feelings represented in a series of emoji emotions in relation to NVC
Picture of Kate Brown

Kate Brown

Compassionate Communication – the basics

Nonviolent Communication

In this blog I’m going to be giving you a whistle top basic introduction to the amazing tool that is Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

NVC is a communication technique developed by Marshal Rosenberg. I highly recommend reading his book, ‘Nonviolent Communication; A Language for Life’, as well as taking a look at the many free podcast and online resources available to support the learning of NVC. 

image of nonviolent communication book by Marshall B. Rosenberg
I first properly learnt about NVC in 2020, and it was one of those massive ‘Aha’, eye opening, ground shifting, perspective shifting moments that instantly changed my life. And it continues to positively impact my life today. Every day NVC teaches me something new!

What to use NVC for

Whether you want to know:

-what boundaries are and how to keep them

-how to break with codepenency and codependent relationships

-start and have difficult conversations

-embrace self-love and self-care

-practice presence and living in the now

-speak your truth

-become aware of your 95% unconscious programming which underpins all your beliefs, values and ways of being in this world

-shine the light of awareness on this 95% unconscious programming and choose what to keep and what to change

-or so many more of the personal development and spiritual practices that you’ve heard about and know will be beneficial to you

NVC is the practical HOW TO.

NVC is a large and in-depth topic, the more you learn and understand NVC, the more places in your life you see it’s applicable to, but I’m going to spend the rest of this blog teaching you the core framework of NVC.

nonviolent communication OFNR statement written out

The OFNR statement

This is a simple framework – which is NOT to say it’s easy! Get the hang of this, and you’ll be able to use this very powerful tool.

The intention of NVC is to enhance life for everyone. Use it in this way and the intention will help carry you through, even if you stumble and get some of the phrasing wrong at first.

So the NVC framework is OFNR

Observation

Feeling

Need

Request

You apply this framework to every situation.

Observation

First you make an observation about the situation.

This must be an objective observation, devoid of all emotionally laden and judgmental language.

This is an observation, not an inference, deduction, story, assumption or proportioning of blame.

An observation is concerned only with the actual FACT of a situation. Anyone observing this same situation would agree with the observation you make.

For example:
‘You didn’t empty the dishwasher’

is NOT an observation as it’s laden with blame.

An observation about this situation might be:

‘The dishwasher has not been emptied’, or ‘The dishwasher is full’.

feelings represented in a series of emoji emotions in relation to NVC

Feeling

This describes your feeling in response to the observation.

This MUST BE a feeling!

We are not particularly well educated in emotional literacy, and so feelings lists are really helpful.

The feeling is YOUR feeling, and it has to be a feeling.

‘You made me angry’ is NOT a feeling, as nothing and no one can MAKE you feel anything.

This is a HUGELY important part of NVC and a complete paradigm shift for those of us brought up in the western capitalist view of the world.

Also watch out for the words ‘like’, ‘as if’, ‘that’, ‘you’.

If any of these words follow the words ‘I feel’, you are unlikely to be communicating an actual feeling of yours that’s present and alive in you right now.

‘I feel like you don’t listen’ is NOT a feeling statement.

It is a judgement of the other person. You are judging, assuming, inferencing even that they are not listening to you. And ‘you don’t listen’ isn’t a feeling!

‘I feel cross’ IS a feeling statement.

Adding this feeling onto our observation statement from before, we get:

‘I came in the kitchen and saw that the dishwasher is full. I feel cross.’

black and white images to represent needs t-shirt, water drop, house, plat and cutlery

Needs

The feeling/feelings you identified are your body’s way of communicating to you your need.

Feelings are not good or bad, positive or negative, they merely communicate to us whether our needs have been met or not.

This is why it’s so important to identify your feeling accurately, and allow ALL feelings.

Once you have the feeling identified, ask yourself; ‘So why am I feeling this way? What is my underlying need?’

Again, we don’t generally have a great needs literacy, so lists help.

It’s really important to identify your need – not diagnose the need of someone else, have a judgement or story about someone else or offer a diagnosis or solution.

For example:

‘I need you to empty the dishwasher’, is NOT a need. ‘Empty the dishwasher’ is not a need.

A true needs statement might be:

‘I have unmet needs for help and support’. Help and support ARE needs.
So when we add our needs to our feelings and observation statement, we get:
‘I came into the kitchen and saw that the dishwasher is full. I feel cross because my needs for help and support are not being met.’

cartoon of two men making a request

Request

A request is ONLY a request if the other person can say ‘No’.

If ‘No’ is an unacceptable answer to you, you are not using NVC. Don’t confuse yourself or the other person by thinking that you are.

The request you make needs to fulfil the need you’ve identified.

The request ideally needs to be a specific, time bound, action.

‘Will you listen to me’ is NOT a request. What does ‘listen to me’ mean?

I might be of the opinion I AM listening to you, whereas you think I’m not.

So, tell me instead the action I can take that will fulfil your need to be listened to.

How will you KNOW that I’m listening to you? Ask me to do that action.

For example:
‘Will you put your phone down and look at me when I’m talking’ IS a request.

To go back to the dishwasher example

‘Will you empty the dishwasher now’ IS a request.

Sometimes the request is not of another person, but of ourselves.

Sometimes we get clear and real with ourselves about the request we want to make and realise it’s an unacceptable request, one that aims to control or coerce another, and we choose not to make it.

Be aware that a request for a future event or situation might not fulfil the needs you have right now in this moment. So requesting that a person does X the next time this situation arises might not fulfil the need that’s present in you right now. You might need to make another request to fulfil the need now too.

OFNR recap

The OFNR statement goes

When __________________________ (the observation) I feel/felt ___________________ (the feeling(s)) because my need(s) for _______________________ (need(s)) were not met. Would you be willing to _______________________________ (request).

In our dishwasher example:

When I came into the kitchen and saw that the dishwasher was full (observation), I felt cross (feeling) because my needs for help and support (need) were not being met. Would you be willing to empty the dishwasher now? (request)

The NVC OFNR statement doesn’t even have to leave your lips to make a huge difference in the way you see a situation and choose to respond to it.

Further NVC help

This has been a really quick gallop through the fundamental framework of NVC. There are nuances to it that I haven’t covered, and it’s only really through use and practice of NVC that you’ll experience the power of this technique for enhancing everybody’s life experience and relationship connections.

I’m running a 5 day online challenge called Compassionate Communication Challenge, starting Monday 10th January.

This challenge is to break down these four steps further, and to place them in the wider context of life, and the areas in which they can help.

The challenge comes with a private Facebook group for posting of daily tasks for practise, feedback, support and connection. And you also get a 30 minute 1:1 Coaching call via Zoom with me to give you dedicated personal time and support with your OFNR statement construction.

I’d love to have you join me. The energy exchange for the week is £50. More information and tickets here.

NVC - a poem, by Kate Brown

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