Nonviolent communication

by Anna Finlayson and Daren DeWitt


Every judgment and criticism is the tragic expression of an unmet need!

Marshall Rosenberg

The third of those key areas of our experience and communication on which NVC recommends we focus our attention is our needs.

We consider this to be the most significant ingredient of the NVC process. There are two major reasons for this. Firstly, needs are the motivation for everything we say and do in life. Therefore being conscious of and communicating about our needs and the needs of others contributes greatly to clarity and connection with ourselves and others. Secondly, all human needs are universal – they are what we all have in common. Therefore when our needs are expressed clearly, they can elicit empathy and understanding from others, because they are something we all fundamentally understand.

Communicating needs

Identifying and then communicating our needs clearly is likely to move us towards getting those needs met and away from discord.  This is crucial to the philosophy and practice of NVC.

Criticism and blame are counter-productive

When we’re in conflict with others, we often feel angry, and we criticise and blame them, either out loud or in our minds. This often results in the other person feeling angry, too.  Maybe they criticise and blame us back. As a result we are less likely to get our needs met.

Blame-free communication

A more effective approach than criticising or blaming others is to pause, take a deep breath, work out what our need is, and then to communicate our need. The other person will then know what we want, with the result we are more likely to get it, or at least to have a constructive discussion about it.

Equally important, when others are criticising and blaming us, is to work out what the need is behind their criticism and then address their need, rather than invest our energy in either defending ourselves against their criticism or counter-attacking.

Needs are universal - feelings point to needs

Needs are universal – they are shared by all humans. Needs contribute to well being – our well being and the well being of other people. Clues as to what our, or others, needs are can be found in feelings. Feelings are generated by needs, and are clear signals that our needs are being met (pleasant feelings) or are not being met (painful feelings). Being able to recognise feelings will help us to pinpoint needs.

Some different ways of expressing needs

Sometimes it’s helpful to have ways of saying what we need other than ‘I need...’ Alternative examples are

  • I would like...
  • I value...
  • I want...
  • It’s important to me to have...
  • I would enjoy...
  • I’m hoping for...
  • ...matters to me.

View a comprehensive list of needs. See if you can identify some of your key needs in the workplace and experiment with saying them, using the different ways of expressing them above, such as ‘I need respect.’ ‘I value (team) collaboration’ and so on.