Compassionate Communication — A Basic Introduction

by Lori Grace Star, M.A. (Psych)

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Compassionate Communication, based on Nonviolent Communication(TM), a system of communication developed over the last 30 years by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., is a way of communicating that has made a tremendous contribution to my life and the lives of many others, helping us to empathize more fully, to feel more empathic with ourselves, and to feel deeper connections with others.

The intention of a Nonviolent Communication is to support true understanding and deep connection. Part of this process happens non-verbally through tone of voice and facial expression. The other part is supported tremendously by a form of verbal communication that helps one get one’s needs met by expressing needs directly and making requests, rather than trying to motivate people by using judgments, criticisms and analyses. When listening to others, a person practicing Nonviolent Communication pays attention to hearing and understanding the underlying needs and emotions of the other person, rather than to the thoughts, judgments and/or analyses of that person. This tends to create an amazing amount of deep connection between both parties.

A nonviolent communication is made up of four parts. Awareness of these fours parts is important when communicating with or listening to others and even when communicating with oneself. These four parts are the following:

1) Observation
2) Feeling(s)
3) Need(s)
4) Request


“When I saw you leave the room without saying good-bye to me, I felt really anxious and confused, because I was hoping we had healed things between us. I would like some clarity here. Would you be willing to take a few minutes right now to tell me how you feel?”

“When I saw you leave the room without saying good-bye” is the observation. As you may notice, the speaker is owning the observation (“When I saw…”) and is also reporting it without judgment (“…leave the room without saying good-bye to me.”). Sharing an observation in this way tends to be easy for someone to listen to.

“I felt really anxious and confused…” (When someone shares their emotions, it can tend to stimulate more connection and empathy between people as well.)

“I would like some clarity here”. This is the general need that the speaker has at this moment. It is a universal need. Anyone might have a need for clarity at any given moment.

“Would you be willing to take a few minutes right now to tell me how you feel?” This is a connecting request that can be responded to immediately. It’s a “do-able” request. Another request (an action request) could be: “Would you be willing to set a time with me during the next week to talk to me about your feelings?”

If the request cannot be responded to immediately, it is not useful. For example, a request like, “Would you be willing to commit to keeping me updated with respect to your feelings on a regular basis?” is not a do-able request, because it is vague and unrealistic; it refers more to a general behavior pattern than an action.

A question that you might be asking is: What if a person says “no” to my request? I am afraid I might say something very hurtful if my request is denied.

In Nonviolent Communication, if your request is denied, you can do several things to remain in connection with that person rather than to judge them, pushing them away from you, and still not meeting your needs.

You can ask them, “What needs are you in touch with right now that is making you say “no” to my request?”

Or, you might ask, “What would you need to see, hear or feel (choose whichever word best fits) from me to be able to say ‘yes’ to my request?”

Or, you can ask, “Is there another way that I could express myself that would help you feel more open to hearing or saying ‘yes’ to my request?”

There are also other possible responses to hearing a “no.” What I am seeking to have you understand at this moment is that there are many possible ways of staying connected to someone, even if they say “no” to your request. A good portion of staying connected to someone may involve addressing the needs and feelings of the person you were just talking to.

The process of using these four parts of the Nonviolent Communication process can be directed towards listening to others, where you are seeking to understand what observation triggered them, what feelings and needs they are aware of and whether there is a request they would like to make. This is a way of taking the conversation out of attack and defense when that person’s needs are not being met.

Additionally, these four parts of a conversation can also occur between two parts of yourself! You can notice something that you are doing, ask yourself what you are feeling or needing, and then, make a request of yourself.

For example, I might talk to myself in this way: Lori, when I see you ordering this ice cream dessert, I feel worried that you will eat the whole thing. I am wanting to preserve the figure that I have now. Would you be willing to eat only half of this dessert and then throw the rest of it away?

If I said “yes” to myself, both sides of myself would be then at peace.

If I said “no” to this request of myself, I would then need to look into what was motivating me to say “no” to this request. Let us say that I feel anxious about “wasting food.” Then, maybe if I was with a friend, a strategy I might choose would be to split the dessert. Otherwise, if this need was very strong, maybe I could request a special extra small portion from the restaurant. Possible strategies can be numerous. The point I am trying to make here is that paying attention to needs and feelings can open up a lot of space for creative strategies to come through. And perhaps you are noticing the importance of requests; they are really just strategies for meeting our needs.

Join me on some of my future conference calls on Compassionate Communication.

Come to the evenings and day-long workshops at Celebrations of Love. See our Calendar for our variety of classes in NVC and Compassionate Communication taught by myself, Scott Catamas, Ritch Davidson and Phil Willcher.

Purchase NVC books, CD’s, and DVD’s from our online store.

Visit websites for the NVC national office, the Center for Nonviolent Communication (, and for the NVC local office, Bay NVC (

I hope we will share even more in the future. If you would like to set up a private appointment with me, you may call me at my home number which is 415-435-2583.

Have a wonderful day! And may love bloom in your heart,

Lori Grace Star