All the tools hereafter and before are to be considered options . . . a hammer, a saw, a wrench. You choose which tool to use and when. There isn’t necessarily a best one, even for a specific situation. The more tools in your belt, the more situations you’ll be able to handle adeptly and with flexibility. All the tools fit nicely in a heart anchored in compassion, curiosity and love; and will help hearts find their way back to those powerful ways of being.

Beginning a Conversation

Offer Instead of Request

Starting with one’s request is unlikely to go well, unless there is balance and a willingness to engage from both parties. Often, when people begin with what they want, even when phrased beautifully, it will fall on salted earth. Starting with an offering can open doors when requests fail: How can we have this beautiful future?

Positive Requests

People will often state what they don’t want rather than what they do. This negative frame changes your orientation to yourself, your feelings and your future possibilities. Offering what is wanted in the positive (and not the false positive like “what I want is for you to stop”) is more inviting and open. Learn more about Positive Requests HERE.

Move from Certainty to Curiosity

Understand the other person’s story
How does it make sense from their point of view
Judgments, interpretations, perceptions – transform those into observations

Be Clear in Intention and Speaking

Avoid using questions to express your own opinion or to entrap others. Opinions are not facts.
Ask yourself, “Are coaxing, threatening, or punishing part of my thoughts?”
Are you concluded before speaking? Can the “?” mark be straightened to a “.” or “!”
Do: Reflect the emotion; validating their feelings, needs and experience; reflect on the Nonviolent Communication model and questions.

3-step training cycle (instead of complaining)

1. Acknowledge what is good about what is happening
2. Ask for what you want – something different and positive than what is happening now
3. Acknowledge the result, even if it is only an attempt

Helpful Phrases / Putting a Conversation Back on Track

Olive Branch Statement

“You know what, I want you to win, and at the same time, I want to win too.”

Attractive Requests

“How is this other person going to win with me?”
It would really be great if …
I would feel so much better if…
Avoid “You never…” “You don’t…” “You are…” “You need…”
If you slap them, they might slap you back, wish they could, or silently stew

Use Journalistic Questions (except why)

*Watch tone with these. They can come across as cutting.

  • What… → (just happened?), (is going on here?), (do you need from me right now?), (can I do to help us work this out)
  • How… → (are you doing?), (can we both win here?), (are you feeling?)
  • Where… → (might be a good place?), (are you?)
  • When… → (might be a good time?)
  • Who… → (can help us?)

Seeking Understanding and Connection

Tell me more about…
Help me understand…
I’m noticing… does that sound right to you?
Ideally, what would you like me to do with that information?
I really appreciate your…(intention/behavior)… would you be willing to guess where I’m coming from?
I really get ________ [Their feelings and needs]… would you tell me your understanding of my feelings & needs?
Would you spend some time with me trying to come up with solutions that would work for both of us?
Would you tell me how you’re feeling about what I just said?

5-Word Empathy

So, is this about ___(need)___?


Needed: Two stethoscopes. Each participant puts one on and listens to the other person’s heart. Continue for 2 minutes. Take off one ear piece. Speak to one another about what’s coming up for you.

Let’s play the “Make Each Other Wrong Game”

Game Play: Sit/stand across from one another. Highlight character faults and weaknesses of the other person.
They can be general, or specific instances of error/stupidity/aggression/etc.
Rule 1 = no defense or response (verbal or nonverbal) by the receiver. Do take turns – tit for tat / back and forth
Rule 2 = keep going until (a) you’re both finished/exhausted, or (b) you find a better game to play

NVC and Powerfully Listening . . . Or Not

The following provides a contrast and a lens on listening. NVC is a powerful listening tool. Sometimes we are not ready to listen. And, being a listening partner is a vital ingredient to a productive conversation/conflict. Check yourself against these things.

You’re listening to someone you no longer really want to be listening to, such as:
• Exhausted your energy
• Conflicting needs, and you desire to honor a different need that takes you away
• You find it difficult to enjoy this person
Un-powerful listening
You suffer through it. You experience frustration, exasperation, anxiety, anger, resigned, or a host of other emotions that indicate you’re not powerfully at peace with being present and listening.
Powerful listening
Needs shifting – you truly, deeply shift your needs so that listening is what you really want now. You might (a) re-center on your need to contribute/support the other, or (b) connect with what the other is saying and allow it to move you, or (c) empathetically guess how much your listening means to the other right now, or . . .
Self-express — Peace out
Self-express: “Excuse me, I’m finding it difficult to be here right now and listening.”
Empathy: “I’m seeing that you’re really wanting to be heard right now.”
Self-express: “I’d love to find another time/way to hear you out fully.”
Note: Your reason is not necessarily at issue, and expressing it might facilitate a debate about the rightness/wrongness of your reason. Expressing your feeling and needs keeps the neutrality.

Also, remember the 30 second rule – It can be hard to listen for feelings and needs past 3-4 sentences without reflecting back. And, especially if the person is giving information or a story, you can listen for a lot longer! Try not speaking for more than 30 seconds at a time. And if someone else is speaking, try making breaks in your speech longer than 30 seconds.

You can learn more about listening, especially in the context of personal relationships HERE.

The Elephant / What’s In Your Way?

Is it fear, frustration or judgment (or a combination of all three) that’s holding you back?
Call out the elephant in the room (your fear, your judgment or your frustration) and work together to transform those feelings into excitement, courage and/or curiosity.

Meditations: Read to Center Yourself Before a Conversation

Choose to be Powerful

(and antidote to Dirty Communication)
1. Ask for 100% of what you want, 100% of the time
2. Be prepared to hear no
3. Collaborate on the difference

5 Minutes of Reframe Reflection

Reflect on each of the following states of being for 30 seconds each. Try and imagine a specific time when each was really, powerfully alive in you.

1. Love
2. Beauty
3. Forgiveness
4. Honesty
5. Respect
6. Responsibility
7. Care
8. Gratitude
9. Anger
10. Fear

Centering on the goal of the interaction is very helpful.
How would you like to feel during this conversation?
How would you like to feel at the end of this conversation?
How would you like the other person to feel at the end of this conversation?
What do I really want for myself? What do I really want for the other? What do I really want for this relationship?
What do you want the reasons to be for the person’s future actions?

The Serenity Prayer

You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the wisdom of this ‘prayer’.
“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

A Cup of Peace

“At any given moment, you breathe life into life, or you kill it off.”
“If you want your life to be significantly different, you need to do something significantly different.”
“All communication can be evaluated against a continuum of emotionally nourishing to emotionally toxic”
“The ‘I know’ mind is very painful; hold curiosity. A difficult person is always tragically expressing an unmet need”
“People will ruin their minute/hour/day/month/year/life to make someone else wrong.”
“Somewhere out beyond right and wrong there is a field; I’ll meet you there.”
“The only time we suffer is when we want reality to be different than it is.”
“Everything I’ve always wanted is one step beyond my comfort zone.”
“All thoughts are recycled; we’ve all thought these things before.”
“You can’t problem solve and problem escalate at the same time.”
“See their souls and their hearts instead of their behavior.”
“If you don’t feel love, you’ll find ways to push love away.”
“Good decisions come from mind, body, heart, and spirit.”
“Inch by inch is a cinch, yard by yard it’s hard”
“What you say next can change your world.”
“’Respect’ is often a request for obedience.”
“Is my head a safe place to be?”
“Empathy is not a back and forth.”
“If the team isn’t winning, I’m not winning”
“We come from the womb full of light and love. We learn our bad habits.”

When There is a Break in Compassion

Ouch / Time Out

When something hurts, say ouch. “You’re screwed that up big time!” “Ouch.” Follow with some NVC.
If something continues to hurt, or hurts a lot, say time out. Revisit later. Note that a time-out burns the bridge; it’s a last-minute option that says “All the options here are bad, and I’m choosing a bad option now to avoid horrible options). A time-out is not a power-play, or a punishment; saying “you just screwed up John!” and storming away is not a time-out. Saying “We’ll see who has the last laugh” and turning your back on them is not a time out.
A time-out is saying “Wow, I’m hurting a lot here. I’m wondering if it would be best for us to chat in an hour”
A time-out is saying “I’m struggling a lot here, and I would love to hear and hold you in a space of curiosity and interest… can we come back together in fifteen minutes?”
If the other person says ‘no’ to your request for a time-out… see ‘No’ is the beginning of a conversation.

Leave the rope, and meet their heart

When we’re faced with anger, frustration, or other kinds of pain, we can pick up the rope and become defensive. The tug-of-war often takes the below six forms. The resulting power struggle makes holistic solutions difficult.

Surrender-Betray: We are a traitor to ourselves when we allow someone to mistreat us and then defend the person’s behavior, taking the blame ourselves.
“He just treated me rudely because he was in a bad mood.”
“I should have known better than to ask a question just then.”
You can learn more about this in Sharon Ellison’s book “Taking the War out of Words“.

Surrender-Sabotage: We outwardly give in or cooperate with someone and then undermine the person in some way. Passive aggressive.
We might talk about the person behind her back, or procrastinate about doing something we told the person we’d do.

Withdrawal-Escape: We avoid talking to someone about something we don’t want to discuss.
We might simply not answer, or leave the room, or change the subject.

Withdrawal-Entrap: We refuse to give information to someone as a way to trap him/her into doing something inappropriate or making a mistake.
We might just stare at the person and not answer a question she asks until she gets embarrassed and drops it or gets angry and says something that’s inappropriate.

Counterattack-Justify: We explain our own behavior or make excuses if someone questions or criticizes us to let him know he is wrong to be upset with us.
We might say “I would have gotten that done sooner, but I’ve been really busy,” or, “I’m doing my best,” or “I can’t work any faster.”

Counterattack-Blame: We attack or judge the other person to defend ourselves.
We might blame the other person for whatever the problem is, saying perhaps, “You are always so critical,” or, “Why are you in such a bad mood?”

Avoid Sarcasm

The Latin meaning of the word is “To tear flesh”
Think about that for a minute.
What is the interpretation/receipt by the other(s)?
How do you know?
How do they know?

Embrace Empathy

Empathy was first created as a word in 1912 by Baruch Urieli. Carl Jung used the word in his theorizing in 1950.
“The awakening through the soul of the other begins when attention is directed not only to the contents of another’s words but to the soul gesture and soul movement which precedes the speaking.” – Johannes Tautz, The Meditative Life of the Teacher.

The upcoming Resources page marks the sequential end of this section on Compassionate Communication (NVC). On it, you will find a large, curated collection of resources (books, articles, videos, quotes) for further learning of NVC and its related ideas. We hope you’ll take some of the tolls provided there and find further insight/instruction.