Non-violent communication

Expressing our feelings, needs, and desires can be hard. So hard, that we sometimes end up in a vicious circle of misunderstanding, conflict, and harsh words. Especially in our closest relationships with the people who mean the most to us.

In this exercise you learn how to communicate in a more effective way.
One of the most important basics in a relationship is communication. It is how we bond, make ourselves understood, and show that we understand one another.

It might sound simple, but in reality it's something we might need to work on our entire lives.

So how can we express ourselves in an empathic and effective way — while helping the other person to meet our needs as well?

One approach is called non-violent communication.

The model consists of four parts:

  1. Observations
  2. Feelings
  3. Needs
  4. Requests

Start by identifying a conflict or a discussion you have recently experienced, or that you often find yourself in.

Use this situation as a basis for practicing the different steps in the model.

To observe means to notice what is happening without evaluating, interpreting, or judging.

An example:
Person X comes home from work, sits down at the dining table and picks up their phone.

Possible interpretations:

  • You're always late!
  • You don't care about me.
Observations of the same situation:

  • I notice it's 20.30. We had decided to meet at 20.00.
  • I see you are texting while I'm talking to you.
To observe is to begin with the sentence When I see/hear/notice that ...

The second step is about becoming aware of what you feel before sharing your observations. Here, you name the feeling without judging or evaluating it.

To actually feel our feelings – and share them — can be scary, uncomfortable or unfamiliar to us. But it is essential for us in order to feel good and understand what it is that we need in any given moment.

Begin with the phrase I feel …

Example: When I see that you are texting while I am talking to you, I feel sad/angry/unimportant/irritated.
The third step is to communicate what you need in the moment. It increases the possibilities for the other person to be able to meet your needs.

Begin with the phrase Because I need / value ...

  • You never listen to me = I do not feel heard → Need: to be seen and heard.
  • You do not prioritize me = I feel alone → Need: to feel a connection.
For example: When I see you texting while I'm talking to you, I feel unimportant because it's important for me to be listened to.
The last step is about saying what concrete action I need or want from the other person. Try to avoid words such as must and should.

Begin with the phrase Would you be willing to ...

For example: Would you be willing to put away your phone for five minutes while I talk about my day?
Relationships are central to our well-being.

In this exercise, you have practiced how to reduce communication that can be perceived as accusatory or aggressive. So instead of saying:

You do not care about me! All you care about is your phone. Why don't you ever listen properly? It's just like you to not listen to what I've done today.

... you can say:

When I see you texting while I'm talking to you, I feel ignored because it's important for me to feel listened to. Would you be willing to put away your phone for five minutes while I talk about my day?

Reflection question: How do you think non-violent communication could impact your relationships?
It can be useful to save this exercise and get back to it next time you find yourself in a similar situation.
Communicate your needs
A 10-minute exercise developed by psychologists to help you express your feelings and needs in a nonviolent way. Available in the 29k app for free.
Try it
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