Official descriptions of NVC

What is NVC? ,

A description by the originator Marshall Rosenberg. It’s part of an eight series talk.

Needs list: ,

Feelings list: ,

Faux-feelings (feelings louder from jackal than giraffe) list:

I enjoyed writing this summary

cover note

I usually struggle to find a summary of NVC (nonviolent communication) for the particular individual with whom I am speaking, because everyone has a different principal need in their life, so each one wants an appropriate matching summary.

Also unfortunately, there is so much material from individual practitioners and interests that is difficult to find summaries anywhere anyway.

The core 4 step practice of NVC works for our relationship with our innermost selves, between individuals, with organisations.

I’ve never really seen my summary below in the literature anywhere. My summary starts with my view of historical origins, then illustrates NVC in one statement, then explains what’s behind the one statement.

Skip the historical section if you don’t have time or agreement. The section ‘NVC in one statement’ holds my explanation of NVC.

historical context: violence (hierarchy, domination & external values) versus nonviolence (NVC, others)

In most civilisations, our perspective and relating to each other has been by one’s place in the organisation (Society, tribe, institution, family). The importance and contribution of the individual is secondary. As a result, one’s internal state is essentially a personal matter of sentimental significance only. (I like to think of group, individual, internal state as three levels).

In this landscape, ‘might is right’ in both organisation and interpersonal relationships. (these are the first two levels).

NVC calls this a domination culture based on power. Power is from both position in the hierarchy, and from the ability to manipulate and negotiate through judgement of convenient and disposable value criteria. I created this description of power in order to contrast with ground rules of NVC. And yes, there are structures and rules mitigating and constraining naked dominance, but in the absence of equivalents ground rules preventing such power, the power based on this dominance will fill the void.

Needless to say, maintaining one’s position in the hierarchy, and navigating that hierarchy (usually upwards), employs and depends upon a specific drive and motivation within the individual. That same motivation expresses itself in all other areas of one’s life, but such expressions tend to be neutral or irrelevant to hierarchy in the domination culture. So hierarchy wins in this contention between recognition in the hierarchy, and recognition of internal self and well-being.

NVC is like many other paradigms inverting this priority, placing internal self and well-being above that hierarchy. Most of those other paradigms rely on subscribing to a particular view (cognitive) or faith (belief), and don’t have a practice providing evidence within oneself (experiential).

NVC itself has a route map out of hierarchy and into self and well-being which is structured, mechanistic, repeatable and experiential. (I reckon it is also intimately based upon how our mind operates, and how we experience it). It doesn’t demand a starting point of faith or alignment to begin implementation. Yes, you can argue that its view against domination culture and hierarchy is a starting point of faith or interpretation. I’d answer that the evidence and experience of it working appears within a few minutes of slightly changing your existing way of relating. A common finding in NVC is that the change is so simple to conceive (and so profound), yet so difficult to implement and embody.

NVC contends that we have internalised that hierarchy paradigm, and all the necessary judgements which make it work, such that we identify subjectively within that hierarchy. In other words, we are conditioned, and we have taken on that hierarchy as our own. So our feelings are mostly based on, and arise from our judgements that support and maintain that hierarchy. NVC has a useful and fun characterisation of this way as jackal thinking and feeling, and employs a jackal puppet or headband when role-playing this way.

So now we have already entered into the practice of NVC. We have made an observation, made a judgement about it, and our emotion arising is triggered by that judgement. This is where our internal motivation meets the external paradigm. In particular, that we have a need that motivates us, but our only language and way of operating is in terms of judgements for the hierarchy.

And now NVC kicks in. NVC says that the judgement and feeling arises from our internalisation of that foreign paradigm, and the layer below that is innate and accessible and is more empowering and fulfilling. So in NVC asks us to hold and notice the feeling (from that judgement), because it is telling you that something important to your need is happening. But instead of expressing that judgement and feeling, ask what your underlying want or need is. NVC identifies eight underlying needs areas in us. We all have these eight in different levels, so they are universal primary expressions. Primary means unidirectional expression from self – meaning that they are not contingent on outcome or change or even another person or object. To contrast it with our usual (jackal, judgement) directional secondary feeling having another person as the object of your feeling. NVC has a useful and fun characterisation of this way as giraffe speaking from heart, and employs a giraffe puppet or headband when role-playing this mode.

So here is NVC in one statement:

“When you said I was stupid, I felt anger, because I have a need for connection with you” (and I have a strategy of mutual respect to meet that need).

Our usual habitual retort is to say that the other person is rude to make a judgement, and to categorise the other person, both of which makes it less likely that your strategy to get respect will work, and less likely you will meet your need for connection. (to put it bluntly, “all judgments are suicidal tragic expressions of unmet needs”)

So instead, that NVC process has you make the observation (you said I was stupid), and express it devoid of any judgement. Then identify and express the (primary unidirectional) feeling arising. Then you identify your need that was behind the feeling.

Habitual judgement makes it difficult to cease referring or pointing to the other person, and difficult to instead focus on its origin within yourself. The same applies to the other person – we find it difficult to see the pain (unmet need) in the other person which drives them to judge and express against you. (Marshall has a blunt statement to illustrate how we are responsible for what we feel: “nobody can make us feel anything, nobody can hurt us. It is only how we interpret which makes us feel anything, makes us feel hurt”.)

The underlying paradigm illustrated by this ‘NVC in one statement’ reply is that ‘needs’ are our deepest tangible manifestation of our drive and motivation, and that our most authentic feelings and felt sense of self arise from meeting, or not meeting, those needs.

In  summary, we notice something that evokes feeling in us, we separate out judgement and judgement feeling, we focus on the needs and the needs feeling, and finally articulate all three in that sequence. The sequence gives us honest authentic experience of what went on within us.

We are then in a position to do the fourth step, which is to make a request to change the situation to meet our need. And again, the request is made without judgement – and it is an action which is doable, tangible, immediate, specific. And a measure of these necessities is that you are ready to receive a “no!”. In other words, you are making another unidirectional primary expression without expectation (which incidentally is another way of saying no judgement). A measure of your living the NVC way is that you want your request undertaken by the other person only if they can receive it as a gift that will meet their needs as well.

This request is a strategy (solution) we sense that it is most likely to improve our chances of meeting our needs.

To achieve and live in such statements, we’ve said we have to distinguish and separate judgement and its evoked feelings, and pay almost exclusive attention to underlying needs. And to then experience and own and those feelings and needs such that you can make requests in the manner of the last sentence of the previous section.

Because our centre is embedded in our felt sense of the world we live in, all of this occurs within our felt sense of the world. Empathy is how we navigate this felt sense of the world in our others and in our self. Cognition and conscious constructs are a useful for articulation and for matching articulated words to our self experience, but they are not central, nor are they drivers. Euphemistically speaking, judgement thinking and head thinking is part of the problem, while heart thinking is part of the solution.

Empathy is the foundational mode and platform with which we operate and engage with others, and Marshal Rosenberg has the same definition as Carl Rogers ( The emphasis is dropping one’s own perspective and identity in order to accompany your conversationist on their inner journey. Because our identity and perspective is so embedded within our centre, we are unable to provide ourselves with an external or reflected sense of ourself. Empathy (from another being) provides that reflection in a less escapable way – entering into receiving empathy means you have disabled barriers, and opened yourself to being reflected, and opened yourself to connecting. The being provided by another authentic peer presence imbues it with compelling reality. These are foundational ingredients for human development, from birth to death. Conscious cognition is also most valued in NVC when in support of this empathy, specifically adopting jackal and giraffe perspectives for your conversationist. Wearing headbands or hand puppets to caricature jackal (judgement) and giraffe (needs) perspectives in response to your conversationist (what is coming up in your conversationist) is the highest form of NVC (my judgement) because it synergises empathy with perspective fluidity.

The wide application and variety of uses of NVC

The wide application and variety of uses of NVC are based upon these four steps, played with different emphasis, in different order, etc. Here are some statements to illustrate.

Conflict and anger tell us that something really important is happening. The importance of conflict and anger and is not in the cost to the mediants, but in the opportunity to connect with each other.
Anger arises because of the story we tell ourselves which judges the other party (or ourself).

There is always a yes behind a no. When one party says no (to anything), it’s not because they are denying you or refusing to do for you, it’s because they have a more pressing need that can’t be met with a yes. So when both parties identify both their needs, then they are in a position to negotiate an action (strategy) which can meet both their needs. Needs don’t clash and never conflict, only strategies do. So when the parties connect over their needs, they are freer to imagine millions of alternate actions which can meet both their needs.

(I’ll add more later).

My takes  NVC one step further

I (and EsSample) take NVC one step further, and propose that our deepest and simplest need is affirmation of who we most deeply (unconsciously) sense we are. We are mostly unconscious modellers, having unconscious intention manifest through these unconscious models. And who we sense we are is just another unconscious model, but one into which we imbue perspective, inhabitation and animation (PIA), and one with which we sense and manifest into our world. And we navigate and relate by.

Whether you attribute this need to evolution (which had to shift its focus of attention upwards into this this mental space), or to injection of divine energy into our innermost, this outcome of seeking deepest affirmation is the same.

Why is it called nonviolent?

The word nonviolent came to public awareness through Mahatma Gandhi. His everyday living and practice was non-violent in the physical and spiritual sense.

Marshall extended that paradigm into within ourself. He contended that any process which resorted to judgement and power within ourselves, and which also creates division and confrontation, was also violent. In other words, internalising society’s judgement and hierarchy creates violence within ourselves, which leads towards illness and away from well-being.

Conversely, connecting with the shared space of needs is the antidote to judgement and hierarchy. But watch out, meeting needs isn’t soft, harmonious, selfless or passive – or cowardly. It is hard, blunt, self-ful and very active – and requires courage. Especially when it comes up against those same power institutions, against phenomena such as collectivism (consensus, justice, rights without responsibilities, etc), and against egos using NVC language, etc.