Nonviolent communication

by Anna Finlayson and Daren DeWitt

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.

Cicero (106 – 43 BC)

Gratitude and NVC

In nonviolent communication, we want to let people know when something they have done has met a need in us, as well as when something they have or haven’t done has not met our needs. We would call this expressing our gratitude.

The intention behind expressing gratitude

The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.

William James

The intention behind expressing our gratitude to people is not to reward them or get them to do something or to praise them, but to simply let them know how their actions have contributed to our well being in some way. Contributing to others’ well being is one of the deepest needs that we have as human beings, and we like to know when our attempt to do this has been successful. Gratitude is the natural feedback mechanism that gives us this information. Domination cultures have distorted this natural mechanism and use it as a tool to manipulate others, through praise and rewards.

Is our gratitude coming from our head or our heart?

Our culture’s usual way expressing gratitude is to tell someone what they are. We might say something like: ‘Chris that was brilliant! You’re a great worker!’ This is a positive judgment, and they will probably feel pleased to hear it. They aren’t going to feel upset, like they would if we gave them a negative judgment. But it is a judgment, nonetheless, a communication from our head rather than our heart, and therefore it will be less satisfying for them to hear than words from the heart.

Also, if Chris doesn’t know what he or she has done that led you to express your positive judgment, then they are in the dark as to what they have done that has met your need. Being told what you are, even if it’s a positive judgment, is not as enriching as knowing what in particular you have done that has contributed to somebody’s well being or the well being of the team/organisation, and how that has touched them. This sort of gratitude is much more nourishing to receive!

The NVC approach

The NVC approach is to let others know our gratitude by using the following ingredients:

  1. We make clear what the person said or did that we want to acknowledge or celebrate
  2. Then we want tell them how we feel as a result of what they’ve done
  3. Then we tell them what needs of ours were met by their actions.

An example may look something like this:


‘Chris, I’m aware that you have worked for two hours longer than you were asked to [the action they took] and I’m very grateful [how you feel as a result], because not only is the project now complete [need met for completion of task], but we have also honoured the deadline we agreed with our clients [needs met for respecting others and reliability].’


See if you can think of a time, recent or past, where you were grateful for something somebody did and then practise how you might have expressed this, using the above ingredients.

The benefit of expressing our gratitude to others:

When people hear that they have met a need for others, they feel naturally motivated to continue to do so. This is because one of our strongest needs as human beings is to contribute to life or to the well being of others. Manipulation, reward and guilt- and fear-inducing tactics are really not necessary, once people understand the needs in others that would be met by their actions and are free to choose to meet them.

We are all interdependent and nowhere is this more obvious than in a team or organisational context. Instead of using any of the negative tactics mentioned above, we recommend expressing our unmet needs clearly, without judgment or blame, and expressing gratitude from our hearts when our needs have been met. This is ‘life juice’! Expressing and receiving gratitude gives us energy and motivation to give more.

Live with an attitude of gratitude!

Anthony Robbins