Monday, August 4, 2008

Pitfalls and Traps when practicing NVC

What NVC isn't

Compiled by Bill Huston
ip4noman at gmail / 607-321-7846

(Based on Marshall Rosenberg's system of Non-violent Communications, see,

There is much literature about what IS NVC, feelings and needs cards, etc.
I think another helpful learning tool is a simple list of common examples of
what is NOT NVC.

That is, these are some pitfalls and traps to watch out for
when practicing NVC.

NVC Model: Nonviolent, Connecting, Needs-serving Communication

Not NVC: power-over, coercion, blame, traditional patterns of communication


  • what the camera sees -- but watch out for the verb "to be"

  • without evaluation or moralistic judgements (good vs. bad)

  • exaggerations

  • predictions

  • word spells -- these often employ the verb "to be"

    • diagnoses

    • insults

    • flattery

  • mind reading

    • thoughts /opinions

    • intentions


  • emotions

  • authentic experience

  • not just "in the head", helpful to connect these to the body

  • we own our own feelings

  • connected to needs

  • feelings when needs met: amazed, confident, energetic, joyful, relieved, touched, comfortable, eager, hopeful, thankful, trustful

  • feelings when needs are unmet: angry, confused,. disappointed, frustrated, sad, hopeless, annoyed, lonely, uncomfortable, etc.

  • "What you did to me"

    • -ed words (Betrayed, Abandoned, Disrespected, etc)

  • thoughts / opinions / speculations

    • I feel like..., I feel as if..., I feel that...

    • Often contains a moralistic judgment

  • How you made me feel... (blame game)

Nonviolent, Connecting, Needs-serving Communication -- NVC Model

Not NVC: power-over, coercion, blame, traditional patterns of communication


  • everything we do is to meet needs

  • at the root of feelings

  • life-serving

  • universal

  • life-energy expressing itself

  • autonomy, integrity, celebration, interdependence, play, spiritual communion, physical nurturance

  • Domination-culture pseudo needs

    • Money

    • Status

    • Approval

  • Requests / Strategy

    • Attachment to a particular person
    • "I need you to ..."

  • To see someone else suffer, pay for what they did, etc.


  • clear, assertive, positive action language, specific

  • that which would enrich life

  • choice

  • not a demand

  • performed "with the joy of a child feeding a hungry duck"

  • no choice / demand / coercion

    • Clue: feeling one must either Submit of Rebel

    • DANGER: Amptsprache: choice-denying, responsibility-denying language. "I was just doing my job"

  • Acting out of (or imposing) a sense of Duty or Obligation,

  • Acting to seek a Reward, or fearing Punishment (or dispensing such)

  • Acting out of Shame or Guilt (or dispensing such)

Nonviolent, Connecting, Needs-serving Communication -- NVC Model

Not NVC: power-over, coercion, blame, traditional patterns of communication


  • honest expression, or deep listening

  • holding space another's joy or pain

  • listener may reflect to ensure connection

  • self-empathy when you chose a strategy which didn't meet needs (Chooser/Educator model)

  • Advising / Fixing the problem

  • Diminishing the experience

  • oneupmanship

  • Educating

  • Reassurance/Consoling

  • Storytelling

  • Shutting Down

  • Sympathizing

  • Interrogating

  • Explaining

  • Correcting

Goals of Communication

  • Connection

  • Needs Serving

  • Gossip

  • Apologies (contains a judgment of self)

  • Lies, Sarcasm, Abuse

  • Praise, Compliments, Flattery

  • Blame, Criticize

  • Disconnection: Monologues in Babble-on-ian

  • The Game of "Who's Right"


Hans said...

I've read 2 books about NVC and love it. I feel helped - and enthusiastic about it - to get up to speed with the practical application in absence of a trainer/role model. Your concise list of do's and don'ts is fulfilling my so far unmet need for a quick way of self evaluation and when my NVC application fails then this list helps to identify issues and solutions instead of lenghty searches in the books.

Thank you Bill for enriching my life.

Greetings from Vienna (Austria),

Senor Lopilopo said...

There's a guy sitting in jail who raped my son. This is no story. It's fact. Now tell me. According to NVC the guy didn't make my son feel anything. NVC says something about my son's feeling arising from not having his needs met. Please tell me how a thirty-three-year-old man rapes a five-year-old borderline autistic child while threatening to murder his mother and my son's feelings weren't caused by this man? I have to tell you, while I'd like to find value in this - I want to raise my kids in a peaceful way - it sounds like a lot of New Age nonsense to me.

agent said...

Bill, thank you for this contribution to the NVC community.
and, i noticed referral to the model that Marshall Rosenberg originated as "Non-Violent Communication".
Would you be willing to use the signature mark of "Nonviolent Communication" from now on? I have found it is one way to offer clarification to people that there is reference to a specific model rather than a general term. Fulfilling this request will meet my need for order, clarity, respect, community.

~Tara said...

@Senor Lopilopo

To answer your question, this video (NVC 4.3 starting at about 8:00) may help to clarify the NVC perspective on this. The answer continues in the following video (NVC 4.4 and your question might be most specifically answered at 2:27):


And 4.4:

Bill: Thank you for sharing these tables. It helped me tremendously to see the example of "what you did to me" with the illustration of words that end in -ed.