Nonviolent communication: speak your mind without hurting others

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Nonviolent communication: speak your mind without hurting others

When people talk to each other, it's called communication. Talking to each other and exchanging information is a way of making contacts and building relationships. However, poor choice of words or inappropriate expressions often lead to misunderstandings that can grow into conflicts.

Everyone knows situations in which one wrong word is enough for the situation to escalate. Carelessness and carelessly chosen formulations can lead to the interlocutor feeling personally attacked and reacting accordingly.

Nonviolent communication is a methodology that was developed to address even difficult topics in such a way that they are correctly understood by the other person. The basic idea is that when communicating, it is not only what is said that matters, but above all how one expresses oneself.

Nonviolent communication should help to always find the right words even in a complicated matter or a delicate situation.

What is Nonviolent Communication?

Informing yourself about nonviolent communication Definition, one realizes that it is a method of communication developed by the U.S. psychologist Rosenberg. Marshall B. Rosenberg also called the concept of non-violent communication he developed the giraffe method. This is because the giraffe serves as the symbolic animal for nonviolent communication, as it has the largest heart compared to other land mammals. The heart stands for compassion, while the giraffe's long neck is said to symbolize foresight.

The U.S. psychologist and mediator assumed that each person is motivated by his or her individual needs, which are fundamentally life-giving. Due to his own negative experiences, he dealt with the causes of communication problems. He came to the conclusion that lasting peaceful relationships can only be achieved by genuine Empathy in interpersonal interaction are possible.

Nonviolent communication: efficient method to promote empathic contact

Therefore, according to Rosenberg, non-violent communication is an efficient method to help promote empathic contact and thus improve communication. This means that it is possible to deal empathetically with anyone, even if you do not agree with their opinion or reasoning on the action level.

Nonviolent communication starts from the basic assumption that every human being is by nature a social being with a positive attitude towards others. Communicating humanely and authentically is a key skill at work, but also in private life. The action concept developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg is suitable for everyday use and is now used in:

  • Family life
  • School and university
  • Companies and organizations
  • Counseling and psychotherapy


Nonviolent communication leads to more mutual understanding and appreciation for each other. In his Nonviolent Communication book, Rosenberg described that the causes of interpersonal conflicts are that needs are simply communicated incorrectly.

Your partner will not understand you if you do not formulate your wishes precisely or if you use derogatory or condemning language. To avoid these communication mistakes, Rosenberg defined four factors for nonviolent communication.

nonviolent communication definition

The 4 steps of Nonviolent Communication

Do you often feel misunderstood? Are you annoyed that others don't take your wishes into consideration? Are you able to defend your point of view in arguments without reproaching your counterpart? In order to communicate without violence, there are a few things to keep in mind. The four steps of nonviolent communication are described as follows:

  1. Observation
  2. feelings
  3. Need
  4. Please

These four factors form the cornerstones of nonviolent communication. The 4-step method is intended to help better master conflict situations in a wide variety of areas of life.

Address problems openly and in an appropriate tone of voice

Nonviolent communication makes it possible to formulate one's own needs clearly, to talk to each other instead of against each other, and to work together to find a constructive solution. For this to happen, it is important to address problems openly and in an appropriate tone.

1. avoid assertions and insults

Communicating without violence starts with the 1st step. This is the observation. Let's assume you are talking to your counterpart about a certain situation, a task or a problem. Try to remain as objective and non-judgmental as possible. Say what you think and formulate facts. Avoid unobjective assertions and insults of any kind.

2. non-violent communication: how do you feel?

The 2nd step is about your State of health. Feel inside yourself and become aware of how you feel in this situation, in this conversation or in this discussion. What do the words of your conversation partner trigger in you? Explain to him or her if you are angry, sad, surprised, or overwhelmed. Express yourself as clearly as possible so that the other person understands what this has triggered in you emotionally.

3. what are your needs?

Needs are the focus of the 3rd step of non-violent communication. The point is to understand one's own Needs to perceive. Share what you are feeling with the person you are talking to. What need is arising for you because of this situation you are in? What needs to happen or what needs to change in order for your desires to be fulfilled?

4. connect your request with an invitation

The 4th step is a Please. This request is connected with a demand. After you have clearly stated your needs, you ask your counterpart to behave accordingly in the future. Express your wishes politely but unambiguously.

Emphasize what is important to you. Remain objective and friendly. The goal of nonviolent communication is an empathetic way of communicating that does not involve accusations or insults.

nonviolent communication exercises

Nonviolent communication: 3 examples

Nonviolent communication is a communication model suitable for everyday use. It can be used basically everywhere, in the schoolyard as well as in the lecture hall, in the office or at home. Communication problems can arise in contact with superiors and colleagues, business partners and customers, family and friends. To ensure that the private conversation, the business meeting or the conversation with work colleagues does not get out of hand, it is important to communicate empathically and without violence.

These three examples of nonviolent communication are intended to illustrate the basics of this communication concept.

1. example

In the first example is about a typical incident in the office. One employee lectures another: "You're still doing it wrong. And I've explained it to you a hundred times."

The problem: Reproaches minimize the willingness to cooperate. Non-violent communication, on the other hand, creates understanding for the other person. The right approach here would have been: "Unfortunately, the error has not yet been corrected. I'll be happy to show you how it works again, but I'd like you to be more involved in the future."

2. example

The 2. example refers to everyday life in a relationship. He comes home later, dinner has long since gone cold. She is therefore annoyed and scolds "Can't you be on time at least once? Because of you, I stand in the kitchen for hours and cook for you, while you probably don't care about anything!" Annoyed by his partner's hostile attitude, the man also reacts with reproaches.

A small mishap develops into a big conflict. Nonviolent communication looks like this in this case: She says, "I'm glad you're home, but I'm annoyed because you're so late. It's a shame that the dinner I cooked for both of us is already cold." As a result of this kind but direct address, he will learn to behave differently in the future.

3. example

For the 3rd example the conversation between employee and manager takes center stage. On the occasion of a feedback meeting, the team leader explains to her colleague: "It really can't go on like this. You're probably not interested in your job at all." Behind anger and annoyance, there are usually unfulfilled needs. The manager is frustrated because a team member is not meeting her expectations.

Communicating authentically and non-violently, she could have said it like this: "I am disappointed that you are so little committed to our project. I would like you to take on additional tasks from now on. Let me know if you have any questions or if there are any problems".

Nonviolent communication enables us to discard inappropriate thought and speech patterns and replace them with a new way of behaving. The use of I-messages plays a decisive role in this.

Learning Nonviolent Communication: 5 Exercises

Is the way people normally communicate with each other violent? Although voicing accusations, using swear words and insults, or excessive criticism cannot be classified as violent, this way of communicating is not conducive to violence.

We are responsible for things that we can influence ourselves. These include, for example, the way we think, feel and act, and the way we use our words.

Nonviolent communication is:

  • mindful
  • empathic
  • self-determined
  • appreciative

Communicating empathically and without violence can be learned. A clear and distinct way of expressing oneself is basically helpful in every situation. At work, non-violent communication is one of the soft skills expected of managers in particular.

Train your communication skills with these 5 exercises for nonviolent communication.

Nonviolent communication helps:

  • communicate better with other people
  • Conflicts easier to manage
  • Reduce communication problems in the workplace and in private relationships
  • Build a positive communication culture

Exercise 1: Distinguish observation from evaluation

Observe yourself and others without judgment. Don't make snap judgments about other people. Talk about your observations, for example: "I noticed that the letter hasn't been sent yet" and not: "You must have forgotten to put the mail away again".

Exercise 2: Learn to express your feelings

People often find it difficult to talk about their feelings. Yet emotions are an important topic, especially in interpersonal relationships. Learn to express your feelings when you talk to your partner. For example, "I'm sad that you don't have time for me today!" instead of "You never take care of me.

Exercise 3: Recognize and accept your needs

In order to be able to communicate your needs to other people, you must first know yourself what you want. What is important to you? Do you need understanding, security or more attention? Speak out what you think and tell others what you want without blaming them. For example, "I need my peace and quiet now," not, "Please keep your voice down!"

Exercise 4: Speak out your request

The conclusion of a conversation contains a request for a specific action. Make your request in a way that the other person understands. Avoid vague phrases or accusations. Remain respectful and meet your interlocutor at eye level.

5. self-reflection

Reflect on your behavior. What went really well today? What did you get angry about If the other person hurt you verbally, ask yourself what you can learn from it. How could you better describe your needs?

Do you know how the other person felt when talking to you? Draw your conclusions. Work on clearly expressing your wants and needs. Express your desires as requests, not demands.


Nonviolent communication is a method that can be applied in all areas of life. The 4-step model developed by the US psychologist Rosenberg helps to recognize one's own needs, to communicate more clearly and to better manage interpersonal conflicts.

In a relationship, proper communication is of particular importance. In our Relationship Webinar you will learn what clear, appreciative communication with your partner looks like, how to resolve relationship conflicts more quickly or how to prevent them from arising.

As an efficient communication model, nonviolent communication is used in school, business and therapeutic settings in conversations and discussions.


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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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