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A Recommended Tool for Nonviolent Communication

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

I came across this article on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, defusing the toxic company culture by handing each of his executives a 15-year-old book by a psychologist. It got me wondering, what powerful book is this, and upon completion, it changes the way I handle tough and sensitive conversations.


This book is Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg


The book offers different approaches, but what I am sharing in this article is a particular frame, with empathy at its core, which follows through a process that consists of 4 parts to communicate how we feel and what we need. Developing this frame helps build a foundation of rationality, enabling one to connect deeply with their needs and seek cooperation.


1. State observations objectively

Observe objectively, without any form of evaluation or judgment towards yourself or the other party, on situations that lead to what you are feeling. Observations must be factual and never use absolutes. Absolutes are words such as always/ never or everything/ nothing. Don’t link observations with past behaviors. How you interpret past behaviors may be inaccurate and may not align with current observations. The goal here is to be as objective as you can.


Example: ‘You are always late!’ This is a judgmental statement that consists of an absolute. Instead, try this ‘I notice that you were late for the past few days’

Example: ‘Are you so lazy till you can’t even wash your dishes? Is this just like how you don’t even do any household chores?’ This is a judgmental statement, and it consists of past behavior. The listener will be confused about whether you are mad about the dishes or not doing the household chores. Instead, try this ‘I notice that you left the dishes unwashed again.’

Examples: ‘You never listen to me whenever I talk.’ Instead, try this ‘I observe that you tend to use your phone recently whenever I talk.’


People are more likely to listen if you state something factual, objective, and without any judgment. Also, one cannot argue about observable facts that happened.



2. State your feelings accurately with regards to the observation

Identify and describe your feeling, as precisely as possible, that is triggered by the observation that you have mentioned. Expressing out how you feel is different from thinking, judging, evaluating, or criticizing. The aim is not to embarrass the other party, but to openly identify what you are feeling or experiencing at that moment. This establishes mutual respect, enhancing cooperation. Remember to express what you feel, not how you feel about the other party.


Example: ‘I notice that you were late for the past few days and that is very irresponsible of you.’ This statement is an evaluation of what kind a person he/she is. It shames the other party and does not express what you feel. Instead, try this ‘I notice that you were late for the past few days and I am concerned.’

Example: ‘I notice that you left the dishes unwashed again and I am irritated by the sight of it.’

Example: ‘I observe that you tend to use your phone recently whenever I talk. I feel that you are not respecting me.’ This is another judgmental statement and does not express what you feel. Instead, try this ‘I observe that you tend to use your phone recently whenever I talk, and that makes me feel uncomfortable.’


Be accurate on the words that you used to label your emotions. They have different intensity and meaning. I am angry, and I am annoyed is two different emotions. Likewise, I feel sad and I feel devastated has varying strength. Feelings are sometimes difficult to put into words, hence, describe it. The more accurate you express your emotions, the easier it is to connect yourself to a need.


3. Connect to a need

When we have met our needs, we feel satisfied, which leads to pleasant feelings. When we have our needs unmet, we feel dissatisfied, which leads to unpleasant feelings. The goal here is to identify the unfulfilled need that connects to your feeling.


Example: ‘I notice that you were late for the past few days, and I am concerned because our project meetings cannot start without your presence.’

Example: ‘I notice that you left the dishes unwashed again and I am irritated by the sight of it. I need order in the house.’

Example: ‘I observe that you tend to use your phone recently whenever I talk, and that makes me feel uncomfortable. I need to feel heard and acknowledged whenever I talk.’


Sharing your needs, without any judgment, gives clarity and rationality to your observations and feelings.


4. Make a specific request

After stating your observation, feeling, and need, make a specific request. It should be accurate, clear, and a call-to-action that can fulfill your need. Try to avoid requests that state what you don’t want. The objective is to try to motivate the person to act willingly, instead of using threats, fear, or guilt trip.


Example: ‘I notice that you were late for the past three days, and I am concerned because our project meetings cannot start without your presence. May I suggest if you can arrive on time?’

Example: ‘I notice that you left the dishes unwashed again and I am irritated by the sight of it. I need order in the house, so I do not want to see that happen the next time. Do you understand me?' This request state what you don't want. Instead, try this ‘I notice that you left the dishes unwashed again and I am irritated by the sight of it. I need order in the house. May I suggest if you can wash the dishes after the meal immediately?

Example: ‘I observe that you tend to use your phone recently whenever I talk, and that makes me feel uncomfortable. I need to feel heard and acknowledged whenever I talk. May I suggest if you can put your phone away whenever I speak?’


Remember that this is a request, not a demand, and as such, be prepared to be rejected. If that happens, be ready to propose an alternative or come together and discuss how best to address your needs.


Although this 4-parts nonviolent #communication process looks easy to execute, in reality, it takes time and practice. Firstly, your intensified emotion at that point of time may cloud your rationality. You may feel frustrated or too upset to even rationalize things out. Next, most people do not know what they need exactly. They could not connect a need to how they feel, or they poorly identify the need. Lastly, they cannot take rejections. They see rejections as dead ends – it is not, and you should always open up for alternatives. Nevertheless, it is a recommended tool to help you express your feelings adequately and make a request to have your needs fulfilled while staying rational and emphatic.


Start practicing using this nonviolent communication frame. You can get a downloadable template here. And for those who are interested in getting the book, remember to get the latest edition here. Share with me how useful this nonviolent communication is to you.

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