Compassionate Communication

Marshall Rosenberg called his approach NVC (Non Violent Communication). It also became known as “Compassionate Communication” and is very helpful, especially in potential and actual conflict situation.

Instead of sparking conflict by putting out judgements, in applying compassionate communication I am asked to describe what I observe. This reminds me of the phenomenological approach in Gestalt Therapy. I stay with what is, with what is perceivable.

The next step is to identify the feelings. Here it is important to share feelings that are close to me, felt feelings that I can trace inside of my body. In the same way as with judgements, we can move away from ourselves by focusing on thought feelings (as opposed to felt feelings). “I feel rejected by you” is one of those. I can’t feel it in my body, and it is an indirect blame: “you reject me”.

A good way to identify if I am close enough to home is the fact that the acknowledgement of felt feelings (or primary emotions) is energising, whilst we feel drained when we stay stuck with thought feelings (secondary emotions).

Closely connected with our felt feelings are our basic needs. “What do I need right now?” is an empowering question. Again, we can operate at different levels. I might feel like eating a biscuit, but is this really what I need?

We might touch a childhood need, one that makes us feel very vulnerable. That’s why it seems so much easier to focus on the other person, how they should be. Yet, the empowering approach of compassionate communication invites us to identify our needs.

The last step, and the icing on the cake, is a specific request we might have. A request is different from a demand in that it leaves the other person the option to say “yes” or “no”. If we get a “no, our task is to respect this and at the same time hold on to what is important to us by negotiating another time or finding a different way of getting our need met.

What I like about it is its aspect of personal empowerment. The questions, “what do I feel?” and “what do I need?” are empowering in itself. In working with couples we have often observed that when people are honest about these 2 questions and willing to soul search and allow for the vulnerability of revealing themselves, it invites spontaneous compassion from the other.

A further empowering aspect of this approach is the fact that I can use compassionate communication even if the person I talk to doesn’t. When there is not enough willingness to listen to my truth, I can take an active interest in the other and explore theirs. The compassion is based on the assumption that there is always a basic human feeling like grief, pain, shame, guilt, anger, fear, joy, love underneath as well as a basic need, even though somewhat might express it clumsily with judgements and blame.

If we can manage to overcome our narcissism that is so common in our society and not take everything too personal, we can easier apply the power of compassionate communication and experience that at the level of basic human feelings and fundamental needs, we are all connected.


Further information on Compassionate Communication / Nonviolent Comunication:


“.. finding ways to meet each other’s needs without compromising ourselves is one of my favorite definitions of love.”

“Trust is the basic factor needed for cooperation. When we trust we open our eyes to another’s humanness. Trust lets us empathize. It allows for natural openness and affection. It clarifies our understanding of each other. Trust allows for the free flow of honesty, affection, accurate perceptions of each other, risk taking and love. In cultures and in couples where this basic trust is missing the need arises for a great degree of external control, rules, policing, punishment and a general loss of true freedom.”

“What the duty giver needs is empathy for the resentment of having sacrificed her life energy for another, empathy for abandoning herself, and for the loss of her self. When these people grieve for what they have done to themselves, they will be grateful that others did not reinforce this self-sacrificing behavior by giving appreciation for it. Even if people did offer appreciation, the duty giver can’t take it in until the self-resentment has been transformed through empathy into sorrow. Nor can they really love. Because love is giving from free will. The duty giver gives to avoid guilt and shame.” — Kelly Bryson, “Don’t Be Nice, Be Real”, Balancing Passion for Self with Compassion for Others, see also:

Rudolf Jarosewitsch


Copyright © 6/2003 by Rumijabu | Originally published in “Partners in Dialogue” June 2003

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