A better way to communicate?

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  • 3 min read
Marshall Rosenberg

In my recent post; Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools I discussed how there may be difficulties with how we interact with each other.


So how might be a good way to talk to one another?

Marshall Rosenberg, a well-known psychologist, created a communication process in the early 1960s called Nonviolent Communication (NVC).  According to Rosenberg, one of the purposes of nonviolent communication is to “create human connections that empower compassionate giving and receiving of feelings and needs”. This connection creates a mechanism that better allows you to empathise with the other person and therefore making interactions more effective.


What do we need to do to communicate non-violently and how can it be useful for us?

There are four components to follow in the process created by Rosenberg, they are:

1.    Observation. What are we seeing or hearing? These are things that are factual observations, without any judgement or evaluation. For example “I can see that the automated tests are failing”; while “You’ve broken the automated tests” makes a judgement.
2.    Feelings. These should be our emotions without any thought attached to the feeling. An example could be “I can see the automated tests are failing (observation), and we are supposed to be releasing tomorrow. I am worried”
3.    Needs. Identifying needs is very important in NVC, as all humans have needs and we react differently depending on whether our needs are being met or not. As mentioned above, identifying feelings and needs helps to provide the connection required for communication to be non-violent. Following on from our previous example “I can see the automated tests are failing (observation), and we are supposed to be releasing tomorrow. I am worried (feeling) because I am needing certainty right now that the release will go smoothly”
4.    Request. Not a demand, but a request for what you would like right now, and we must be comfortable if the request is returned with a negative response. So, “I can see the automated tests are broken (observation), and we are supposed to be releasing tomorrow. I am worried (feeling) because I need certainty (need) right now that the release will go smoothly. Are you willing to look to see why the automated tests are failing?” If the answer is no, then it is important that we empathise with what is stopping the other person saying ‘yes’ before responding accordingly.

Nonviolent Communication is a two way process, so the example could be flipped around to initiate a conversation too. “The release is tomorrow and I can see the automated tests are failing (observation). Are you worried (feeling) because you need certainty (need) that the release will go smoothly?”


Is this really a better way of interacting with people?

The honest answer is I don’t know! However I have started to try and communicate this way and it does seem to be having a positive effect.

If there is a way to create better connections, which then has the potential for more effective interactions, then surely there is some value in giving it a go.


Have you practiced or still practice NVC? If so, then it would be really interesting to hear about your experiences.

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