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Interested in improving your relationships? Try Nonviolent Communication (clearerthinking.org)
842 points by antigizmo on Oct 15, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 337 comments

I learned this at a company retreat at some point. We all kind of rolled our eyes and went along with the exercise. I now use it to great effect almost daily in both personal and professional relationships.

It takes a little care and thought to apply it well. I've found when done effectively, it can unlock difficult conversations and turn even the most hostile interactions into productive conversations. You are demonstrating, through a careful choice of words, a willingness to understand the other person.

Easily the most powerful communication tool I have learned while hungover with my coworkers.

NVC is a great framework. I've watched the 9 hour training by Marshall Rosenberg on YouTube more than once, and I keep finding ways that it can be useful in all relationships. It's basically a way to be both non-passive-aggressive and compassionate, while having boundaries. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPNVcESwoWu4lI9C3bhkY...

>It's basically a way to be both non-passive-aggressive and compassionate

But the examples given as "observation" read as passive-aggressive to me. Whether you say "Eleanor procrastinates" or "Eleanor wait to do all her studying the night before the exam" it's still the same thing. If you hear this type of comment regularly (eg you have ADHD) then it'll still affect you negatively.

> Whether you say "Eleanor procrastinates" or "Eleanor wait to do all her studying the night before the exam" it's still the same thing.

It is not. The latter is a fact. The former is an interpretation of that fact showing how the person saying it judges this fact. If you perceive the former while someone says the latter, then that is a result of your own expectation of judgement.

I have ADD and had to unlearn this myself.

Exactly. "Eleanor wait to do all her studying the night before the exam" doesn't attempt to insert the part of the story we don't know.

Maybe she waited because she's lazy, maybe because she was waiting for her anxiety to decrease, maybe because she was working two jobs.

When we make a judgement and say that she procrastinates, we shut ourselves out from the rest of the story and insert our own.

My understanding of this:

"Eleanor waited to do all her studying the night before the exam" — that's data: it would show up on a video recording of the scene.

"Eleanor procrastinates" — that's a judgement/interpretation/opinion: it exists in someone's mind (i.e. the person making the judgement).

This isn't to say "judgements bad, don't make judgements". That would be nonsensical. We all make judgements/interpretations all the time, they're a necessary part of the human experience.

But (in my experience) it's really _really_ helpful to differentiate between these two categories. It opens the whole thing up and allows things to proceed more smoothly and effectively (in conjunction with other tools in the toolset - but this is core).

To expand on the example: if, as Eleanor, I hear the judgement I'm probably, yes, more likely to shut down and get defensive - which gets none of us anywhere. OTOH if I hear the data, there is then perhaps more room to have a conversation about what's going on. It might be that my ADHD is contributing to this behaviour, and perhaps if I get that it has a negative impact on someone else, I might decide to ask them (or someone else) for support in working out a better way to deal with this. Or I might simply be asking for more understanding, different structures. I don't know. But the kind of mutual acknowledgement of experience, feelings and wants that I'm talking about tends to be shut down by unowned judgements presented as fact.

"Waited" is interpretation and "all" is generalization, both to avoid in basic nvc.

NVC would be more like: "I saw Eleanor study the night before and I did not see her study before then. I interpreted this as procrastination, which makes me anxious because something similar happened at time X, you want her to succeed, fear a pattern will prevent that, and feel powerless to change it."

Maybe Eleanor did study secretly. Or knew the stuff. Or had a death in the family. Or it is unimportant. Maybe she forgot and could use reminders.

ADHD was a great tool for me + team. Basically autopilot and a low bar. One downside is people mistake things like this and blameless.postmortems as you cannot confront people and publicly, or do not bc of the work... While in reality, it provides a baseline framework for it when you have nothing better.

Yes. Nice clarification — many thanks indeed.

I completely agree. Several members of my family are NVC practitioners, but I usually hear their comments as passive aggressive. As a result, NVC sometimes seems more confrontational to me due to the effort put into disguising what is said.

> We all kind of rolled our eyes and went along with the exercise. I now use it to great effect almost daily in both personal and professional relationships.

Reactions like that tell me once again that a lot of people really underestimate simple stuff like this. I hope that in the future simple and useful psychology topics will find their way into our schools so that the acceptance and understanding for the usefulness will increase (hopefully).

I think the skepticism is the "quick fix" "trendy" packages that get peddled to businesses or show up in pop culture--like Power Poses or The Secret. Nonviolent Communication isn't the greatest name, either.

Everything ends up being packaged as some get-<blank>-quick scheme in the US, including how to peddle get-<blank>-quick schemes. Don't blame the idea for the hucksters.

Heuristics in action. I can‘t possibly number all the different BS methodologies and frameworks that were supposed to do something, every time.

Applicable and actually highly successful ones like NVC are few and far between.

Can‘t blame anyone who smells a fad on hearing it the first time, but I‘m also using NVC by now whenever I need to untangle difficult conversations.

Violent communication is hitting someone to make a point. The name of this is insulting.

Violence isn't always physical.

Indeed. I'm also fairly sure that calling it non-violent communication was no quick decision and was at least partly chosen to make us consider whether our usual methods are in fact violent and thus harmful.

I agree with this but I still think it is a bad name. Maybe something like non-aggressive communication would fare better?

Violence is always physical, by definition. Sometimes the word is also used for poetic effect though.

May I refer you to the second definition of violence, per Merriam Webster?


Violence, by definition, is not always physical.

The same dictionary that defines literally as both literal and not literal. Dictionaries are descriptive not prescriptive, and so they also account for incorrect but common usage.

If enough people use literally in that manner than it is indeed correct. This is how language works, regardless if you like the change or not. Languages are always evolving and dictionaries reflect that.

In the same vein, language is constantly in flux, so defining a thing as "just so" is at best a temporary accuracy.

The eye rolling is often justified. The value of something like NVC is having an entire framework for managing relationships (and it is a fantastic framework, havn't seen a better one yet).

However a lot of vocal people are happy to take the words and not join the pieces together properly. There are a lot of mistakes in interpreting NVC that quickly lead to eye-roll-worthy corporate inductions. The nuance is critical and complicated.

Eg, I'd assume an average person trying to talk about NVC either thinks:

1) Thinks it is a tool to use after someone else is already upset.

2) Hasn't understood it and thinks that the point is to appease someone who is angry by not being aggressive.

When you actually read the book, you find it has a very awkward way of speaking which can induce eyerolls.

It drove me up the wall and I didn't finish it.

All this "if you answered c, e and f, we are not of the same opinion" feels passive-aggressive to me.

The whole thing feels manipulative to me. It makes me think that people try an insincere way of talking to me, in order to manipulate my feelings and reaction.

I've had huge discussions with friends who try to live the book, and neither of us could make the other see their point.

One of their examples was "My boyfriend likes to go DJing, but sometimes I'd love for him to stay home and cuddle with me. So I clearly tell him that him leaving makes me feel alone and that I would like some warmth. But I don't tell him what to do, to stay at home, for example. I only talk about my own perception and feelings."

– "Yes, that's great, but in communication there is the level of pragmatics above pure logical semantics. And you telling your boyfriend that him leaving makes you feel very alone is just another way of saying 'please don't go'".

> And you telling your boyfriend that him leaving makes you feel very alone is just another way of saying 'please don't go'".

It's a more informative way of saying it. You include information about what the reasoning behind your request is, and how important it is to you. Then he can consider whether going out is more important to him than your request is to you, or if there is a way to compromise on your conflicting desires. (Consider the difference between 'you leaving means I will be stuck at home without any food or transport' and 'you leaving will make me feel lonely').

But, for some people who aren't used to the idea of negotiating behavior and emotions explicitly like this, then explicit references to emotion seem like some kind of guilt trip or 'trump card' - it's some kind of understanding that emotions are meant to be kept private unless they are overwhelming, so mentioning them is implicitly saying that this is a Very Big Deal.

You're mentioning a request, but such a request is notably absent in op's example: "But I don't tell him what to do, to stay at home, for example. I only talk about my own perception and feelings."

It reads to me both like an expectation at reading minds and a mild form of emotional blackmail.

This might be non-violent, but it's also lacking clarity. In the end it's not clear if extra cuddling before leaving and after coming back would please the woman in the example. Or if calling her every day would. Or if she could just visit her sister to avoid her feeling of loneliness.

I did not notice an explicit negotiation or any negotiation at all in that example.

This is very good point. Often our tacit knowledge about how to communicate is much larger than the explicit theory. When people then use a framework to communicate, they sometimes actually get less intelligent in a way because it ignores all the implicit rules.

NVC sometimes seem a bit dry or rational and practioners ignore a lot of tacit knowledge they have, which is why it feels insincere. It also easily promotes a kind of disconnection from your feelings by taking a meta-stance, which can make it actually harder to communicate.

I do love the basic idea and spirit of the framework though, I just think it's not a good idea probably to approach it as a set of rules for how to communicate.

The linked page has four steps, the last of which is "make requests".

That's what makes it passive-aggressive, it can be perceived as three steps of manipulation to get to a fourth step. If your ultimate intent is to make a request, then make a request.

Ending at third step and leaving request unstated sounds highly manipulative to me, because the other party now has to figure out what you really want. Going straight to the request makes the tone do all the work - whether the exact request is even registered by the other party, or whether they feel forced to abandon their plans, all depends on how you voice your words.

Perhaps people are different, but I'm of the type that I absolutely want to hear both what you want and reasoning why you want it, and I tend to pick up and overanalyze the tone if you leave either part unstated.

> I'm of the type that I absolutely want to hear both what you want and reasoning why you want it.

Skipping straight to the 4th step doesn't preclude us from discussing that, we can always backtrack and talk about that. It's just skipping straight to the point.

Consider this: We've agreed to go to a specific restaurant tonight, you change your mind for whatever reason and feel strongly about it. You had a burger at lunch for a work meeting, and don't feel like having one again.

Just say so, maybe I don't care in the least what restaurant we go to as long as it has some form of nutrition and isn't inconvenient to get to.

> "Hey, mind if we go to Subway instead?"

> "Sure, no problem"

As opposed to some long step #1-#3 process where you start talking about not wanting the same type of food twice in one day before finally getting to the point.

Maybe I do feel really strongly about it, but we can still talk about it and be direct, observe:

> "Hey, mind if we go to Subway instead?"

> "Yeah actually. Weird thing, but my late brother and I had a thing about going to that burger place every year on his birthday. It's sort of a tradition, don't want to miss it, and you were only in town today"

> "Shit man, no problem I guess. Just asked because I had a burger for lunch, didn't realize it was a burger place"

> "Hey like Sushi? They actually make the most amazing Sushi. It's the weirdest combination I know, it's run by this Japanese/American couple and they made it work"

> "I love Sushi, didn't realize that. Awesome!"

Nice example, thank you.

I think the important thing is still that a negotiation happened - an exchange of information about feelings and desires, and an attempt at reaching a satisfactory outcome.

I've only heard of NVC the first time today, but I've noticed I developed something similar for myself in my own conversation, out of desire to a) maximize accuracy of my communication, and b) minimize accidental miscommunication that leads to hurt feelings.

Regarding your example, I said that going straight for point 4 makes the tone do the work. "Hey, mind if we go to Subway instead?" with appropriate intonation leads to the outcome you desired. But I can imagine that person saying "Let's go to Subway instead", or "I want to go to Subway instead", and now this would communicate to me that there are more serious reasons behind it.

The way I'd say it in real life to proactively minimize misreading from the other side would be: "Could we go to Subway instead? At work today, the customer wanted to go for a burger for lunch, so I already had one and don't feel like having another.".

I find that what NVC identified as the four steps gets more and more important the closer you are to someone, and the more emotional the topic is. Clearly separating facts from emotions and not saying someone caused your feelings are wonderful de-escalating tools.

This doesn't happen to me in the real world, this is how it goes with my wife:

> "Hey, mind if we do to Subway instead?" > "Okay" > a night of arguing > "I didnt even want to go to Subway, I wanted to go where we were going"

The article left out a key part of 'make a request', which is Rosenberg redefines the word slightly. It isn't really the right word to use; what it means is 'don't complicate a request with unrelated matters'.

"Clean this up before you do anything else." isn't necessarily a Rosenberg-demand and "would you be willing to put your socks in the washing machine?" isn't necessarily a Rosenberg-request. The test is what happens if the person says no.

If in the first case that is the end of the matter then it was secretly a request dressed up in hard language.

If in the second case there is an hour of cold-shouldering and recriminations then it was really a demand dressed up in flowery language.

A lot of times the steps are actually necessary, because the request isn't followed. That was my problem when I had a coach teaching me about NVC. I wasn't able to communicate effectively with them and I was really stressed out.

I think there are technical people who just care about getting things done and other people who need to have a nice package, because they want their feelings not to be hurt. These are the people who start their requests in chat with "Hi, how are you? Do you have time, I need something ..."

The only way to communicate with these people is NVC.

Though if you just follow the reasons behind the four points in the article and implement them your way, it would be fine too, no?

It's like with lots of these communication systems. (P.E.T. is similar, but more oriented at communicatuion with children) The authors have some specific examples of situations, and how they'd communicate, but it's all driven by some core principles and goals, and as long as you're also driven by and mind those all the time, you'll be fine using your own language, or the language of your peer.

Could you provide a link towards "P.E.T."? The term is not googleble..

Thank you!

I read it ages ago in it’s German translation and while I remember there was a bit of awkwardness, I always understood it as an exaggeration for the sake of the example. My main takeaway was not the kind of language described in the book, but the thoughts behind it: the effects of your phrasing on how your message is received etc.

I think I mostly use the ideas from the book without thinking at this point — and in order for that to work you most likely will have to find your own way.

Reactions like this tell me people despise corporate indoctrination.

This happens mostly because orgs are stuck in confrontational, or at least non-cooperative ways of working, and expect that communication tools will somehow make it acceptable.

When the tool is used, people soon realize that they won't get what they need, and that they now have to endure a speciific ceremonial.

Or maybe when you pick your words carefully to get desired reactions it is manipulative. I'd rather not manipulate others, it leads to me oftentimes sticking my foot in my mouth, but at least others know what I am thinking and I know I'm not lying to others for personal gain.

A few points Re speaking your mind:

- Talking is an incomplete way capturing your thoughts. (Gets progressively worse with videos / phone calls / emails / telegrams ...). You will never capture all you're thinking in a few words. So IMO speaking your mind is essentially blurting what's floating on the top rather than actually speaking your mind. You probably can see how that can strain a conversation.

- Believe it or not, Communication is a 2 way problem: It doesn't matter even if you perfectly capture it, if the other party ain't listening. Or is only listening to cherry pick metaphors to rant on. Even if they are listening, the first few aggro sentences (or some that are sandwiched) can set them off - making them non-receptive to the rest. Again another reason people try to pick their words carefully so that they can put their best foot forward.

-A world where clairvoyance is the norm is where speaking your mind may make sense: Otherwise you are one of the few who is baring his soul every time while others are picking a time and place. Good or bad, I am sure you see this puts you at a great disadvantage.

- When bad news is delivered, we all process it differently. One of the common mechanics is attacking the messenger in some way or other OR trying to blame the messenger for delivering it badly. Again something to keep in mind when talking.

- Life is grey: If you want to define careful words as manipulation, that's polarizing the situation. In reality it could be manipulation or just plain old 'being careful'.

I am not going to be able to convince you in one post :) neither can I tell you how to live your life. These have been some of my observations that moved me from a 'speak your mind' person to a lot more 'reasonable' person model. So HTH!

This is the most convincing argument I've heard yet on why speaking your mind can lead to dissatisfactory outcomes. coming from a speak your mind type of person, this is the most compelling perspective I've seen yet.

I instead hope that parents start teaching it to children. While my online decorum has major room for improvements, I feel like I'm pretty conscientious in my in person interactions and gained a lot of that through explicit instructions from my parents.

This would require a large body of educators both equipped and empowered to educate, coupled with parents invested in the success of their children.

My experience in at least the California educational system -- where both of my parents were teachers, with Mom also serving on the school board for some time -- gives me little hope that this will ever be the case.

To be fair, I believe a big part of this kind of reaction often comes from being pushed trendy "easy fix for something important" from HR or top management quite frequently.

Perhaps a better name would help, such as "Non-hostile communication". There is no such thing as violent communication, and the confusion between speech and violence is precisely what is driving the current pro-censorship wave.

I believe that communication can be violent, but I guess that depends on one’s definition of “violent.” I see “violent” as causing harm to another being and I can think of many examples how communication can be used for that. Also this is assuming “communication” means verbal communication, because I also see punching someone as a form of communication, or sending one message to another.

That all being said, I think when we receive communication that we perceive as violent, we often have a reaction to try to stop people from saying those things, thus the increase in censorship. I don’t think that works well. What I like about NVC is not about stopping someone from communicating in a violent way, but choosing to respond in a nonviolent way. Similar to MLK’s beliefs on nonviolent resistance. In the end, I believe the goal is to change the way people communicate, but not violently stopping someone from being violent.

I agree. If I'm not mistaken the name comes from Ahimsa [1]. So, Communication for Non-Violence and Compassion might be more accurate.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahimsa

I believe there was a movement to change the name to compassionate communication, maybe even led by Rosenberg himself, but I don’t think it has had as much traction as NVC.

The premise is naive speech may inadvertently force negative and clouding emotion in the recipient, and is aimed at critical scenarios, where misinterpretation of speech causes the recipient's body chemistry to activate, and then the conv goes off a cliff and things get even worse. If you don't believe that is happening, the techniques for identifying where it is happening and how to simply avoid them seems kind of pointless.

There may be some reason preventing your use of the word 'violent' for verbal ways to cause negative physical reactions and mental trauma. You may want to ask yourself why you are downplaying the core principle here and, I'm guessing, the agency of the speaker in it..

Can speech cause harm?

Absolutely. Social threat triggers the exact same pain response wiring in the brain as physical violence.

Hurt feelings are not violence. By that logic, the existence of gay people is violence against religious fundamentalists.

No, they're not violence. They are a possible consequence of it.

Violence, as per my dictionary, requires intentional action (but is not necessarily physical). The existence of gay people is not intentional, and therefore is not an act of violence against religious fundamentalists.

So a parent who relentlessly verbally bullies their child every day is what, just exchanging ideas?

I would say they are a terrible parent, they are a bully, and an awful human being.

But not violent.

Just the same as I wouldn't say pirating a movie was theft, but by saying that I'm not saying I think it's OK - these are just different concepts.

I understand, but completely disagree. I think the idea that physical harm is real but psychological harm doesn't exist is just wrong.

Who said psychological harm doesn't exist? It just isn't a form of violence, that's all.

It is important not to conflate the two concepts, because violence is widely criminalized and psychological harm is highly subjective. The immediate implication of bundling these completely disparate concepts is that somebody will have to arbitrate which verbal expressions constitute violent crime. This is not conjecture, activist groups have already regulated speech in several countries on the premise that words are violence.

The whole idea of "X is not being taken seriously but Y is, so I will start calling X Y instead, and anyone who corrects me tries to downplay X" is insane to me.

I said no such thing, and in fact was careful to disclaim such an idea. Perhaps not careful enough.

I meant to say it's not violent by my understanding of the term, not that it can't cause real harm. It absolutely can.

If you're in software development, especially on a development team, these ideas about nonviolent communication (NVC) may be able to help you and your team.

The approach is: observe facts -> note feelings -> uncover desires -> make requests.

For software development, I recommend a NVC approach called "Crucial Conversations". I summarize it on my repo.


Completely besides NVC and TFA, etc... But, thank you for the work you do. I've come across a number of your repositories (arch decision records, KPIs, OKRs, smart criteria, ground rules, etc...) and I have to say, they are outstanding resources that I find myself coming back to time and time again.

Please no. That reads like a cheat sheet for sociopaths.

Conversations between good actors don't need to be engineered. These techniques are probably great if you're a police officer, lawyer, executive, or salesperson, but let's not turn our workplaces into that internally.

I'm also in software development, and especially in this field, just talk directly to people. If you find that you can't connect with your team and you need various pre-planned tactics to work with others, you're probably doing something else wrong.

We're social creatures. Don't engineer away the last of our humanity from our workplaces in pursuit of optimal request fulfillment.

Disagree 100%. “just talk directly to people” reads to me like an ill-informed tactic that allows all our worst habits to run amok. Studying these techniques and making them habitual is the key to a kinder, more thoughtful, and even more effective and productive teamwork experience.

I had a coworker who addressed my team about some difficulty they were having collaborating with us. They spoke directly, telling us we needed to get our act together and stop making half-baked requests. They were visibly angry and contemptuous. We all became much more fearful about talking to that person.

The next couple of days I heard they went on an apology tour. But I got skipped because I was on vacation. My rational self was fine with that, knowing stuff happens. But my emotional self responded with a knee jerk fear response when I walked into a room with that person. It’s an extra bit of stress I had to manage.

If this person practiced NVC I would not have had that experience.

What's wrong with saying "hey dude, no need to get angry, let's figure out how to get you better requirements. how about we try xyz and you come back to us in 2 weeks and tell us if we're doing better"?

If he apologized to everyone but you, maybe say "I heard you apologized to some people about last week's tension, I just wanted to let you know that we're all on the same team and there's no hard feelings, your concerns are valid and we'll work on them together".

Your reaction shouldn't be fear and extra stress. It should be about how you can help your fellow workers through the day and help everyone meet their goals. The whole idea that you'd have fear as a response to a co-worker is crazy to me.

If you can't have that type of conversation with your co-workers and get good results, it's probably not because you employed the wrong conversation tactic. It's probably actually because they don't trust you, which would make sense if you've been forcing them through a conversation algorithm instead of treating them like humans.

A direct approach used carelessly can cause the other side to feel a lack of psychological safety, which is an important characteristic to effective teams. For example, in your comment, you effectively invalidated the previous commenter's feelings and implied they were crazy for feeling that way. If your goal was to create an environment for collaboration and a meaningful dialogue, you probably failed to do so, since you come across as someone who won't bother empathizing. Were you in the same team as this individual, they would also likely be hesitant to collaborate with you, which ultimately impacts your and your team's ability to achieve desired outcomes and goals.

So, theoretically, you read that previous paragraph and didn't feel anything negative (annoyance, anger, or whatever). And if you're able to do that, I commend you-- but you need to realize that not everyone can do that. Feelings exist in other people, regardless whether you think they're valid. And if you're truly interested in solving problems effectively with other people, then you're going to have an easier time adjusting your communication style rather than telling someone to feel emotions in a way they may have no control over.

You can blame the person for being angry or you can blame yourself why you cannot face other people's negative emotions. I dont think that the solution exclusively lies with the angry person in this case.

If you became fearful and got your act together, I'd say their approach worked.

Of course, apologizing afterwards is pretty weak. Either they were forced to do it or they're not in control of their emotions.

They feared to talk to them. That does not imply doing what they want. It implies people acting on ressentment in further interactions.

> just talk directly to people

This is usually code when people just like to be assholes. Building software requires communication with people. Dealing with all people, even engineers, requires tact. Having a framework for how to deal with people in general is great, even better is knowing your team so well that you can adjust to each individual.

This book is amazing, it changed my perspective on communication completely when I first read it.

Been on my reading list for a while. Thanks for creating this great synopsis!

It might. But building product professional (defined goal, scope, time frame, etc.) is an atypical relationship.

I'm not knocking you or NVC. Only noting the siloed use case.

I have my doubts about the honesty of these interpretations:

> I feel angry because you forgot about our coffee date -> I want people to value the feelings of their friends

Are you not angry because you want the person to value YOU and your time? What are these generic "people" and "the feeling of their friends" to you?

> You make me feel guilty when you text me all the time -> I want there to be less pressure on my to respond to your texts

What's the point of this pressure? If you feel guilty for not texting back, isn't there a chance that the other person wants to receive more than they are giving?

> You make me upset when you call other children names -> I want my child to be kind to others

Might the desire sometimes be: As a parent, I don't want to get embarrassed for (as I perceive it) not raising a kind child?


Being a bit cynical, because the underlying motives might be more useful to solve than the more generic desires.

Part of NVC is also similar to '5 times why'.

These might be surface desires, with the ones you mention being another layer of underlying desires. It's an interesting exercise in itself to do this with your own desires.

These feel ill formed NVC. If you lead with feeling the entire exchange becomes confrontational. First state unambiguous facts.

Yeah for sure. One fundamental rule of NVC is to never state a feeling as being caused by anyone. Instead you state that something happened and what you felt when that happened. So the template is "this and this happened and I felt this and this emotion". Not "you did this and this and you made me feel this and this". This way you take responsibility for your own emotions, and don't make anyone else defensive or confrontational by accusing them of making you feel something.

"When you didn't show up for our coffee date, I felt hurt. I need my time to be respected. Would you please show up on time or send me text letting me know you can't come?"

More verbose for sure but clearer and more likely to de-escalate.

If someone spoke like that to me it would feel very forced and unnatural, I would assume it is fake

That tone tells me that the conversation is now in lawyer-mode. If I'm using it, it's because I'm no longer willing or able to communicate normally. If I cared about you, you'd see me angry. If I don't care about you, you'll see me having this style of conversation, which IMO is far more aggressive and dangerous than actual anger.

If I'm on the receiving side of that kind of tone, it's time to either re-engage with normal conversation and try to salvage the relationship, or now I'm also mirroring that tone and we can never have an honest conversation again.

I've yet to experience that. Been doing NVC for more than a decade. It helps a lot defusing tense situations. This example isn't very good. It shows the form but not the power.

Perhaps one can see them as simplified examples of the type of message you're aiming for, and it's left as an exercise to the reader to phrase it naturally.

Maybe the first few times.

We call these "I" messages and they show Emotional Responsibility for ourselves (and thus cause less friction and arguments). No one can "make" us feel anything emotionally, without our permission (physical, yes, but emotional, no). We make ourselves feel things... more specifically, our thoughts and meanings make us feel the way we feel.

The format is, "I felt __ when you __ because I thought/expected/believed __". Try it... it works well!

The flaw in that is the when you clause ends with something that usually is ambiguous or taken the wrong way can flare up an argument. I am a bit rusty in the theory since it's more than a decade since I took the course but the other form is what has done wonders for me. Me and the wife use NVC at least weekly to defuse situations.

I'm unfamiliar with NVC, but I've always held that you are, like you said, responsible for your emotions. I've tried with all my kids to teach them that. "She made me angry!" "No, nobody can make you feel anything, you are in charge of how you feel. What did they do that made you choose to be angry?"

It's good to teach children (and sometimes adults unfortunately) to be responsible for their emotions and explain what happened instead of vague statements like "She made me angry!", but you don't choose your emotions to situations, only how you respond to them.

My communication style is regularly challenged by myself, on reflection, and others to explain why something is important instead of what is important. To help avoid misunderstandings around my intent about presenting a fact, I have found that explaining the reason why something matters to me or the situation and then followed by the supporting fact improves my interactions.

I personally have found it a useful lens to look at communication in this form of presentation model after watching this video.


The older I grow, the more I realize that, in its barest essence, we are all 'good' human beings. But, thanks to self-help advice of the kind that aspires to teach you to be 'powerful', 'assertive', 'effective', 'take no for an answer', we are fed ideas that we need to behave/talk differently to be successful.

But, it is not what we should be striving for. It is meaningful connections. By treating others the way you would want to be treated yourself. That is all. Everything else follows this, including success at work. In most cases, anecdotally, this has worked for me except when I encounter people, so bought into this corporate powerplay myths that they have instead become people who have changed their basic identity to behave in a certain manner.

> we are all 'good' human beings.

Barring a few exceptions, agreed, but:

* 0.0001% of the population leaves a LOT of jerks in the world - jerks that tend to rise in power and influence by exploiting social systems made for non-jerks.

> thanks to self-help advice

Pretty sure the world had jerks and insensitive people prior to self-help advice.

As _I've_ grown older, I've learned a lot about how "being a good person" is NOT about having good intentions. Treating someone a I want to be treated isn't enough, if that person isn't me. Someone telling me (male) to "smile more" gives me an inherently different experience than a woman that is told it. I've said that to people when I was younger, and my intentions were all rosy-good. But I made a bad experience.

Being a good person is not "do I mean well". It is not "I should only have reactions based on what others intend, not how I actually feel about it". Being a good person means caring about the impact of my words and actions AND working to make those better. We won't always succeed (I certainly don't!) but we should try.

Consider: When someone points out that we've offended them, our natural reaction is to defend our intent - we are worried about ourselves and how we are perceived. We are NOT first worried about the fact that we made someone feel bad.

I think if we got over the idea that we're basically "good", and stopped acting like creating some small sadness in the world is a claim we need to defend ourselves from, if we just focused on reducing that number of small (and occasionally large) sadness/rage/jealousy/shame that we create, THEN we'd actually be "good".

I'd rather treat people the way I'd want to be treated if I were actually them, than to treat them the way I would treat myself and expect that that should work for them.

If you read Marshall Rosenberg's book on Nonviolent Communication, you will see that it is not this "self-help advice" that prevents us from being "good". There are many causes that are pervasive throughout our social structures, language use, customs, etc. that lead to the "default" forms of communication which everyone tends to use being inherently "violent" -- i.e. our common modes of interaction are not based in an acknowledgement of our own and others' goodness and of the love we deserve to be shown by each other.

> we are all 'good' human beings

I would say we're _mostly_ good human beings. The presence of a few bad actors and psychopaths, IMHO, is what prevents the benefits of universal altruism in society.

Speaking personally, I was a much more trusting person before falling into a relationship in college with a very charismatic person who almost certainly had antisocial personality disorder. Your behavior patterns must allow for the presence of well-camouflaged exploiters if you want to survive and thrive in adulthood. I still strive to be a good person, but am more guarded and suspicious of others' intentions than when I was younger.

I would say, other than a tiny minority of sociopaths, we're all good human beings to people we perceive as also being humans.

There are plenty of people who are perfectly nice and decent who would think nothing of ripping off a giant corporation for a few bucks because it's a giant corporation and they'll never notice.

You're opening a massive philosophical can of worms with that one.

Corporations that have paid over $9 billion in wage theft penalties since 2000....https://www.goodjobsfirst.org/sites/default/files/docs/pdfs/...

I think non-violent communication is great when you actually have to ask someone to change something about the way they operate in the world.

If you want to improve your relationships though, make rule zero "minimize the extent to which you require other people in the world to change."

I've found that some of my most worthwhile relationships have been with people that pushed me out of the comfort zone.

I'd say make sure that if you do push people to change, it is for their benefit rather than yours.

I think the key word there is "require". It's always great to try to help people, but in the end which road they walk down is up to them. My take on it is "Never expect other people to change, but also don't expect them not to change either".

The word require was never actually used, so not sure how it can be a key word.

Sure, but the kinds of requests NVC codifies are ones where "you hurt my feelings via action X".

No, NVC would have you say "I feel X when I notice you doing Y." The way you phrased it implies blame.

How is NVC way any different? "I feel sad because you did X" is just sugarcoated "You are the one who made me feel sad by doing X".

I find the "uncover your feelings" the most questionable point of the whole framework. Instantly reminds me of Stephen Fry's

    — I am rather offended by that
    – So fucking what?
Long ago I made an observation that anger and other feelings are more of our perception of someone's actions than the actions themselves. From that time on "90% of everything is attitude" became one of the my favourite sayings. Also, I am not sure if NVC sits well with the fundamental attribution error.

Words are just a way of conveying meaning, and it's always possible to interpret someone's words as implying blame. A motivated listener can take the most impartial, detached observation and hear it as a blistering indictment.

If someone is told the words "I feel a lot of anxiety about our financial stability" it's completely possible for them to understand the "true meaning" as "You're a useless slob who can't hold a proper job and I hate you"

But this doesn't mean that words don't matter. We don't control the meaning we convey, but we do influence it. Choice of words and phrasing is a very powerful tool for that. There are other tools as well, of course. But getting the words right is the low hanging fruit for most people.

>If you want to improve your relationships though, make rule zero "minimize the extent to which you require other people in the world to change."

I actually think this is profoundly awful advice, that gets progressively worse the more intimate the relationship, as a fundamental function of human relationships is accountability.

I'd rather not have an intense sit-down over socks. I am not a boor for thinking conversational tricks to manipulate me into tidying up are the opposite of functional intimacy.

Accountability and a requirement to change are quite orthogonal.

I don’t get why accountability “requires change”— could you explain?

> minimize the extent to which you require other people in the world to change.

That is the central point of NVC though. It isn't a mind trick to make people change, it is a framework for someone to communicate how they see the world without requiring anyone else to change.

Your rule 0 combines with NVC to lets conversations drift into meaningful topics while allowing other people to change only if they want to.

Your rule 0 without NVC basically means you need to rediscover NVC yourself or you have to limit your conversation only to the superficial. Which is workable but sub-optimal.

> There is no hard data we know of that proves whether NVC actually improves relationships and resolves conflict

Just like in “Crucial Conversations” this just tries to make empathy formulaic. Formulaic communication techniques come across as dishonest.

A better advice is to be hyper aware of what the other party is trying to convey, whether they are using “violent” or nonviolent way of conveying it, and respond according to whatever each unique situation calls for.

I read through NVC, and it is more than that. It would be really hard to prove that any system improved relationships because of confounding variables. You’d need a 24hour judge to make sure that you weren’t violating the “rules” or whatever.

That being said, NVC isn’t a panacea. I think the most useful thing it does though is helps you to change language patterns. There are a lot of incorrect language aphorisms, especially in America English because at best they cause confusion and at worse they cause conflict.

Small example, try to see how many times you catch yourself or someone else saying, “I feel that...” followed by a bunch of words that are actually their opinions or thoughts.

I actually think NVC is more of a great diagnostic tool then it is a set of practices. Communicating non-violently isn’t just about being “good” it is often, just as much, learning how to express reality more accurately.

NVC is great at pointing out errors of thought and communication it really doesn’t try to say how to go about stopping yourself from doing it.

> Formulaic communication techniques come across as dishonest.

IMO saying things like: use empathy are also suboptimal ways of teaching people about communication. Because those type of statements are quite vague and ambiguous and ambiguity leads to mystery. One of the cool things about our 'modern' way of thinking is the idea that we try to demistify everything and really understand how things work.

I think this should be the same with regards to learning how to communicate. Ideally that is: no mystery, only reliable knowledge that helps towards the goal of a better life for everyone.

And yes, that is asking for a lot and will take centuries, but I believe it's worth it.

It's like trying to teach someone without any sense of rhythm, pitch, and tempo to play music. Yes, they can learn to do the mechanics, but the result will not be enjoyable.

The formulas are to help us internalize the behavior. Having a crucial conversation is behavior change. We need to change ourselves. The formula helps us see the paths to change. Overtime, as you apply the formula, the underlying behavior sticks, and you forget the formula. So yes, while formulaic empathy feels dishonest, it will eventually lead to you being genuinely more empathetic.

Sometimes it is just cargo-culting.

Crucial Conversations was good for me, if for no other reason than it created a shared vocabulary for me to communicate with my boss.

The #1 I got out of it was to create safety. If someone doesn't feel safe, you're not getting the "real" them, you're getting their defensive self, which is usually an asshole. Everything else is about how you create that safety, but honestly it's not hard once you know what you're trying to do.

The problem is that creating safety takes effort, and a lot of times it's just not worth it...

>Felix, you always leave your dirty socks on the floor! It’s disgusting! Clean this up before you do anything else.

>Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table, I feel irritated because I want more order in the rooms that we share in common - would you be willing to put your socks in the washing machine?

These two sentences convey the same information. The speaker finds the sock to be out of order, which is a disgust reaction in some, irritation in others. It also communicates that this event has happened more than once, though it is only implied in the second text. The only explicit difference is the demand to do it immediately.

I can understand why people perceive it to be manipulative, it implies a feelings cost to the speaker if the socks are not picked up that is described to be Felix's responsibility. The first speaker makes no comment about Felix's responsibility over his feelings, but instead simply states that the fact that socks are out makes him feel disgusted with no further feelings based implications.

The first speaker makes a clear and overbearing command (assuming this is some social interaction and not a job) to drop everything that Felix is doing and clean up. That is easy to identify and rebel against, it implies no feelings cost, no cost to the speaker, just a disagreement over actionable orders. The second speaker implies a feelings cost that she is has handed responsibility over to Felix. That can feel manipulative if you're not used to negotiating over the impact actions have on feelings. Negotiating over feelings ends up being the same as negotiating over spoken orders. A competent person must be able to deal with both speakers.

Describing words as violence fundamentally undermines the "old" (aka what I grew up with) liberal western order that was do whatever you want as long as it brings no harm. If you escalate "direct orders" to the level of "harm" you're requiring authority to govern speech to protect from harm rather than a liberal 'stick-and-stones' attitude we used to enjoy. An endless disappointment, to say the least.

>The only explicit difference is the demand to do it immediately.

No. The first speaker exaggerates the issue to make a point ("you always"), makes a roundabout reference to societal norms ("it's disgusting") instead of describing what actually annoys them (socks lying on the floor right now) and why (I don't want to see them because I personally find them disgusting, not because Felix failed to meet some outside standard).

>A competent person must be able to deal with both speakers.

Sure, but you can't change how others deal with your words. You can only choose how you yourself communicate.

>Describing words as violence fundamentally undermines the "old" (aka what I grew up with) liberal western order that was do whatever you want as long as it brings no harm.

I think you describe two problems here:

* The name is indeed unfortunate. * It is percieved as an objective standard against which to judge all communication, rather than a guide for one's own actions.

As I see it, it's generally pointless to expect others to behave in a certain "right" way that you can reasonably suspect they might not, and then get annoyed when they indeed don't. Speaking in a pointlessly confrontational manner (such as making arguments from omniscience, like "you always", or "you are a ___ person" etc) is more likely to provoke an aggressive reaction than sticking to the facts (observations about your own feelings are also facts). Why not choose the latter?

>No. The first speaker exaggerates the issue to make a point ("you always"), makes a roundabout reference to societal norms ("it's disgusting") instead of describing what actually annoys them (socks lying on the floor right now) and why (I don't want to see them because I personally find them disgusting, not because Felix failed to meet some outside standard).

The only reason the second speaker would say "When I see xyz on the floor" is because she has seen it before and that feeling happens every time. It's not as explicit as "you always", but it still implies a recurring and reliable event. Disgust is a societal trend at the moment that has started at 2015-2016 and will end in 2028. There is a deeper trend in the culture that will pass. But more importantly than that some people are genuinely more likely to have higher disgust sensitivity. It's a measurable trait. I am curious that the social trend comes to you as a priority in "it's disgusting", that's not a perspective I would see.

>making arguments from omniscience, like "you always", or "you are a ___ person" etc) is more likely to provoke an aggressive reaction

I agree "you always" is bad. You are burying the point by saying observations about feelings are facts. It could very well be true from the first speaker's observations Felix always does leave his socks out. I don't think 'always' and 'never' are useful categories because it gives the listener no place to go. They are totalitarian and nihilistic categories.

> it's generally pointless to expect others to behave in a certain "right" way that you can reasonably suspect they might not, and then get annoyed when they indeed don't.

I mean that's all well in good in a normal social atmosphere, but you certainly demand people to behave well when you are in a rough neighbourhood and get upset when they do not. You lock your door every night and get pissed off when thugs and criminals to break in, despite the fact it's reasonable to expect that was going to happen in a rough neighborhood.

>* It is percieved as an objective standard against which to judge all communication, rather than a guide for one's own actions.

I think the name is riffing off a political idea (unfortunately) that sought to make small infractions in social exchange and language a political tool for change. For better or worse one could draw the parallel between that political idea and this book.

>The only reason the second speaker would say "When I see xyz on the floor" is because she has seen it before and that feeling happens every time. It's not as explicit as "you always", but it still implies a recurring and reliable event.

Hmm yeah, I agree that including that information (but more precisely than "you always") is useful here.

>I am curious that the social trend comes to you as a priority in "it's disgusting", that's not a perspective I would see.

Okay, disgusting socks may not be the best example, because it's pretty clear cut that leaving them in the open is not an acceptable roommate behavior. Can't think of something better right now. Maybe something like stereotypical "leaving the toilet seat up" or "hanging the toilet paper towards the wall or not"? thing is, that framing the discussion in terms of what is acceptable or not is a roundabout and, frankly, manipulative, by elevating personal view to an objective fact.

>You are burying the point by saying observations about feelings are facts.

At the end of the day, feelings are physiological reactions that have already happened. One can discuss whether one side should change, or the other should suck it up next time.

>It could very well be true from the first speaker's observations Felix always does leave his socks out.

That's not a feeling, that's an extrapolation from a mental model, that can't possibly hold in the real world. This leaves Felix no real recourse outside of some pointless back-and-forth.

>I mean that's all well in good in a normal social atmosphere

I think it's the entire point of NVC. No one in their sane mind suggests talking like that to a mugger or thief (though any other kind of talking would be equally ineffective).

>For better or worse one could draw the parallel between that political idea and this book.

Well I didn't notice that parallel before. I don't think the whole idea should be thrown under the bus because of it in any case.

> Felix, I see that you have once again left your dirty socks on the floor. This is unacceptable to me; we have agreed as roommates to not leave dirty laundry about the house. I'm not touching your socks; could you imagine having to touch mine? So I'm leaving it to you to pick them up.

I'm a fair amount more "violent" than NVC, I guess. But by communicating with my feelings, rather than about my feelings, I can be more effective.

I discovered NVC decades ago and have been using it ever since.

Many people complain that NVC sounds unnatural. This is because it is like learning a new language. It sounds unnatural when any native speaker teaches someone their language, because they speak slowly, in simple phrases, and repeat everything at least twice. That is exactly what Marshal did when teaching NVC.

Once you are fluent, it sounds very different and works beautifully. I've occasionally offer help to couples on the verge of breaking up, reworking what they are saying into NVC, and the effects are profound.

Couples on opposite sides of the room, who can't look at each other, end up tightly holding each other, crying together. They feel understood for the first time and understand the pain in each other that motivates each other's hurtful feeling actions.

Then I start teaching them to do it themselves. When they do, the relationship improves. When they don't, they keep needing to come back again and again, and the relationship slowly dies.

I still tend to listen to the full lecture on YouTube about once a year or two as a refresher. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the most important life skills anyone can learn, and NVC should be taught in all schools.

At a Marshall Rosenberg event I attended, he was asked about the unnatural speaking style. His reponse was that it was like "training wheels" for learning the process and, like you say, it doesn't sound like that once you learn to practice NVC natually.

And that may be, but my experience with various NVC teachers and practitioners is that they don't know the training wheel analogy and they do speak in an unnatural way for the most part.

Got a link for that YouTube lecture? (There are many.)

I think this is it: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLlRkRHAyI2xHN6UUD53X7...

I think it's really hard to get natural with it. Just like any new language, it takes years of immersion to speak like a native, and there's nowhere in our society to get that kind of immersion in NLP.

Huh, my fiancée and I developed a system years ago that approximates this approach by replacing statements with what we call “food codes”.

For example: “Applesauce” is equivalent to “I can’t hear you”, or “speak up” or “stop mumbling”.

“Applesauce Factory” means “I can’t hear you because you are too far away or something noisy is making it hard to hear you” - very convenient verbal shorthand for when it’s too noisy to say all of that at once.

“Soufflé” - “I need to introvert for a while” (similar to how a soufflé needs delicacy and time to settle)

“Crockpot” - “I need to focus on work and I cannot be interrupted for anything less than an emergency” (similar to how a crockpot won’t work if you keep opening the lid over and over)

We settled on using foods because they are inherently neutral (we don’t pick foods we dislike to code for obvious reasons), and sometimes correspond to their meaning (like crockpot).

Another way to look at it is that we define functions with food codes that handle the messy, “violent” (to use TFA’s language) communication so that we understand what we are trying to convey, but at execution time we only call the function itself, not the code inside, so the language that could otherwise inadvertently hurt feelings is unspoken, even though it is still clearly expressed, but in a manner that doesn’t invoke negative reactions.

The biggest advantage of this system is that we can say things directly without accidentally hurting feelings or dancing around the topic to avoid accidentally hurting feelings. Feel free to utilize this in your own relationships. I’d never heard of anything like this before starting it and it has worked wonders for us.

Fantastic! I'm so happy that's working for you.

One of things that's missing in this is that the parties involved actually intend to work together. As is clear from the various threads of discussion to this post, people react based on their underlying (dis)trust of the intent of the other party. That's why this is experienced by many folks emotionally as "passive-aggressive" manipulation.

Can you give some examples of how you use this? Do you use the words by themselves? If your partner is being overbearing and annoying do you just say “soufflé” and they stop talking?

So if the washer/dryer is on (which is in the kitchen) and one of us is in the kitchen and the other is not, and someone starts talking, nobody can hear so its a reflexive “applesauce factory”, which means at least one person has to move closer to the other so they can hear clearly.

Soufflé is typically said like “I’ve had a rough day and I’m peopled-out. I need to soufflé”.

“Sure! I’ll let our friends know that it’s just me coming to hang out tonight. Let me know if you want me to pick up something for you on the way back.”

Sometimes they’re more immediate. “Oatmeal” means “stop biting your nails, the sound really bothers me.” I’ll just say that when she is doing that and she stops. Sometimes it’s actually quite funny because it starts involuntarily and as soon as I say it she realizes what she’s doing and slams her hand back down to the steering wheel (it seems to happen a lot when driving, although not as often anymore in general).

Another, like oatmeal, that was so useful it was effectively discontinued, is “salsa.” For whatever reason, there was a period of time that I interspaced the word “like” a lot as I spoke, so she would say “salsa” when I did it and I became conscious of it and stopped. Eventually I stopped saying it altogether.

This sounds like an awesome method of communication! Thanks for explaining.

A similar effect would be possible when using baby-talk. It allows you to say something without instigating defensive reactions.

> “would you be willing to only eat the food that you buy?”

Would be: "Baby, I'm so hungry and I can't find anything to eat. I couldn't find the food I had in the fridge. What should I do?"

Only works when you can code switch from regular language to baby language which is 'non violent' by design.

lol, this is amazing.

I've read "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life" and found it helpful in personal & work communication.

I _hate_ the name, though. I don't want to suggest to someone that they read about non-violent communication because that suggests they're being violent when they're not. I'd prefer almost any other name. Some better names: "observational communication", "non-judgmental communication", "empathetic communication", "structured communication". I could keep going...


It is hugely ironic that the title of the book does seem to translate to "How to stop being a violent jerk."

A standard joke of mine when I recommend the book to others that the sequel, "Violent Communication", hasn't yet received much traction in the corporate sphere outside of Comcast's strategic planning department.

I like "Empathic Communication". Nice one.

I completely agree. For a book that stresses the importance of non-judgmental understanding, the name makes it awfully hard to recommend to someone without coming across as being quite judgmental.

It's a child of the 60s and with all that was going on quite fitting in that timeframe. Since then it's been corporized with trainers worldwide going for certifications to be allowed to use the name. (Another sign of the time, this time more modern.) They won't change it due to their organizational structure. It's sort of like a brand office with a lot of freelancers on the side. What further strengthens this is that they seem to think Marshall Rosenberg is a hero and he is still alive.

I actually love NVC, went to several trainings where I was quite the outlier and had to swallow twice before asking my firm to pay for it. A more corporate branding would be benificial for my part of the market.

Less qualitative (imho) communication theories get pushed by corporations I've worked at, but the main selling point is that these courses are integrated. You get a slick trainer or two, they use actors for sessions, they have shiny branded materials, perhaps a website for a brush up training afterwards. NVC as far as I've seen it appeals to those with a less corporate affiliation, works with books external to the course (a lot of them) which might feel to an outsider like some quasi-scientific appeal and with themes that seem childish. I had no problem with the giraffe once I understood it, but no corporate trainer has ever tried to have me wear giraffes ears in front of my co-workers. It feels like good content, scientology method.

The author Marshall Rosenburg has also expressed the same feelings about the name and 'compassionate communication' is another way they refer to nvc

Fascinating, and I totally hear that. For me, the name is part of what drew me to it in the first place -- the framing that there is a "violence" even in the normal day to day interactions we are all used to was a bit of an "aha!" moment for me that provided hope for something better.

It's also known as Compassionate Communication.

Consider the source though. It’s from another time where racism was much more rampant and India was much further into its traditional ways. Lynchings were not a distant memory.

I like Fred Kofman’s Verbal Aikido.


Indeed, the name was immediately off-putting to me.

If only she had consulted some marketing people before publishing the book! It might've been accepted by a larger audience.

ah i thought i read marsha lol

My brain generated "nonvolatile communication", which fits the acronym.

Nonviolent communication comes up on HN every few months and it's always the same praises and criticisms. I've been on the receiving end of NVC quite a few times in my career, and every single time it comes off as patronizing bullshit. I'd rather people yell at me than couch everything in, "I feel X" or "Would you be willing to Y". When important things must be done well, do you think this sort of language is used? Of course not. In those situations, everyone is assumed to be an adult who is strong enough to take direct criticism.

Brilliant marketing move though, calling it "nonviolent communication", implying that any other form of communication is violent. The only better example of this tactic I've seen is "pro-life" (implying that those who don't want to ban abortion are anti-life).

If you use this conversation style, you will get a bimodal response. Conversations with some people will be a little smoother, but conversations with others will be much worse. To those people, you will come off as assuming that they are weak and can't take criticism. Or worse, you'll come off as a mealy-mouthed phoney.

I cannot emphasize enough just how condescending I find this style of speaking. I think the only way a conversationalist could annoy me more would be to clap between every word.

As a math student considering a teaching career, I recently took a course on math education taught by a retired high school math teacher. One of the things she placed a heavy emphasis on was our questioning techniques and classroom management strategies.

Every single one of the non-violent communication strategies you listed from the article were specifically singled out as things we should never say when asking questions to students. It was actually difficult to get out of the habit, since most of us in the class were used to couching our phrases that way.

By the end of the term, we had all gotten much better at speaking in a direct and pointed fashion, and our teaching abilities showed considerable improvement.

NVC shouldn’t be practiced in uneven relationships (teacher - student, parent - child, employer - employee, customer - server) for the exact reason mentioned by GP. It’s simultaneously condescending and confusing to the party with less power, inviting them to test what leverage they can gain - usually none.

The article acknowledges this point, albeit somewhat indirectly:

>We think it's important to note that NVC should only be used in situations where people have each other's best interests at heart

That caveat makes it vey hard to find situations where NVC is valid, as it relies on the motivation of both parties. It’s not enough for the speaker to have the listener’s best interest at heart (as is presumably the case with a teacher speaking to a student); the attitude must be reciprocated as well.

This is the sort of escape clause that enables No True Scotsman-like defenses of the methodology: “You did everything by the book and didn’t get your desired result. It must be because he doesn’t actually care about you.”

NVC is for finding mutual purpose. A classroom setting, the goal is to encourage students to push themselves. Their is no mutual purpose. Their goal of staying silent and doing as little as possible directly opposes your goal of wanting them to learn and push themselves. This is why I like the book crucial conversations. Step 1 is: identifying a crucial conversation. And you only apply the techniques in those situations. They are only intended for those types of situations, not everything. A crucial conversation is a conversation where 1. Stakes are high 2. Emotions run strong 3. Opinions vary

All three have to be true for these techniques to be useful.

Uh-oh, I think I might be doing this (as a college lecturer). Do you have some references, or some examples of how this might arise in a classroom?

This course was geared toward teaching high school. In college you have a totally different dynamic. You're not responsible for your students and you have no authority over them besides grading. People in college otherwise tend to be very respectful of their lecturers, however, since they are paying tuition to attend class and so they're invested in their education. It's rare to see anyone screw around like a high school student.

As for references, I don't really. Everything in that course was on paper handouts made specifically for us by our instructor (we had a class of 5 people). Essentially, what you want to do is ask a question directly, without couching it in any NVC-style language. Don't say "Would you like to...?" or "Does anyone know...?" Those sorts of queries open you up to a sarcastic response, though as I said I wouldn't expect that tone from college students.

I tend to agree with this. I struggle with non-violent communication. All the violence I've experienced in communication has been high social skill people passive aggressively using "appropriate channels" and "emotional intelligence" to harm me. I tend to prefer directness whether it's up or down the power ladder, and yet the trend is away from that overall. It's sort of minority rule too, where most people prefer directness, but a few people really hate it and force "non-violence" on everyone. Of course, the forcing bit implicates violence...

NVC is a framework for direct communication. To quote the article:

1. Observe Facts - observe the specific facts that are affecting our wellbeing, and bring them up with the other person

2. Note Feelings - introspect about what exactly we are feeling in response to what we've observed, and communicate these feelings

3. Uncover Desires - figure out the desires, wants and values that are creating our feelings, and explain them to the other person

4. Make Requests - ask for concrete actions to help resolve the situation

What you described is none of the above.

You're describing an algorithm, albeit an informal one. The problem is that there is no general algorithm for social skills, which means that this algorithm is useless in the general case. Now, if one treats your listed points as a set of heuristics rather than an algorithm and then perceptively applies them to a given social interaction, they probably will be useful. But, of course, the ability to do that is exactly the same thing as having social skills. This explains why it strikes many people as both patronizing and unhelpful: because it is.

There obviously is a general algorithm for social skills; otherwise humans couldn't socialise.

However there is no algorithm independent from what other people say and do. So any strategy that doesn't involve carefully considering what other people say and do is bound to fail.

You’re implying human social interaction is decidable. That’s a pretty bold claim and I’m not aware of any evidence for it. Please elaborate.

I disagree that a thing has to be decidable for there to be a relevant algorithm; an algorithm is a defined set of steps to take for a given input. And there is always the option of modelling social interaction as a decidable system then come up with an algorithm for the model (which is how most algorithms are used in practice, any decidable algorithm performs strangely in a physical world when it has to cope with cosmic rays hitting the CPU).

For people to be able to interact socially they have to make predictions about the consequences of their actions. That can be formulated as some sort of stochastic model. This is enough of a hook that algorithms can be used.

Anyway, that is fairly academic because in practice humans are obviously very predictable and tend to have quite stable personalities over time. There is a wealth of psychological literature classifying major personality traits [eg, 0] and most people respond in a normal way to incentives and social hierarchy with some adjustments for their cultural background.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Personality_traits

> All the violence I've experienced in communication has been high social skill people passive aggressively using "appropriate channels" and "emotional intelligence" to harm me.

What would be useful is a kind of "defense against the dark arts" program aimed at teaching people who prefer and practice direct communication to defend against these harms without feeling like they have to start using manipulative tricks themselves.

This is what I've been building for the last four years—mostly offline, but putting more stuff online:


...unless you were referring to NVC itself, as I think it could also be used for this, although much of the work that I do is trying to build on the shoulders of NVC.

Sounds interesting, just subscribed.

I actually find the “step-by-step instructions” the least useful part of the nonviolent communication books. I think the most important part of communication, especially in conflicts, is being genuine and authentic, which is very difficult if you’re following some sort of recipe.

I do find NVC extremely helpful as a tool to understand communication and conflicts though. There are many great insights on how conflicts appear and how having an empathic understanding of each other can help resolve them.

I’m not sure whether following the steps outlined by the method helps with that though, especially if a person sees the method as a “turnkey solution” to get other people to “behave” rather than trying to do the introspection of why you are bothered by something and to separate what the other person did from how you feel about it.

> Brilliant marketing move though, calling it "nonviolent communication", implying that any other form of communication is violent.

Thanks, I've been trying to put my finger on what irks me about this and I think this is it. I tend to have a strong negative reaction to people trying to control a conversation by framing it with loaded language. It's dishonest and manipulative and you see it all the time.

I think what frustrates me about speaking with some people who have learned NVC is that they seem to speak it with a very rigid formula and then they seem frustrated when I don't respond with the same sentence structure. Almost like they're speaking a different language and want me to conform to their language instead of meeting me halfway.

Does that sound related to what you're talking about?

Yeah, exactly. They're trying to control the language used in such a way to make disagreement with them impossible. (I don't know if this is an NVC thing, it could just be the people doing this).

A great example in fiction is the scene in Donnie Darko where the teacher is trying to make everyone classify things on a scale from "fear" to "love" and not accepting any answers not on the scale.

I agree it comes across as incredibly disingenuous and unnatural. It's like a salesperson saying your name over and over. It's not normal and FEELS like a performance to elicit a response.

I don't know why reasonable and honest communication is so hard for so many. You can speak plainly but kindly and be genuine in the process. Nobody likes being or feeling like they are being manipulated and nobody who uses "techniques" to do this is not obvious.

I think the reason it seems to work more than it actually does is because it's worst-case reaction is covert rather than overt. Someone who patronizes me or tells me sweet sounding bullshit will probably get me to hate them in silence rather than fire back immediately, since I couldn't easily prove their intent. It doesn't mean it's any better of a situation, and may result in delayed retaliation rather than just getting everything out in the open.

Actually that sounds like bad NVC. The point of NVC isn’t to obscure what you need from the other person. It’s to frame it in a way that’s objective about what you need and indicating what having what you need will allow you to do/be/feel/etc. The objective description is to remove your own emotionally loaded or offensive language.

I’m sure the HR departments of the world are misusing it though as means to an end and at the cost of employees.

An interesting side effect of making the tradeoffs clear to the listener is that their cost-benefit analysis may still fall on the side of the status quo. Especially in the case of a relatively impersonal relationship like HR-employee, it’s likely that the employee will be fine with large amounts of inconvenience for the HR department as long as the paychecks still come on time.

Yup what works and doesn't work depends on many factors (personality type, what people have been through in life, number of dumbasses they are currently surrounded by etc) so the outcomes can be highly unpredictable no matter what you do.

But having different tools in the toolkit and awareness of what's available makes a big difference.

So I look at NVC in that context, as one tool that falls under the 'communication strategy' category. There are many tools under many categories to build trust, respect and connection with others. At the end of the day what outcomes you produce are what matters. And many times it requires a combo of tools.

> Brilliant marketing move though, calling it "nonviolent communication", implying that any other form of communication is violent.

On one hand, effective marketing, on the other hand, extreme irony.

I think it's a tool. Sometimes, you need to touch on something so intrinsically tied to someone's identity, that any other form of communication doesn't tend to work.

This is, from my experience, rare. Especially among emotionally mature adults who have a well rounded life.

The problem is the people who develop these techniques, like someone who develops a good hammer, thinks that all problems are nails.

Personally, I hate the inauthentic communication style in general, and I agree with you on how it makes me feel.

I've found that folks who take "How to Win Friends and Influence People" as a roadmap for getting what they want the same way. I personally think that it's easy to detect when someone is faking empathy, being insincere, etc... And it instantly sours me on whatever conversation I am having when I find myself on the receiving end of these techniques.

Funny, I didn't see that as a book of techniques at all. More a reminder that other people all have their stories and are mostly fascinating beings if you only take the time to take an interest. The interest needn't be insincere, but the reminder is still useful for a natural recluse like myself.

(but then again I'd be rubbish at sales).

In those situations, everyone is assumed to be an adult who is strong enough to take direct criticism.

This is the example given in the article:

[1. Observe Facts] Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table, [2. Note Feelings] I feel irritated because [3. Uncover Desires] I want more order in the rooms that we share in common - [4. Make Requests] would you be willing to put your socks in the washing machine?

Seems direct enough to me. Obviously stating your feelings matters less at work; maybe you'd replace "feelings" with "implications for the project" or something.

Vs “quit leaving dirty socks under the coffee table.”

That’s direct & natural.

Natural is not always better. Human behavior on average doesn't actually respond well to direct criticism. Our flight or fight responses kick in ("uggh fine" or deflecting) and cause us to handle the situation in suboptimal ways. This is probably not a great example as it feels more like a parenting example, but even in parenting, a lot of parenting material suggests that "commands" (pick up your socks) often leads to the opposite behavior where as stating your feelings helps the child learn feel empathy for you, and make the decision themselves to respect you or not. In work situations, imagine telling a coworker that you find their desk messy. Are you just going to say "clean up your desk"? No, because you cant control them. Are you going to say "you have a messy desk" or "you are a slob" no, because they take that as accusatory. Accusing is like saying "its about me not you". While this NVC framework may feel disingenuous, its actually significantly more empathic than just being direct because it forces a conversation where you can find mutual purpose. (How is this a win win?) A direct statement is actually a lie you tell yourself where you are assuming a lot and not allowing a process of changing your own mind. So being direct is actually succumbing to your own biases.

Why are you bothering yourself with the state of someone else's desk in the first place?

And less likely to achieve desired results...

The request part looks like something out of Cialdini's Persuasion. Which doesn't mean it isn't effective, mind, but it definitely sets off "someone is phrasing things like a car salesman, beware, you may be talking to a jerk who's trying to screw you" alarms.

It comes across to me as inhuman, corporate-drone speak. It also comes across as trying to manage the other person, treating them as a child or less than human themselves.

The whole idea just screams "fake" to me.

It's possible that if you're talking to someone who's really good at NVC, it might not register as NVC at all. There might be a selection effect here. (Though I guess I could also be pulling a "no true Scotsman".)

I agree, I’m seeing selection bias in some replies. NVC, like any framework, can be applied poorly. When it is applied effectively, it just comes across as clear and direct communication.

It is not intended for casual conversation, but to provide a framework for difficult conversations to increase the chances of a positive and productive result.

It sounds like passive-aggressive to me. Yeah, it's annoying.

This seems like a guide to passive aggressively manipulating others for your own gain. Am I missing something?

The number one mistake in NVC is leaving an implied threat of "and if you don't, I'll lose control and stop asking nicely" around in the social atmosphere. There's a lot of groundwork you need to lay in order to have the conversation actually be about observations, needs, and emotions. If you don't have it, NVC can often be a tool of aggression.

If your goal is to passive aggressively manipulate others, then NVC will work just as well as anything else. If your goal is connected communication, NVC works very well too.

Stuff like this can be abused indeed. Also worth noting that this kind of communication skills are part of most management trainings. I took some courses on coaching and selling your ideas ten years ago and this is exactly the kind of thing they teach. So in that sense, yes, this exactly the kind of tools that your average passive aggressive manager (aka. people manipulator) would use. But then, it's also a common trait for some of the best managers I've worked for to be good at this stuff.

A more productive way to think about it is in terms of leveling the playing field when dealing with people with such skills and understand what they are doing and why. Also it allows you to be more effective in day to day getting stuff done with other people; especially when you sometimes disagree with them. Finally, knowledge of this stuff can help when you realize you are being a dick. Also you now have the tools to be less of a dick by simply stating things in a different way.

I don't think so - the compliance strategy vibe is strong.

The audio version of the book is read by Rosenberg himself. He managed to avoid the annoying persistent mildly-psychotic caffeinated bravado that's ubiquitous in ‘self-help’ audiobooks. It's rather a pleasure to listen to, just for his mild tone—even if he doesn't quite steer clear of other tropes.

Can't remember any other book in the genre that sounded sincere instead of hopped-up, aside of David Lynch's reading of his “Big Fish”—but he's a different kind of writer anyway. Though, “Why We Sleep” and Guy Meadows' “The Sleep Book” might count, probably because they're more of informing instead of peddling.

> Felix, you always leave your dirty socks on the floor! It’s disgusting! Clean this up before you do anything else.

Obviously Felix is going to respond bad to the first example because it's a demand. Someone forcing you to do something is never welcomed.

> 1. Observe Facts] Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table, [2. Note Feelings] I feel irritated because [3. Uncover Desires] I want more order in the rooms that we share in common - [4. Make Requests] would you be willing to put your socks in the washing machine?

Assuming this is told with a calm voice, it won't transmit the same urgency as the first one. You are expressing that you are irritated with your words but your voice is not saying the same so Felix could assume is not as terrible as your words tell. In my opinion, the real difference is just in the request; you are requesting something not demanding it and it makes it less aggressive.

This may just be something that I’m sensitive to, but the “you always” part of the first statement immediately puts me in a hostile posture. I start thinking of counterarguments to the fact that was asserted (“I picked up my socks just yesterday!”), and the generality of “always” makes it difficult to come to a tangible resolution—if the collection of past transgressions is the real problem, there isn’t a way to fix them.

I think a lot of the power of the second statement comes from the fact that it primarily addresses _this_ instance of the problem, which takes away any incentive to argue with the fact asserted (the socks plainly are on the floor) and makes the path to a resolution much more straightforward: I’m sorry for leaving these socks on the floor; I’ll pick them up, and yes, I’d be happy to put them in the machine in the future.

There also might be other reasons to why Felix does this that you didn't think about. Maybe you use the washing machine every single day and Felix is just tired to race with you to get it first and just gives up. This way you leave room for your own errors which is very important.

I agree. And now assume the latter sentence is told in an aggressive voice. Does it really make a difference?

Furthermore: What if this is a parent-child relationship and the kid actually should put the socks in the washing machine? The answer "no" would not be acceptable. So the outcome for the parent is either inacceptible, or the fact that the parent doesn't accept a "no" for an answer will make him/her voice this in a way that still feels "violent".

Rosenberg's book resonated with me. I was raised in a family that has about zero capacity for understanding or communicating their own needs, but quick to point out what others need or should do. I used to think I had high empathy, but post-therapy I realized that I was really letting other people project their feelings into me, and had an underdeveloped sense of self. And it was hard for me to ask things of others, assuming I would be burdening them. It's a product of how I was raised, how my parents were raised, going back probably many generations. Hopefully it ends with my generation.

NVC really is amazing. It immediately cuts down tension when flight or fight responses are triggered.

I reject the premise that any communication can be "violent". If someone's conversation manual begins with the expansion of violence to cover speech, the philosophy behind this manual is likely so alien to me that I won't get anything out of it. I favor direct and specific communication that doesn't obfuscate or insult anyone's intelligence.

Thank you. This kind of thing contributes to the continuing embrittlement of the workplace and of society itself. And we know what happens to brittle things when they encounter a bit of stress.

I have been using the playbook here for the past half-year or so. It’s made a big difference not in how I communicate, but in how I understand communication problems. There isn’t much to the book. You don’t need to read the whole thing, you can basically find summaries online and use those. The book is padded out because people won’t pay much for short booklets.

Something that I took from this book is to try and do the communication from the listener’s side—extract the four steps from people who are assaulting you with demands.

This meshes surprisingly well with other books on the subject, like Getting to Yes, which is about negotiation.

Yep it reminds me a lot of the fundamental message of Spin Selling - the best salespeople are the ones who figure out the real needs of their customers.

I’ve been in a workplace where we supposedly followed this. It was often used as a veil for passive aggressive toxicity. There was a lot wrong with that place, and this certainly isn’t the cause of it, but I’ve seen this used as a weapon to do some really shady stuff in the workplace.

Being nice to others is not problem if you do not need anything from them. But if you want to force someone to do what he doesn't want to do, that is a problem. And being empathic doesn't always help.

If you are empathetic it is easier to force people to do something they don’t want. It costs less political capital and you won’t suffer as much of a backlash.

The combination of empathy and forcing people feels oxymoronic to me. Also, forcing people or even getting them to do something is not in the spirit of NVC, as I understand it.

> 'force people to do something they don’t want.'

This is why it unnerves so many people who aren't acclimatized to corporate artificiality.

It’s a tool like a hammer. You can use it to do good or bad things. Like any form of communication. At least NVC is better at empowering people to get their needs met, compared to the alternatives.

At least you admit NVC is about empowering the NVC user, not something done for the benefit of the NVC receiver.

Don’t misinterpret my words.

But, OF COURSE nonviolent communication empowers the speaker. It’s about articulating the SPEAKER’S observations, feelings, needs, and recommendations and putting them in an order where you can understand the context.

If you don’t communicate your feelings to other people, they will find it difficult to empathize with you.

The receiver empathizing with the user is not considered by users of NVC as an end in and of itself, but rather a means towards an end. The real objective is getting something from them other than their empathy.

Yes, but that's true of any conflict resolution framework.

The goal of using NVC isn't to get your way, it's to achieve a mutual understanding. What you do with that understanding is left to the reader.

That's what money is for...

I don't know why, but somehow I got to realize that thing, and follow it for years. And here it works so much, Be as much friendly as you can, if anyone give you fight, don't fight it back directly,just give a smile, may be this smile will be your fight back. This really works,when people around you are nonviolent, they start to belief you and like you.

People using NVC makes me bristle.

When I think about the people who use NVC on me, I feel negative and distrustful. They are acquaintances, not friends.

Presenting demands as politely couched questions doesn't change the fact that they are still demands.

Where is the effort to make compromise and work together?

What if you don't want nonviolent communication? I can think of many examples; an oppressive government, a physically oppressive/abusive relationship or rape, a religously delusional cult, etc.

Maybe the assumption is that you are excluding such situations? Sometimes you have to fight for justice. What is your priority, peace or truth? I understand that point 1. should address this, but the opposite can happen as well: downplaying facts.

Maybe that's not the point of this, but I don't by default think you have to be nice to people with whom you disagree. If you try to understand someone you may become like them.

"when you beat me I feel pain...I don't like to feel pain, perhaps you could stop beating me"

"I enjoy inflicting pain...your pain makes me happy...perhaps you could continue feeling the pain I inflict on you"

What I mean is if the other person is oppressive, then you shouldn't give them control over you.

What if you don't want nonviolent communication?

Isn't the whole point that you should want it? Why would you not default to being nice to people? Or, as the article says, default to unbiased evidence and specificity? Sure if that fails and you're into it, try violent communication. But defaulting to it for disagreements doesn't exactly sound like the easiest nor best idea. Anecodtal, but the disagreements online and IRL which I have solved were never by being not nice. Being not nice results in driving the parties further away from each other. Whereas being nice opens the way for constructive talking. Which is excatly what the typcial COC for software these days is about, for instance.

Now, I don't know a lot of history, so wrt your first example for instance I don't know how many conflicts were resolved through non-violent protests vs straight up civil menace for instance. I.e. I don't know if the principle which applies to a basic disagreement also works on larger scales.

This is explicitly covered in the reading.

> We think it's important to note that NVC should only be used in situations where people have each other's best interests at heart. It isn't helpful in abusive relationships....

I missed that part, and I think that is a rather necessary assumption.

I only had bad experiences with it.

Many people just use it to deflect criticism.

I learned about NVC about 15 years ago. Selves in and listened to Rosenburg’s audio course. It becomes natural over time, but be prepared to sound awkward at first.

Another approach that leads to similar results: try to apply the Golden Rule to your life...

"do unto others what you would have them done to you"

Then in every situation try to think how you would want to be treated or how you would want to be spoken to and behave like that to the other person. It isn't as hard as one might think and there's not much theory to learn, only one has to meditate on this, what it means exactly applied to all areas of life.

"Golden rule? But you were trying to kill me?

Well yes, if I ever were to become an evil monster like you, then in my heart of hearts I would actually want you to slay me immediately in order to save the world from a nightmarish reign of terror and destruction!"

"nonviolent communication" - well, using those communication patterns/frameworks, basically communication weapons, to goad/manipulate your target (can we say mark?) in my view is among the most hostile communication acts, and when i recognize them being used against me i immediately put my defenses up.

the requests all sound very passive aggressive to me. eg, “ would you be willing to only eat the food that you buy?”

These are fairly contrived examples, but in all of them the requestor is making a pretty clear statement of their feelings and what they want, even at risk of being verbose.

The characteristic of true passive-aggressive responses is to avoid direct confrontation, to mask conflict. For example, maybe by making a "joke" ("How's that food of mine that you're eating?") or by saying that somethings okay but not really meaning it ("I totally don't mind that you're eating all my food") or various other techniques.

I get the feeling you really need to know about the folks you are talking to if you intend to use that phrasing. The oddity of that sentence probably would escalate any situation far beyond just saying: "Don't eat the food that isn't yours" with certain groups of people. I lived in one place that the indirectness would be seen as weakness and not respected at all.

^I echo this sentiment. Someone coming into my work culture with NVC would get politely dismissed in public, and absolutely SAVAGED behind closed doors.

Your workplace sounds toxic and full of backstabbing jerks. Am I misunderstand you? I can't imagine why you seem proud to work in such a place.

>>>Your workplace sounds toxic

Well, it's the Marine Corps. It ain't a rose garden.[1][2]

>>>full of backstabbing jerks

Actually quite the contrary. If anything we are well-known for our solidarity.[3] Assuming there aren't issues due to rank/the command hierarchy, most personal disagreements are handled face-to-face. People try to stiff-arm work responsibilities off to other offices but I think that is endemic to any ridiculously large and sluggish bureaucratic organization.

>>> Am I misunderstand you?

I think so.

It's a work culture that is optimized for conditions of 100% stress, where people's lives are at stake. We have a communication system and culture that is built to support the worst conditions, and honed over 225+ years. Even though we spend 99% of our time at, say, 10% stress levels in an office environment, it's easier to "dial down" our methods rather than "dial up" something less robust.

NVC strikes me as the sort of methodology designed and tested for a 5% stress office environment. If you attempted to employ it in the most critical communications scenario (arguably a contested beach assault), it would be an utter failure. Based on the OP's link, Steps #2 and #4 are the biggest failure points IMO.

"How do you feel about NOT retreating away from your objective?" "What are your thoughts on possibly doing a frontal attack on that machinegun nest?"

We would end the day all face-down in pools of our own blood trying to communicate like that.

Now, one might be inclined to retort that as our organization has a selection process that weeds out those who can't handle 100% stress, there is an inherent bias in the viability of our methods to integrate with the regular civilian workforce. But the counter-examples are our on-site contractors, some of which have NO military experience. Most of them still integrate just fine. Not all though:

IT Contractor A: A direct speaker. About 40yo. Also a jiu-jitsu purple belt. Kinda a "quiet badass". Fits in well.

IT Contractor B: A smarmy, weaselly character. Late 20's. Can't handle people speaking harshly.

These two had an exchange that essentially went like this:

Contractor A: "Hey I need X. And it's a time-sensitive priority."

Contractor B: "Could you possibly ask nicer next time?"

Contractor A: "Could you possibly do your job next time?"

Then Contractor A came back to the office and shared the story, to which pretty much everyone, from the 19yo Lance Corporals to 35+ guys felt "OMFG, sometimes I wanna throat-punch that dude (B). Ask nicer? WTF? Like people are gonna be asking nice for things if Chinese ballistic missiles are ever raining down on us? Does he not know where he is? If he can't handle it he should go back to hiding in an office in Northern Virginia."

We would go on to have numerous problems with Contractor B, most of them stemming from his "feelings". I'm not gonna go onto a rant about direct-vs-indirect counseling methods and some additional leadership anecdotes/case studies though. Hopefully that added some clarity.




I'm generally a fan of direct communication but also find NVC interesting, and have thought about this a bit. Although I have nothing to do with the military now I trained to fly with the RAF volunteer reserve and I remember my instructor punching me once (not particularly hard, but the sort of thing that could easily get you fired in most jobs) when I messed up a turn. My folks knew a few high ranking army types some of whom had quite a bit of trouble integrating with civvy life when they left.

It strikes me that the military way of doing things, while appropriate in battle, might have downsides for those who end up flying desks. In particular if people are so accustomed to taking orders, how do you know whether or not you have an optimal balance of command versus information flowing upwards and initiative from subordinates? And does the authoritarian system produce good enough people in the highest ranks, or might top brass skills be better if they weren't so shaped by it themselves?

I guess you don't have to deal with longer term burnout issues as most people leave by the time they're 40.

>>>It strikes me that the military way of doing things, while appropriate in battle, might have downsides for those who end up flying desks.

I once read that the "Mad Men" business culture of the 60's, much of which is now considered "toxic", was largely built by WW2 and Korean War veterans. Guys who had spent years in those traumatizing battles had a unique perspective on work and communication that perhaps hasn't aged well for everyone else. Wish I could dig up a link to that....

>>>In particular if people are so accustomed to taking orders, how do you know whether or not you have an optimal balance of command versus information flowing upwards and initiative from subordinates?

1. The commander sets and disseminates alerts called "Commander's Critical Information Requirements" (CCIRs). These are key pieces of information that EVERYONE should be on the look-out for, and route up the chain as soon as possible. This is stuff that the commander considers to have great effect on his decision-making, possibly leading him to pursue a different course of action.

2. Mission-type orders.[1] This is where subordinates exercise their initiative. A commander tells you WHAT he wants done, you figure out HOW to do it best. You are usually only given a few hard restrictions on what not to do, but that's typically only to prevent things like fratricide or potentially screwing up the bigger plan. With mission-type orders, subordinate leaders are understood to be closer to the problem, and therefore better positioned to solve it quickly and efficiently.

>>>And does the authoritarian system produce good enough people in the highest ranks, or might top brass skills be better if they weren't so shaped by it themselves?

That's a very tough issue that the military is grappling with. Arguments have been made that career progression is too rigidly defined. General Petraeus said he had a highly unusual professional education and career path, contrary to the conventional wisdom of "how to get promoted". There's been numerous articles painting most US generals as "optimistic but otherwise mediocre yes-men".[2] The Air Force struggles with the "Fighter Mafia" because all of their leadership is men who spent most of their adult lives flying fighter jets, and they throw shade on pretty much every other priority or mission set. The promotion system worked when there were fewer "moving parts", fewer specializations. But with the explosion in complexity of warfare, both from a technical-level (UAVs, electronic warfare, cyber security, etc..) and from an operations perspective (full spectrum operations and the Three-Block War[3]).....guys who have spent 20 years just doing infantry work find themselves with some limitations in their professional experience. Especially considering how many of them were selected in the first place, when they were brand-new officers: cardio-respiratory endurance and "cultural fit", mostly. This is partly because the military, and the Marine Corps in particular, considers everyone an equally-competent generalist. It was probably true in 1945 but not today. Perfect example:

Me: "We're making changes to the Sharepoint site for the training exercise. It's gonna be heavier and eat up more bandwidth."

My (tank-driving) boss: "Is that gonna impact our...spectrum?" [context: the new General at the time was harping on the importance of EM signature management]

Me: "No Sir, because for this exercise all of that Sharepoint network traffic will be going over the fibre optic links in the ground, not over the air via our radio antennas or satellite links."

My tanker boss wasn't a dumb guy. But he has no formal education in electrical engineering, radio theory, etc... You can't just drop a white paper in his lap[4], and expect him to speak intelligently on the subject the next day. Especially at 50+ years old. He would just drop "...spectrum?" into conversations randomly whenever I mentioned a technical issue (which was often). Now, we do have very senior technical specialists, but they are almost never the operations officers or commanders of major combat formations. They play a support role, and rightfully so. Everything exists to SUPPORT Operations, which is almost always (infantry/armor/artillery). But how those Ground Combat leaders have been prepared for even 4th-generation warfare leaves a lot to be desired, IMO...

>>>I guess you don't have to deal with longer term burnout issues as most people leave by the time they're 40.

Our burnout timeline is simply accelerated. I've seen mid-career professionals (early 30's) with combat deployments burnt out in under 3 years at high op-tempo units. Talent management in the military is completely broken[5, pg6 of PDF]. The military has a 3-year work location rotation for most people, which means every summer we suffer ~30% turnover in personnel, which wrecks your local-level institutional experience and proficiency. There are certain multi-national military exercises we do annually and you see the same mistakes/friction points EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. As you said, most people quit around ~40yo....but Colonels and Generals usually need 20-25yrs to get promoted. So your senior leaders aren't necessarily the best...merely those who could endure the soul-grinding brutality of the system the longest.






Interesting reply to all the points, thank you.

On the topic of Critical Information Requirements and Mission-type orders: sure, in either military or civilian settings a manager can request information and delegate tasks, and any particular decision will end up being made at a particular level which may or may not be optimal. Perhaps NVC affects those decision levels, perhaps it doesn't; other management practices and org structure will surely have an influence. And what about deeper aspects like defining which questions are valid to ask in the first place, and which ones we want to focus on asking? I'm reminded of a recent article which said that the role of a CEO is primarily to set a culture - they aren't optimally placed even for high level strategic decisions so have to settle with generating the context in which those are made.

Are flatter hierarchies more effective as the problem space gets more complex? How does direct vs nonviolent communication style interact with all this? I wonder if anyone knows, I certainly don't.

I greatly appreciate your perspective here. Makes me think about whether certain communication styles work better in different contexts.

I remember asking a vet what the communication style was in the military and he said, "Someone who outranks you tells you what to do and there is always someone who outranks you." Now, I don't know how representative that is of the military as a whole, but it got me thinking: how would that vet respond if he were to tell his wife what to do and she said no?

I say this because maybe in the high-stress, high-urgency situation with a hierarchical organizational structure, NVC doesn't work well, but perhaps it would work better in the lower-stress, lower-urgency situation with a flatter organizational structure, and that it could be useful to speak the two languages, so to say.


However, I think something like NVC could work in your workplace, as it seems like you showed it in that example.

> Contractor A: "Hey I need X. And it's a time-sensitive priority."

Sounds pretty much like NVC to me, just a much more efficient version of it. The thing you need (X), when you need it (~now), with an implicit ask of will you do it.

> Contractor B: "Could you possibly ask nicer next time?"

This sounds pretty far from the style of NVC. Jumps straight to the request step and buries the feelings and wants in the "possibly ask nicer" phrase.

If I were Contractor B, I would love if Contractor A spoke to me like that and would only wish Contractor A added, "Will you do it now?" at the end of it, so that I could close the transaction in the affirmative.

If A didn't ask (or directly tell me to do it) and I felt unsure if A wanted me to do it and when exactly to do it, then I might reply with, "I'm a bit confused, do you want me to do this and if so, by when do you want it done?" However, depending on how well I know the person and how they communicate, this may be unnecessary.

Anyway, I love this—thank you for writing all that you did and for bringing your perspective to the conversation :-)

>>>I remember asking a vet what the communication style was in the military and he said, "Someone who outranks you tells you what to do and there is always someone who outranks you." Now, I don't know how representative that is of the military as a whole

It's very accurate. ^_^

>>>but it got me thinking: how would that vet respond if he were to tell his wife what to do and she said no?

You have to foster "buy in". That's when leadership uses charisma to convince personnel to internalize the importance of the unit's mission. The husband needs the wife's participation in executing a task, that she should take ownership of her piece of the puzzle, in order to benefit them both. As a team. Shoulder-to-shoulder against the world. Hmmmmm, actually since you brought up relationship communication, the NVC process makes me think of parallels with some PUA principles and techniques....

>>>but perhaps it would work better in the lower-stress, lower-urgency situation with a flatter organizational structure, and that it could be useful to speak the two languages, so to say.

I think I understand your insights and comments on the scenario I posted. It's possible the key factor is the flatter organizational structure in many business environments, or cultures with less-transparent power structures (many Japanese businesses have a "soft power" leadership that isn't the official manager, for example).

I'm not sure why you'd expect something called "Non-violent communication" to be an appropriate methodology to use in actual fighting.

Regardless of the nomenclature, the purpose and intent of the methodology is to build robust working relationships. If the methodology is sound, it should hold up when stress-tested. If he doesn't hold up, then there's negligible benefit from advocating for it. If the expectation is that the organization will never be subjected to such high levels of stress anyway....than almost all management styles are equally valid/equally useless.

Practices that are intended to build skills (or "robust working relationships") don't actually have to work in crisis situations - the goal is that the skill or relationship was developed to the point where it can be relied on in a crisis.

> Assuming there aren't issues due to rank/the command hierarchy, most personal disagreements are handled face-to-face.

It is easy to keep clear communication when there are no real stakes and positions at stake. Learned that hard way, in teams where communication looked good and mature and direct until power vaacuum happened.

That's not passive aggressive. That's a direct ask, to your face, just worded softly.

I can read it out loud in both a passive aggressive manner, and as a softly worded request.

Body language, tone and cadence all affect how this request is understood.

Words read on a screen are often filtered through your presumptions of the writer's tone, rather than the actual tone that was meant.

That is not passive aggressiveness. That is tone of voice being offensive or causing bad feelings. Those are two very different things.

Passive aggressiveness is an indirect action/inaction to get your way.

"would you be willing to only eat the food that you buy?"

Is this not indirectly saying: "Stop eating my (or other people's) food"?

This can certainly be construed as passive aggressive.

Edit: To add, I would prefer the direct approach. I hate the word dancing that goes on with trying to soften the tone. It comes off as patronizing to me.

It's not a "direct ask". The "would you be willing to" hides the direct question behind weasel words and adds confusion. The additional phrase equivocates the person's initial point; now it is ambigious if the person asking about the food cares at all about the food itself, or is just curious about if the person would be willing.

The person could say "Yes" and then nothing will change, because this is not a "direct ask" to them in the first place.

Adding "would you be willing" does serve a purpose, it makes it easier for the other person to say "yes" since they don't yet have to commit. This is very important in any negotiation.

For example, the other person could respond with "Yes, I would if you clean the kitchen after making food".

It lets the other person know that you think so little of them that you're willing to communicate with them in an artificial manner meant to manipulate them into complying. It's the antithesis of humane; it's an impersonal and heartless mode of communication masking itself as empathetic.

That's the way I feel when people use it on me.

I'm curious what your rendition of "empathetic" is in this case.

When somebody communicates with me using NVC, it feels like they are treating me like a cog in the machine that needs adjusting. They're approaching the conversation with a goal-oriented mindset, where engineering circumstances that result in my compliance is a puzzle they've been tasked with solving.

The appearance of caring about my feelings, the apparent empathy, is only a facade. The other party doesn't care about my feelings, they care about my compliance. The apparent care for my feelings is motivated by their belief that presenting themselves as empathetic will make my compliance more likely.

The overall experience is dehumanizing.

You didn't answer my question.

How would you have phrased (empathetically) the ask that someone stop eating your food? Let's pretend you're asking me.

If I wanted to, I could take anything you say the wrong way. NVC is generally good for avoiding most of the easy pitfalls.

They're approaching the conversation with a goal-oriented mindset, where engineering circumstances that result in my compliance is a puzzle they've been tasked with solving.

That covers everything from persuasion to manipulation to managing to parenting.

I doubt that this is actually your criterion, because in the course of a single week you will approach a conversation in a goal oriented way many times. Every human does this unconsciously. People who claim they don't just don't realize that they do.

You're missing the point. There is no formula for natural human interaction, it's something that comes from inside of you. That's the entire point. The way it should be worded is a function of the two personalities and specific circumstance. You can't sell tickets to corporate seminars for this.

Humor me. How would you phrase it based on personality types? Give me some examples.

I'm explicitly pushing you on this point because you have yet to make any suggestions for how to actually construct what to say. It's like if I asked an engineer how they would implement a sorting algorithm and they stopped their answer at "I would make sure it satisfied the requirements of the problem." That answer doesn't require you to put real stakes on the table.

Everyone I have ever asked had their own framework. What's yours? How would you actually do it?

> When somebody communicates with me using NVC,

> it feels like they are treating me like a cog in the machine that needs adjusting.

You’re using the NVC pattern in this comment, almost exactly. It’s very close. The part missing is where you suggest a course of action. How would you like to be treated?

I've received NVC training and I think using it in this discussion is an ironic way of getting my point across, since the point is that I have no respect for people who use NVC.

Suggested course of action: stop talking to people using modes of communication you learned at corporate seminars.

I can see why you feel dehumanized—since you weaponize your words against others, it’s understandable that they would take an exaggerated high ground in their tone with you.

Believe it or not, but I'm generally a pretty pleasant person. But when somebody adopts an formal impersonal tone like NVC, they make it clear that they don't see me as their friend and that I shouldn't consider them my friend either.

As you said, NVC is good for 'forcing people to do something they don’t want.'

NVC does not mean using a formal impersonal tone. NVC is about content and context. If people are using a formal tone with you it’s for a variety of reasons—maybe that’s the appropriate tone, maybe they are frazzled and meet a framework to express themselves, and maybe they’re simply bad at it.

I’m not sure why the “not a friend” part comes into it. Most people I talk to are not my friends. When people who aren’t friends treat me like a friend, it is creepy and alarming.

NVC is factually impersonal and formal. Instead of having a genuine human interaction with somebody, NVC aims to lay out a method of choosing ones words carefully to influence the receiver in the desired way. Nothing about it is casual nor genuinely personal, no matter how many times you utter the word "feel".

Feel free to substitute "friend" with "somebody you treat pleasantly with the typical degree of respect". A manager who uses NVC is little different from a used car salesman who gives firm handshakes and throws around warm smiles.

I think any communication technique that you are just starting to practice sounds unnatural.

Just think of NVC as a tool in the toolbox, for how to initiate a difficult conversation and be understood without being as likely to provoke a defensive or derisive response... that then can grow into that genuine, comprehensive human interaction.

> NVC is a framework for direct communication. To quote the article: > 1. Observe Facts - observe the specific facts that are > affecting our wellbeing, and bring them up with the other person > 2. Note Feelings - introspect about what exactly we are feeling in response to what we've observed, and communicate these feelings > 3. Uncover Desires - figure out the desires, wants and values that are creating our feelings, and explain them to the other person > 4. Make Requests - ask for concrete actions to help resolve the situation

I think why you may find it dehumanizing is that, if I were using those four steps above, I would just be reflecting on my own humanity, and not on yours. So, by the time I end those four steps, the only connection I've really had to you is asking if you will do something.


I use three steps (yes, another formula) that seem to solve the dehumanizing problem:

Step 1) TRUTH: Tell the truth about how you actually feel in the moment.

Step 2) FAIR PLAY: Tell the other person how you imagine they might feel.

Step 3) LOVE: Say one thing to connect with love.

Step 1 is not so different from the second step of NVC, really just focusing on me and what I feel/need/want/etc and being honest about that. In the workshops I've run, I've seen most of us skip this step.

Step 2 is the kicker, it's not about connecting with me, but connecting with what you might feel/need/want/notice/etc. And it's about imagining what the person might be feeling, not knowing that the person is feeling X.

Step 3 is the closer, finalizing the connection between the two: thank you, I'm sorry, I hope you have a good day, will you help me, etc.


I'm stoked that this conversation is happening on HN, excited that you said what you said (in typing this response I have learned even more about NVC and my work), and tired—I definitely should head to bed after this. And I imagine you might be frustrated with all this NVC stuff, perhaps nauseated by another formula or maybe even curious, or perhaps pleasantly surprised, I have no idea. Thank you for making this conversation happen.

I agree it serves a purpose; I believe it serves a purpose by adding a layer of indirection in there, making the conversation flow easier.

I think it's passive aggressive, yes, but I also understand why it is done. It's not done to make it a "direct ask" though, as this process specifically makes the requests less direct as part of the strategy.

The less-direct wording is both able to be seen as passive aggressive (as evidenced by other comments here) as well as a helpful hint to more smoothly continue a conversation.


"Passive" means inaction, it doesn't mean indirect or sneaky. You can be actively indirect, but it still originates with an (active) action. There is no passive action, just as there is no active passivity. This doesn't mean the wording is perfect, just the passive aggressive label doesn't apply here.

The direct ask is "would you be willing to", if that's what you want to know. If the goal is to make sure your food isn't eaten, then "stop!" might work better. If the goal is better understanding of the people around you, and a connection to what's happening for them, then the ask is about what they want, and what they'd be willing to do.

They're certainly manipulative. The weasel-worded "requests" demand compliance by placing the victim in a bind: either comply, or look like a terrible friend/spouse/employee/etc..

The “victim” in this example is actually the perpetrator: they consumed someone else’s food without permission.

The victim of the verbal trap/dilemma. But you are free to use another word like "target" or "recipient" if you prefer.

Also, without full information, we don't know who is in the right. Perhaps it was in a designated communal fridge; perhaps it wasn't labeled properly; perhaps the person actually had permission; perhaps the person was facing a potentially dangerous blood sugar crash. Etc..

We're not here to make a judgement on whether A was right to make the request of B, we are evaluating the effectiveness of their communication.

If you think the style of communication is bad then just say so, don't try to invalidate it by questioning the premise as stated.

"Hey bro, I just noticed that the food I'd been saving for dinner in the fridge wasn't there. It's kind of stressing me the fuck out, I'm not good at planning when I'm hangry..."

"Oh yeah dude I ate that, I'm really sorry, I didn't even think about it."

"That's all right man. Would you be willing to help me find some food for tonight? I'm sort of beside myself."

"For sure, here, let me see..."

Conversation resumes when player one is not hangry. Left as an exercise to the reader.

I wouldn't say passive aggressive because that has a specific definition which this doesn't meet but there's something about them that's off.

"Would you be willing to only eat the food that you buy?” isn't really a question because "no" isn't really an acceptable answer so there's something dirty about phrasing like a question but I can't quite put my finger on what.

"Would you be willing to only eat the food that you buy?” isn't really a question because "no" isn't really an acceptable answer so there's something dirty about phrasing like a question but I can't quite put my finger on what.

That's not because of the phrasing. That's because eating someone else's food without their permission is widely seen as a dick move.

No matter how you word it, if you clearly mean that you intend to continue eating someone's food without their permission, that makes you the bad person in this type of situation.

As you note it is a dilemma/compliance strategy where Amina can't say no without seeming to be very unreasonable.

Sneakily, it expands the scope of "please don't eat my food without permission" to "please agree to never eat any food that you did not purchase." The scope of the apparent infraction, as well as the scope of the remedy, are greatly increased.

The trap and the expanded scope make it much worse than "please don't eat my food without permission."

What would you recommend a person in that situation say instead?

Would you be willing to tell me what you recommend a person say in that situation instead?

To me it does sound more passive-aggressive to circumlocute vs just directly ask. I guess specifically because it implies a "no" would be due to simple unwillingness, which in a sense is always implicit but sort of routes around that a person may have reasons beyond simple obstinate refusal to grant the request.

FWIW, in my limited Spanish language experience, requests at least with friends are often far more direct e.g. "dame el agua" (give me the water) vs. "could you give me the water?" in English. Took me a while to get used to, but made me consider the way we phrase requests in English, and the importance how one intonates speech.

You're doing the same thing that a lot of people in this thread are: assuming that there is a wrong and a right person in the interaction.

> To me it does sound more passive-aggressive to circumlocute vs just directly ask. I guess specifically because it implies a "no" would be due to simple unwillingness, which in a sense is always implicit but sort of routes around that a person may have reasons beyond simple obstinate refusal to grant the request.

Not necessarily. It gives them the opportunity to explain. Compare with "Please stop eating my food." "would you only eat the food that you buy?" as someone else mentioned. The first invites no response. The second requires the other person be somewhat confrontational to provide clarification. There second requires that they escalate to negotiate. If you don't want to invite negotiation, that's fine, but then you weren't earnestly engaging in NVC.

If someone says "would you be willing to only eat food that you bring", it naturally invites a followup "then why aren't you"? There may be varying levels of legitimacy to answer this. Consider a few: "I can't afford to bring my own food" (I realize this is unlikely as coworkers, but it's possible in similar situations), "I'm an asshole and I don't like you", "I always forget to pack a lunch", "I find that the food you bring is delicious and I enjoy it more than my own".

All of these invite may invite different responses. Some may require escalation to HR or whatever, but some may be solvable without escalation. You may be willing to chip in for lunch for a coworker who can't afford it, or complain to the boss about wages, or if a coworker really enjoys the food you bring, a solution may be to bring extra and share sometimes, and perhaps get paid for it.

Or maybe you don't want to do those things, and that's alright too. But the idea is that those options wouldn't be available if you hadn't allowed the clarification.

(Note in a situation that's much more like a negotiation without an obviously correct party, NVC sounds more normal: "We feel that feature X is very important, would you be able to prioritize it and complete it this month?")

"Would you only eat the food you buy?" sounds manipulative to me. I much prefer asking "why did you eat my food?" Eating someone else's food is not acceptable. There is a wrong person in this scenario.

> sounds manipulative to me

Amusingly, "would you only eat the food that you buy" was a suggestion by another person for a less manipulative suggestion. What most people took issue with wasn't the "only eat what you buy" part, but the "would you be willing to <actual request>?" part, which many people took as forcing the other party to answer "yes".

Again, if you're coming from the preconception that someone (normally the other person) is "wrong", you shouldn't use NVC. Earnest NVC requires that you not assign blame or fault. That's the entire reason that you speak only about your feelings and needs and perceived actions of the other party. Granted, "It upsets me when I get to lunch and don't have anything to eat, would you stop eating my food" is also fine in the NVC framework, as I understand it.

> "why did you eat my food?"

This doesn't begin to solve the problem, you're not yet addressing the conflict. In fact, you haven't necessarily signaled that there even is a conflict that needs to be addressed. And note that you're putting the other person on the defensive by not being open about what your goals are. You're acting from a position of uneven information instead of earnesty.

Thinking about it a bit more, I prefer "did you eat my food"? That way you are not accusing someone, after all maybe they didn't.

To me the issue of asking "would you" sounds like the request is optional and they can say, "no I won't". In this case there is no negotiating.

> To me the issue of asking "would you" sounds like the request is optional and they can say, "no I won't". In this case there is no negotiating.

If the answer is no, then like I said, negotiation probably won't work, so you escalate. The point of something like NVC is to avoid escalation when possible. Sometimes it isn't possible.

Another way of putting this is: NVC assumes good intent. When that assumption is invalidated, other strategies are superior, but you lose very little by assuming good intent for a while.

Maybe just "would you only eat the food that you buy?”

I'm not sure I agree it sounds passive aggressive. But couching everything with "would you be willing to" sounds odd.

Personally I'd greatly prefer something like "Hey Amina, I think you ate my lunch!" (or "did you eat my lunch?" as someone else suggested above) which clarifies the situation at hand and leaves the response open without demanding a specific remedy immediately.

You could also ask "hey, do you know what happened to the brown bag that was in the fridge this morning? That was my lunch but now I can't find it." That feels a bit parental maybe, but it also explains what happened and leaves it open-ended "oh, it probably got thrown out when we cleaned the fridge" or, "oh I totally thought that was a leftover sandwich from the meeting so I ate it" or whatever.

"Knock it off"

That's what I'd rather be on the receiving end of.

Hmmm maybe sth like “Please don’t eat my food” :) I guess the request should be clear also when I say “I don’t like that you eat my food.”

I wonder why nowadays you have to be ultra-PC with everyone. If everyone gets used to that, won’t everyone’s sensitivity for non-PC drop? I feel like we’re creating a generation of people that can’t take a punch anymore.

Nonviolent Communication is 30-40 years old at this point.

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