We become violent when we think that others are wrong or evil. We want to make them suffer enough so that they see their error and repent and change their behavior. We may become successful in coercing them, but it also generates resentment and hostility. This resentment and hostility results in more violence later.

Life-alienating communication

As violence usually is preceded by one party labeling others wrong, evil, unjust, insensitive, needy etc. This form of communication that causes judging others is called life-alienating communication. We are so conditioned to this form of communication in our day-to-day life that we seldom try to think beyond it. If we need more affection then we label others as “aloof and insensitive” but if we need less then others appear “needy and dependent”. We label others as wrong and think that they deserve punishment when others do not behave as our values or our sense of morality or when our desires and requests are denied. We hold others directly responsible for our choices and actions. We say things like “I have to do __ because of him/her/their/circumstances etc.” Making comparisons with others is also a life-alienating communication. Comparing one person to someone else is a subtle way of labeling them wrong. When we blame others for our feelings, we may cause them to conform but it will often cause feelings of guilt, shame, or depression in them.

Nonviolent Communication

NVC (Nonviolent Communication) assumes that all humans have the same feelings and needs. When we fail to understand these feelings and unmet needs in ourselves or others, we fail to make a connection and we resort to judgment/blaming and labeling. Feelings and needs are basic common ground using which humans can establish the connection. Once we have made the connection, the natural compassion flows. It enables people to remain compassionate in most trying circumstances. NVC is not a method to make others do as we want, instead, it focuses on the quality of relationship and connection. When using NVC correctly, both parties’ benefit from the communication. Using basic feelings and needs, NVC enables us to express ourselves with honesty and clarity and listen with empathy and respect.

NVC Framework

There are four components to NVC viz. observations, feelings, needs, and requests. When communicating using NVC you communicate these four components. Also, when listening you try to capture these four components. Canonical communication in NVC goes like this When I observe __. I feel __. Because I need __. Therefore, I request you to do ____ Although, the above form is not encouraged because it looks mechanical and can annoy the listener. These components can come in any order or through any mode of communication.

Observations: Observing Without Evaluating

Observation is about facts. What we received from our senses like eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. For example, if we say “You are too generous”, then that’s not an observation but an evaluation because you cannot see generosity. But if you saw someone donating food then that is an observation. Similarly, if you say that “Hank smith is a poor player” then this is not an observation, but Hank smith did not score a goal in the last twenty games is an observation. To communicate with honesty and clarity, it’s important to be able to separate observation from evaluation. Evaluation seems like criticism and judgment.

Feelings: Identifying and expressing feelings

As per research, there are 27 different feelings humans can have. How many can you name? In many cases, we are not aware of how we are feeling. We also use the word feel wrong. For example, we say things like “I feel misunderstood”, “I feel ignored”, “I feel like a failure”, “I feel that you should know better” etc. none of the things mentioned are feelings. NVC requires that after expressing what you have observed, you express what it made you feel. When expressing feelings express the actual feelings like happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust etc.

Needs: Taking responsibility of our needs

We have positive or negative feelings depending on whether our needs are met or not. To understand the message of others and express ourselves we need awareness of these needs. We think that others or circumstances are directly responsible for our feelings Speech patterns such as “I feel ___ because you/it/that/proper noun/etc. (anything except I) ____ “ directly hold others responsible for our feelings. But truth is that it is our needs that make us feel the way we feel. Some of the common needs are

  1. Autonomy to choose one’s dream, values, and plan.
  2. Celebration: Play, recreation, enjoyment, entertainment
  3. Integrity: Authenticity, creativity, meaning, self-worth
  4. Interdependence: emotional safety, love, respect, trust, understanding, empathy
  5. Spiritual communion: beauty, peace, harmony, inspiration, order
  6. Physical Nurturance: air, food, water, shelter

Requesting that which would enrich life

Once we have observed, identified feelings, and needs, the next step is to articulate a request that would fulfill the need.

Positive language: When we request someone, we should not use a negative form such as “don’t spend so much time in office” rather use a positive form e.g., “spend more time with family”. When we use the negative form, we leave it to others to find out what to do and they may not do what would fulfill our needs.

Concrete action: We should also specify a concrete action in the request. For example, “please treat us with fairness” is not concrete whereas “please give all of us equal time to speak” is more concrete.

Conscious Request: The requests should be expressed along with other components of NVC such as feelings and needs. But we are habitual of expressing these separately. When we express only feelings and needs it may confuse the listener about what we want. And when we express a request without first expressing feelings and needs, the request may sound to listener as a demand.

Feedback: After expressing a request, we should also ask for feedback to make sure that message has been delivered correctly. We may just ask for confirmation as in “is that clear?” or we may ask the listener to paraphrase, or we may ask them what they are feeling or thinking or what action they are planning to take.

Request vs demands: Sometimes people may still hear our requests as demands, and they may reject or may accept our request with feelings of fear or guilt. NVC’s goal is that they accept your requests due to compassion.

If the listener has had an experience of blame, punishment or guilty then that may play on their mind, and they may see your requests negatively and rebel. In case they say no, we should still try to empathize with them using NVC and try to understand their feelings and needs rather getting disappointed/upset or angry because of the denial. We should also scan our minds for any life-alienating communication patterns such as “They are supposed to/deserve to do what I asked, or I deserve to get this, or he should be punished etc.”. These thoughts are a sign that we might have judged them subtly.


When listening to others we should shed all our preconceived idea and judgments about them. Every situation is new and preconceived notions only hinder the grasp of the new situation. The Key ingredient of listening is presence. Trying to intellectually understand or fix prevents us from being present. Common behaviors like advising, one-upping, educating, consoling, storytelling, shifting down, sympathizing, interrogating, explaining, correcting etc. impair listening.

When listening, try to extract observations, feelings, needs, and requests and paraphrase them back to the speaker and ask them to confirm if the paraphrase is correct. For example, consider the following questions

  1. Observation: Are you reacting to how many evenings I was gone last week?
  2. feelings and needs: Are feeling hurt because you would have liked more appreciation of your efforts than you received?
  3. requests: Are you wanting me to tell you my reasons for saying what I did?

Do not try to interrogate like following

  1. What did I do that you are referring to?
  2. How are you feeling?
  3. What are you wanting me to do about it?

This second set of questions asks for information without first sensing the speaker’s reality. If you do need to ask such questions, then ask them in NVC form such as “I am frustrated because I’d like to be clearer about what you are refereeing to. Would you be willing to tell me what I’ve done that leads you to see me in this way?” When paraphrasing we need to make sure that our tone is not that of sarcasm, criticism, or declaration. Our tone should be to communicate that we are confirming if we have understood it correctly.

By paraphrasing we let people know that we have connected with them and let them feel empathy. If we sustain empathy, people will come up with more surrounding feelings they have about the issue. People will stop saying when they have expressed all the feelings surrounding the issue. This is the sign that we have empathized completely and now is the time if we would like to offer a solution or sympathize. Also, once we have empathized long enough, we and the speaker are likely to feel relief.


Learning the NVC process and applying it takes time. As we must undo years of training in blaming and judging others. We need to practice thinking in terms of needs and feelings. To practice think of judgments that float your head e.g. I don’t like people who are __. and then ask yourself what you are feeling or needing when you make those judgments. Practice is essential to be able to apply NVC in your life. Initially, also try to speak slowly after taking a deep breath. Think carefully before speaking and sometimes not speak at all :-)

When we focus our attention on needs and feelings, we experience common humanity.