For me nonviolent communication involves

1. Not only truth but authenticity, you need to have a safe emotional space in which to share bad feelings as well as good ones.

2. Avoid blame language, talk of responsibility instead. This involves separating the person from the behavior. We can judge the behavior without also passing judgment on the worth of the person. It comes down to using "I'm OK, You're OK," instead of "I'm OK, You're not OK." I assume the other is worthwhile and deserves respect.

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Marshall Rosenberg (MR) talks about concepts of judgement / should’s / shouldn’t’s / deserving – as all being on a continuum of value judgements about ourselves and others.

I suppose his premise is that we are all equal.

It is also that nonviolence will more get your needs met than violence.

In terms of your note 1. – MR talks about having self reflection about how you are feeling in the moment and then to express authentically about that feeling and the need driving that feeling. He encourages us to be in the present and not make a list of feelings and go through them all – but to focus on the present one we have and deal with that, and it’s associated observation, need and request. I suppose we might think carefully about what we’ve observed and what our request is – and then fill in our feeling and need in connection to that.

What is safe emotional space? I’ve found that once I learned MR technique I gained much confidence at expressing my feelings and needs and went to the post office and did it, and with my mum and husband and kids and random people I met on the street. So once we have the process I found it really easy.

Regarding your second comment – blame is the source of much pain, misunderstanding and lack of needs being met. If our end goal is the meet our needs with equal consideration of others needs then blame doesn’t work – it doesn’t even work if our only goal is to meet our own needs only.

I find talk of responsibility useless. A person can only be as response able as they are.

Judging the behaviour is just a sly way of judging the person in my experience. But then again, I suppose any technique can be taken out of context and fail to work in the way it’s designed to. That was me judging a form of judgement.

MR has a list of things that remove us from our feelings and needs which I think useful:

Receive Empathically prior to:

Advising “I think you should … How come you didn’t … ?”
Reassuring “Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad.”
Educating “This could turn into a very positive experience for you … ”
Explaining “I would have called but …”
Correcting “That’s not how it happened.”
Interrogating “When did this begin?”
One-upping “That’s nothing; wait until you hear what happened to me.”
Consoling “It wasn’t your fault; you did the best you could.”
Story-telling “That reminds me of the time …”
Sympathising “Oh, you poor thing …”
Intellectualising “Intellectual understanding blocks empathy”

Communication that Blocks Compassion

1. Moralistic Judgments

2. Denial of Responsibility

3. Making Demands

4. Judgmental Thinking

NVC frees us from being – slaves and underlings

The premises that we are all equal and that nonviolence will get your needs met more than violence are part of what Riane Eisler calls Partnership culture. In Dominator culture conflict is resolved by violence. This has been the dominant type of culture on Earth for well over a millennium. See The Chalice and the Blade.


Alice, you said, "Judging the behaviour is just a sly way of judging the person in my experience." This reflects Dominator culture in which we live, where everyone struggles to find respect in hierarchical social structures. People do in fact criticize behavior in order to put you down as a person and raise their own status. However, it's not good problem solving. There's a better way.


In a safe emotional environment, people can be free to share problems and feelings without having those things used against them later. We assume we are all OK, worthy individuals. Everybody is important, everybody has a right to their feelings. In such an environment we feel free to tell someone a negative judgment about a behavior he/she has done, and share our bad feelings such behavior arouses, in the spirit of working together. "When you do X, it makes me feel Y." You no longer have to be in Honeymoon phase, but can work constructively on conflicts. You do not assume intent on the part of the person who did the behavior, only describe it objectively. You can share how you interpreted the behavior and ask if that was correct. People take turns sharing their feelings, and try to figure out how to avoid a similar problem in the future.


You can avoid judging people but still judge behaviors. We have to judge actions to function. Similarly, we can avoid moralistic judgments of people, but must make moral judgments of behaviors.


Some kinds of demands are legitimate. You have the right to demand nonviolent behavior from those with whom you engage. If they want to abuse you, walk away. You have the right to be treated with respect, and it's legitimate to demand it when someone is disrespecting you. You have to stand up for yourself. If others insist on disrespecting you, they don't deserve your company. Look for more compatible friends.


Your communication on responsibility seems contradictory. " I find talk of responsibility useless. A person can only be as response able as they are." versus " Communication that Blocks Compassion: Denial of Responsibility." Responsibility does mean able to respond, and sometimes it's not easy identifying the extent to which you could have responded differently. But, never feeling responsible for harm done is a psychopathy trait.

Hi Ruth,

Yes, I can accept without research that violence has been our way to resolve conflict – and this is why I have suspicion that NVC won’t work ultimately. I am really curious if others have read the book to know their thoughts on the matter and get a discussion going on it.

I think from MR’s perspective – he does believe that nonviolence is a plausible possibility and indeed does use it for himself in his own life with success. Although I’m not sure how this looks in reality. It looks perhaps as though he is the dominant male who is protective of others who come to him and so therefore has created safe space. He himself has told stories about times when he choice to walk away from violent situations for fear of being hurt – so his NVC doesn’t work as an ultimate way of being.

We can see this with Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John Lennon and Jesus – their nonviolent resistance lead to being killed one way or another.

MR has been practising and evolving NVC for over 40 years as far as I can work out – he is also a specialist of the mind – a psychologist – and so has studied the matter – so to speak – whereas I have not – certainly not to that extent. And therefore I do respect his opinion and research and practise to have value and weight in terms of NVC working in my life.

In a way I see him as asking us to remove our god position – the one that causes us to be righteous and dominant – in favour of a passive position.

You may be more studied on this matter of dominance and violence that myself and may be able to contribute more to this line of thinking.

He basically asks us to remove certain thoughts and verbal behaviours from our vocabulary – which leads us to removing any aggressive antagonistic dominance behaviour that might incite another to respond in kind in order to demonstrate their own dominance.

This leads us to a different feeling. It’s a feeling of co-operation / care / love etc. It’s quite difficult to change and sustain this sort of behaviour as our ingrained traits are so strong – and perhaps genetic – although I would like to think that due to evolution and the plasticity of our brains that it is a plausible possibility that we could indeed change these violent dominant behaviours and replace them with more nonviolent and compassionate caring behaviours.

MR asks us to avoid judgement people and their behaviours to the extent that he asks us to remove feeling words from our vocabulary that are not our feelings as much as an assessment of another persons behaviour:

Abandoned Distrusted Put down
Abused Interrupted Rejected
Attacked Intimidated Taken for granted
Betrayed Let down Threatened
Boxed-in Manipulated Unappreciated
Bullied Misunderstood Unheard
Cheated Neglected Unseen
Coerced Overworked Unsupported
Co-opted Patronised Unwanted
Cornered Pressured Used
Diminished Provoked

The 4 components of NVC are very well defined in what the include and exclude for each category – hence word lists for feelings, non feelings and needs and specific guidelines about observations vs evaluations – which are judgments.

So I might say – when you use that yellow bowl, I feel angry, because I value it and I would really appreciate if you would be willing to leave it in that safe place for me to use.

Rather than saying – you make me angry when you use my yellow bowl, it’s mine and I don’t want you to touch it.

In the first scenario we are connecting our anger with our values – in the second we are connection our anger with the other person.

MR talks about the words ‘must / should / have to / can’t’ as being not useful to our intrinsic need for autonomy to choose our own values. These words limit not only ourselves but others who hear them.

He has a great exercise that helps you reframe your life in terms of intrinsic motivation rather than feeling obliged towards extrinsic motivations such as rewards and punishments. I think I’ve put in as an other discussion in here.

Again he doesn’t support the use of demands as they are extrinsic motivations and are to his mind unnecessary and lead to violent communication.

To think you have the right to anything is a judgement – the god position as I call it – and I think might be linked with the violent dominance gaining strategy and not necessary for communication and not conducive to non-violent communication or eliciting a compassionate response from others or the self.

In a situation where a person is being disrespectful you might say:

I have a right to be respected by you and I demand you respect me.

Or in a NVC way:

When you say that you wanted better quality workmanship – I feel hurt and sad, because I need appreciation for the work that I’ve put into this job. Would you be willing to acknowledge that I have done what you asked me in our initial conversation?

I agree that my comments on responsibility appear and may well be contradictory. NVC asks us to take responsibility for our emotions – but without the method of NVC we may not have this ability to respond in such a way.

I hear your concerns about psychopathic traits – I don’t think that MR is supportive of psychopathic traits – some more understanding of his work would be useful in your seeing how this functions without leading to psychopathic traits.

It’s more about the difference between blaming someone else for your feelings and taking responsibility for your feelings. An example might be that a person is in a room and the other person comes home but walks into their office. One person might see this as rude and feel hurt because they wanted company and acknowledgement whilst someone else might feel relived because they wanted space to get on and finish a project. The person coming home hasn’t made them feel either hurt or relived – it was the circumstances and thinking of the one having the feelings. See what I mean?

I don't have time to study Marshall Rosenberg's NVC, but on the basis of your reports I've formed a judgment from my perspective.  The whole package you describe sounds like something worked out by a white middle class guy for personal relationships, which is better then the traditional macho position. But it's not something I'd recommend for women or minorities, or for political activists. You said, "In a way I see him as asking us to remove our god position – the one that causes us to be righteous and dominant – in favour of a passive position." Toning down righteous dominant talk would be fine for someone in a position of dominance, who doesn't have to fight for his hierarchical status daily. It's NOT a good idea for the oppressed.


"NVC frees us from being – slaves and underlings" Not that I can see. Let's take "Making Demands, one of the "communications that block compassion" he wants to eliminate. If you're oppressed, you have a right and a duty to make demands for oppression to stop. Being more passive won't free you. You have a right to judge oppressive actions morally. You have to be authentic, in touch with your feelings of being intimidated, put down, unheard, patronized, etc. Women, for example, are most oppressed when they've internalized the women-hating stereotypes of Dominator culture, when they are unaware of their oppression. There's so much feminist writing on consciousness raising. Marshall Rosenberg has no clue. If you're a dominant male who was raised to habitually make demands, raised to be tough rather than compassionate, his prescriptions would be a step in the right direction. Under those conditions making demands does stand in the way of compassion. But this is entirely wrong-headed for everyone who has faced oppression from birth, who was raised to suppress feelings of anger and resentment, who was raised to obey, to please the powerful.

Hi Ruth,

I wouldn’t judge Rosenberg’s work on what I’ve said here. It’s wouldn’t be fair or accurate to do so.

To the contrary Rosenberg’s method of communication has been successful in the middle east between Jewish settlers and Palestinians. The Palestinians after initially branding him a child killer – later took them into their homes warmly welcoming him and seeing that he was genuine about wanting to meet their needs.

He has also been asked to help with long standing conflicts between tribal groups in northern Africa. He was able to support the creation of an agreement between rival tribes that had been in conflict for more than one generation.

He has also done lots of work to support African Americans in North America to gain more power through using NVC – and also help them to set up effective support groups to combat racism and inequality.

He has also been involved with successful mediation between youth gangs and police in NYC – after a gang member shot a police man.

I think that you are talking in ‘concepts’ – which can be a useful short cut – but I’m really curious about what you mean on a physical level when you talk about oppression? How does this oppression act out in reality? And what are the consequences of the oppression?

For example – a simplistic example – is that a man ignores a women and the consequences are that she doesn’t get her needs met?

Would you be willing to give me a more refined example – or any example that reflects your meaning more clearly when you use the word ‘oppression’.

It seems that you are saying that making demands does get your needs met – whereas not making demands, you believe would lead to us not having our needs met.

I talk about needs, because this is the crux of Rosenberg’s work – and I think where all the problems are – people feel oppressed because they aren’t getting their needs met.

You say: ‘you have a right to judge oppressive actions morally’. That is an interesting statement. Rights and wrongs, judgements, goods and evil – are all ‘constructs’ in our heads. What is actually going on? Do these feelings of righteousness lead to difference? Perhaps they lead to a feeling of power? Perhaps they lead us to a feeling of justified violence?

How effective is this way of being? As compared to a NVC way? With reference to the desired outcome being an increase of an oppressed group getting their needs met.

Perhaps you have a different way of framing this. I’m really interested to hear more.

I think you are prejudice against Rosenberg – without knowing much about him or his work. Simply for the fact that you believe he is a dominant male without having ever suffered oppression. I don’t think this is true. He was bullied as a child for being Jewish and I believe his family came from Europe escaping Hitler’s Genocide – sometime around the 2nd world war.

Regarding your comments that ‘this is entirely wrong-headed for everyone who has faced oppression from birth, who was raised to suppress feelings of anger and resentment, who was raised to obey, to please the powerful’ – this is exactly what MR is talking about. He has tools in his book that assist us to express ourselves clearly and NOT suppress our feelings. He has tools to reframe our lives so that we aren’t motivated by duty, obligation, fear, fear of punishment, guilt, shame or judgement. He has tools in his book about how to fully express anger in a way that is very powerful. And he explains how resentment builds from extrinsic motivations and therefore our need to changing to intrinsic motivation.

I’m interested to hear more of your thoughts. I’m enjoying our dialogue and the learning that I’m getting from this discussion. I’d be interested to hear your story of oppression.

When I was engaged to a guy named Chester, we had a disagreement. I don't remember what it was about. He grabbed my arm and twisted it painfully to force me to agree with him. That is oppression. I told him to stop because he was hurting me. He didn't. I demanded he stop by saying, "If you don't stop twisting my arm right now, our engagement is off, here and now." He let me go. My demand was justified and appropriate. BTW, I did eventually cancel our engagement and was very glad I had.


As far as I'm concerned, right and wrong aren't just constructs in our heads. If somebody can't tell which action, if any, is wrong from this list he/she has a serious problem: buttering toast, roasting a baby, whipping potatoes. "Do such feelings of righteousness make a difference?" I don't call making a moral judgment righteousness. Righteousness implies an attitude of being morally superior. You tell me, would you hire a babysitter for whom that list was morally identical? Making moral judgments isn't about wanting to feel powerful or looking for excuses to justify violence, it's an essential social function.


I get the impression that immersion in Rosenber's work has somehow separated you from your authentic feelings. You can no longer recognize oppression? One doesn't have to make demands to get needs met in a healthy personal relationship, you just ask.


Don't ask me to give examples of oppression, I could talk about the varieties of oppression visited on women alone for five pages. You know there are women's groups here.

Hi Ruth,


I’m sorry that you were involved in a physically violent relationship.


Chester clearly didn’t know how to get his needs met in a way that was considerate of the needs of others.


What MR is saying is that NVC is more effective than making demands or being aggressive.  He is saying that his constructed method of communication gives us tools that allow us a non violent way to get our needs met that is more effective than violent ways.


So in your situation with Chester – you demanded that he let go and made a threat to back up that demand.  In that situation that was your best chance at the time – due to your circumstances and knowledge of that moment.  You did want you knew and what you needed to, to be safe.


Perhaps if that sort of situation occurred just after you had read the book NVC you might have tried the NVC way.  MR says that this way would have been more likely to elicit compassion than the aggressive way.


I think though in times of physical assault protective force is required before any expressing of feelings and needs.  Protective force is used to PROTECT and EDUCATE when there is:


  1. a lack of awareness of the consequences of our actions;
  2. an inability to see how our needs may be met without injury to others;
  3. the belief that we have the right to punish or hurt others because they “deserve” it; and
  4. delusional thinking that involves, for example, hearing a voice that instructs us to kill someone.


Then you might have had a later dialogue about both of your feelings and needs in the situation.  You might have felt scared and needed physical safety.  He might have felt angry because of an unmet need that caused him to blame you for not meeting it – because he was unable to express his needs in any other way – than with violence.  NVC can really help people to express their needs before it gets to physical violence.


NVC does talk about values – which may be translated to morals also (although personally I don’t like this word – I find it oppressive! LOL)


So you might construct a sentence – when you talk about roasting my baby I feel concerned, because I value the physical safety of my children.  Would you be willing to take care of my baby’s physical safety whilst you look after her?


Of course, we might decide to change baby sitters even if she agrees with our request – for fear of her changing her mind.


My main aim of getting involved with NVC is because I struggle to express myself in a way that I value.  I get aggressive and angry and lash out – and I don’t value this sort of behaviour – so exposing my self to NVC and studying the suggested methods of communication – I can learn to express myself in a way that is more valuable to me.  I value living in a safe and loving home and providing a safe and loving home for my family.

I can see how NVC could be valuable for someone working on anger management. However, my psychological challenges are the opposite of yours. I have difficulty facing anger. As a girl child I was thoroughly socialized to never feel or express anger unless to protect someone else. So perhaps you can understand why it has no appeal for me.

Your response to the potential baby roasting sitter is the most unusual I've heard in such a circumstance.

I think a more reasonable response would be.  "Don't ever go near my baby."  Then I would walk away and report said sitter to the police and any agencies regulating baby sitters.  If the individual was under twenty-one, I would call the parents and tell them what their child was saying and plead with them to get the child therapy.

I don't think the sitter's feelings should be a consideration in this situation.  The response you recommend could be interpreted as not taking adequate steps to safe guard you child and failure to notify the appropriate authorities of a public safety issue.

Hi Ruth


I sounds as though you are saying that you see NVC as another extrinsic force put upon you – whilst you have a need to act from intrinsic motivation without fear or feeling the pressure to repress your feelings in favour of meeting someone else’s needs.


I wonder if many of us get this in our childhoods.  I too was asked as a child to keep myself contained in order for my parents to meet their own needs – giving me no mechanism to meet my own needs.


I’ve read a few parenting books for my relationship with my own children – and although I still have many of my parents parenting traits I hope that I have improved them slightly we some better communication skills that allow my children to better express their needs and get them met.


Would you say that anger is your main issue – in that you feel the need now to express anger at things – which is socially inappropriate to your cultural upbringing?  Or are there other emotional problems that you face also perhaps regarding fear, guilt, shame, fear of punishment, duty or obligation?


I’ve taken on many of these extrinsic motivational factors – that I’ve internalised and taken on as self regulators.  My husband is more free of them than me, which has lead to much incredulity on my part over the years – but over time and exposure to new ideas – I’ve become more able to let go of these oppressive extrinsic motivations in favour of more natural spontaneous intrinsic motivations.


It’s doesn’t serve me well all the time – I find that on some occasions when meeting with new people – others in the room seem embarrassed by my expression – I know that I’ve broken some cultural rule – but I’m not quite sure what it is – I can be quite direct – but in both cases I was also very loving – but people who don’t know me would perhaps think I was being confrontational rather than coming from a place of care.



Fair comment – I was using an example that Ruth had proposed early.


I really don’t think it’s a plausible possibility that a potential baby sitter would suggest that they might roast your baby.  But the circumstances wasn’t my point – the style of communication was.


Yes – I agree with your comments – and perhaps my sense of humour is failing to come across as it might be described as dry or black perhaps.


The fact remains that I support the use of NVC as a method of communication – and I do thing that considering others feelings no matter what they are proposing to do is important.  In fact valuable.  Because as has been said before – emotions effect all our brain and reasoning – and so dealing with them is significant to dealing with a person especially if they are in a desperate state or willing to harm others to get their own needs met in some way.


People who are physically strong enough to force things to happen wouldn’t perhaps need to consider such forms of communication – because they could simply feel confident that if some one was in danger of physical harm, they could simply step in and physically prevent the harm from happening.


NVC allows a person who has less physical strength to negotiate there way out of potential physical harm.


The negotiation is based on the awareness that we all have needs that motivate our actions – and if we can identify this need then we can perhaps help the person to see other ways that will meet their need, without having to harm others.




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