Communication and Expressing Yourself

The NVC model is comprised of four main components: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. The following article will briefly outline the particular manner in which the NVC model addresses each of these four items.



Imagine yourself sitting quietly in the back yard enjoying a cup of coffee and taking in the scenery. You’re enjoying the morning, a few moments to relax, and the pleasant taste of a warm drink. Suddenly, your partner calls out from the window that you’ve “thrown your sports gear all over the dining room again” and mumbles under their breath “do you have to be such a pig?”.  They’re upset and really wanting more order in the house. Also, the gear smells of body odour and your partner’s not liking the way the house has taken on the same smell.


This is a familiar pattern in many relationships, and inevitably it leads to more conflict. The person at the receiving end of the message might respond that “you shouldn’t be so picky” or “why can’t you just relax”. Alternatively, they might say to themselves “she’s right, I’m a pig. I let him/her down again. I just can’t seem to get it right”. Either way, disconnection from each other seems likely to follow.


So how can this be avoided? I would suggest that the way in which we make observations plays an integral role in how people receive our messages. In the example above, the person who was upset with the mess made an analysis of what they saw. They used the words “thrown” and “all over” and called their partner a “pig”. Instead, if the message had been presented as what was actually seen, it’s likely that the person receiving it would have been more willing to listen to and accept what was being said. Imagine that the person annoyed with what they saw as a “mess” had said “I see your equipment is on the living room floor”. This is a fact. There is no judgement attached to it. The fact that the listener would likely agree with what had been said suggests that this is a good starting point for a dialogue.


The next aspect of the NVC process is how to share the feelings that are stimulated by your observation.



An important question to ask about one’s feelings is who’s responsible for them?. You may have heard someone say “you’re making me angry” or “you’re upsetting me”. This suggests that other people are responsible for how we feel. But are they?


Imagine that you’re on a bus and a person who has just entered from the last stop begins to yell obscenities. One of the passengers might feel scared that this person could harm people, another passenger might feel curious about why there’s someone yelling, and yet another might feel compassion for the suffering that they believe may result from a mental illness. The point I want to make is that each person on the bus interprets what they see in their own unique way and that this interpretation leads to a feeling. I’m positing that, while someone might stimulate an emotion in us, it is how we interpret people’s words or actions that ultimately leads us to feel the way we do in any moment. As such, the NVC model does not utilize words such as ignored, abandoned, or denigrated as feeling words. Rather, it suggest that these words reflect analyses.


The NVC model focuses on what feelings are going on inside ourselves. Thus, when someone doesn’t respond to my question, instead of telling them that I feel ignored I might say “you haven’t responded to my question and I’m feeling sad because I’m really wanting to connect with you”. The latter part of this sentence, the part about what I’m wanting in that instance, relates to the next section on NEEDS.



Human beings all share the same fundamental needs. We have survival based needs for shelter, food, water, sleep, and warmth, as well as needs for love, fun, excitement, play, joy, connection, learning, relaxation, friendship, creativity etc. These needs are what connect us to one another and yet there is often little dialogue about them. Instead, in my experience, we frequently tell people about the strategy that we want to use in order to meet our needs. For instance, instead of saying “I’m really needing some space right now” we say “I need you to leave me alone”. Do those two messages feel different from each other for you? If so, why? For me, the former message creates an opportunity for further dialogue and for the other person to provide us with space as a gift. I feel lighter when I imagine myself saying or receiving this message. In the latter example, I see it more as a demand. I feel tighter in my body when I imagine myself hearing or saying “I need you to leave me alone”.


I believe that greater fluency in a feelings and needs based language can result in more meaningful connections with ourselves and others. It can also help us to make requests for fulfilling our needs.



How do you like to be asked for something? I prefer to be given a choice. That is, to be asked if I’d be willing to do something rather than told to do something. When we come from a demand based style of communication we tend to focus on fairness and give and take. If we operate from the request based style that I’m thinking of then we give people the opportunity to choose whether or not they’d like to meet our need(s).


If one chooses to follow the NVC model, one shares the feelings and needs that have driven the request. Imagine the person in the first example who’s frustrated about finding the sports clothes on the living room floor. He/she might say “When I see your sports clothes on the living room floor (OBSERVATION) I’m noticing that I feel frustrated (FEELING) because I’m wanting more order in the house (NEED). I’m wondering if you’d be willing to support me in this and put those clothes in the wash when you’re finished your coffee (REQUEST)? I’m also wondering if, in the future, you’d be willing to commit to doing this as soon as you get back from your next game? (REQUEST).


Chris Rowe

PhD Candidate in Psychology

Chris will be offering a series of courses at Port Moody Integrated Health using the Nonviolent Communication system this fall.