The 4 Steps of Nonviolent Communication

One of my favorite models of oral communication – and one I find very effective for solving personal conflicts – is Marshall Rosenberg’s theory of nonviolent communication.

The goal of nonviolent communication is to express ourselves authentically and honestly, to listen with empathy and to deal with potential conflict respectfully and considerately.

The foundation of nonviolent communication is the willingness and the ability to approach and perceive issues in a non-judgmental way.

In other words, speak without any aggression, hidden threats, veiled criticism or (even) excessive praise. (In Rosenberg’s view, unless it is directed at a person’s actions and supported with specific facts about what needs those actions fulfilled for you, praise is also judgment; it can leave your communication partners feeling observed and in the dark about what you really appreciate about them.)

Observations, Feelings, Needs, Requests

In case you want to try it – which I can only recommend – here are the four fundamental steps of nonviolent communication, according to Rosenberg:

1. Observe without judging.  Notice and express information without evaluating in terms of right or wrong. For example, instead of yelling and reproaching, a teacher might simply say to his student: “Mr.X, you have already interrupted me three times.” (This might work with your wife/husband as well! 🙂 ) Notice that there is no evaluation, just factual observation.

2.  Express feelings. Hidden emotions are usually at the heart of failed communication. They often disturb and sabotage communication from within and cannot be addressed and solved because they are  not known to your communication partner. Express your emotions in a considerate way, without judgment. In our previous example, that would come to “I am upset/ I am feeling annoyed/ I am bothered by this because I cannot finish my sentences.

3. Express and clarify your needs. The teacher in question would then continue by saying “It is important for me to have your attention and to be treated with consideration“.

4. Express specific requests based on your feelings and needs. After clarifying your emotions and needs, finish by making a clear request (what specifically does the other person have to do so that you can feel your needs have been met?). For instance, “That’s why I am asking you to let me finish my speech and to make your points at the end. Is that acceptable for you?” (Obviously, you would say all of this in an open, honest and fair tone – without any mockery or aggression. After all, <der Ton macht die Musik> as the Germans will tell you.)

(sources: M. Rosenberg 2003; M. Pabst-Weinschenk 2014)

For more information, check out Marshall Rosenberg’s books on the subject (especially Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life). By the way, he has used this model successfully not only in education, but also in Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and in couples’ therapy (that truly endless war 🙂 ).

For instance, instead of playing a pshychological game, arguing or fighting, the wife might say something like: “This is the third week in a row you have came home very late and we didn’t have a chance to be together (OBJECTIVE OBSERVATION). I am sad/afraid/ insecure because I have no one to share my life/thoughts/emotions with (FEELINGS). It is important for me to give and to receive tenderness (NEEDS). Can you please come home earlier/ spend more quality time with me/give me a hug when you come home and talk to me about your day (REQUESTS)?

The husband can then naturally respond or talk about his own emotions, fears, stress, unmet needs, all following the same schema.

Until next time I remain –

Sincerely yours,

Andreea Sepi.

#nonviolentcommunication #communicationanalysis #interculturalcommunication #training


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