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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

The Language of Compassion

by Terry Chriswell

A powerful tool for peacefully resolving differences at personal, professional, and political levels, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion guides us to reframe how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of “habitual, automatic reactions,” he writes, “our words become conscious responses based firmly on an 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 empathic attention.”

While most of us will never have the opportunity to guide warring factions abroad, most certainly we can use the insights from Rosenberg to create a more peaceful and loving home environment. NVC aims to change our patterns of blaming, judging and criticizing others to focus instead on what is being observed, felt and needed. When we spotlight our own perceptions, we mitigate resistance, defensiveness and violence.

Using the four components of NVC, we learn to see clearly our own behavior, rather than point the finger at someone else. They are:

  1. Observation: the concrete actions you observe that affects your well-being;
  2. Feelings: how you are feeling in relation to the observation;
  3. Needs: accepting responsibility for what needs, values and desires creating your feelings;
  4. Requests: concrete actions you request in order to enrich your life.
One conditioned response to a situation might go like this:

“I can’t stand your smoking! You are driving me crazy. You need to quit or I’m leaving!”

Instead, using the 4 components of NVC, our compassionate communication might go like this:

An example of observation without evaluation, judgement or criticism:

“When I see you smoking”

An example of feelings:

“I feel scared that I could lose you too soon from a smoking-related disease”

Non-feeling words generally mean we are interpreting others such as: abandoned, ignored, attacked, betrayed, intimidated. Those are still pointing at what you think others are doing to you. This is not a feeling.

An example of needs:

“because I want to grow old with you and continue sharing this wonderful life.”

Notice instead of pointing out what’s wrong with them, you talk about your needs. “The more directly we can connect our feelings to our needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately,” writes Rosenberg.

An example of a specific request:

“Would you be willing to look for different ways that might help you stop smoking?”

It’s important that your request doesn’t sound like a demand, or that blame or punishment will follow if they don’t comply; your request is for a willing participant to eventually fulfill everyone’s needs.

There are many more gems to be discovered in Rosenberg’s book including examples and exercises for compassionate communication, how to express anger, the cost of unexpressed feelings, and resolving internal conflicts, to name a few. While the work is not necessarily easy because it is a consciousness shift from the conditioned ways we express ourselves, it is worth the effort to allow compassion to blossom, enriching your life and those around you.

Resources for Nonviolent Communication:

Search for local practice groups

The Companion Workbook by Lucy Leu

Additional writings by Rosenberg available on

The Center for Nonviolent Communication


by Terry Chriswell, publisher, Mile High Natural Awakenings, Denver, Colorado. She can be reached at [email protected]

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