The Nonviolent Communication Model

There are arguably two styles of communication. Communication that’s coercive, manipulative, and hurtful and communication that’s honest, respectful, and compassionate. 

Marshall Rosenberg, who developed a model for Nonviolent Communication (NVC), liked to demonstrate the differences between the styles with two animals. The Jackal as a symbol of aggression, dominance and violent communication. The Giraffe with his long neck and big heart (the biggest of any land animal) as a representation of a clear-sighted and compassionate, nonviolent communicator.

“This video actually helped me understand people around me more….”

Bloomiya Yen
Violent vs nonviolent

There are two styles of communication, violent and nonviolent — and a whole spectrum in between.

Violent communication is coercive, manipulative and hurts. It includes making generalizations and a use of language that induces fear,shame or guilt.It is often ineffective since it diverts our attention away from clarifying our actual needs and distracts us from solving the actual conflict.

Nonviolent Communication is based on the idea that we all share universal human desires such as the need for trust, safety, and appreciation. It allows us to empathize and think clearly. And as a result, reach a better and more honest understanding of each other.

4 steps of nonviolent communication
4 Steps of Nonviolent communication

Nonviolent Communication follows 4 steps: observation, feeling, needs and requests.

To understand how it works, let’s imagine a college student being late for class. Old Jay, her former teacher, would usually have just said “and here she comes again, late Ann.” In class he then would give her a hard time and after – as his form of punishment – a bunch of senseless assignments. Then, both would often feel bad for the rest of the day.

Step 1 : observation

New Jay, who’s her current teacher, learned about Nonviolent Communication and knows that it begins with a clear observation.

During observation he tries noticing concrete facts – things that happen at that very moment. New Jay jots down that Ann arrived 20 minutes late and that his pulse is up- possibly a sign of stress. Note that sharing observations should not be combined with evaluating them, because then others can hear criticism and naturally resist.

Step 2 : distinguish the Feelings

When focusing on his feelings, New Jay connects with his heart and can learn to understand various underlying emotions. This is  important because what seems to be anger, might in fact be sadness. During this step it is essential to distinguish feelings from thoughts. After class, New Jay shares his observation and explains to Ann that he feels disrespected when someone is late for his class.

Step 3 : identify the needs

Knowing his needs is important because it allows him to enrich his life, and feel at peace. If we disregard our needs or don’t live up to our values, we experience stress and frustration. Understanding that we all have universal human needs is perhaps the most important step in the process. New Jay tells Ann that they should find a way to respect each other’s values and desires.

step 4 : REQUEST

Lastly there is the Request which clarifies what future New Jay wants for himself and this relationship. Clear requests are hence crucial to a transformative communication. When we ask for concrete actions, we often find creative ways to ensure that everyone’s needs are met. New Jay asks Ann not to come to class at all, if she happens to run later than 1 minute.

Marshall Rosenberg
Marshall Rosenberg

Marshall Rosenberg, who developed the model, liked to show the differences between the communication styles with two animals. The Jackal was a symbol of aggression, dominance and violent communication. The Giraffe with his long neck and big heart represents a clear-sighted and compassionate speaker and nonviolent communication style.

“All violence”, Rosenberg wrote, “is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.”


Dig deeper!

Classroom exercise

Organize a brief session where your students can practice nonviolent communication. In groups of two, let your students act out a scene where one, who is always late, is late again to the birthday party of the other. Prompt your students to use the observations, feelings, needs and requests to both communicate a resolution to this issue.

When the students are done, make a list of what they came up with for each stage.
Then discuss: what do you need to use Rosenberg’s methodology? Can you practice introspection and rationality or do you need to be born with them? Are there times when it is OK to get angry sometimes?

2 Replies to “The Nonviolent Communication Model”

  1. Hi Thank you for your extraordinary work. I am reading Marshall Rosenberg´s book for th e second time and it appears to me that the teacher also needed to ask the latecomer if she had a reason for coming late ie what was she obseving, feeling, needing and requesting as a prerequisite for resolving the issue. Or maybe I´m wrong.

  2. Dear team of Sprouts,

    Thank you very much for this wonderful video on Nonviolent Communication according to Marshall B. Rosenberg. I am thrilled how well you have managed to work out the needs as the universal basis of all life and as the key to one’s own and mutual understanding. I also really like the explanation of the four steps. Knowing all this is so important to be able to recognize the power of the NVC attitude.

    In the second step, with feelings, you pointed out that it is important to distinguish between feelings and thoughts. I would think it would be great if you could add this clarity of distinctions to the other steps as well.

    1. observation versus interpretation
    2. feeling versus thought
    3. need versus strategy
    4. request versus demand

    In step three, when explaining needs, I really liked the phrase “…that they should find a way to respect each other’s values and desires…” because they are both looking together for possible solutions that fit both of them. Whether the solution of “not showing up for class” is one that actually makes sense for both of them is for each teacher and student to figure out for themselves 🙂

    You have worked out great for me in this video how to address disturbances in an appreciative way and in accordance with one’s needs, without having to use accusations, judgments, threats etc..

    And at the same time, what I miss in this context is the reference to the whole second area of Nonviolent Communication. The empathic listening. To stay with your example: unfortunately, the video does not mention that the teacher should have asked about the student’s feelings and needs in order to understand the student’s good reasons.

    Because only when both have really understood each other in their needs and desires, the time is reached to look for solutions that meet the needs of all.

    I would be very happy if at some point you would create a second video on NCV in which you explain the second topic of empathy. With this you could explain the infinite cycle of connection between people from listening and speaking, from understanding and being understood and thus give us the NVC in all its beauty.

    Heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your wonderful work.


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