Is Nonviolent Communication suitable for everyday life?

A critical examination of Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication in comparison with other communication models

Bachelor Thesis, 2007

43 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Nonviolent Communication according to Rosenberg
2.1 The emergence of nonviolent communication
2.2 The basic model of nonviolent communication
2.2.1 The four components
2.2.2 Empathy
2.3 The meaning of the emotional vocabulary
2.4 The meaning of the symbols of wolf and giraffe

3. Influences on the method of nonviolent communication
3.1 Influencing Nonviolent Communication according to Rosenberg
3.2 Influencing Nonviolent Communication through other communication models
3.2.1 Similarities with Carl Rogers' work
3.2.2 Similarities with Virginia Satir's work
3.2.3 Similarities with neurolinguistic programming
3.2.4 Similarities with the four-sided model by Friedemann Schulz von Thun
3.3 Interim conclusion

4. Dangers of Nonviolent Communication
4.1 Festinger's theory of dissonance
4.2 Transfer of dissonance theory on nonviolent communication
4.2.1 Strategies for dissonance reduction
4.2.2 The strategies for Rosenberg's four-component model
4.3 Nonviolent communication and manipulation
4.4 Second interim conclusion

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

"Words can be windows – or walls "1

Rosenberg, Marshall B.:

― Through sensitive and cooperative communication, one can look deep into the other person. A kind of window is created to the feelings and needs of his counterpart, which should be treated respectfully. Hurtful or reproachful statements, on the other hand, quickly trigger a negative, withdrawing or defending reaction in the other. Thus, the pejorative words often draw a wall between the interlocutors, which will only harden over time and with the further use of a judgmental and diagnostic language. ―

This is a possible interpretation of the quote of Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, the founder of nonviolent communication. Rosenberg uses this metaphor in his main work on nonviolent communication2 based on a song title by his colleague Ruth Bebermeyer, which is also mentioned in his main work.3 But what exactly does nonviolent communication mean? What is the intention behind Nonviolent communication? How did it come about?

Conflicts with our fellow human beings are always part of living together. There are now many approaches to dealing with conflicts and managing differences. But so far there is none that has been able to assert itself as the only true theory. Could this claim possibly be made for Nonviolent communication? Is it an appropriate approach to conflict resolution? According to Rosenberg, Nonviolent communication can be successfully applied in a wide variety of situations. This includes "close relationships, families, schools, organizations and institutions, therapy and counseling, diplomatic and business negotiations, disputes and conflicts of all kinds."4

But is Nonviolent communication an approach that exists not only as a theory, but also shows its effect precisely where conflicts actually arise, in everyday dealings with others? And can Nonviolent communication also help people in life away from conflicts? Rosenberg states that Nonviolent communication's goal is to "build relationships based on openness and compassion."5

Based on these considerations, an overarching research question has arisen: Is nonviolent communication suitable for everyday use?6 In examining this question, I will focus exclusively on the original model of Marshall B. Rosenberg and his literature. There are a large number of authors, some of whom are also working as Nonviolent communication trainers, who are further developing Rosenberg's model and specializing in certain areas of application.7 However, in order to work as close as possible to the original Nonviolent communication, I will limit myself in this work to works by Rosenberg.8

In order to gain a better understanding, the first part of the work will first highlight the basic assumptions of Nonviolent communication, its origin and functioning as well as its peculiarities in detail. To further illustrate Nonviolent communication, I will use four other communication models9 use; on this part of the work will lie her main accent. Elements from the work of Carl Rogers, Virginia Satir and Friedemann Schulz von Thun as well as from the model of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) are intended to show to what extent Rosenberg was influenced by other models in the development of Nonviolent communication. On the basis of these models, which were selected because of their fame and their recognized success, the suitability of Nonviolent communication for everyday use will also be discussed.

The Nonviolent communication will then be examined for dangers. On the one hand, this will be done through the theory of cognitive dissonance, on the other hand, the aspect of manipulation will be included.

During the research on the field of Nonviolent communication, however, it was noticeable that so far only books and Internet sources exist that have been published by supporters of Nonviolent communication and which in this respect only present them in a positive light. Thus, so far, although plenty of material is available, the from Nonviolent communication acts, but none that above Nonviolent communication. This lack of secondary literature can possibly be attributed to the fact that Nonviolent communication is still relatively young as a communication model. But in the following, Nonviolent communication should not simply be accepted, but critically examined. It is true that this work cannot provide a complete treatise on all the points of criticism of Nonviolent communication; but it provides different approaches to draw attention. This work therefore condenses the first different starting points, which can be deepened in later research work. The thematic context is given by the aim of investigating the composition and suitability of Nonviolent communication for everyday use.

2. Nonviolent Communication according to Rosenberg

Since Nonviolent communication is more unknown than many other communication theories, the basic assumptions of Nonviolent communication, its origin and functionality as well as its peculiarities will be explained below.

2.1 The emergence of nonviolent communication

The development of nonviolent communication goes back to the Jewish-born American Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg. Their story begins in the summer of 1943, when eight-year-old Rosenberg moves with his family to Detroit, Michigan. At this time, a race war breaks out in the city, which claims many victims. When Rosenberg attends the new school for him after the race war, he is beaten up by classmates because of his name and his ancestry.10 This event allows Rosenberg to pursue two questions that have determined his life since then:

What exactly happens when we lose touch with our empathetic nature and eventually behave violently and exploitatively? And vice versa, what makes it possible for some people to stay in touch with their empathetic nature even under the most difficult conditions?11

Since then, Rosenberg has been searching for the insight into why people behave violently and how others manage to dispense with violence in even the most challenging situations.

On his educational path, Rosenberg first studied clinical psychology in order to come closer to clarifying his two life-determining questions.12 and received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1961.13 He then began studying comparative religious studies.14, however, in 1966, in his early 30s, he was appointed official investigator in clinical psychology.15 At the time when he was leading a psychological practice in St. Louis, his concrete work at Nonviolent communication began.16 In the meantime, however, he breaks off his work in the practice when he can no longer come to terms with the compulsion to write patient reports. He quits and works for a while as a taxi driver.17

In researching his questions, Rosenberg comes across the enormous influence of language and the use of words on the ability to remain empathetic.18 Aware of the great role that communication plays in conflict situations, over the decades he develops his own way of speaking and listening, which "leads us to give from the heart by coming into contact with ourselves and with others in a way that expresses our natural empathy."19 He describes this method as nonviolent communication based on the term 'nonviolence', as Gandhi understands it:20 Accordingly, our empathetic nature unfolds "when the violence in our hearts subsides"21. Rosenberg often perceives the human way of speaking as violent, as it often leads to his own suffering or injury to others.22

Over the years, a steady development of Nonviolent communication takes place, so that the nonviolent communication trainings that followed in the 60s, which Rosenberg carries out to improve communication skills,23 as well as the further years of experience in 1984 finally lead to the founding of the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) in Sherman, Texas. In the meantime, with the help of a large number of coaching teams and organizers, the CNVC has built up a worldwide applied training program.24

The intention behind this development is to improve people's communication with each other in order to enable them to live together and resolve conflicts more peacefully.25 The communication problems of the people, which have been consolidated over the years, whether in the conflict of two, in the dispute in a group or between whole nations, are intended to be a language that speaks from the heart26 yield. Rosenberg sees it as his mission to "create a world in which everyone's needs are met"27. His concept is based on the conviction that humans are not inherently violent.28

2.2 The basic model of nonviolent communication

The basic model of Nonviolent communication is based on a humanistic view of humanity, according to which all people are basically regarded as good and basically have the same needs29. In the main, they want to contribute to the well-being of others, as long as they can do so voluntarily.30 "It is not the different human needs that are in conflict with each other, but the strategies we use to meet them"31 says Rosenberg. Accordingly, there are no bad people, but their actions merely express their unfulfilled needs.

At the heart of Nonviolent communication are two questions that people, as Rosenberg takes care of, ask themselves again and again: "What is alive in us?"32 and "What can we do to make life more beautiful?"33 At this point, it is already clear that Nonviolent communication is not about achieving its goals or bringing about conflict resolution, but about entering into a cordial, intensive contact with oneself and others and improving interpersonal relationships. In the following quote, this intention is once again made clear:

Our goal and the goal of nonviolent communication is not to get what we want, but to create connectedness between people that leads to the [ sic ] the needs of all are taken into account. It's as simple and complex as it is.34

The basic model of Nonviolent communication, which initially impresses with its simplicity, but then reveals the real difficulty in its implementation,35 initially consists of two parts: The first part is about one's own open expression, about the ego in the method. The second part involves the empathic recording of the other, the side of the you.36 This alternating give and take within the process creates a communication flow that converts Nonviolent communication into a process-oriented37 Communication technology makes.38 This omitted moral judgments, criticisms, evaluations, and comparisons, as Rosenberg believes they contribute to violent behavior.39 Moreover, Rosenberg sees judgments, criticisms, diagnoses, and interpretations of other people's behavior as "alienated expressions of our own unmet needs."40 at. For example, if a woman accuses her husband of: "You love your work more than me", so behind this statement there may be an unfulfilled need for closeness.41 He refers to the kind of communication that thinking in categories such as 'right/wrong' implies about other people as "life-alienating communication"42. Man should not act out of fear, shame, guilt or duty43, but because he wants to do good to his fellow human beings, "out of the desire to give from the heart"44. Therefore, in the Nonviolent communication neither punishments, nor praise or compliments are pronounced.45 In addition, man should become aware of his everyday choices, instead of obsessing them with the so-called dream slayer language, which contains words such as 'must' and 'should'.46 Analyses and labelling of other people are also to be dispensed with at Nonviolent communication, as they allegedly only lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.47 Instead, Rosenberg formulates his motivation for "life-expanding interactions"48 as follows:

When we give from the heart, we do so out of the joy that always arises when we consciously consider the life of another human being [ sic ] enrich.49

2.2.1 The four components

In order for Nonviolent communication to be successfully applied by its users, Rosenberg specifies individual components that should allow the conversation to proceed non-violently. These relate to the already mentioned first part of Nonviolent communication; These are the following components:

1. Observation
2. Feeling
3. Need
4. Please50

These four components can thus be understood as the basic framework of gfrp.

In the first step, an observation, e.B about what the other has said or done, what bothers you or what pleases you, is expressed. It is important not to mix this observation with an evaluation or assessment.51 An observational statement would be e.B.: "You come half an hour after the agreed time." Whereas an evaluative generalization could be like this: "You're always late!" According to Rosenberg, this statement can quickly lead to a defensive attitude of the criticized person52, so that the emergence of a communication flow can be affected. The observation should therefore always refer to a specific time frame and a specific context53 to make a true and non-generalizing statement.

In the next step, one's feelings are expressed in relation to what is being observed. Here it is important to note that needs met or not met at Nonviolent communication are the cause of one's own feelings. The behavior of the other can be a trigger that points to one's own needs, but never can the actions of the other person be responsible for these feelings.54 According to Rosenberg, it is particularly important to have one's own feelings instead of so-called "'not' feelings"55 or to share interpretations about the behavior of others. The honest expression of one's own feelings ultimately also means vulnerability, which is an important element of Nonviolent communication.56 In order to be able to describe one's feelings clearly and distinctly, it can therefore be helpful to use one's own "emotional vocabulary"57 Build.58

Thirdly, the needs, desires and ideas from which certain feelings result are expressed. The speaker explains what he needs or what is important to him that causes the aforementioned feelings. This shows whether the speaker takes responsibility for his feelings and recognizes his underlying needs.59 For example, the statement "You make me angry if you leave your things lying around everywhere" would be criticized for the fact that on the one hand the blame – and thus also the responsibility for one's own feelings – is shifted onto someone else and on the other hand generalized by "things" and "everywhere". A clear, concrete expression of one's own feelings and needs based on an observed situation, on the other hand, could be: "I'm angry when your books are on the floor in the living room because order is important to me in shared spaces."

Finally, one request is made to the other. This should be expressed in positive language of action, i.e. on the one hand it should be explained to the other in a positive formulation what is wanted and not what is not wanted.60 On the other hand, concrete actions are to be described that are to be put into practice. Vague, abstract and ambiguous statements should be avoided.61 It should be noted that the request should not be confused with a claim. The wording or tone of the word does not tell whether it is a request or a demand.62 The decisive factor is the reaction of the petitioner if the other is not prepared to fulfill the request. Because in the case of one request, the other should always be given the opportunity to implement it or not63, while refusing to make a claim, on the other hand, often has consequences such as punishment or reprimand.64

Instead of the demand "I don't want you to spend so much time with your friends", the request in positive action language could sound something like this: "I want us to spend at least three evenings together a week together." The other is now free to pursue this request or not. However, the goal of making a request should not be to "change other people and their behavior or to enforce our will".65. Rather, the addressee should be able to trust that the petitioner is primarily concerned with improving the relationship and quality of life; it is up to him to carry out the request exclusively on a voluntary basis, namely if he wants to meet the needs of the other.66

In order to make a complete statement in the sense of Nonviolent communication, an orientation to the following sentence scheme is possible: "If a, then I feel b, because I c Need. That's why I would now like to d."67 This statement could look something like this: "If you promise to visit me but then you won't come by, I'm frustrated because reliability is important to me and I want to rely on your promises. Could you please let me know next time if you can't keep to the deadline?"

2.2.2 Empathy

The second part of Nonviolent communication is the empathic recording of the other. "Empathy means a respectful understanding of other people's experiences."68 If other people express their concerns, even if they seem to be insults, accusations, criticalities, etc., the listener's attention should be focused on the feelings and needs of the speaker, instead of taking the accusations personally.69 Here again an orientation to the four components, on the basic framework of the Nonviolent communication, is possible: "No matter what someone says, we only listen to what they a) observe, b) feel, c) need and d) ask."70

But the most valuable kind of empathy you can have towards another person, according to Rosenberg, is the ability to be present.71 Presence allows the hearing of feelings and needs of the other, even when expressed in silence:72 In contrast, empathy does not mean rational understanding73 or showing sympathy in the sense of approval or compassion.74 It can be helpful for the listener to paraphrase what is understood and to reproduce it in his own words. By paraphrasing, misunderstandings in the approach can be avoided; thus, this initially seemingly cumbersome process can save time.75 The goal of paraphrasing is again the empathic connection.76

2.3 The meaning of the emotional vocabulary

A special element of Nonviolent communication, which is mainly related to the second component, is its own "emotional vocabulary"77. Nevertheless, this element is of great importance for the entire Nonviolent communication, as it can be helpful in conflict resolution. Because with the expression of feelings, vulnerability is revealed at the same time,78 which can facilitate communication in general. But since one's own repertoire of swear words is often more extensive than the vocabulary with which man can describe his emotional states,79 most find it difficult to find appropriate terms for their current emotional state and to describe their emotional state through appropriate formulations.

Rosenberg therefore recommends a conscious examination of his own feelings and the gradual expansion of one's own vocabulary of feelings. Instead of vague, general paraphrases such as 'good' and 'bad', words should be used that express specific feelings.80 Here, a distinction is made between feelings that arise when certain needs are met (e.B. relaxed, pleased, alive, overwhelmed, lively, etc.)81 and feelings that arise when certain needs are not met (e.B. anxious, depressed, frustrated, listless, sad, dissatisfied, etc.)82.


1 Rosenberg, Marshall B.: Nonviolent communication, back cover.

2 Rosenberg, Marshall B.: Nonviolent communication.

3 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 14. For Bebermeyer it says "Words are Windows (Or they are walls)".

4 Ibid. p. 23

5 Ibid. p. 94

6 Here and throughout the rest of this paper, the term "suitable for everyday use" is to be understood as being applicable to everyday life and meeting the demands of everyday life. A new form of communication suitable for everyday use must therefore be able to take the place of conventional, previous forms of conventional ways of speaking.

7 Z.B. Pásztor, Susann, Klaus-Dieter Gens: I hear something you don't say. Nonviolent Communication in relationships. Paderborn: Junfermann 2004 (=nonviolent living).

Hart, Sura, Victoria Kindle Hodson: Empathy in the classroom.

8 It is also quoted from other books, insofar as these passages refer to Nonviolent communication according to Rosenberg.

9 It should be noted that here and throughout the rest of this paper, terms such as 'communication model', 'communication form' or 'communication theory' should not be understood too narrowly. They mean any form of work that deals with assumptions, advice, opinions, behaviors, etc. concerning human communication.

10 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 17

11 Cf. ibid.

12 cf. Rosenberg, Marshall B.: Speaking the language of peace, p. 15

13 cf. Pásztor, S., K.-D. Gene: I hear something you don't say. p. 93

14 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Speak the language of peace. p. 16

15 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 201

16 cf. Rosenberg, Marshall B.: Education that enriches life, p. 19

17 cf. Rosenberg, Marshall B.: Resolving conflicts through nonviolent communication, p. 42

18 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 18

19 Ibid.

20 Cf. ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Cf. ibid.

23 cf. Rosenberg, Marshall B.: Teach children empathetic, p. 64

24 cf. Pásztor, S., K.-D. Gene: I hear something you don't say. p. 93

25 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Teach children empathetic. p. 1

26 Cf. ibid. p. 10

27 Pásztor, Susann: A language of life, p. 4

28 cf. Pásztor, S., K.-D. Gene: I hear something you don't say. p. 93

29 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 68

30 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Teach children empathetic. p. 1

31 Pásztor, S.: A language of life. p. 2

32 Rosenberg, M.: Speak the language of peace. p. 23

33 This includes the questions: "What can you do to make life more beautiful for me? for me? What can I do to make life more beautiful for you?"; ibid.

34 Rosenberg, M.: Education that enriches life. p. 37

35 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Resolving conflicts through nonviolent communication. p. 12

36 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 101

37 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Education that enriches life. p. 27

38 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 22

39 Cf. ibid. p. 31

40 Ibid. p. 67

41 Cf. ibid.

42 Ibid. p. 31

43 Cf. ibid. p. 32

44 Ibid.

45 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Education that enriches life. p. 35f.

46 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 176

47 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Speak the language of peace. p. 25

48 Rosenberg, M.: Education that enriches life. p. 94

49 Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 20

50 Cf. ibid. p. 21

51 Cf. ibid.

52 Cf. ibid. p. 41

53 Cf. ibid. p. 47

54 Cf. ibid. p. 63

55 Ibid. p. 54

56 Cf. ibid. p. 59

57 Ibid. p. 56

58 For more information, see Chapter 2.3 (The Meaning of the Vocabulary of Feelings ).

59 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 75

60 Cf. ibid. p. 81

61 Cf. ibid. pp. 82f.

62 Cf. ibid. p. 91

63 Cf. ibid.

64 Cf. ibid. p. 98

65 Ibid. p. 94

66 Cf. ibid.

67 Ibid. p. 166

68 Ibid. p. 103

69 Cf. ibid. p. 106

70 Ibid. p. 105

71 Cf. ibid.

72 Cf. ibid. p. 133

73 Cf. ibid. p. 105

74 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Education that enriches life. p. 72

75 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. pp. 111f.

76 cf. Rosenberg, M.: Education that enriches life. p. 77

77 Rosenberg, M.: Nonviolent communication. p. 56

78 Cf. ibid. p. 59

79 Cf. ibid. p. 51

80 Cf. ibid. p. 56

81 Cf. ibid. p. 57

82 Cf. ibid. p. 58

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Is Nonviolent Communication suitable for everyday life?
A critical examination of Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication in comparison with other communication models
Bielefeld University
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nonviolent, communication, rosenberg
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Maria Reitzki (Author), 2007, Is Nonviolent Communication suitable for everyday life?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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