in pain. 

Rule of thumb: Rather than put your “but” in the face of an angry person, empathize.

Insight empathy: It’s harder to empathize with those who appear to possess more power, status, or resources. 


Overarching Needs in Human Life:

(1) Money. 

(2) Approval. 

(3) Escape Punishment (Punishment also includes judgmental labeling and the withholding of privileges). When we fear punishment, we focus on consequences, not on our own values. Fear of punishment diminishes self-esteem and goodwill. 

(4) Avoid Shame. 

(5) Avoid Guilt. 

(6) Satisfy a Sense of Duty.  

When we use language which denies choice (for example, words such as should, have to, ought, must, can’t, supposed to, etc.), our behaviors arise out of a vague sense of guilt, duty, or obligation.


Taking responsibility for your feelings and choices:

We need to rid ourselves of thoughts such as, “He (or she or they) made me angry when they did that.” Such thinking leads us to express our anger superficially by blaming or punishing the other person. 

We say: “You make me angry.” “You hurt me by doing that.” “I feel sad because you did that.” We use our language in many different ways to trick ourselves into believing that our feelings result from what others do.

But, we are never angry because of what someone else did. We can identify the other person’s behaviour as the stimulus, but it is important to establish a clear separation between stimulus and cause. 

Remember from earlier: To motivate by guilt, mix up stimulus and cause. 

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

This may take extensive practice, whereby over and over again, we consciously replace the phrase “I am angry because they … ” with “I am angry because I am needing … ”


Violence and communication:

Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment. 

Rule of Thumb: The more we hear them, the more they’ll hear us. 

As soon as people think that they have done something wrong, they will not be fully apprehending our pain. 

The first thing we do is to empathize with the needs of the person who is behaving in the way we dislike. 

The more experience I have gained in mediating conflicts over the years and the more I’ve seen what leads families to argue and nations to go to war, the more convinced I am that most schoolchildren could solve these conflicts. If we could just say: 

“Here are the needs of both sides. Here are the resources. What can be done to meet these needs?,” conflicts would be easily resolved. But instead, our thinking is focused on dehumanizing one another with labels and judgments until even the simplest of conflicts becomes very difficult to solve.