Non-violent Communication

summarized by Tom Veatch

I respect and admire the skill of diplomacy. Learning about it, I read Marshall Rosenberg's book on Non-Violent Communication, which I summarize for you here. Only the poor expression here is mine; the brilliant ideas are his.
Diplomacy is the art of achieving your objectives, even when others could cause you trouble. Non-violent Communication is Marshall Rosenberg's step-by-step formula for diplomacy.

Key to diplomacy is cooperation: you want others to cooperate. Key to cooperation is the emotional sense of being together on a shared mission, rather than being against each other in conflict with attack and defense. So maintaining the shared mission sense, and carefully avoiding the attack/defense conflict implications of things that you say, are essential to achieving your objectives. Remember that their feeling connected and positive toward you is part of you getting your needs met, because someone that's not connected or positive will not be trying to help you get your needs met, and then you may not get your needs met.

So that quality of diplomatic sensitivity shapes all the steps below. Think about how that quality is maintained through each of them, then you will know how to achieve your goals.


An acronym for this process is OFNR (pronounced "oftener", because you should practice using it oftener). OFNR stands for Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests. Memorize OFNR.

The linguistic form of OFNR is this: I observe that X. I feel Y, because my need for Z is not being met. I ask you to do R.

An example of OFNR is this: I observe that you have your hands on my throat. I feel fear, because my need for physical security is not being met. I ask you to put your hands in your pockets.

  • (1) Observation. Don't say they did it, don't say it's their fault, don't interpret what that may imply about what kind of person they are, leave them out of it as much as possible, and leave their intentions out of it completely. Just the facts. Before you say "I observe that X", review X for any implication that could lead the listener to feeling attacked, defensive, contentious. X has to be inoffensive and impersonal, facts that anyone would agree with and would not get upset about. That makes it diplomatic.

  • (2) Feelings. I felt Y. Feelings are one of about 10 to 20 single words: sad, happy, love, relief, frustration, anger, jealousy, envy, fear, regret, miserable, greed, peaceful, wonder, awe, vengeful, pleasure, satisfaction. Usually fear, anger, sadness, and frustration will get you what you need. If you elaborate on the one-word feeling or include facts in your feelings, then you'll violate the diplomatic rule: you will be telling the other they're responsible or you'll be separating both yourself and your listener from the feelings by going into your head with details and facts. But this step is about eliciting empathetic feeling, where the other person feels connected with you and shares your feeling vicariously. Let them have that experience by avoiding mention as feelings of things that are not feelings or of things that might be attacking the other. Then they'll be on your side.

  • (3) Needs. (I felt Y) because my need for Z isn't being met. You get to declare your own needs; you don't have to be objective about it or make them compatible with some moral standard or some other person's view of what your acceptable needs might be.

    But needs are unthreatening and shareable, because everyone has the same list of needs. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, for example. Simple: you need freedom from cold, thirst, hunger, survival, shelter, then social needs, then spiritual needs. People can relate to your needs; they won't be offended. "I feel sad because my need for friendship and connection are not being met". That would work.

    Again the issue of not implicating someone else's sensitivities in this step is important, and you can see how it has been designed in to this phase, because everyone has needs so you aren't going to be making yourself out as special, nor are you making them out as responsible for your needs not being met or otherwise being the bad guy. So it's a clean non-contentious way through. Key.

  • (4) Request. I request that you do W. W has to be concrete, achieveable. Just do this action. See how impersonal it is? It's totally acceptable to just do this, there's no hostility between us, the request hardly has anything to do with emotions, it's just a simple action.

    When done this way, diplomacy seems so simple, the request so easy to honor, the motives of cooperation so unencumbered by confusion or defensiveness.

    So that's a way to get what you want from people that are causing you trouble.


Copyright © 2000-2012, Thomas C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Modified: March 4, 2010. Minor edits August 12, 2012.