Insights and Healing with Patrick Moore

Compassionate Communication is More than a Technique
May 15, 2016, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helps heated conversations to de-escalate and have a happy, or at least happi-er ending. The method has been used in a wide range of conversations from romantic partnerships to crime rehabilitation to nations clashing.

2007 06 cello practice with Kathy

The book Nonviolent Communication shares four steps (p. 6-7). I think the four steps are confusing so I boil them down to two steps:

  1. “When you do (x), I feel (y).”
  2. “So would you be willing to do (z) for me.?”

As soon as I read the steps, I thought to myself, these steps are all about me. That won’t help the other person very well. Why would the other person suddenly be willing at step two to do what I request? In fact, when I tell him my step one, he’s likely to think I’m blaming him. He will then feel defensive and we won’t get anywhere.

But I seem to have missed page 4 where Rosenberg said, “NVC is more than a process or language. On a deeper level it is a… quality of compassion, … as “giving from the heart”.” Again on page 12 he says, “NVC is not simply a language or a set of techniques for using words; the consciousness and intent that it embraces may be expressed through silence, a quality of presence as well as through facial expressions and body language.” Several times he says “nonviolent” and “compassionate” communication are the same thing.

Next, Rosenberg gives a convincing real example: An irate man came to one of Rosenberg’s talks in Palestine. The man was angry at Americans, and called Rosenberg names, shouting violently. The day before, the Israelis had lobbed tear gas at Palestinians. The tear gas canisters left lying around the ground had printed on them, “Made In America.” The man was angry about the attack and since Rosenberg was an American, the man was angry at Rosenberg (p.13). Rosenberg uses compassionate communication with the man, but interestingly uses neither step 1 nor step 2. Instead, Rosenberg listens and reflects. After the initial insults, Rosenberg replied by guessing what the man wanted and needed. Each time the man retorted angrily, Rosenberg paraphrased back to the man what he understood of the man’s wants and needs, so the man would know he was being heard. The man’s anger toward Rosenberg began to dissipate after five repetitions of the reflective listening. By the end of the day, the man invited Rosenberg home for dinner (p. 14). But even by dinner Rosenberg still had not used step 1 or step 2.

I emphasize these things because it is too easy to think Compassionate Listening is just a technique. Reflective listening could also be considered just a technique. But to care enough to listen, even when someone is insulting you loudly, to be curious to know, what made this person so angry, that is more than technique. Rosenberg told this story so early in his book because he wants us to know, the first thing you need to do is to really care about the other. First be curious about their needs, while suspending your own until the right time. Stick with serving the other even when the other is verbally attacking you. It’s not about what you get out of the interaction, at first, but about what the other will gain.

And the Palestinian man was too angry to hear someone else’s feelings and needs anyway. Especially those of an American. Rosenberg quickly understood the man’s state. He imagined the results of saying something like, “When you yell at me and call me names, I feel fear. I need for you to speak to me in a kind voice.” That would be doing the NVC steps, but would that have had the effect he wanted? The man probably would have come back with, “Who cares what you feel and think you need? You’re telling me you need kind voices to feel comfortable, while I need safety for my family?! Why should I care for your comfort?” The step-by-step NVC process would not have helped here. What helped was unconditional compassion.

Or, if you like steps, perhaps we could modify the late Dr. Rosenberg’s steps and insert a few steps before step one.

0.1     Be a) unconditionally compassionate toward, and b) curious about the other person. While you’re at it, c) nonjudgmental and d) present would help.

0.2    Guess, intuit or quickly piece together the other person’s wants and needs.

0.3     Ask the person for clarification – “It sounds like you want (x) and need (y). Is that accurate?”

0.4     If the person is still in an escalated emotional state, repeat 0.1 through 0.4 as many times as necessary.

0.5     Once the person can relax and listen, then go to step 1.

In the story at Palestine, Dr. Rosenberg’s feelings, triggers, wants and needs were never mentioned.


When we are in conflict with another person, we want so badly for the other person to hear our needs. We want so badly to tell the other person, “This is the horrible thing that happens in me, when you do that thing I dislike.” We long to tell them, “I need for you to stop doing that thing I dislike.” These steps of NVC are things we would be excited to practice, because they mean we will be heard. These are good steps in being assertive. I think the term “Nonviolent Communication” fits steps 1 and 2. Steps 1 and 2 are about me, my needs, my being heard, obtaining acknowledgement from the other about how he has affected me. When doing these things we tend to be aggressive, or sometimes violent. Steps 1 and 2 are about doing this less aggressively, nonviolently.

I think steps 1 and 2 can be done unconditionally compassionately. But Rosenberg’s term “compassionate communication,” in my opinion, is slightly different than “nonviolent communication.” In this perspective, the compassion is the focus on the other person’s needs, as in steps 0.1 through 0.4.

In the essence of compassion, we realize:

  1. since I love to be heard, and to express my needs, and to have an influence upon the other person… then…
  2. I will give what I love to the other person. Then at least one of us will be heard. At least one of us will have their needs expressed. At least one of us will experience the influence upon the other.


I probably disagree with Tony Robbins, who says on the back cover of Rosenberg’s book (third edition): “…Dr. Rosenberg’s strategies .. will set you up to win every time.” If you are doing the steps as a strategy to win every time, you probably won’t help others very often. If you are using this technique to get what you want, others will sense this. They won’t feel heard. They won’t feel understood. They’ll feel manipulated. And that feeling will be accurate. In fact, if you are using steps 0.1 through 0.4, you are not guaranteed to win every time. You are not guaranteed to win, ever. You may lose every argument. Because you are not thinking about what you will win. You are thinking about what the other person needs and wants. Steps 0.1 and 0.2 are shifting your focus to the other person’s needs, not your own. You are curious about the other person’s needs. You are present with the other person. The importance is on the other person, at least for the duration of your compassion. But maybe I was too hasty to disagree with the quote with Tony Robbins. Perhaps what his quote meant was, you “win” something better than winning the argument. To the degree we can be unconditionally compassionate with others, even if only for one minute at a time, these are things we do win:





  • Feeling good about oneself. Feeling really good about being a person who listens to others, who truly cares about their needs.
  • Resonating with another person, actually connecting with them at a core level.
  • Perhaps respect of onlookers.
  • Perhaps after losing the argument, you gain — not respect, but something from the other. The look in his eye says something. What is it.. love?
  • Perhaps your being unconditionally compassionate while connected with him, resonates him to be unconditionally compassionate. While he is being compassionate perhaps he will initiate some gift going your way.
  • Your issues within yourself, that have dogged you for decades, begin to unravel, resolve and transform. Your symptoms decrease. You win spiritual development, maturation, personal discovery, resiliency, vitality and new personal qualities and gifts. You thrive.

So I take back what I said about Tony Robbins. You do win every time.


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