Nonviolent communication : a language of life

by Marshall B. Rosenberg

Paper Book, 2003



Call number

P Ros


Encinitas, CA : PuddleDancer Press, c2003.

Original publication date





What if you could defuse tension and create accord in even the most volatile situations-just by changing the way you spoke? Over the past 35 years, Marshall Rosenberg has done just that, peacefully resolving conflicts in families, schools, businesses, and governments in 30 countries all over the world. On Nonviolent Communication, this renowned peacemaker presents his complete system for speaking our deepest truths, addressing our unrecognized needs and emotions, and honoring those same concerns in others. With this adaptation of the bestselling book of the same title, Marshall Rosenberg teaches in his own words: Course objectives: - Identify the four steps of the Nonviolent Communication process. - Employ the four-step Nonviolent Communication process in every dialogue you engage in. - Utilize empathy to safely confront anger, fear, and other powerful emotions. - Discover how to overcome the blocks to compassion and open to our natural desire to enrich the lives of those around us. - Observations, feelings, needs, and requests-how to apply the four-step process of Nonviolent Communication to every dialogue we engage in. - Overcoming the blocks to compassion-and opening to our natural desire to enrich the lives of those around us. - How to use empathy to safely confront anger, fear, and other powerful emotions. - Here is a definitive audio training workshop on Marshall Rosenberg's proven methods for "resolving the unresolvable" through Nonviolent Communication.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
There's no "there" there.

I'm sensing that you're frustrated.

Well, yeah! I mean, Nonviolent Communication is a great title. I think about the kind of inspirational sh*t your neighbour has on a magnet on their fridge, that could maybe benefit from being expanded into a whole program. Like, my friend
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talks about trying to only say things that are "necessary, true, and kind." I have some questions about exactly what that means in practice, but it sounds great as a principle from which to pursue nonviolence. And, like, yesterday I casually referred to a person of my acquaintance as a Nazi, and it's maybe a little bit brutalizing to your interlocutor to do that, right? Like, reserve that term for actual members of the National Socialist party? This is where the idea of "violent communication" takes me, and I think it's worth talking about how to avoid that stuff.

So if I hear you, you feel like Dr. Rosenberg's book doesn't help you avoid that kind of thing.

Thing is, like with so many of these self-help things, he doesn't give people credit for being able to keep two ideas in their head at one time. All the world's problems are due to people not feeling like they're heard. If we hear them, there's no limit to what we can accomplish. It's like that old joke: step 1--"implement the NVC process"; step 2--?????; step 3: profit! We all know listening is important--and while of course there is no the difficulty, at least one of the major difficulties, which isn't even touched, is the difference between listening, understanding, and agreeing, which makes it all the more unfortunate and egregious that Rosenberg leans so heavily on his work with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators for examples. Haven't really fixed that problem, have you, Marshall?

So you're feeling like you don't know how to engage with the process in a useful way.

The process doesn't know how to engage with me. And if it can't handle me, I'd love to see it handle scumbag investment bankers or Tamil refugees or, f*ck, Joseph Kony.

It seems like you're feeling discouraged. How about a poem?

And this is the other thing. You can't take a platitude, pop it into rhyme, and present it as poetry. I recognize that I'm the one who's risking coming across as the anger bear here, but this process just seems so dishonest. Suffering people often need to hear that someone understands how their feeling--yes. And we're all suffering--yes. This is the truth at the core of the book. But Rosenberg seems to want us to posit a world where nobody is going to engage insincerely in a way that can't be brought down by some good ol' NVC TLC, where our only disputes come from an inability to remember our common humanity, and crucially too, where if you guess wrong about what someone is feeling--and this is a process where for it to mean anything you sometimes have to guess in detail--it doesn't stymie the process. Everyone likes to be understood, but the more you leap out into someone else's headspace, the more you run the risk of getting it wrong.

It seems like you're worried about being misunderstood when you try to use the process, and feeling like you don't know how to communicate with people in a reliable way.

Well, we all face death alone, but no, I do okay at bridging the gap--as okay as the next guy. I just think that it's an art not a science let alone a management process, and I am highly suspicious of the fact that so many of your clients are Fortune 500 companies and MBA programs and sh*t, and nothing I've seen convinces me that this is anything more than understanding as manipulation. Empathy emerges between two people through a sort of alchemy, and both need to be open, and defusing someone's anger by parroting them back at themselves is doing them a sort of violence, even, and you're just teaching people to fake it. You're creating Mitt Romneys.

And I dunno, I think we do a decent job at hearing each other, mostly, I just think that's not the main issue, and if you presented this as a first step to dialogue in the spirit of "nothing ever changes unless you get the shitheads on board," I might be inclined to listen, but instead you treat the story like it's done when understanding is reached, sometimes explicitly dismissing the problems that remain and stem from systematic inequalities, like the woman who still couldn't go back to school or change her life but it didn't matter because she understood better why she blamed herself. But no! We don't blame ourselves because we haven't thought it out! We blame ourselves despite knowing better, because of human maladaptive things. Quit f*ck*ng us around, Marshall Rosenberg. The only people who need to be told what's in your book would never read it.

I'm sensing that you're frustrated.

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LibraryThing member cestmarrant
Well, what can I say? I think NVC, or Marshall, has stumbled on some real 'truths', if I dare use that word. That no matter what we're doing, we're always, even if tragically, trying to enhance life. Like someone I knew said when I asked her why she'd poured boiling water over her hand,"My choice
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was to kill myself or pour boiling water over my hand". I thought, smart choice! OK, that's maybe not the most enlightening example, but it was what came to mind.

Most people really want to be heard - that's why they're yelling. They don't want suggestions, they don't want to hear about us, they don't want to be criticized or judged, they don't need to be fixed - they want to know that their concerns or pain had been heard. When that happens, then they can relax and hear us.

Likewise, it's pretty hard to hear another person when we're hurt, angry, sad and needing to be heard. So when there are 2 people needing to be heard, it's easy for a fight to ensue: blaming etc.

I'm waiting for a friend to show up for coffee (I'm standing on a street corner) and they're not there even though it's 20 minutes past the time they said they'd arrive: if I'm trying to get though the last 20 pages of a good book that I have to return to the library, I might feel relieved that they're not there yet; if I'm not sure if they respect me I might interpret their non-arrival as proof that I'm not worthy of respect and feel angry; if I know we're good friends, I might feel some concern because I know they drive an old car and I hope that there wasn't a breakdown. So my feelings depend on my interpretation of my observation that my friend hasn't arrived yet. This is way easier to say than to do IMHO, but just to find out how this works is exciting.

Also, learning how to observe things as opposed to evaluate, judge, label, or interpret.

Also, learning it's OK to be angry and that the part that gets angry also wants good things. So NVC shows how one can enjoy the anger in a safe way (and not stuff it down), and then find out what the angry part wanted, but didn't know how to try to get in a more life-enhancing way.

It's really interesting, but not easy stuff. I think it relates to what George Lakoff calls "the Nurturant Parent" and understanding NVC is as difficult and profound as are Lakoff's ideas.
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LibraryThing member HippieLunatic
I have the benefit of reading this book in conjunction with a class. Had I not had a weekly practice session, to discuss various chapters, I may not have gotten as much out of it, but I am incredibly grateful that I have had the chance to read (and understand at least a portion of) this book.

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are basic steps, as there are in any self-help book, on how to better navigate your life, and while I am not yet a natural at NVC, I hope to become a more frequent user of it. In the driver's seat (that of the speaker), the form of 1)Observation 2)Feeling 3)Unmet Need 4)Request is helpful, though difficult to make fluent (especially when trying to not put any of the true power of your feelings into the other person - ie not "When you do W, I feel X, because I need Y from you. Could you stop being an asshat (Z)?)

Perhaps more important for me in this book though, is the exploration of empathetic listening. Working to truly understand the other person's feelings and unmet needs is what I hope will make me a better mother, friend, and partner.
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LibraryThing member Multnomah_Quakers
What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?

How does the way we think and communicate influence our ability to be compassionate with others in the midst of conflict and with ourselves when confronting the dark places within?

How can
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we relate to one another in a way that makes it safe for us to give our difficult truths, respecting and appreciating the conflict that arises between us as an invitation from spirit to evolve a higher order of creativity?

How can we relate to one another in a way that invites and encourages a felt communion to arise between us? How can we communicate in a way that helps us to trust that the truth of our specific condition, when contributed courageously to the corporate whole, can so inform our evolution as to manifest the divine among us?

For me, Marshall B. Rosenberg has gone a long way towards answering these questions, in his 45 years of work developing and teaching Nonviolent Communication (NVC). In his book, Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, he comprehensively lays out the insights, principles and methodology that make this possible, sharing some of his experiences along the way.

NVC, also known as Compassionate Communication, guides us in reframing how we hear others, how we express ourselves, and how we connect with ourselves. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, our listening and speaking becomes firmly based in an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, needing and wanting. Marshall describes how focusing the light of consciousness in these 4 areas helps us to transform our criticism and judgment into appreciation and compassion. He then goes on to distinguish the kinds of thinking and communication that alienates us from our natural compassion and each other: moralistic judgment, comparison, denial of responsibility, and demands. Then he offers many distinctions that help us discern what are and are not observations, feelings, needs, and requests. During this exposition, he reveals one of the core insights behind NVC: that everything we think, say or do, no matter how tragic, is an attempt to meet needs we have.

Recent research in interpersonal neurobiology has revealed that the capacity for empathy is built-in to our biology – but that only certain kinds of experience (nurturing, secure attachment, accurate mirroring and love) allow us to develop the neural networks to emotionally regulate and fully access our innate potential for compassion.

Marshall describes how effective communication begins with compassion towards ourselves, in the way we talk to and connect with ourselves – and how we can heal the conditioned and subtle self-hatred that pervades our culture and has us denying our needs and our power to serve life.

In reading this book you will discover a way of being present and authentic while nurturing a deeply connecting mutual regard that leads to harmony and fulfillment.

When this work is taken on sincerely and diligently, it can help us remember the “subtle, sneaky, important reason” we were born a human being – the unique gift to life that each of us is. When critical self-concepts prevent us from knowing the beauty in ourselves, it can help us re-connect with the divine energy that is our source.
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LibraryThing member Honeysucklepie
This book is helping my understand my heartbreak with religion/Islam.
LibraryThing member fulner
After borrowing this book from the public library I really want to purchase it myself. I felt Marshall B. Rosenberg did a fine job communicating his ideals. This should not have surprised me as Rosenberg has made almost all of his money communicating with others on how to communicate. At first I
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thought NVC was a really cheesy idea because "no one talks like that" and I still think it can be ridiculous if taken to the extreme. I certainly see how, when used correctly NVC can better ones life and interactions with others. However, I'm finding that when the opportunity arises I am often having difficulty remembering the stops that Marshall B. Rosenberg taught. Partially it could be the difference of Rosenberg being strait and to the point, unlike the 19th century libertarian philosophers I have been reading lately. He is not repeating himself again and again. So this certainly has advantages and disadvantages. I also found myself while reading of it, allowing my mind to wonder into how others can use it, like my parents, instead of focusing on how I can better my life by using NVC. So its on my wishlist for myself so that I can quickly and easily reference and may decide to get for others too.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
Ostensibly, this is a book about how to communicate effectively when resolving conflicts between people. Actually, it's about so much more than that. It's about how to use empathy to understand yourself and others. Once you have that empathy, a lot of conflicts will resolve themselves. Just reading
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the book gave me a lot of insight into some of my own emotions and inner conflicts, and I know it will be useful in handling some conflicts in my own life. The tools and methods in the book require a lot of practice/experience to use effectively - I will probably revisit this book often. Fortunately, it is well-organized and all the major points are in big print and summarized at the end of chapters, so the book is easy to skim for a refresher.
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LibraryThing member gratefulyoga
Marshall Rosenberg's basic insight is that communicating clearly and compassionately takes practice. He has developed a technique called Nonviolent Communication, based on mindfulness of the feelings and needs of yourself and others. His ideas have a strong Buddhist flavor and offer an explicit
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technique for practicing the Buddhist precept of Right Speech, but they universal in application. Anyone in a committed relationship will benefit from reading this book.
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LibraryThing member uufnn
This book provides people with a way to express their needs congruently, without blame and also a way of listening so others feel not just heard, but understood.
LibraryThing member raybb
The book started off quite strong. I really enjoyed the first few chapters with the exercises and all.
However, the last like half of the book didn't feel that useful/meaningful. It was mostly expansions and a few more examples of earlier topics. That being said, I did enjoy this book and recommend
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reading the first few chapters for some great strategies for getting in touch with others.

Here are my notes from the book:
A light intro to the framework of sharing what you: saw, felt, need, request. The idea is to share and receive openly.

When we judge others in terms of rightness or wrongness they get defensive. Comparing yourself to others blocks compassion. Denial of responsibility ("I have to", "it's policy") leads to self alienation.

It can be very difficult to observe people without evaluating them. Try splitting up the observation and evaluation when talking about it.
There is some funny poetry here.

Expressing feelings in the English language is way trickier than I expected. We often express other things like wants, observations, judgements, and more in their place.

We should take responsibility for our feelings. Recognize the others maybe the stimulus but we ultimately cause our own feelings.

Express what you want, not what you don't want. Use concrete actions to express what you want instead of vague or abstract ideas. When in a group you need to be clear about what response your expecting.

In India when people have received the response they want in conversations they initiated they say "bas" (pronounced "bus"). It means you need not say more I feel satisfied and ready to move on.

Nearly all those who think they have the capacity [of empathy] do not possess it. instead of offering empathy we tend instead to give advice or reassurance and explain our own position or feelings.

This chapter is a bunch of examples of how to use empathy.
"instead of being engaged in an exchange of life energy with other human beings, we see ourselves becoming waste baskets for their words"
Bring a conversation back to life by interrupting with empathy. Ex: "I hear you're feeling a lot of pain about this..." is often what people need to hear. Then the subject can change more naturally once they feel heard.

Using NVC to care for yourself.

Some examples of how to express anger.

When you make the connection, the problem usually solves itself.
Describes how to use NVC for conflict mediation.

This chapter said it's bad to use punishment because if you want people to do something because they under and not because they're scared then that won't happen. The example in the end about the do-nothing room where students can go voluntarily if they want was great.

NBC helps us translate negative internal messages into feelings and needs.

Express appreciation to celebrate, not to manipulate.
This says we should avoid false humility but doesn't explain how.
"what appreciation might someone give you that would leave you jumping for joy?" Seems a good question.
The chapter talks about appreciating the good things people do rather than just picking on them when they mess up. This is something scrum seems to help with.
We can use NVC when giving compliments by saying what they did what we felt and what needed fulfilled.
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LibraryThing member benkaboo
Summary: A book that reframes communication and provides an approachable framework for both receiving and sending messages to others.

Things I liked:

* The general philosophy is the thing to grab from this book along with the grammar of observations, needs, emotions and requests.

Things that could
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have been improved:

It's a while since I read it but from memory, it's a bit 70s hokey at the start with some fairly mushy touchy-feely stuff. I remember reading a review that recommended pushing through this stuff for better material in the middle/end and I'm glad that I did.

Highlight: Differentiation of needs vs strategies.
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LibraryThing member ASKelmore
Best for:
People looking for a better, more empathetic, more effective way to communicate.

In a nutshell:
Rosenberg offers guidance for ways to be more effective in communicating and finding common ground.

Worth quoting:
“Most of the time when we use [the word should] with ourselves, we resist
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learning, because should implies that there is no choice.”

“…emotional liberation entails more than simply asserting our own needs.”

Why I chose it:
My partner read it and wanted me to take a look a well.

With this book, Rosenberg provides what I find to be a helpful communications structure for more empathetic and constructive engagement. I think it is at times way too stiff, and a bit naive, but I also can see a lot of value in it.

The main component of NVC (nonviolent communication) is a four-part process of communicating:
1 - Observe (but do not judge)
2 - Associate feelings with the observation (and actual feelings, not ‘I feel that you are being a jerk’)
3 - Identify what needs we have that are associated with those feelings
4 - Request what we want from the other person.

The book spends a chapter on each of those components, then looks at how to receive that type of communication, how to communicate that way with ourselves, and also how to provide more effective affirmations. I took quite a few notes, and I can definitely see how this all could work in real life.

Rosenberg shares many sample conversations and examples of its success in seemingly fraught situations (including discussions between Israelis and Palestinians), but some of the language feels like something out of a text book, not like how people really talk. Especially his approach of asking people to repeatedly reflect back what they have heard. I know that’s an ‘active listening’ approach as well, but I could see attempts to guess at what is beneath the language getting a bit annoying.

I do have some issues with the approach. For example, the discussion around anger. He sees anger as useful, but only insofar as identifying what needs of ours are not being met. Which is fine, but he doesn’t go further into what to do if we identify the need, the need is reasonable, and the person who can meet that need refuses. Think racism, misogyny, transphobia, etc. I get that there might be a point where communication just isn’t going to meet the need, but Rosenberg doesn’t seem to acknowledge that possibility.

He also sees no value in applying moralistic judgments (which he separates from value judgments, which for him are fine), and asks us to reframe such judgments into the person not acting in harmony with our needs. Again, I kind of get it - if the goal is to get the needs met, why not try what might work - but also, I do have moralistic judgments about some folks and their actions, and I think that’s reasonable because there are some actions that society should not accept or accommodate.

And as empathy is such a big part of this, he’s essentially asking the oppressed to empathize with their oppressors to the end of getting needs met, and I’m not sure that’s reasonable to ask of oppressed people. He is clear that ‘the process is designed for those of us who would like others to change and respond, but only if they choose to do so willingly and compassionately.’ Which, for some actions, I’d argue that change needs to happen regardless of whether the actor is doing it willingly.

That’s a lot of caveats, I realize, but I do overall like this approach and am looking at incorporating it into the ways I communicate with others (including my partner).

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
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Call number

P Ros


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