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Nonviolent Communication: Book Summary

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Nonviolent Communication, NVC, is the one the greatest tools I have ever encountered for effective and compassionate communication. So many of us feel trapped in unresourceful loops in conversations with others... trying to get our needs addressed, maybe not feeling fully heard, and maybe getting our feelings hurt in the process or accidently hurting others. This is where NVC is so helpful! As the author states, "While we may not consider the way we talk to be 'violent', words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or ourselves." So instead of triggered reactions, NVC teaches us to be conscious in our responses while providing us with a framework based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting.

In this blog post, I provide you with a summary of each chapter, pulling out the biggest takeaways to help you quickly understand NVC and start using it immediately. I summarize each chapter by listing bullet point quotes from the book and reference each page I source information from so you can go into the book for more context if you wish. This summary is enough to get you going, but I highly recommend you buy the book and dig deeper! I also recommend you take a quick look at this post created by BayNVC in which they provide a true written summary about the basics of NVC as trained facilitators: click here to read

Book summary below. Have fun!

*I will upload new chapters as I create the summaries. For now, enjoy chapters 1 and 2*

Chapter 1: Giving From The Heart

  • Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as Compassionate Communication, is a specific approach to communication – both speaking and listening – that leads us to give from the heart connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish. (P2)

    • While we may not consider the way we talk to be "violent", words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or ourselves.

    • NVC is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. (P3)

  • Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting.

    • We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathetic attention.

    • In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others.

    • NVC trains us to observe carefully, and to be able to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us.

    • We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in any given situation. (P3)

The four components of NVC:

  • Observations:

    • What is actually happening in a situation. What are others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching your life?

      • The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation – to simply say what people are doing that you either like or don't like.

  • Feelings:

    • State how you feel when you observe this action

      • Are you hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated, etc?

  • Needs:

    • Share what needs of yours are connected to the feelings you have identified.

  • Requests:

    • Ask for a specific request, what you are wanting from the other person that would enrich your life or make life more wonderful.

*The other part of this communication consists of receiving the same four pieces of information from others. (P6)

The two parts of NVC:

  • Expressing honestly through the four components.

  • Receiving empathetically through the four components. (P7)

- - -

  • The essence of NVC is in our consciousness of the four components, not in the actual words that are exchanged. (P8)

  • NVC is not simply a language or a set of techniques for using words; the consciousness and intent that it embraces may be expressed through silence, a quality of presence, as well as through facial expressions and body language. (P12)

***I'm adding in my own words here. I find that one of the simplest ways to remember how to use NVC is with:

- I feel...

- When you...

- I need...

This is a framework for compassionate communication that I was taught in middle school, and it's very simple to use and remember.***

Chapter 2: Communication That Blocks Compassion

  • Moralistic judgements

    • Statements that imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values.

      • Blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticism, comparisons, and diagnoses are all forms of judgment.

        • Ex. “The problem with you is that you’re just too selfish”, “She’s lazy”, “It’s inappropriate” (P15)

    • When we speak this language, we think and communicate in terms of what’s wrong with others for behaving in certain ways or occasionally, what’s wrong with ourselves for not understanding or responding as we would like.

      • Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others need and not getting.

    • Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.

      • When we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us.

        • If people do agree to act in harmony with our values, they will likely do so out of fear, guilt, or shame because they concur with our analysis of their wrongness. (P16)

  • Making Comparisons

    • Comparisons are a form of judgment (P18)

  • Denial of Responsibility

    • We are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions (P19)

    • We deny responsibility for our actions when we attribute their cause to factors outside ourselves. (P20)

    • Examples of language that facilitates denial of personal responsibility:

      • “There are some things you have to do, whether you like it or not.”

      • You make me feel guilty.” (P19)

  • Factors outside ourselves:

    • Vague, impersonal forces

      • “I cleaned my room because I had to.”

    • Our condition, diagnosis, or personal or psychological history:

      • “I drink because I’m an alcoholic.”

    • The actions of others:

      • “I hit my child because he ran into the street”.

    • The dictates of authority:

      • “I lied to the client because the boss told me to.”

    • Group pressure:

      • “I started smoking because all my friends did.”

    • Institutional policies, rules, and regulations:

      • “I have to suspend you for this infraction because it’s the school policy.”

    • Gender roles, social roles, or age roles:

      • “I hate going to work, but I do it because I am a husband and a father.”

    • Uncontrollable impulses:

      • “I was overcome by my urge to eat the candy bar.” (P20)

  • We can replace language that implies lack of choice with language that acknowledges choice.

    • “I choose to do ___ because I want to ___.”

      • Example: Teacher hates giving grades but “has to” because it’s school policy > “I choose to give grades because I want to keep my job.” (P21)

  • Communicating our desires as demands:

    • A demand explicitly or implicitly threatens listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply.

      • We can never make people do anything.

  • The concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment:

    • This thinking is expressed by the word “deserve”

      • “He deserves to be punished for what he did.”

    • It assumes “badness” on the part of people who behave in certain ways, and it calls for punishment to make them repent and change their behavior (P22)

      • Author states: “I believe it is in everyone’s interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they see the change as benefiting themselves”. (P23)

  • Communication that blocks compassion both stems from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals’ own benefit.

    • …for the masses to be educated in a way that renders them slavelike in mentality.

    • The language of wrongness (should and have to) is perfectly suited for this purpose.

      • The more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgements that imply wrongness or badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves – to outside authorities – for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad.

        • When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings. (P23)

Chapter 3: Observing Without Evaluating

  • When we combine observation with evaluation, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message. Instead, they are apt to hear criticism and thus resist whatever we are saying. (P26)

  • Distinguishing Observations From Evaluations:


Example of observation with evaluation mixed in

Example of observation separate from evaluation

Use of verb “to be” without indication that the evaluator takes responsibility for the evaluation

You are too generous.

When I see you give all your lunch money to others, I think you are too generous.

Use of verbs with evaluative connotations

Doug procrastinates.

Doug only studies for exams the night before.

Implication that one’s inferences about another person’s thoughts, feelings, intentions, or desires are the only ones possible

She won’t get her work in.

I don’t think she will get her work in.


She said, “I won’t get my work in.”

Confusion of prediction with certainty

If you don’t eat balanced meals, your health will be impaired.

If you don’t eat balanced meals, I fear your health will be impaired.

Failure to be specific about referents

Immigrants don’t take care of their property.

I have not seen the immigrant family living at 1679 Ross shovel the snow on their sidewalk.

Use of words denoting ability without indication that an evaluation is being made

Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.

Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games.

Use of adverbs and adjectives in ways that do not indicate an evaluation has been made

Jim is ugly.

Jim’s looks don’t appeal to me.

  • The words always, never, ever, whenever, etc. express observations when used in the following ways:

    • Whenever I have observed Jack on the phone, he has spoken for at least thirty minutes.

    • I cannot recall your ever writing to me.

    • Sometimes, such words are used as exaggerations, in which case observations and evaluations are being mixed.

      • You are always busy.

      • She is never there when she’s needed.

        • When these words are used as exaggerations, they often provoke defensiveness rather than compassion.

        • Words like frequently and seldom can also contribute to confusing observation and evaluation. (P31)



You seldom do what I want.

The last three times I initiated an activity, you said you didn’t want to do it.

He frequently comes over.

He comes over at least three times a week.

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