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More about NVC

My Personal Understanding of Nonviolent Communication

My personal understanding of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is that NVC is a process as well as a tool. According to Marshall B. Rosenberg, who developed NVC, the best way to understand that which is alive in me is to be in touch with my feelings and aware of my needs. As I see it, the process of connecting with feelings and needs can be compared to meditating. The act of getting in touch with my feelings and needs puts me in a state of mind in which I am a silent witness to this very process. Furthermore, as I am in touch with my feelings and needs, I begin to understand that my thoughts and emotions do not dictate who I am as a human being and that there is no need for me to identify myself with them.  I believe that the NVC process allows me to live life in a meditative state of mind. 

The Philosophy behind Nonviolent Communication

According to the philosophy of NVC the driving force behind people’s actions is the desire to meet basic needs. Within this framework it is believed that people wish to contribute to other people’s needs being met as long as it doesn’t take place under pressure or threatening circumstances.

The Body’s Signal System

Feelings are a way for the body to let us know whether our needs have been met or not. We have the ability to fully understand one another because we all share the same human needs. When we are tired the body’s signal system makes us feel sleepy. When we are hungry the body’s signal system lets us know that it needs to replenish nourishment and so on. This is a simple way to ensure our survival and well being. A major difficulty is that so many of us do not understand how our signal systems function and therefore can’t properly assess the need behind the feeling.

Secondary Feelings

Anger here is a secondary feeling as it signals an unidentified need.  We become disconnected from our needs because our thoughts are preoccupied with people around us and inadvertently lose connection with ourselves. We perceive a person or a situation as the root cause of our anger and therefore direct our anger and frustration outward. The problem is not being angry the problem is how we choose to handle our anger. One way of handling anger is to acknowledge the sensation of anger as an unidentified need and empathize with ourselves in order to reconnect. Guilt and shame belong to the same category as anger, however feelings of guilt and shame are usually turned inward and we punish ourselves instead. When guilt and shame are handled in this way for a long time we become depressed.

The Four Components of Nonviolent Communication

When we interpret and assess our environment we inadvertently form ideas and opinions about our environment, M. Rosenberg calls it behaving like a jackal, and we end up losing touch with ourselves. If threats or demands are added to this process any hope of reconnecting to ourselves will be lost. When we evaluate our environment whether that is a person or a place the intention according to NVC is to be understood, or that there is a desire to connect with others however misleading that may be.

The four NVC components that will facilitate a connection are:

        1.       Observation

        2.       Feeling

        3.       Needs

        4.       Request

An observation looks at facts; what you see, what you hear, void of opinion or judgment.  An observable fact can be videotaped or recorded. To “speak jackal” is to allow for interpretations, evaluations, judgments, and assumptions which only disconnect us from ourselves and each other and is the cause of many conflicts.

A feeling is a sensation elicited by the body’s signal system. The majority of the population confuses thoughts with feelings. For example, many of us might say “I don’t feel that you listen to me”. This is a notion and behind the notion might be a feeling of irritation or sadness. The pitfall is to express thoughts, notions, or ideas as feelings.

A basic need is shared by everyone. What differentiate us from each other are the strategies used in order to meet our needs. A strategy is a way to satisfy a need. However, a strategy can lead to conflict, especially when we are unyielding of a preferred strategy.

A present request should entail the following:

-The person who receives the request should be able to adhere to the request here and now. The request is not meant to be met from here on end.

- The request should be stated in such a way so that a person on the receiving end can say no to the request. If you get annoyed when someone says no to what you believe is a request then that is a sure sign that the request was a demand rather than a present request.

It is important to be aware of our intentions.

 Showing Empathy

By empathy I mean an ability to understand another human being’s feelings and needs and that you respect and understand what they are experiencing. There is no need for words here as the main quality is to stay present as you go with the flow. This means that you set aside your own thoughts, feelings, and needs while you are in the present. As you show empathy by listening empathically when someone is affected by secondary feelings such as anger, guilt, or shame you may help ease the negative state of mind for that person.

 Empathy for Self

When you don’t empathize with yourself you are no longer in connection with life itself, when you do empathize with self you reconnect with life energy. In order to reconnect with life energy I use the four components described earlier, but I also acknowledge that I might have to delve in my own thoughts for a while, a situation I call the “Jackal Café”.  At the “Jackal Café” I allow myself to evaluate and judge thoughts about myself or someone else in order to begin to understand the needs underlying them. Once I am done judging and evaluating I ask myself the following questions:


- What is my observation?


- What need is not met or what need is threatened?         

When I connect with my need another feeling might emerge, a more subtle feeling. Usually a feeling of distress will lay behind feelings of shame and guilt, and perhaps you might sense irritation or sadness behind anger. When you begin to give yourself empathy, that is to connect with self, you will be able to connect with others as well.

Express Honestly

I have the choice to express my needs and express how another person may contribute to that need, and I can do so by being honest. I believe that people want to contribute as long as it is voluntary. When I am aware of my needs I use the four NVC steps to express myself honestly.

Listen with Compassion

 A technique I use in Nonviolent Communication is to guess a person’s feelings and needs so that the person can begin to connect with self. This process is necessary in order to help the person see that you want to help them connect and that you understand what they are experiencing. When being present by listening empathically is not enough, then guessing is a good start.

Managing Conflict

Nonviolent Communication is an excellent tool to help manage conflict. Because the NVC method helps you become aware of needs as well as the various strategies people use in order to meet their needs you will be able to help create a collaborative climate by staying present and listening empathically. Marshall has explained (which I can confirm) that all conflicts can be eliminated in 20 minutes counting from the time two conflicting parties become aware of each other’s needs. However, in everyday life, it can be difficult to accomplish as we tend to get stuck in habitual thinking.


Göran Viren Sjögren

August, 2007



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