Non-violent Communication

Everybody knows the feeling. You are angry about the state of the rooms of your children. You already asked several times to clean up their rooms, but nothing happened. In the end you find yourself yelling to your son or daughter: “Your room is a total mess. You never clean up your room when I ask you. You don’t have the slightest respect for me.” And what was the net result? Indeed, an angry daughter, a frustrated parent and an even dirtier room.

We all know their is a better way to communicate and to achieve what you want. The course I followed was given by Frank Geelen and Kirsten De Coninck, both trainers for iLean. It is not new what they say: Matthias Rosenberg nurtured the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) model already in the 60’s. He even used two puppets in his session to distinguish 2 ways of communication: a jackal and a giraffe. The jackal -although I find it an intelligent animal -represents the defensive part in us, which can be aggressive when things don’t work out like we would like. The giraffe with the big ears and heart stands for compassion and willingness to listen to the other.


Nothing new you will say, but most things we already know but we do not act upon it. The wisdom is inside of each of us but is pushed away by the jackal inside. Now what is the NVC model actually?


On the course we were confronted with some photos: sweets, bodybuilder with sort of diaper, houses in ruins, smoking bearded jazz player, roof terrace on top of an apartment, a gentle woman. On each of them we were allowed to describe what we saw. No one of us simply observed the photos but added feelings, generalisations, prejudices, common truths. True observation although seems very simple however: use your 5 senses and describe what you see, hear, smell, taste or touch.


“Your room is a total mess. You never clean up your room when I ask you. You don’t have the slightest respect for me.” This is obviously not an observation. A better observation could be:

  • There are some clothes lying on the floor
  • Your bed is not clean
  • I see empty coke cans and dirty plates on your desk

And even “clean” is not an observation, since you will probably have another definition of clean than your son or daughter. Also do not use words like:

  • Always or never (they are in most cases not true)
  • A lot, little, few, big, small …: their definitions may vary per person. Try to be more precise.

Using judgement, blaming the other, interpretation and generalisation will obscure the message you are trying to get true. You will have a two-sided jackal communication or you will start arguing about details. “For me the room is clean” or “I do respect you, mum”.


In school and at home we were learned to constrain our feelings. We were thought that if you do what is asked, you will get a reward. If you don’t you will get punished. No wonder that we find it difficult to express our feelings.

True feelings tell us what we feel in the context of our needs: when our needs are met (happy, touched, amazed, proud, thrilled) or not (agitated, angry, scared, frustrated, sad).

We often express our feelings as a judgement towards our self or the others. Guilt, embarrassed, sorry are typical examples. These judgements are pseudo-feelings. “I feel a bad mother” or “I feel manipulated”. Try to express what you really feel and don’t blame the others for what you feel. This again result in a jackal communication.

In stead of saying “I feel that you are sad” you’d better ask “Are you sad?” since the former is your interpretation or even a judgement.


Again most people are not good in expressing their needs. It sounds a bit selfish to express your needs. But if you don’t you might hope that people know your needs by yelling or screaming or being afraid. But actually people only see your feelings. And some will make their own interpretation of what your needs are based on your expressed feelings. So your needs are not met and you feel frustrated. So it is very important to express your needs.

Everybody will understand needs, since they are universal. Think of the Maslow pyramid but Rosenberg simplified it to 3 levels:

  • Vital (food, water, shelter, air, sleep, movement)
  • Safe (acceptance, honesty, affection, understanding, stability, trust, warmth)
  • Grow (harmony, inspiration, respect, authenticity, humor, joy, choice)

Do not use strategies in stead of needs.If you are using strategies, you include a judgement in what you say and people will become defensive and you leave them no choice. Replace the strategy “You were not there when I needed you” with your needs “I do not want to be alone tonight”. It is difficult to grasp the need under a strategy. In expressing your need of wanting some company, you open the discussion and perhaps another friend’s companion will also do for this evening.

In this session we focused on WHAT NOT TO DO. In the next session, I will try to explain WHAT YOU NEED TO DO to communicate in a non-violent way.