NVC - it works

A simple 4 step process that changed everything in my life

NVC overview

The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolises the Jain Vow of Ahimsa. The word in the middle is "Ahimsa". The wheel represents the dharmacakra which stands for the resolve to halt the cycle of reincarnation through relentless pursuit of truth and non-violence.

The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolizes Ahimsa, or “nonviolence”. The wheel represents the resolve to halt the cycle of reincarnation through the pursuit of truth and non-violence.

Key Assumptions of NVC

  • Everything everyone does is to meet a need.
  • The painful things we and other do are simply “tragic expressions of unmet needs” – tragic because least likely way to get needs met.
  • “All anyone is ever saying is ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.” – Marshall Rosenberg
  • Feelings result from needs being met or unmet
  • We all have the same needs. Conflicts occur at the level of strategies, not needs.
  • When we feel connected to other human being, it is easy to feel compassionate toward them.
  • Human beings inherently enjoy contributing to others, provided that we trust it is our choice to do so.
  • That we don’t need to “fix” things – that if we focus on needs, the solutions find us.
  • People’s biggest need is for empathy, to be heard and understood. Healing happens by listening and truly understanding, not by offering “advice”.

The four steps of NVC

A way to get clear on what happened, what’s alive in me, and how can we make life more wonderful?

 Observations: Description of what is seen or heard without added interpretations. For example: instead of “She’s having a temper tantrum,” you could say “She is lying on the floor crying and kicking.”
 Feelings: Our emotions rather than our story or thoughts about what others are doing. For example: instead of “I feel manipulated,” which includes an interpretation of another’s behaviour, you could say “I feel uncomfortable.” Avoid the following phrasing: “I feel like…” and “I feel that…” – the next words will be thoughts, not feelings.
 Needs: Feelings are caused by needs, which are universal and ongoing and not dependent on the actions of particular individuals. State your need rather than the other person’s actions as the cause. For example, “I feel annoyed because I need support” rather than “I feel annoyed because you didn’t do the dishes.”
 Requests: Doable, immediate, and stated in positive action language (what you want instead of what you don’t want). For example, “Would you be willing to come back tonight at the time we’ve agreed?” rather than “Would you make sure not to be late again?” By definition, when we make requests we are open to hearing a “no,” taking it as an opportunity for further dialogue.
In NVC we use these same 4 steps both internally and externally, with ourselves and with others


We want to get clear on what the trigger was, that led to what’s now going on inside us.
We are most likely to be heard if can do this in a way that doesn’t imply blame or wrongness on the part of the other person, otherwise we trigger them into defensiveness and are not likely to be heard.
Qualities of a good observation
  • What a camera would see and hear
  • “When I hear / see / remember / imagine”
  • Focus is in the PRESENT (I’m currently remembering … )
  • Observable facts, not interpretation, evaluation or assumptions
  • Specific – what actually happened (not a general summary of events)
  • Be specific about when and where, avoid “always” or “never” or even “often”.
  • If referring to what someone said quote as much as possible instead of rephrasing.
  • Often better to leave the other person out of it – eg “I saw … ” rather than “You did … “
  • Something the other person will generally agree with.  Ask yourself if the other person will react to it – if so, it’s probably not an observation!


All feelings are valid – might come from faulty thoughts, but our feelings can be our guides to how we’re thinking, and they’re not our enemy.
Other people don’t CAUSE our feelings, they just TRIGGER them. Feelings actually come from whether or not our needs have been met. Feelings are like the dashboard lights in a car – they tell us what’s going on with our needs (the engine).
→ Owning our own feelings
→ Not being responsible for other people’s feelings
Faux Feelings (see yellow sheet) – feelings with thoughts of blame/interpretation
Jackal feelings: anger, guilt, depression, anxiety and shame. “Feelings of anger and guilt in particular have moralistic judgement mixed in with them and lack clarity about needs not met. With empathy those feelings often shift to other feelings such as sadness or fear.”


Key distinction: need vs. strategy.
What are needs? Universal. Make us human. Allow us to connect with others
When a need arises, the energy required to meet that need naturally arises … unless diverted into anger, blame, shame, etc!
Strategies refer to specific methods used (actions, people, timing) in seeking to get needs met.
A need is something that’s in YOU, regardless of whether the other person exists or not!
Growing a needs literacy – use the list!!
Using feelings to get to needs
Using jackal thoughts to get to needs
Daily practice!! Doing it “after the fact”


How to make a clear request:

 Present time (vs. future action)

 Concrete and specific (vs. vague or general)

 Positive action language (vs. negative – a “do” vs. a “don’t”)

 Doable (vs. abstract or “a wish”, asking for an attitude or intention)

 Request or demand? (am I willing to hear “no”?!)

Connection requests

 Use connection requests to ensure both parties understand each others needs, before making an action request (or likely to fail).
 Connection Request to be understood
  • a. Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say? (Was my message received and understood in the way l intended it?)
  • b. Would you be willing to listen to my experience (my feelings and needs)?


 Connection Request to understand the other
  • a. Would you be willing to tell me how you feel when you hear me say this? (To connect with the feelings and needs of the other/s in that moment)
  • b. Would you be willing to help me understand what happened here?
  • c. Would you be tell me what would help you feel confident that I understand?
  • d. Would you be willing to tell me what you need in order to agree to my request?
  • e. Would you tell me what you wished would have happened differently?

Action Requests

This is not asking “Will you do this for me?”  We suggest a strategy we think might  meet out needs, to see if will also meet their needs.
a. Would you be willing to brainstorm with me solutions that might work for the both of us?
b. Would you be willing to (state specific action)?

Using NVC

Using NVC internally

Self -Empathy: In self-empathy, we listen inwardly to connect with our own feelings and needs. It is that connection which enables us to choose our next step.
Focusing where the issue is: in use, not the other person – What am I feeling, what am I needing.
Hearing my own jackals with empathy!!! Welcoming the messages they bring us.
Sitting with the beauty of the need, not the fact that it’s not being met → “solutions find us”
Empathy with others
Empathise with others by guessing their feelings and needs. Instead of trying to “get it right,” we aim to understand.The observation and request are often dropped. When words are not wanted or are hard to offer, empathy can be offered silently. Note that there is an internal and external process here too. Being in empathy with another is our most empowered position – we feel “together”, not “under attack”.

Using NVC externally

EXPRESSING HONESTLY, in 40 words or less!

State what we have seen/heard, what feeling is triggered by our observation, what met or unmet need causes that feeling, and if we have any request to help get our needs met.
Having done some self-empathy, we now have the words to express ourselves clearly.
We choose from those the ones which might come across mostly clearly (eg avoid “anger” and “respect”!)
Remember that it’s I feel because I need, not because you …

Hearing others with Empathy

 Marshall says “Never hear another person’s thoughts. Only listen for feelings and needs. You will never again hear criticism, blame or judgement.” – example with Pete “diagnosing me”
Can be done SILENTLY!!!
Converting jackal into giraffe!
Checking in with the other person: Are you feeling because you are needing (not “because I”)

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