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A Comparison of Clean Talk and
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by Alyce Barry
CONTENTS I. Introduction
A. Background on the Models
B. Scope of this Essay
II. Quick Comparison: Three Examples
III. Key Similarities
A. Observation without Conclusions
B. Taking Responsibility for Feelings
C. Requests: Positive, Clear and COncrete
E. Taking Responsibility for Choices
IV. Key Differences
A. When To Use the Model
B. Permission to Proceed
C. Proceeding in Rounds
D. Exclusion of Judgments
1. Labeling the tiger
2. Reclaiming the word judgment
3. The baby and the bathwater
4. The case for including judgments
5. How judgments leak out
E. "Needs" as Hidden Judgments
F. Need Vs. Want
G. Treatment of Anger
H. Judgments Masquerading as Feelings
I. Owning What You Want for You
J. "I Want You To Know"
K. Praise and Compliments
L. "Paraphrasing" When a Request Is Rejected
M. Wants Vs. Requests
N. Second-Level Wants
V. The Shadows of Clean Talk and NVC
This article compares Non-Violent Communication (NVC) with Clean Talk, the communication
model we teach and use in Shadow Work®.
NVC was developed by clinical psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D., whose book,
Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, was first published in 1999. I have based my
comparison primarily on the book's second edition, published in 2003, with the addition of a few
examples from a half-day NVC workshop I attended in January 2011.
I also quote briefly from essays about NVC by Chapman Flack, formerly head of IT at Purdue
University, and Sharon Sarles of the Southwest Facilitators Network.
A. BACKGROUND ON THE MODELS
Dr. Rosenberg developed NVC during the 1960s and 1970s, according to the website for Dr.
Rosenberg's nonprofit Center for Nonviolent Communication. Dr. Rosenberg describes himself
as influenced by the humanistic psychology of Carl Rogers (pp. 113, 175-176).
Cliff Barry developed a model for clearings (conversations for resolving conflicts), which he
allowed the ManKind Project (MKP) to use during his years as a leader there. He further
developed the clearings model for use in Shadow Work®, where he named it Quarter Talk as he
aligned its four components with the four archetypal energies on which Shadow Work® is based.
He built it into the Basic Facilitator Training (BFT) for Shadow Work facilitators and produced a
training video that teaches Quarter Talk along with the basics of Word Coaching, the practice of
coaching others in the use of the model. He also took it into the corporate world, where he
renamed it Clean Talk.
I learned Quarter Talk when I took the BFT in December 1997. In 2008, Cliff invited me to help
him write and record the Clean Talk CD, which explains the basics of Clean Talk and of Word
Coaching. We aimed the CD at group facilitators and other group leaders.
Clean Talk is primarily known within the business organizations where it has been taught and
within the community of organizations that do experiential emotional work based on Jung's
psychology, including Shadow Work®, MKP, Women In Power, Woman Revealed, Priestess
Path, Inward Journey, and Woman Within, among others.
NVC is much more widely known than Clean Talk. It has apparently been taught to millions of
people in a wide variety of settings, and NVC workshops and practice groups are widely
available. Dr. Rosenberg's book and the accompanying workbook (Nonviolent Communication
Companion Workbook by Lucy Leu, 2003) have sold well.
B. SCOPE OF THIS ESSAY
The two models are based on quite different beliefs about human personality, and it is beyond
the scope of this essay to explore in depth the differing beliefs of Carl Rogers and Carl Jung.
This essay doesn't cover two of the topics on the Clean Talk CD: Word Coaching, and how
questions in a conversation can be used to conceal a judgment or to pick a fight. Neither does it
discuss Dr. Rosenberg's views on asking questions to elicit further information or his comments
on the protective use of force.
I sell copies of the Clean Talk CD at the ShadowWork.com Online Store and elsewhere. The
CD's copyright is held by Shadow Work Seminars, Inc., and I pay a royalty for each Clean Talk
CD sold. The CD was a collaboration; Cliff and I co-wrote the script and recorded and edited the
CD together. Since my name is on the CD, I also have some professional stake in the success of
II. QUICK COMPARISON: THREE EXAMPLES
NVC and Clean Talk each consist of four components, but the components differ. NVC's four
elements are observation, feeling, need, and request. Clean Talk's four elements are data, feeling,
judgment, and want.
Here are three examples showing the two models expressing roughly the same thing.
Adapted from p.173 of Dr. Rosenberg's book.
Observation: "When I imagine going back to work after being with the children
Feeling: "I feel scared"
Need: "because I'm needing reassurance that the children will be well taken care
Request: "Therefore, I now would like to plan how to provide high-quality child
care while I work and how to find sufficient time to be with the children when I
am not tired."
Data: "When I imagine going back to work after being with the children full-
Feeling: "I feel afraid."
Judgment: "I think I'll face risks both at work and at home. At work it will be
hard to focus if I'm worrying about the children being well cared for. At home I
might be too tired to have quality time with my children."
Want: "I want to find high-quality childcare and plan for time with the children
when I'm not tired"
Optional second-level want: "because I want both professional fulfillment and to
be a good mom."
From p.149 of Dr. Rosenberg's book. The speaker has overheard a statement which he has
interpreted to mean that he has been excluded from a conversation because he is Caucasian.
NVC: Observation: "When you entered the room and started talking to the others and
didn't say anything to me and then made the comment about white people,"
Feeling: "I felt really sick to my stomach, and got so scared,"
Need: "it triggered off all kinds of needs on my part to be treated equally."
Request: "I'd like you to tell me how you feel when I tell you this."
Data: "When I saw you talking to the others in the room and not to me, and then I
heard you say you didn't want to talk to any white people,"
Feeling: "I felt afraid."
Judgment: "It sounded to me like you decided not to talk to me because I'm white
and might be making assumptions about me without finding out what I'm like."
Want: "I want to be seen for who I am."
Adapted from an example in the workshop. The speaker is responding to a phone call from a
spouse who has said, "I can't go out to dinner with you tonight as planned, dear, I'm too busy
Observation: "When you say you can't go out to dinner with me tonight because
you're too busy with work,"
Feeling: "I feel sad."
Need: "because I have a need for connection with you."
Request: "Would you be willing to work tomorrow night instead?"
Data: "When I hear you say you can't go out to dinner with me tonight because
you're too busy with work,"
Feeling: "I feel sad."
Judgment: "It seems to me that we haven't spent much time together the last two
weeks, and I'm sensing some distance between us."
Want: "I want to be close to you,"
Optional second-level want: "because I love you."
III. KEY SIMILARITIES
On the following important points, I think the two models agree pretty well.
A. OBSERVATION WITHOUT CONCLUSIONS
NVC's "observation" is quite similar to Clean Talk's "data." Both models suggest that, in
accurately making an observation/reporting the data, you imagine that you are a video recorder
recording the facts of the situation as objectively as possible.
Both models distinguish between describing the situation in clear data versus making
"We need to clearly observe what we are seeing, hearing, or touching that is affecting our sense
of well-being, without mixing in any evaluation." For example, "Hank Smith is a poor soccer
player" is an evaluation while "Hank Smith has not scored a goal in 20 games" is an observation
that contains clearer data. (NVC, p.26)
"If I am able to say the exact words you said, it proves I was listening, and it proves that I am
grasping what is actually happening . . . . there's power in it, and you can usually feel it
energetically in the room when the words have been repeated, because we know that we standing
on solid ground of the words that were actually spoken." (Clean Talk CD)
B. TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR FEELINGS
Both models teach the speaker to take responsibility for his/her feelings. Dr. Rosenberg's book
does a good job of explaining some of the reasons for taking responsibility, as well as some of
the consequences of refusing responsibility, and he offers entertaining examples that illustrate
the point effectively.
"By developing a vocabulary of feelings that allows us to clearly and specifically name or
identify our emotions, we can connect more easily with one another. Allowing ourselves to be
vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts. NVC distinguishes the
expression of actual feelings from words and statements that describe thoughts, assessments, and
interpretations." (NVC, p.46)
"I can feel sad, mad, glad, bad [shame], or afraid. . . . We think it's very important to learn to
actually say these truly feeling words that represent one of the five primary emotions. There are
other words that people use, but they mostly distance us from our true feeling, and the crux of
Clean Talk in this regard is to get in touch with what you actually are feeling and to say what you
actually are feeling and not something else." (Clean Talk CD)
Both models instruct the speaker to say "I feel" followed by an adjective that describes a feeling
state instead of an evaluation or judgment; for example, to say "I feel sad" rather than "I feel
neglected." Both models point out that a word like "neglected" is really an evaluation or
judgment, and that "I feel neglected" really means "I think I am neglected."
I'll say more about the book's list of feeling words below because I believe some of the feeling
words chosen are evaluations or judgments masquerading as feelings.
C. REQUESTS: POSITIVE, CLEAR AND CONCRETE
Both models recommend expressing what we want in language that is positive rather than
negative, clear rather than vague or ambiguous, and concrete rather than intangible.
"First of all, we express what we are requesting rather than what we are not
requesting." (NVC, p.67)
"We also want to avoid vague, abstract, or ambiguous phrasing and to word our
requests in the form of concrete actions that others can undertake." (NVC, p.69)
"The first no-no is saying what you don't want instead of saying what you do
want. We call that a negative want . . . Some other language to listen for when
someone is stating a negative want are the words 'stop' and 'quit' and 'be free.' So
if someone says, 'I want you to stop doing that' . . . what do you want them to
do?" (Clean Talk CD)
"Another [no-no] is vague or unspecific wants. . . . If I were talking to a staff
member in my workshop and I said, 'I want you to do a better job of staffing,'
well, what exactly do I want them to do? Do I want them to show up at a different
time? Do I want them to perform different tasks? What am I actually asking them
for?" (Clean Talk CD)
As Dr. Rosenberg writes, in words that are almost identical to those on the Clean Talk CD,
"When we speak, the clearer we are about what we want back, the more likely we are to get it."
Both models are based on a belief in treating the other person with compassion and respect, and
in healthy communication that builds trust and connection between people.
The people I know who use NVC do so with an intention to share their hearts and their lives with
the people they care about, and to do so safely even when conflict is present.
I think communicating with that intention greatly improves the odds of having a healthy
conversation. While I believe NVC is not always successful in serving all of those intentions, I
think using NVC is vastly preferable to using no model at all.
E. TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR CHOICES
Both models observe that saying "I have to do X" is a way of denying that what you really mean
is "I want to do X" or "I choose to do X," though their observations come from different
"If we review the joyless acts to which we currently subject ourselves and make
the translation from 'have to' to 'choose to,' we will discover more play and
integrity in our lives." (NVC, p.140)
"Another no-no . . . is to say that I just have to say something or I just have to do
something, when really I just want to do it. . . . It makes it sound like there's no
choice, we'd better go along. It's once again obligating the listeners to go along
with what I want." (Clean Talk CD)
IV. KEY DIFFERENCES
Many of the differences between NVC and Clean Talk can be expressed in terms of their
boundaries: their goals and limits. In my opinion, NVC omits some necessary boundaries and
places others in unhealthy places. The results are a lack of clarity and power and, in some cases,
unintentional deception, manipulation, and other forms of violence. NVC's boundaries, in my
judgment, render it less effective and less safe emotionally than Clean Talk.
A. WHEN TO USE THE MODEL
Clean Talk is suggested for use when emotions are high or conflict is present, or when the
speaker wishes to convey something difficult for the other person to hear.
Clean Talk is not suggested for use at all times. On the contrary, using Clean Talk in all our
communications would disrupt the natural flow of interpersonal communications.
"[Clean Talk] is a muscle that you're going to learn how to use so that you will
have it available for you when it's important. . . . You really don't want to be that
little robot going around, talking out of the model 24/7. Don't do that. It might
have an impact on some of your relationships." (Clean Talk CD)
Dr. Rosenberg appears to suggest that NVC be used at all times (". . . at all levels of
communication and in diverse situations," p.8). In my opinion, the use of NVC at all times is
likely to cause exhaustion and burnout on the part of NVC users. I add, for the sake of anyone
concerned about failing to use NVC in a crucial moment, that apology can go a long way toward
Clean Talk: "When you stepped on my foot and I called you a clumsy jerk, I was feeling really
angry. I know you didn't mean to hurt me, and I'm so sorry I lashed out like that. I
want to apologize and ask if there's anything else I can say to make it up to you,
because I care about you."
B. PERMISSION TO PROCEED
Clean Talk suggests that, particularly when conflict is present, the speaker begin by first
requesting permission to proceed.
Clean Talk: "There's something I'd like to talk to you about. Is this a time you could hear me?"
If the other's reply is no, the speaker waits for another time. This boundary is based on a belief
that communication is unlikely to be either effective or productive when the listener is unable to
listen for whatever reason. This boundary improves the likelihood that the conversation will go
well when it does take place.
In addition, I find no reference in Dr. Rosenberg's book to the advisability of confronting
someone in private in order to spare them the possibility of humiliation from a confrontation in
public. "Praise publicly, confront privately" is a guideline in Clean Talk.
In my opinion, confronting someone without first asking their permission to do so, and taking the
risk of humiliating them by confronting them unnecessarily in public rather than in private, are
both forms of violence.
C. PROCEEDING IN ROUNDS
Clean Talk encourages each speaker to talk for as long as it takes to express four related
components (data, feeling, judgment, want) and then to give the other person a chance to respond
in kind. In effect, Clean Talk proceeds in "rounds" of four elements each from each person.
NVC permits each speaker to talk for an unlimited length of time before allowing the other
person to respond. In my opinion, the missing boundary here allows a speaker to "unload on" the
other party, making it difficult for the other party to respond to so much that has been spoken,
and they're more likely adding to conflict rather than resolving it.
Dr. Rosenberg's book emphasizes that the speaker can take his/her time (pp.152-154). In the
workshop I attended, the leader and a volunteer from the audience engaged in a practice
conversation in which the leader spoke for more than 5 minutes before allowing the other person
to respond. I do not see a reference in Dr. Rosenberg's book to the risk I perceive of one person
"unloading" to the point where it becomes nearly impossible for the other to respond.
D. EXCLUSION OF JUDGMENTS
NVC excludes in its basic recipe (observation, feeling, need, request) the expression of opinions
or judgments, or at least not judgments named as such. As I argue in section E below, needs are
actually judgments without being named as such.
"Life-alienating communication . . . traps us in a world of ideas about rightness
and wrongness—a world of judgments; it is a language rich with words that
classify and dichotomize people and their actions. . . . Our attention is focused on
classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what
we and others need and [are] not getting. . . . It is my belief that all such analyses
of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own values and needs." (NVC,
"It is important here not to confuse value judgments and moralistic judgments. All
of us make value judgments as to the qualities we value in life; for example, we
might value honesty, freedom, or peace. . . . We make moralistic judgments of
people and behaviors that fail to support our value judgments, e.g., 'Violence is
bad. . . .' . . . For example, instead of 'Violence is bad,' we might say instead, 'I am
fearful of the use of violence to resolve conflicts; I value the resolution of human
conflicts through other means." (NVC, p.17)
Dr. Rosenberg dislikes what he calls "moralistic judgments" and so has not built into the NVC
model a way to consistently and nonviolently communicate them, yet he occasionally adds them
to his examples without explaining why he is doing so or how we might safely do so as well
(examples on pp. 30, 33, 72, 86, 122, etc.).
1. Labeling the tiger. I imagine nearly everyone reading this article would agree with me that a
judgment can hurt somebody. If someone says to me, "You're stupid," they are using a judgment
to hurt me.
I believe that if you own a tiger, it's wise to give it lodgings somewhere you can keep an eye on
it, to feed it regularly so that it's less tempted to eat its trainer, and to label the cage so that
everyone knows there's a dangerous animal in there.
That's the Clean Talk approach: to treat a judgment like a tiger, by giving it space within the
conversation to keep an eye on it, and by putting a label on the cage that says it's a tiger. Here are
some of the many labels for the tiger's cage:
In my judgment . . .
In my opinion . . .
I believe . . .
It's my memory that . . .
It sounds like . . .
It's clear to me that . . .
It seems to me that . . .
I guess . . .
I gather . . .
The story I tell myself is that . . .
It's my fantasy that . . .
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that . . .
Notice the wide range of certainty these labels reflect: from the very hesitant ("It's my fantasy
that") to the secure ("It's clear to me that") to the supremely certain ("We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that"). That range is needed because we humans can believe one thing with our
whole hearts while believing another thing with only a modicum of certainty.
2. Reclaiming the word judgment. Before going further, I want to talk about the word
"judgment." It's a word that many people find distasteful, even repugnant, perhaps especially
those who have ever been called "judgmental." Yet the word judgment can have several different
meanings, some of which are as harmless as "decision" or "opinion." Let's look at some
definitions from dictionaries.
An opinion or decision that is based on careful thought.
The ability to make good decisions about what should be done.
A decision made by a court.
A formal utterance of an authoritative opinion.
The process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.
A proposition stating something believed or asserted.
Something bad or unpleasant that is thought to be a punishment from God.
The final judging of humankind by God.
Dr. Rosenberg appears to consider only the most negative of these definitions as the meaning of
a judgment — essentially, to equate judgment with condemnation. In an example that I find
surprising, Dr. Rosenberg won't say that in his opinion violence is harmful, as this would be a
"moralistic judgment" (p.17). Instead, he offers to say, "I am fearful of the use of violence to
resolve conflicts; I value the resolution of human conflicts through other means."
Clean Talk's inclusion of judgments in its basic recipe (data, feeling, judgment, want) is based on
a belief that human beings judge all the time, and that we must do so in order to survive. We
judge what is right and wrong, judge where we want to live and what we want to eat and wear,
judge whom we want to connect with and whom we'd rather not spend time with, judge what
kind of career and car and house would suit us, judge what to say and do many times throughout
each day. I believe judgment makes it possible for us to grow emotionally and spiritually by
allowing us to distinguish how we act from how we wish to act.
In my judgment, a person using NVC or Clean Talk does so because he/she judges it to be a
good or useful communication model.
If in the past you have felt uncomfortable using the word judgment, I invite you to say these
aloud and see what you think:
In my judgment, bigger is not always better.
In my judgment, many hands make light work.
In my judgment, it's wise to look both ways before crossing the street.
In my judgment, I benefit from self-examination.
In my judgment, it is better to communicate nonviolently than to communicate in a way
that commits violence.
3. The baby and the bathwater. In excluding not only harsh moral judgments but also opinions,
beliefs, understandings, and the clarity and discernment they make possible, I believe Dr.
Rosenberg throws out the baby with the bathwater. As a result, in my judgment, some things
become very difficult to express using NVC, and there is a great loss of clarity (see 4(b) below).
Another consequence, in my opinion, is unintentional violence. In his 2006 article "The subtle
violence of nonviolent language," Chapman Flack describes how NVC "has added violence to
the language," mentioning first NVC's practice of referring to violent communication as the
language of jackals:
"The encouragement, even tacit, to fancy ourselves engaged in conversations with
jackals, or to file their concerns under 'life-alienated thinking,' can be flattery
enough to ego and to haste. [Dr. Rosenberg's] advice never to hear thoughts may
be helpful in those bitter disputes of long standing where bad faith is so firmly
entrenched . . . But as a general rule it seems likely to create exactly that kind of
situation out of simpler ones that could otherwise be easy to resolve. It establishes
a speech rule under which matters of concern or dispute common and important
among serious people may be inexpressible, dismissed, and unheard. A person
who steps outside the speech rule to try to explain the trouble may . . . find that
effort itself dismissed for the same reason."
In other words, thinking of others as jackals, and providing no way to express disagreement with
the model itself, add violence to our communication.
4. The case for including judgments. Why include your judgments in a conversation? I offer
(a) They don't always hurt. Not all judgments hurt, and some are necessary to
convey information. Judgment can mean condemnation but doesn't have to.
Judgment can mean simply discernment. As Sharon Sarles puts it, "It is not
necessary to eschew all content in order to stop the kind of judgmentalness that
When I look out the window and say, "It's raining outside," I express a judgment
that isn't usually going to hurt anybody. If I'm in the middle of a tense
conversation where emotions are running high, it might still be wise to label it as
a judgment, perhaps by adding "I think" at the beginning — "I think it's raining
outside" — which in my opinion is even less likely to hurt somebody. In fact, it
might even prove helpful to someone planning to go outside.
(b) They add clarity and power. Judgments can help clarify what is happening
and add power to what we say. Without expressing judgments, for example, how
do I share my most precious beliefs with my children or those I teach or mentor?
How do I say without the use of judgments, "I believe that there is a God," or,
"I've learned that violence only begets more violence" or "I think what I did was
During the NVC workshop I attended, I saw what I consider a good example of
clarity and power lost because judgments weren't allowed. The workshop leader
played the role of a mother speaking with her 16-year-old daughter who had been
caught driving after drinking a beer. A member of the group played the role of the
daughter. I saw no way for the mother to state without the use of judgments that
her daughter had broken the law and endangered the safety of herself and others.
The conversation ended with the daughter unrepentant and the mother saying she
would continue the conversation at another time.
(c) They aid in exposing inaccurate judgments. Expressing our judgments may
be the only way we can detect the judgments we hold that are inaccurate. If I say,
"It's my judgment you couldn't even be bothered to call me," the other person has
the opportunity to reply, "I did call you, but your line was busy," which gives me
(d) We can't stop making judgments, so they leak out anyway. It's my belief
that we couldn't stop judging even if we tried. Imagine having a conversation with
someone without making any judgments. How would you know to whom you
were talking, or when the conversation started and ended, or when the other
person had finished talking and it was your turn to speak?
It's my belief that when we attempt to hide our judgments, they emerge anyway.
They leak out and stalk the conversation until they find a way to intrude, often by
contaminating the other elements of the conversation: the observation/data, the
feeling, or the want/request.
5. How judgments leak out. This is where the tiger metaphor breaks down, because a real cage
can continue to hold a real tiger even if the tiger isn't fed, and hold it for a long time before the
bars weaken enough to let the tiger escape. A tiger can starve to death inside a cage.
Not so a judgment. It can escape in the twinkling of an eye. I think most of us have had the
experience of saying something that hurt somebody and wondering how it escaped our lips.
When we say something that hurts somebody, I believe it means a judgment has escaped our
control. A judgment acts very much like a predator: biting, stinging. mauling, wounding.
Between people trying to communicate, judgments that aren't permitted to surface begin to stalk
the conversation until they find a way to leak into and contaminate the other elements of
When a judgment leaks in:
"When you arrived 30 minutes after the time we said we'd meet" can become "When you kept me waiting for 30 minutes."
"I feel afraid" can become "I become a nervous wreck."
"I feel sad" can become "I have nothing left to live for."
"I want to connect with you" can become "I want to see your eyes looking at me rather than at that damned newspaper!"
E. "NEEDS" AS HIDDEN JUDGMENTS
Dr. Rosenberg's book lists 40 "basic human needs" (pp. 54-55). The workshop I attended and the
CNVC website each offered a much longer list of needs.
Since Dr. Rosenberg describes himself as an advocate of the theories of psychologist Carl
Rogers, I assume he takes his cue from Rogers' tenet that all human beings share the same
universal needs, though I didn't find a passage in which he said so.
While I would agree that I want many of the needs on the list, I find it easy to imagine people
who would disagree that some of these are needs. For example, I think I could find an introverted
person who would question that "closeness" is a basic need. Similarly, Dr. Rosenberg lists
"sexual expression" as a basic human need, and I imagine I could find nuns, priests, monks,
members of Shaker communities, and others living a celibate lifestyle who would question that
it's a basic human need.
It seems to me that when a person using NVC refers to a need, he/she is making a judgment as if
that judgment is an uncontested fact.
In my opinion, every time Dr. Rosenberg says "I need," he's really saying "I believe that I require
this." That he doesn't state this as a belief, in my opinion, leaves something hidden that is subtly
manipulative, and in doing so is unintentionally violent.
Clean Talk, by contrast, suggests using the word "need" only when referring to those needs
without which we couldn't survive: air, food, water, shelter, and so on. In general, Clean Talk
suggests that any need not related to survival be expressed as a judgment: "I think I need" or "I
seem to need," for example.
"I'm looking at myself and I'm saying, Gee, I really need something here. I
believe or I judge that I need something. So there's an assessment in there that's
being cloaked. There's a conclusion. . . . I have also sometimes noticed that there
can be another assessment in there that the relationship is not going to survive if I
don't get this. . . . there's almost a veiled threat in there. . . . When I say I need
something, the word 'need' brings a sense of obligation onto the listener, and that's
something we want to avoid. We want to say what we want knowing that they
might give it to us and they might not." (Clean Talk CD)
Note: The Clean Talk CD was designed primarily for group leaders and suggests that, in a
business setting, the word "need" might sometimes be appropriate where it might not be in a
personal setting; for example, "I need that report on my desk tomorrow morning."
F. NEED VS. WANT
In examples throughout his book, Dr. Rosenberg uses the words "need" and "want"
interchangeably without comment.
When I look up each of these words in a dictionary, I see each offered as a definition for the
other: want sometimes means need, and need sometimes means want.
In my experience, there is a difference between the two words: "need" seems to have more clout.
"Need" seems to signal that I not only want this but require this and must have it in some sense.
If that's what it means, is it not violent to suggest that I require it, I must have it, without saying
I invite you to read the following pairs of sentences. In your opinion, does each pair of sentences
have the same meaning and impact?
I want this job.
I need this job.
I want to use your car.
I need to use your car.
I want to eat something.
I need to eat something.
G. TREATMENT OF ANGER
NVC encourages the expression of emotions with the exception of anger, which is deemed too
violent to express to the other person if expressed as anger. Anger may be expressed after it has
been "transformed." Dr. Rosenberg stresses here that the "core" of our anger is an unmet need.
"When we are connected to our need . . . we may have strong feelings, but we are
never angry." (NVC, p.143)
"The process we are describing . . . does not encourage us to ignore, squash, or
swallow anger, but rather to express the core of our anger fully and
wholeheartedly" (NVC, p.141).
"To fully express ourselves, we now open our mouths and speak the anger—but
the anger has been transformed into needs and need-connected feelings." (NVC,
Dr. Rosenberg believes the cause of anger is that we're thinking wrongly.
"Whenever we are angry, we are finding fault . . . judging or blaming the other
person for being wrong or deserving of punishment." (NVC, p.143)
"I see all anger as a result of life-alienating, violence-provocative thinking."
Clean Talk allows for the expression of anger in the same manner as other emotions. (Note that
in the first example "I need" is used and labeled as the judgment it is.)
Clean Talk: "When I ask you to buy milk on your way home, and I hear you say you will, and
you arrive home without it, I feel angry. I think for our relationship to work, I
need to trust that you'll follow through and do what you say you'll do. I want our
relationship to work because I love you."
"When you walk into my office without knocking, I feel angry. It's my memory
that I've asked you before to knock before entering. I'd like you to respect my
privacy because I'd like to have a good working relationship with you."
Dr. Rosenberg recommends "connecting empathically with our own needs or those of others"
when we feel angry. In the example I mentioned earlier from the NVC workshop, in which a
mother talked with her daughter about drunk driving, the workshop leader demonstrated how the
mother might express her anger inwardly as empathy without expressing the anger to her
daughter. To symbolize this, she held up a scarf in front of her mouth whenever she felt angry
and said to herself things like, "Wow, I'm really angry." What strikes me most about this practice
is that it attempts to hide what we're really feeling from the other person, which seems to me a
form of deception.
Clean Talk allows the mother in that example both to express her anger honestly and to state her
assessment of the situation:
"When I hear you say that you drank a beer before driving home, I feel angry. It's
my judgment that in driving after drinking a beer, you broke the law and
endangered the safety of yourself and others. I want you to drive lawfully and
safely, because I care about what happens to you.
H. JUDGMENTS MASQUERADING AS FEELINGS
As I mentioned above, Dr. Rosenberg's book distinguishes between words that describe actual
feelings and words that describe interpretations, and offers a list of each.
"It is helpful to differentiate between words that describe what we think others are
doing around us, and words that describe actual feelings." (NVC, p.42)
With that statement, Clean Talk and I would agree. However, the book's list of words describing
actual feelings contains quite a few words that Clean Talk would consider to be judgments
masquerading as feelings, including quite a few words ending in "ed": "aggravated," "alarmed,"
"annoyed," "brokenhearted," "disappointed," "disgusted," "exasperated", "shocked," and "tired,"
Clean Talk suggests that a word ending in "ed" is subtly suggesting that something outside of us
is doing something to us, and that therefore we are not taking full ownership of what we feel and
perhaps even accusing someone of something harmful. "Ed points the finger" is one way to
remember this boundary (with apologies to everyone named Ed!).
I invite you to read the following pairs of sentences and decide for yourself if a word ending in
"ed" is implying that someone else has done something to us, compared with a simple feeling
word like sad or afraid or angry.
When you broke the window, I felt alarmed.
When you broke the window, I felt afraid.
When you took your shirt off, I felt shocked.
When you got home at midnight, I felt afraid.
When you left, I felt broken-hearted.
When you left, I felt sad.
When you spilled the coffee, I felt disgusted.
When you spilled the coffee, I felt angry.
Hurt and other examples. In addition to the "-ed" words are quite a few others on Dr.
Rosenberg's list that Clean Talk would consider to be judgments masquerading as feelings:
"hurt," "passive," "upset" and "skeptical" to mention just a few. Clean Talk also mentions words
like "heard," "seen" and "shut out" as judgments masquerading as feelings.
The word "hurt," in my opinion, implies that someone somewhere is doing some hurting. I think
that "injured" is a pretty accurate synonym for "hurt," and "injured" is a word ending in –ed that
Clean Talk would describe as a judgment that someone somewhere is doing some injuring.
I invite you to read the following pairs of sentences and decide for yourself if "hurt" implies that
somebody is doing some hurting.
When I didn't hear from you, I felt hurt.
When I didn't hear from you, I felt sad.
When you called her first, I felt hurt.
When you called her first, I felt sad.
When you got home at midnight, I felt hurt.
When you got home at midnight, I felt angry.
In my opinion, by allowing "I feel hurt," which subtly implies that someone is hurting us, NVC
commits unintentional violence. "Hurt" and words ending in –ed are judgments and can be used
Clean Talk: When you called her first, I felt sad. I think I was hurt because it seemed like you
valued her friendship more than mine. I want you to value my friendship, because
I value yours.
I. OWNING WHAT YOU WANT FOR YOU
NVC permits a speaker to make a request on behalf of another person without requiring that the
speaker describe how they would benefit.
"When they cancelled the contract, I felt really irritated because I was hoping for
an opportunity to re-hire the workers we had laid off last year." (NVC, p.51)
"When you received that award, I felt happy because I was hoping you'd be
recognized for all the work you'd put into the project." (NVC, p.66)
"Look, when I see that you haven't done the work you said you were going to do,
I feel very disappointed. I wanted to be able to come home and find the house in
order and your chores completed. I want you to clean it up immediately." (NVC,
When I read these examples, I have questions. Why does the first speaker want to re-hire the
workers laid off last year? Because they deserve to get their jobs back? Because it would be
cheaper since those workers would need less training? Why does the last speaker want to come
home and find the house in order and the chores completed? In not requiring the speaker to
reveal how they would benefit, in my opinion, there is a lack of clarity and also a denial of
Similarly, I found examples both in the book (e.g., p.147) and in the workshop of a request to
"tell me how you feel when I say this" without saying how that would benefit the person
Clean Talk requires that the speaker state how they would benefit as a way of fully owning what
"We think it's vital in stating what you want that you say what you want for you,
or what you would get out of something, literally. Not that you don't have
altruistic desires, but in everything there is an element that you want just for you,
and we want you to own that, we want you to take responsibility for that. It's
probably related to why you are having this conversation in the first place. There
is something you want, something you're not getting . . ." (Clean Talk CD)
J. "I WANT YOU TO KNOW"
In the NVC workshop I attended, the leader used "I want you to know . . ." several times as a
request. I saw only two examples of wanting the other person to know something in Dr.
Rosenberg's book (pp. 75, 118), and neither of them is a very typical example, so I don't know
for sure what Dr. Rosenberg thinks about this or how often it might be used in NVC.
Clean Talk holds that "I want you to know" is a rather toxic power move and therefore rather
violent. For one thing, it doesn't reveal what the speaker would get out of the other person
knowing, so the speaker isn't fully owning what they want.
Worse, "I want you to know" often contains a hidden judgment, a hidden want, or both.
For example, in my opinion, "I want you to know that I waited alone for half an hour" seems to
contain at least two hidden judgments: that waiting alone for half an hour was harmful in some
way for the person doing the waiting, and that someone was bad for causing this to happen (and I
wonder who that could be?). There also seems to be a hidden want that the other person feel
some guilt or shame about what has happened.
Clean Talk allows "I want you to know" only if the speaker is willing to reveal first what he/she
would get out of the other person knowing it. That revelation might require that the speaker
confess to a resentful desire for the other person to feel guilt or shame, which of course would be
a hard thing to confess, but at least the desire would be out in the open instead of in hiding.
K. PRAISE AND COMPLIMENTS
Dr. Rosenberg believes that praise and compliments are "life-alienating" (p.185), and he offers a
different way to express appreciation.
"Conventional compliments often take the form of judgments, however positive,
and are sometimes offered to manipulate the behaviors of others. NVC
encourages the expression of appreciation solely for celebration. We state (1) the
action that has contributed to our well-being, (2) the particular need of ours that
has been fulfilled, and (3) the feeling of pleasure engendered as a result." (NVC,
(From the NVC workshop handout) "We refrain from compliments as we
consider these a form of evaluation, albeit positive. We refrain from positive
reinforcement or attempting to build someone's self-esteem."
Dr. Rosenberg doesn't believe that appreciation is good for the recipient either; he writes that it is
usually received "from one of two polar positions. At one end is egotism . . . At the other
extreme is false humility . . ." (p.189)
I believe NVC loses a precious opportunity here, particularly for parents, mentors, teachers, and
others who wish to acknowledge work well done or to offer blessing or support.
NVC: Observation: "As I watched you graduate with honors,"
Feeling: "I felt so proud,"
Need: "I have a need to celebrate this dream fulfilled, and"
Request: "I'd love to celebrate the occasion with you."
Clean Talk: Data: "As I watched you graduate with honors,"
Feeling: "I felt so happy,"
Judgment: "I think you worked really hard, and I'm so proud of you."
Want: "I'd love to celebrate with you,"
Optional second-level want: "because I'd love to be with you right now."
L. "PARAPHRASING" WHEN A REQUEST IS REJECTED
When a person using NVC makes a request and the other person turns it down, NVC suggests
"paraphrasing," by which it means asking "questions that reveal our understanding while
eliciting any necessary corrections from the speaker" (p.96). In my judgment, this is a form of
guessing what the other person might be feeling and needing, and then asking a question seeking
to confirm the guess. Continuing from Example C above:
NVC: "When you say you can't go out to dinner with me tonight because you're too busy
with work, I feel sad because I have a need for connection with you. Would you
be willing to work tomorrow night instead?"
Response: "Are you reacting to how many evenings I was gone last week?"
On one hand, this paraphrasing or guessing seems to be trying to compensate for the incapacity
of the original exchange to express reasons, which are a type of judgment, and to me that seems
like a good thing. On the other hand, it seems to be inviting a discussion of reasons with no clear
guidelines for how reasons might be expressed safely using NVC.
In the example from section K:
NVC: "As I watched you graduate with honors, I felt so proud, because I have a need to
celebrate this dream fulfilled, and I'd love to celebrate the occasion with you."
Response: "Sure, you can come along. I worked so hard for this."
First speaker's response: "Are you feeling hurt because you would have liked
more appreciation of your efforts than you received?" (NVC, p.96)
In my opinion, the practice of "paraphrasing" seems to be based on an assumption that the other
person isn't capable of expressing feelings for themselves, and is therefore somewhat
When a person using Clean Talk expresses a want, and the other person expresses a different or
contrary want, the first speaker uses another round of Clean Talk to express a reaction, using the
usual guidelines. To continue with Example C:
Clean Talk: "When I hear you say you can't go out to dinner with me tonight because you're
too busy with work, I feel sad. It seems to me that we haven't spent much time
together the last two weeks, and I'm sensing some distance between us. I want to
be close to you, because I love you."
Response: "When I hear your response, I feel afraid. I wish I could see a way
around working tonight, but I can't, it really seems as if I need to stay here and
work and get this done. I'm afraid you're thinking I don't care, and I do care, and I
want to be close to you, too. I'd like to see if I can finish this and then take some
extra time off to spend with you so we can be close again."
M. WANTS VS. REQUESTS
One of NVC's four components is a request of the other person, while Clean Talk suggests
expressing a want.
NVC: "Would you be willing to connect with me?"
"I want to connect with you."
It seems to me that a direct request is less effective for two reasons. First, it assumes that the
other person can supply the request. Second, it can set an expectation that there are only two
possible answers: yes and no. A request seems to me to imply that there are limited alternatives
and in general to simplify and shorten the conversation rather than to open it up to whatever
might help resolve the conflict.
N. SECOND-LEVEL WANT
Clean Talk offers a way to introduce what I call a "second-level want;" for example, "I want to
be close to you, because I love you."
I believe that a second-level want helps to bring into the open the real reason for the
conversation: the relationship between me and the other person. After all, if I didn't care about
my relationship with this person, why would I bother trying to talk it out? Wouldn't I just blow it
off or let it go? A higher-level want can express the love and commitment to the relationship that
underlie the conversation and for that reason often helps to resolve the conflict more effectively
than any other component of the conversation.
V. THE SHADOWS OF CLEAN TALK AND NVC
A. WHAT IS SHADOW?
For the sake of anyone reading who is familiar with NVC but not with Jung's psychology, I'll
quickly describe the theory of shadow.
Shadow is the repressed or denied part of the Self. Our shadow consists of the parts of ourselves
that we have put away, either because they were not welcome to the people around us while we
were growing up, or in our lives today because they seem to be in the way of achieving a goal.
Our shadow selves can include both "dark" energies like aggression and "golden" energies like
self-esteem. Our attempts to keep these parts of the Self out of sight aren't completely effective:
when we place a part of the Self in shadow, we lose conscious control over it, but it remains a
part of us, and it "leaks" into our lives wherever it can.
Picture a dam across a river. No matter how high or how strong the dam, as long as the river
keeps flowing, the water must find a way through. If it's not allowed through the dam, it will find
a way over, under, or around the dam. Water allowed through the dam is under our conscious
control. Water leaking over, under, or around the dam is not.
Dr. Rosenberg isn't a Jungian, so perhaps he believes that it's possible to stop our inner river of
judgments from flowing if we try hard enough. I have a different belief. I'm pretty sure that life
in general and NVC in particular offer a good deal of proof that we can't stop judging even if we
So what happens when water leaks under, over, or around the dam? One common manifestation
of a shadow leaking into our lives is the things we do "by accident" without consciously
intending to: the actions we take against our better judgment, the things we do and say that lead
us to ask later, "What was I thinking?" Examples include binge-eating while we're on a diet,
"cheating" on addictions like smoking and drinking, and self-sabotage of all stripes.
It's my belief that every system, every group, every person has a shadow. Thus, I believe that
Clean Talk has a shadow and NVC has a shadow.
B. THE SHADOWS OF CLEAN TALK
On the Clean Talk CD, Cliff and I discussed only one shadow of Clean Talk, namely, that in
attempting to perfect our communication, we risk destroying the natural flow of human
interaction, sounding a little like robots and thereby risking damage to our relationships. I had
fun writing this example:
"When I passed you the salt and saw you use it on your baked ostrich, I felt happy. It's my
judgment that it's the little things in life that matter, like having salt to sprinkle on our baked
ostrich, and I wanted to share that with you, because I love you." Writing this article has focused my attention on the shadows of Clean Talk for the first time
since recording the CD with Cliff in 2008.
What strikes me first and most forcefully is the difference in popularity. NVC is detailed in a
book by Dr. Rosenberg, a workbook by Lucy Leu, a website (www.cnvc.org), and what appears
to be a sizable empire of classes, workshops and practice groups.
Clean Talk, by contrast, is described on a CD (accompanied by two single-page handouts) and
on a single page at the Shadow Work® website. It is taught to everyone who takes the Shadow
Work® Basic Facilitator Training and sometimes to individuals and couples in Shadow Work®
coaching sessions. A few facilitators trained in Clean Talk offer classes or private instruction.
There is a prevalent belief in the Shadow Work® community that Clean Talk is the best
communication model available in the world today. Yet there is no book, no workbook, no
schedule of classes, no empire.
If we who use Clean Talk believe it to be of value and of great potential benefit to the world,
why have we not worked to make it better known?
I suspect a combination of reasons, some of which may reflect our shadows, while others may
reflect our spiritual beliefs or our view of reality.
We may simply be too tied up in making ends meet, since no one doing Shadow Work®
is making much money at it.
We may fear that thinking we can save the world with Clean Talk reflects the shadow we
sometimes "savior behavior."
We may fear the world's rejections of the beliefs and values that mean so much to us.
We may fear personal rejection. For example, I have shared my belief that there are no
evil people, only wounded ones. I have heard in response, from someone who saw the
world peopled by the good and the evil, that surely the Adolf Hitlers and Saddam
Husseins in the world are evil and that I must be evil to believe they are not.
We may fear failure.
We may even fear success, and in particular, whether we could hold onto our most
cherished beliefs in the face of significant financial success.
We who are trained in Shadow Work® tend to live our lives "from the inside out,"
following our intuitions rather than the world's traditional recipes for success, which we
believe proceed from beliefs quite different from our own. We may therefore distrust the
marketing expertise of the business world that could help make Clean Talk more widely
known and more financially successful.
Another prevalent belief is that Shadow Work®, and by extension Clean Talk, is of interest to
only a small number of people. Carl Jung once described the conscious portion of the human
psyche as a small island in a vast ocean of the unconscious. The Shadow Work® community
seems to picture itself similarly, as an oasis of consciousness in an chiefly unconscious world,
and even (at least in the case of some people in that community) to find some solace in that
In 2007, when I was preparing to publish Practically Shameless, I heard from publishing and
writer friends that paying a publicist often makes the difference in a book's financial success. But
the cost of hiring a publicist was high, and it seemed extraordinarily difficult to find a publicist
who would understand how to market a book based on ideas far outside the mainstream. I feared
it was too big a gamble and chose not to pursue borrowing the money needed. Was that fear
based on a shadow, a belief, or a truth about the world? I don't know.
C. THE SHADOWS OF NVC
What follows is a brief discussion of what I believe to be some of the shadows of NVC. As
evidence, I will reference the ways in which I believe NVC allows water to leak around the dam.
I believe the shadows of NVC render it unintentionally violent. As Sharon Sarles puts it,
"Untruth in action, that is, incongruency between words and actions is itself himsa" (where she
translates Mahatma Gandhi's word himsa as harm or violence).
I say unintentionally because the people I know who use NVC have, I believe, every intention of
communicating without violence and use it in good faith.
Since Clean Talk is based on the Shadow Work Model of four archetypal energies (Magician,
Sovereign, Lover, Warrior), I've ordered this discussion according to archetype.
1. NVC'S Magician shadows. The Magician is the part of us that knows, thinks, learns, intuits,
controls and manipulates. It's our inner Merlin, it's the "head" or "mind" part of us. Our Magician
values knowledge, clarity, discernment, understanding, reason, control. Its job is to respond to
fear by detaching us so that we can find guidance about what's causing our fear and return to a
state of safety.
Dr. Rosenberg appears to view thinking (Magician energy) mostly with suspicion.
". . . I've learned that I enjoy human beings more if I don't hear what they think."
". . . I believe we are connected more deeply when we receive the feelings and
needs being expressed rather than the thought." (NVC, p.110)
Dr. Rosenberg seems to engage in a good deal of analysis in his book while at the same time
denouncing analysis as an activity he's not interested in. As Chapman Flack put it, after watching
a 200-minute training video by Dr. Rosenberg, "The effect is a curious picture of a man adroitly
doing very fine, attentive thinking while insisting that it's not the thing to do." On Dr.
Rosenberg's stated preference not to hear what people think, Flack comments, "I am not sure that
is a recipe for nonviolence, when what so many desperately need is that their fully human minds
be fairly heard."
When NVC discourages thinking and excludes judgments from conversation, I believe it places
Magician energy in shadow. And I believe I see Magician energy "leaking" into other parts of the
NVC model. As I mentioned above, I see on the feelings list, words that I think are judgments
masquerading as feelings, and "needs" are expressed as facts rather than as beliefs that they are
needs. I see these as examples of judgments leaking into and contaminating other parts of the
When NVC permits the added clout of "I need" to replace "I want," it seems to me that some
form of manipulation is present, and when a speaker manipulates without saying so, in my
opinion it's a form of violence.
Despite his expressed dislike for thinking in general and for judgments in particular, I see Dr.
Rosenberg suggesting that an NVC user make an extraordinary number of judgments, to divine
the needs of ourselves and others, to respond to the "deeper meanings" beneath another person's
words (p.9), to sense the other person's reality (p.97), and, when a request is refused, to guess
what the other person is feeling or needing.
Yet, in making these judgments, we never say that we're doing so. In my judgment, hiding what
you're doing is a form of deception, and deception is a form of violence.
I hold it as a maxim that when we suppress one function of an archetype, we have less access to
other functions of that same archetype. In suppressing the Magician's ability to judge, I believe
NVC suffers a significant loss of the Magician's function of providing clarity. Are want and need
really interchangeable? If we're not willing to say we believe that violence is bad in any way,
why are we devoting time and effort to nonviolent communication?
2. NVC'S Warrior shadows. The Warrior is the part of us that takes action, that works towards
a goal, that serves, that hunts for what we need and maintains what we own, that takes
responsibility, keeps an eye on the clock and anchors us in reality. If you picture Lancelot from
the tales of King Arthur or D'Artagnan from the works of Alexandre Dumas, you'll have an idea
what I mean by the Warrior.
Our Warrior values action, strength, cleanliness, straightforwardness, integrity. The Warrior
acquires things for us and protects us, roles that are easy to see in the world of sports as offense
and defense. The Nike slogan is a good Warrior motto: "Just do it."
The Warrior's job is to respond to anger by setting a boundary (a limit or a goal) so that we can
accomplish something. If you're a Christian, I invite you to consider that Jesus brought up his
Warrior when he overthrew the tables of the money changers in order to set a boundary about
how the sacred space of the temple is rightly used.
Despite the Warrior's warlike name, Warrior energy is not violent in itself. Warrior energy can
certainly be used in violent ways. (So can Magician energy: the tiger I've just been discussing.)
The Warrior could also be called the Accomplisher, the Doer, the Achiever. I use the word
Warrior because I find the Warrior's symbols of sword and shield to be clear and effective. When
I register for a class in order to learn new things, I use my Warrior's sword to draw a wider circle
in the sand around myself to encircle the knowledge I seek to acquire. When someone says
something hurtful, I use my Warrior's shield to protect my heart from hurt.
As a parent, I fight metaphorical battles on behalf of my child to obtain whatever he/she needs,
and I shield my child from those features of the larger world for which my child is not yet ready.
Dr. Rosenberg equates anger with the desire to find fault; he writes that anger "indicates that we
have moved up to our head to analyze and judge somebody" (p.143). His experience of anger is
apparently quite different from mine; I find when I'm angry that I don't think very clearly, which
tells me that I'm anywhere but in my head.
I have a different view of anger. It's my belief that anger and other emotions are signals to let us
know what's happening around us. Anger is a signal that a boundary has been crossed. Without
anger, I wouldn't know that someone had crossed my boundaries, invaded my privacy without
my permission, blamed me for something that wasn't my fault, taken advantage of me, "put one
over on" me, or "crossed a line."
When NVC equates anger with blame and requires that it be "transformed" internally before it
can be expressed to another person like other emotions, I believe it places Warrior energy in
shadow. And I believe I see water leaking around the dam, in many missing and unhealthy
boundaries. In an exercise during the NVC workshop I attended, one person asked, "Am I myself
or the other person?" I thought to myself, That's a telling question that reveals a confusion of
3. NVC'S Sovereign shadows. The Sovereign is the part of us that leads, accepts ourselves and
others, that blesses and supports, that gives and cares for others, that shows compassion and
mercy. The Sovereign is our inner King Arthur, the visionary leader of the realm that wants new
ways of being and leads us there. Our Sovereign values balance, being, peace, spirituality. Its job
is to respond to joy by motivating us through acceptance.
As I described in Practically Shameless, every shadow can be visualized as a loop between
opposite extremes. I believe Dr. Rosenberg's fear of praise reveals a Sovereign shadow in which
he can see only the extremes of "egotism" and "false humility" (p.189) without seeing the
balanced center between the two. As I mentioned above, by prohibiting praise and compliments,
I believe NVC makes it difficult for parents, teachers, mentors, and other leaders to reward work
well done and pass on their most cherished beliefs.
When NVC prohibits praise, I believe it places Sovereign energy in shadow. And I believe I see
water leaking around the dam, in the situations described above where wants are not fully
owned. I see water leaking also in his suggestion that we guess what the other person is feeling
and needing, which seems to assume the other person isn't capable of describing it, and therefore
rather condescending (in Sharon Sarles' words, "he seems to talk down to and look down upon
others"). And if "need" and "want" are used interchangeably because Dr. Rosenberg is afraid that
simply wanting isn't a good enough basis for a request, then water is leaking there as well.
4. NVC'S Lover shadows. The Lover is the part of us that feels, that connects us to others and to
our bodies. The Lover is the part of us that is vulnerable, artistic, playful, childlike. Our Lover
values feelings, connection, beauty, health. Its job is to respond to sadness by connecting us
through our feelings.
Dr. Rosenberg refers to NVC as "the language of the heart," and I think its focus on connection
is one of NVC's strong points. In fact, in some situations he seems to suggest that connection is
all that matters and that it is better to drop boundaries rather than risk losing connection.
To illustrate the value of empathy, for example, Dr. Rosenberg tells a story about a school
principal who comes upon a dejected student while hurrying to join an important meeting for
which she is quite late. It doesn't seem to occur to either the principal or Dr. Rosenberg that the
goal of attending the meeting need not be summarily dropped in favor of spending an
unspecified length of time with the student, that the situation might be a both/and rather than an
either/or. With a simple boundary expressed using Clean Talk, the principal could satisfy the
needs both of the student and of those waiting for her attendance in the meeting:
Clean Talk: "When I hear you say you've had a week when everything you did hurt somebody
else, I feel really sad. It sounds awful. I would like very much to listen and hear
more about it, and I'm torn, because I'm late in getting to a meeting which
unfortunately is kind of important. I think the meeting will be over in about an
hour, and I'd like to come find you then. Would that be okay?"
In my opinion, in expressing her inner conflict, the principal acts more honestly toward the
student, and with more integrity toward those waiting for her in the meeting, as well as modeling
for the student that life sometimes presents us with difficult choices and how neither of those
choices need be sacrificed for the other.
I've quoted above several of Dr. Rosenberg's statements about preferring connection over
thinking. In Flack's words, "He has focused on feeling to the exclusion of thinking." Sharon
Sarles' article quotes from Linda Elder's work on emotional intelligence, in which Elder helpfully
points out that "thought and emotion" are not like oil and water but are rather "inseparable
constituents of human cognition."
While I think Dr. Rosenberg seems to rely almost entirely on emotion at times to resolve a
conflict, and while I think that is both unnecessary and unwise, I think NVC does convey the
speaker's emotion in many cases and helps people connect through their feelings, which satisfies
the Lover in each of us. In my opinion, NVC has fewer shadows in the area of Lover energy than
Barry, Cliff, and Barry, Alyce. Clean Talk CD. Boulder, CO: Shadow Work® Seminars, Inc.,
2008. Communication tools for group leaders, with original music by John Whalen.
Flack, Chapman. "The subtle violence of nonviolent language." Cross Currents, Fall 2006.
Online at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_3_56/ai_n27002610/.
Rosenberg, Marshall B. Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life. Encinitas, CA:
PuddleDancer Press, 2003. Second Edition.
Sarles, Sharon. "Non-violent? Communication?: A review of Rosenberg's NVC Method."
Southwest Facilitators Network, September 2001. Online at
Last updated 8/24/11. Copyright © 2011 by Alyce Barry. All rights reserved.