Week 2: Empathic Communication

Part of:
Context and Communication

A communication approach that I’ve found helpful is Marshall B. Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, which puts focus on addressing the underlying needs of both participants in the conversation. Nonviolent communication is separated into four components:

  • Observations - Separate observations from evaluations. When you don’t, people are likely to hear criticism and resist what you say. Communicate what you observe as specifically as possible. When you give an evaluation, base it on communicated observations and phrase it so that the other person knows that it is your interpretation and not a claim you are making about reality.
  • Feelings - By “feelings” I mean actual emotions, not thoughts or assessments. Negative feelings are your body’s way of telling you that one of your needs isn’t being met. Positive feelings mean that one of your needs is being met. Every feeling comes from an internal need and an external stimulus.
  • Needs - Needs are the true root of our feelings. What others do may be the stimulus for our feelings, but never the cause. From Maslow's hierarchy to goals we choose to pursue. Getting a clear sense of our own needs and other’s needs allows us to put fulfilling those needs front and center of communication and move the framing from “me versus them” to “us versus the problem.” Responding to the needs behind someone’s judgement and criticism can help diffuse verbal attacks.
  • Requests - Whenever we say something to another person, we are requesting something in return, whether it is simply acknowledgement, or their understanding, or a call for action on their part. Phrase requests as positive actions (“do this…”) rather than negative actions (“don’t do this…”). The clearer the request, the more likely it is to be fulfilled.

Reading Material





  • Have a difficult conversation/argument with someone and use de-escalation/NVC techniques of separating out and communicating observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Write up what you did and how the other person responded.
  • Give someone an empathic compliment.
    • First, state your observations of what the other person did.
    • Second, say how that made you feel.
    • Third, tell them about the need of yours they met through their actions.
    • Example: “Thank you for watching my dog while I was out of town. You sent me update messages each time you took him on a walk. That really helped me to relax and enjoy my vacation knowing that Spot was safe and fed.”


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