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Speaking from the Heart: Embracing Nonviolent Communication

Updated: Jan 31

Nonviolent Communication is an approach to communication developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. Based on the ideas of empathy, compassion, and understanding, the concept aims to communicate in a way that allows everyone to express their needs in a respectful and non-threatening way.

The Four Main Components of Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication, according to Marshall Rozenberg, consists of four pillars:

Pillar 1 - Observation: This involves stating the facts as you perceive them, without interpretation or evaluation. For example, "I see you haven't done the dishes".

Pillar 2 - Feeling: Expressing how you feel about the situation. For example, this could be: "I feel frustrated".

Pillar 3 - Need: Expressing your needs in the given situation. For example, "I need order and cleanliness in the house".

Pillar 4 - Request: This is a specific action you request from the other person to meet your needs. For example: "Could you do the dishes when you have finished eating?".

Techniques of Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication uses various techniques to communicate effectively. Some examples include:

Empathic Listening

Empathic listening is an essential technique of Nonviolent Communication that can be particularly valuable in a business environment. When you listen empathically, you strive not only to hear what the other person is saying but also to understand the underlying feelings and needs that drive their words.

Example: Suppose you are a team leader and one of your team members comes to you and says, "I can't finish the project on time." Instead of immediately responding with frustration or disappointment, you could try listening empathetically. You could say, "It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed and worried that you won't be able to meet the deadline. Is that correct?" By responding in this way, you show understanding of your team member's feelings and needs, which can help foster an open and constructive dialogue.


Self-empathy is the ability to look at your own feelings and needs with compassion and understanding. In a business context, self-empathy can help you communicate more effectively and handle stress and conflict better.

Example: Suppose you have to give a presentation in front of a large group of people and you feel nervous. Instead of ignoring or suppressing your nerves, you could try practicing self-empathy. You could tell yourself, "I notice that I feel nervous because I feel it is important to perform well in this presentation. It is perfectly normal and understandable that I feel this way." By responding in this way, you acknowledge your own feelings and needs and give yourself space to experience them without self-criticism or judgment.

Honestly Expressing

Honestly expressing is expressing your own feelings and needs openly and honestly, without blaming or criticizing the other person. In the business world, expressing honesty can help you communicate more clearly and manage conflict in a respectful and constructive way.

Example: Suppose you feel that a colleague disrespects you. Instead of reacting with anger or accusations, you could try to honestly express how you feel. You could say, "When you interrupt me during meetings, I feel disrespected and unheard. I would appreciate it if you would let me finish before responding." By responding in this way, you express your own feelings and needs in a respectful and non-offensive way, which can contribute to a more open and constructive dialogue.

Each of these techniques can contribute to more effective and empathetic communication in business. However, it takes practice and patience to master them and apply them consistently.

Why Nonviolent Communication Can Sometimes Be Bad

Nonviolent Communication is a powerful tool, but as with all tools, it can be misused or have unintended consequences. It is important to be aware of these potential pitfalls so that you can use nonviolent communication in an authentic and respectful way.


One of the potential drawbacks of non-violent communication is that it can be used as a manipulative technique. A person may use the language of non-violent communication to convince others of his or her point of view, without genuine empathy or consideration of others' needs. This can lead to unequal relationships and misunderstandings.

Example: Suppose a manager uses the principles of nonviolent communication to convince an employee to work more hours than she is comfortable with. The manager might say, "I notice that I feel stressed and worried because this project is not on schedule. I really need your help to make this a success. Can you work a few extra hours this week?"

Although at first glance this seems to comply with the principles of nonviolent communication (perception, feeling, need, request), the manager is using the language of nonviolent communication in a way that ignores the employee's needs and pressures her to comply with his request.

Inauthenticity or Impersonality

Another possible drawback of nonviolent communication is that it can sometimes come across as unreal or impersonal if it is not used with genuine empathy and understanding. If the words of nonviolent communication are used mechanically or like a script, without a real connection to one's own feelings or the other person's feelings, it can hinder rather than help communication.

Nonviolent communication is not just about following a particular formula or script. It is about creating an authentic connection with yourself and others, based on empathy and respect. When used in this way, nonviolent communication can be a damn good tool for effective and respectful communication.

The Five Pillars of Nonviolent Communication

Although the traditional method of Nonviolent Communication focuses on four components, some argue that there is a fifth element: connection. Connection is essential to create a safe space in which people can communicate openly about their feelings and needs.

Benefits and Application of Nonviolent Communication

The benefits of nonviolent communication are numerous. It can help build deeper, more understanding relationships, reduce conflict, and foster a sense of empathy and compassion.

Here are a few ways you can apply Nonviolent Communication in your daily life:

At home: Use it to communicate more clearly with your partner, children, or housemates. Whether discussing household chores or expressing your feelings, nonviolent communication can help create mutual understanding.

At work: Use it to communicate more effectively with colleagues and supervisors. It can help you give and receive feedback respectfully, and navigate complex team dynamics.

In society: Use it to respond with empathy and respect to people with different points of view. Whether in political discussions, social issues, or just everyday interactions, nonviolent communication can help you communicate in a respectful and understanding way.

Ultimately, nonviolent communication is about more than just talking. It is a way of life, an approach to relationships that focuses on understanding, empathy, and respect. It's a path to damn good communication that anyone can follow.

What to do if someone still feels attacked, despite non-violent communication?

Sometimes, someone can feel attacked even when you do your best to communicate non-violently. This can happen if the person is sensitive to criticism, feels insecure, or if the message touches on something that is painful for them. Here are a few suggestions on how to prevent and deal with this:

1. Check your intention: Prior to the conversation, consider your own intentions. Is your aim to blame or point out faults to the other person, or is it to promote an open and honest exchange of ideas? It can be helpful to clarify this at the beginning of the conversation.

2. Use "I" messages: Instead of saying "You are always late", you can say, "I notice that I get tense when I have to wait for you". This makes it clear that you are speaking from your own feelings and needs, and not passing judgment on the other person.

3. Show empathy: If the person feels attacked, acknowledge their feelings and show understanding. Say, for example, "I'm sorry if you feel attacked. That was absolutely not my intention. I would like to understand your thoughts and feelings about this."

Example: Imagine that your partner is often late, which causes you stress. Instead of saying "You are always late, you have no respect for my time", you could phrase it this way: "I noticed that you often arrive later than agreed. I feel tense because I value punctuality and respect for each other's time. Could we discuss how to improve this in the future?"

If your partner feels attacked, you could respond with: "I'm sorry if you feel attacked. That was really not my intention. I'm just trying to communicate my feelings and needs. It would be nice if we could have a conversation about this and find a solution together."

By communicating in this way, you promote open and honest dialogue, without judging or criticizing the other person.


Question: What are the four basic components of Nonviolent Communication according to Marshall Rosenberg?

Answer: The four basic components are Observation (actually naming what you observe), Feeling (expressing how you feel), Need (expressing your needs), and Request (doing a specific action to meet the needs).

Question: What are some techniques of Nonviolent Communication and how can they be applied?

Answer: Some techniques are Empathic Listening, Self-empathy, and Honest Expression. These techniques can be applied in different situations, such as at work or at home, to communicate more effectively and cope better with stress and conflict.

Question: What are some possible drawbacks or abuses of Nonviolent Communication?

Answer: Nonviolent Communication can sometimes be used as a manipulative technique or can come across as unreal or impersonal if not used with genuine empathy and understanding.

Question: What is the possible fifth element of Nonviolent Communication according to some?

Answer: Some suggest there is a fifth component, namely Connection, which is essential to create a safe space for open communication.

Question: How should you respond if someone feels attacked despite using Nonviolent Communication?

Answer: If someone feels attacked, it is important to check your own intentions, use 'I' messages, and show empathy. Acknowledge the other person's feelings, show understanding, and clarify that your intention was to promote an open and honest exchange of ideas, not to accuse or criticize.


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