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Nonviolent Communication: All Steps, Exercises & Examples

Nonviolent Communication: All Steps, Exercises & Examples

Nonviolent communication is a connecting conversation technique with pitfalls (!) that – if applied incorrectly – can hit someone else very hard. Still, this is an important technique, provided you apply it correctly. Read on to learn the pitfalls and correct steps of nonviolent communication…

What is Nonviolent Communication?

Nonviolent communication is also called connecting communication because you – among other things – look for a common higher intention. It was developed by Marshall Rosenberg. The English term is ‘non violent communication ‘.

Nonviolent communication consists of four steps in which the techniques of chunking , vulnerability and clear communication are  combined. In the following paragraphs you will get enough examples and learn the concrete steps of nonviolent communication,

In what situations can nonviolent communication be used well?

nonviolent communication application tips

It is excellent to use with children, in companies, in relationships or at work. It is specifically for situations where someone inadvertently hurts you. Nonviolent communication does not work if someone this appeals to you intentionally want to hurt.

The intention of nonviolent communication is to …

  • Questioning the feelings and needs of the other person and yourself.
  • Feeling empathy for the other and yourself.
  • Connecting with the other.

However, it is not a panacea … if you apply this method, you are not there automatically. You can still hurt people if you just try to use the steps of nonviolent communication. In the following sections we will look at the correct way with examples.

Element and step 1: Sensory specific perception / observation

perceive in nonviolent communication

The first step is not to interpret, but to observe specifically, ie perceive . Ideally, these sentences start with: ‘I see …’ or ‘I hear …’

The pitfall in this step is that you still mix it with interpretations, judgments, labeling and analyzes.

  • Good example: “It has been 10 pm and you are still playing the piano.” This is purely factual so there is no doubt about it.
  • Bad example: “It is much too late to make music. The neighbors are bothered.” contains value judgments.

Element and step 2: Tell your feelings

apply nonviolent communication

Now tell us how you are going to feel as a result of that sensory perception from step 1. Keep it to yourself by continuing to use the word “I”. What are your feelings and what are your triggers that cause that feeling? When it comes to the other person, you can ask how the other person is feeling.

For example, you can say, ” If you don’t greet me, I feel disappointed.”

More good examples:

  • “That evokes feeling x in me.”
  • “I find it difficult that ….”
  • “I notice that it is difficult for me that …”
  • “I experience feeling x in myself.”
  • “When x happens, I feel x.”
  • “I feel … because I …”

The pitfall is that you make the other person the cause of the feeling. So it is better to use ‘if’ instead of ‘by’.

  • Do not say: ” Because of you I feel x” or “I feel x because you did Y,” and not at all, ” You make me angry.”
  • Better is: ” When you did x, I felt y because I actually needed z.”

Another pitfall is that you think you are describing your feelings, but you are still going to describe an alleged event (thoughts) in an emotional way instead of facts.

Element and step 3: Tell your need / intention

nonviolent communication need

State your higher, positive intention or ask for the higher, positive intention of the other. This is called ‘upchunken’. The pitfall is that you will get stuck on the details too much while you have to zoom out completely in order not to lose sight of the actual goal.

Chunk high enough. If you want to go to the movies with someone, that’s not a high enough need, and if you want to be with someone, then that’s not a need. In those cases, the need could be friendship, connection, romance or being together.

Use statements like …

  • Because intention x is important to me …
  • Because I long for intention x …
  • I think it’s important that there is value x …
  • Because I long for intention x …

Let’s put all three steps that we have learned so far into some examples (and secretly step 4 has already been incorporated in the examples below).

  • “I see you look away when I talk to you. I also hear you speak softly and therefore I cannot understand you properly. Could you please speak louder for me so that I can understand you and we can work together more smoothly?”
  • “We have met twice so far. Right now I feel very insecure and uncomfortable because I would like to connect with you. Would you like to go out together?”
  • “I saw that your name was not in the list of people who were thanked for their contribution. Does that affect you? Can it be true that you also want appreciation?

Elements and step 4: Concrete action, but not as a strict requirement

action to get started

Look for actions and make a request to fulfill your unmet need in a constructive way. Do this with a specific and clear request.

During this step, the pitfall is that you make a demand while also half using the ‘non-violent way of the four steps’. If you still set a requirement, do it hard and with decisiveness. It’s either completely nonviolent communication, or just completely harsh and strict.

Make a clear choice: am I going to just be tough and demand that an employee present himself properly to the customers, or am I going for an approach to non-violent communication? Both are good, but whatever you do, don’t get stuck in the middle ground between the two approaches.

Use phrases like:

  • “Would you be willing to x?”
  • “My request to you is …”
  • Or throw nonviolent communication completely aside and say loud, strict and clear: “This is really unacceptable. From now on you show respect to your employer and you don’t use that kind of language anymore!” (A demand with decisiveness without making half use of nonviolent communication. Excellent!)

Not nonviolent:

  • “We agree that you will be on time.”
  • “Maybe it would be better to do it again. Then it must be better.” (This is a demand in a half-“non-violent way.” So half-half …. This is wrong . Rather, throw all that non-violent communication aside and just demand loud and clear, “I want you to do this again. because I am not satisfied with the quality.)
  • “This is not going to work. Maybe it is better that you get another job. Eh? That might be better for you.” (A demand in a semi-‘non-violent way’. So half-half …)

Never be the dear messenger with the death sentence. So don’t use nonviolent communication halfway. Either do it hard, clearly and confidently – so that the other person knows where they stand – or completely softly. But please don’t do it half-hard and half-soft. For example, you would convey a harsh message in a sweet voice, which is very unpleasant.

Element and step 5: Finally, move yourself into the other person’s shoes

Finally, you can also develop understanding for the other by taking the second perception position: What does the other perceive? What is his / her feeling? What are the things that this person needs? What is his / her positive intention?

Nonviolent communication can easily be used disastrous

painfully nonviolent communication

Expressing your feelings can be very hurtful to others. If you feel horrible about being stuck with someone – like your disabled child – and put it that way, it will have the opposite effect of what you want to achieve through nonviolent communication.

You can still perform all the steps of nonviolent communication perfectly, but if you put it in a harsh tone, it is still hurtful and painful. Use the tools below to get a positive effect:

  • It’s all in the small nuances. Just replacing the words ‘by’ and ‘because’ with ‘if’ or ‘then’ make a huge difference. Take another look at the examples in step 2.
  • Also think of warmth, softness, charisma and rapport . If you practice nonviolent communication in an uncertain, hesitant way, it becomes a monstrosity of conversation.
  • It also helps to be careful not to use the four steps literally and formally. “I see you walking back and forth Piet. Can it be true that you are nervous?” instead of, “Piet, if I walk you back and forth, I have the question if you are nervous. Perhaps because you fear your job, which means that you can no longer meet your basic needs of shelter and clothing.”

What does Marshall Rosenberg mean by “the giraffe and the jackal”?

You see this metaphor very often in articles about nonviolent communication, but what do they actually represent?

  • The jackal is competitive. This is evident from judging, criticizing, interpreting, manipulating, complaining and forcefully attacking. The jackal is also afraid of being isolated.
  • The giraffe perceives, expresses its feelings and identifies its needs. The giraffe understands the art of empathetic listening and nonviolent communication.

Practice the four steps with someone

Take a practice partner and just come up with a situation / story that you tell according to the four steps:

  1. This is what is happening (observation)
  2. This stimulates these feelings …
  3. The needs that want to be fulfilled are …
  4. This is my request for concrete action …

Practice perceiving instead of judging

Use this article to get better at sensory perception instead of judgment.

Apply nonviolent communication in practice and give yourself feedback

Apply the four steps of nonviolent communication to any situation in your life. Give yourself feedback afterwards and apply that feedback a second time.

Nonviolent Communication Workbook

This book serves as an additional resource for Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication”. There are also various models, games, practice groups, courses, training, apps, international podcasts and introductory evenings around nonviolent communication.

To your success!

About The Author


Hello! Thanks for reading these articles. My intention is to make happiness as simple and clear as posssible. By the way, excuse my English. I am not a native English speaker since I live in Amsterdam. Much appreciated if you use the comments to make suggestions on my grammar. See ya in another blogpost!