Nonviolent Communication (NVC) includes a simple method for clear, empathic communication, consisting of four steps:

observations, feelings, needs, requests.

NVC aims to find a way for all present to get what really matters to them without the use of guilt, humiliation, shame, blame, coercion, or threats. It is useful for resolving conflicts, connecting with others, and living in a way that is conscious, present, and attuned to the genuine, living needs of yourself and others.

1. State the observations that are leading you to feel the need to say something.

These should be purely factual observations, with no component of judgment or evaluation. For example, "It's 2:00 a.m. and I hear your stereo playing" states an observed fact, while "It's way too late to be making such an awful racket" makes an evaluation. "I just looked in the refrigerator and saw that there's no food, and I'm thinking that you didn't go grocery shopping" states an observed fact (with an inference explicitly stated), while "You wasted the whole day" makes an evaluation.

People often disagree about evaluations because they value things differently, but directly observable facts provide a common ground for communication.

2.State the feeling that the observation is triggering in you.
State the feeling that the observation is triggering in you.
State the feeling that the observation is triggering in you. Or, guess what the other person is feeling, and ask.

Naming the emotion, without moral judgment, enables you to connect in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation. Perform this step with the aim of accurately identifying the feeling that you or the other person are experiencing in that moment, not with the aim of shaming them for their feeling or otherwise trying to prevent them from feeling as they do.

For example, "There's half an hour to go before the show starts, and I see that you're pacing (observation). Are you nervous?" Or, "I see your dog running around without a leash and barking (observation). I'm scared."

Feelings are sometimes hard to put into words.

3. State the need that is the cause of that feeling. Or, guess the need that caused the feeling in the other person, and ask.

When our needs are met, we have happy, positive feelings; when they are not met, we have negative feelings. By tuning into the feeling, you can often find the underlying need. Stating the need, without morally judging it, gives you both clarity about what is alive in you or the other person in that moment.

For example, "I see you looking away while I'm talking, and you've been speaking so quietly, I can't hear you (observation). I'm feeling uncomfortable (feeling) because I'm needing connection right now." Or, "I saw that your name wasn't mentioned in the acknowledgments. Are you feeling resentful because you're not getting the appreciation you need?"

Needs have a special meaning in NVC: they are common to all people and not tied to any particular circumstance or strategy for fulfilling them. So, wanting to go to a movie with someone is not a need and a desire to spend time with a specific person is not a need. The need in that case might be companionship. You can meet your need for companionship in many ways, not just with that specific person and not just by going to a movie.

4. Make a concrete request for action to meet the need just identified.
Make a concrete request for action to meet the need just identified.
Make a concrete request for action to meet the need just identified.

Ask clearly and specifically for what you want right now, rather than hinting or stating only what you don't want.

For example, "I notice that you haven't spoken in the last ten minutes (observation). Are you feeling bored? (feeling)" If the answer is yes, you might bring up your own feeling and propose an action: "Well, I'm bored, too. Hey, how would you like to go to the Exploratorium?" or perhaps, "I'm finding these people really interesting to talk with. How about we meet up in an hour when I'm done here?"

For the request to really be a request—and not a demand—allow the other person to say no or propose an alternative. You take responsibility for getting your own needs met, and you let them take responsibility for theirs.

When you do something together, you want it to be because you both voluntarily consent to it, as a way of fulfilling your own genuine needs and desires, not out of guilt or pressure. Sometimes you can find an action that meets both your needs, and sometimes you just have to amiably go your separate ways. If you're not ready to ask in this spirit, that's OK, you probably just need some more empathy yourself.

Sentence templates

Sometimes, a memorized sentence template can help structure what you need to say:

"Are you feeling ____ because you are needing ____?" Empathize as well as you can to fill in the blanks, and you'll likely find yourself seeing the situation as the other person does.

"Are you angry because you are thinking ____?" Anger is triggered by thoughts, like "I think you lied" or "I think I deserve a raise more than so-and-so did." Uncover the thought, and you are on your way to uncovering the underlying need.
"I am wondering if you are feeling ____" is another way to empathize, without explicitly asking a question. The phrasing makes clear that this is your guess, and not an attempt to analyze the other person or tell them what they are feeling. So moderate your statement of feelings or needs with simple words like "if you might, how about, could this be, maybe,...
"I see ____" or "I am hearing ____" are ways to state an observation clearly so that the other person hears it as an observation.
"I am thinking ____" is a way to express a thought so it is heard as a thought, which is capable of changing as you get new information or ideas.
"Would you be willing to ____?" is a clear way to make a request.
"Would you like it if I ____?" is a way to offer to help fulfill a need just identified, while leaving the other person still responsible for their own need.
A complete template for all four steps could go: "I see ____. I am feeling ____ because I am needing ____. Would you be willing to ____?" Or, "I see ____. Are you feeling ____ because you are needing ____?" followed by "Would it meet your need if I ____?" or a statement of your own feeling and need followed by a request.

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