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  • Writer's pictureDavid de Souza

'Non Violent Communication' - 80/20 Summary

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

  • Score: 7/10

  • Category: Negotiation

  • Mental Models: Agenda Setting Theory, Emotions: Anger/Empathy/Guilt/Shame/Vulnerable, First Principle Thinking, Language Instinct, Newton's 3rd Law, Resistance, Self-Preservation


Mental Models from the book:

'Non-Violent Communication' can be summarised into 7 mental models:

1. Agenda Setting Theory

"Life alienating communication stems from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals, own benefit. It would be in the interests of kings, czars, nobles and so forth that the masses be educated in a way that renders them slavelike in mentality. The language of 'wrongness', 'should', and 'have to' is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves, to outside authorities, for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good and bad."

2. Emotions

When expressing your feelings, try to use a specific emotion. When you have a decent vocabulary of feelings that allow you to express your emotions, it allows you to better connect with a person.

2.1 - Emotions: Anger

"We are never angry because of what someone else did. We can identify the other person's behavior as the stimulus, but it is important to establish a clear separation between stimulus and cause.

"The first step in the process of fully expressing our anger is to realize that what other people do is never the cause of how we feel." For example: if someone arrives late for an appointment, we may need reassurance that they care about us and as a result, we may feel hurt. If our need is to be productive (with that person) and they are late, we may feel frustrated. However, if we want some rest and some time to ourselves, or if we are running late ourselves, we may in fact be grateful for their tardiness. Instead of saying: "I am angry because they are late.... instead say: "I am angry because I am needing..."

4 Steps in Expressing Anger

  1. Breathe. Stay quiet.

  2. Notice the thoughts that are making you angry.

  3. Notice what needs are being unmet.

  4. Express your feelings and unmet needs.

If someone seems frustrated or angry try the following steps:

  • Step 1: Try not to see it as an attack but as an expression of their needs.

  • Step 2: "I'm confused/ frustrated/ [insert emotion] because I'd like to be clearer about what you are referring to. Would you be willing to tell me what I've done that leads you to see me in this way?"

  • Step 3: "Are you feeling (how they appear to be feeling) because (their need which isn't being met)" For example: Are you feeling unhappy because you are needing to be heard?"

2.2 - Emotions: Empathy

If someone says that they are feeling ugly, don't tell them they are beautiful, this only reassures them, they are probably looking for empathy. Instead say: "Are you feeling unhappy with your appearance today?"

2.3 - Emotion: Guilt

Our culture uses guilt as a tool to control people, it is often used to manipulate and coerce. Parents might say: "It hurts Mommy and Daddy when you get poor grades" causing the child to believe that their behavior is the cause of their parent's feeling.

2.4 - Emotions: Shame

The word "should" has the power to create shame and guilt, for example: "I should have known better." We resist learning when we use "should" because it implies that we have no choice.

2.5 - Emotions: Vulnerable

Being vulnerable can help to resolve conflicts. For example: "I'm feeling frightened to bring up this issue..."

3. First Principle Thinking

Take responsibility for your feelings. Other people's actions may be the stimulus for how we feel but they are not the cause. When someone says something negative, we have 4 choices:

  1. Take it personally by taking blame and criticism. If someone says: "You are the most self-absorbed person I know!" You react: "I should have been less self-absorbed." We accept the person's judgment and blame ourselves. This has an effect on our self-esteem, resulting in guilt and shame.

  2. Blame the speaker. Someone says: "You are the most self-absorbed person I know!" You react: How dare you say that. I am always putting you first. You are far worse than me."

  3. Be conscious of needs: You react: "When I hear you say that I am the most self-centered person you've ever met, I feel hurt because I need some recognition of my efforts to be considerate of your preferences. By reacting this way we become aware that our feelings of hurt come from a need to be recognized.

  4. Be conscious of the other person's needs. You react: "Are you feeling hurt because you need more consideration for your preference?"

4. Language Instinct

There are 4 areas of nonviolent communication:

  1. Observations

  2. Feelings

  3. Needs

  4. Requests

For example, 1-3 would be expressed like this: "Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the rooms that we share in common." And it would then be followed by a request: "Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing?"

5. Newton's 3rd Law: Action & Reaction

We have a tendency to feel rejected when someone says "no" or "I don't want to". It is useful to notice and empathize when this happens. If we get hurt and take it personally we fail to understand what is happening to the other person. When we become conscious of what the other person needs and the reason behind their "no", we learn what they want that is stopping them from responding how we would like. By empathizing with someone's "no" we protect ourselves from taking their response personally. If someone rejects you respond by asking: "I sense you are that so?" Their response may teach you if they are coming from a place of anger or possibly fear.

6. Resistance

When we hear any kind of demand either from ourselves or others, we resist because it threatens our autonomy. Any fun activity performed because of obligation will eventually lose its fun and resistance will soon follow. However, if we are conscious of the purpose behind an action, to make our life and the life of others more wonderful, then the play will always remain. Instead of saying: I have to... say to yourself: "I chose to...."

The 1st step of nonviolent communication is observing without evaluating, judging or criticizing. If we are not careful and mix observing with evaluating, we increase the risk that people think we are criticizing them, they then resist hearing us. For example: "You are too generous" vs "When I see you give all your money to others I think you are being too generous."

Request, do not demand: "Would you be willing to set the table?" vs "I would like you to set the table."

7. Self-Preservation

If we tell a CEO that they are killing the planet, we reduce our chances of persuading them to change as it is rare for someone to focus on another person's needs when they are being attacked.


Let me know how these summaries can be improved. Contact me via Email ( or on Twitter.

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