During my years of studying Nonviolent Communication (NVC), I have learnt to use the four components (observations, feelings, needs and requests) to create connection. A quality of connection in which my joy of contributing to others has risen. Through empathy and honesty, I have deepened my ability for compassion, communication and collaboration, both with myself and others.


When I listen to what is important to someone else, I try to hear what’s alive in them, behind their thoughts and judgments. Instead, I focus on the person’s feelings and connect them to their needs. This empathic listening can take many forms, for example by guessing feelings and needs or reflecting on what I hear them say. I can be more or less active and I try to be as consciously present as I’m able to be in the moment.


When I use the four components by expressing what’s important to me, I express myself honestly. Honesty as we define it in NVC is not about my thoughts in the form of moral judgments or interpretations of events. Instead, it’s about what is alive in me, my feelings and needs. Although the actions of others may have been the stimuli for what I feel and experience inside of me, I take responsibility for my feelings by connecting them to my needs.


I can also use the process of honesty by myself. When I experience distress – or something joyful – and am unable or unwilling to be heard by someone else, I can use self-empathy. For example, I can translate judgments directed at me. Whether these judgments arise in my own thoughts or if I hear them from someone else, I can translate them into feelings and needs. Instead of being hard towards myself, I can receive myself with compassion.

Silent empathy

In this blog post, I want to highlight a fourth approach to using NVC and the four components: silent empathy. This approach is certainly used in many exercises and circumstances where we practice NVC. At the same time, I’m not aware of having seen it presented in most of the models of NVC that I have come across. Instead of verbally expressing my empathy, I use silent empathy to reflect on what others might feel and need.

An example is when I see someone do something that arouses judgments in me. It could be someone I know, someone I see in the street or a person of power. I don’t always have the opportunity, willingness or resources to communicate with those people. Instead, I can use silent empathy by guessing for myself what the driving force behind their behaviour might be. When I sense their needs, I no longer believe my judgments about them and they become more human.

Another example is when I want to prepare for a conversation with someone. It could be a misunderstanding we want to clear up or some other difficulty in the relationship. By first trying to understand what needs the other person is trying to fulfil, it becomes much easier for me to connect with the person. Instead of connecting their behaviour to myself, I can more easily see that what they are doing is simply trying to meet their needs.

Early attempts

I remember my staggering attempts to use NVC when I started to learn it. I tried to respond to people with empathy by using the formula “Do you feel… because you need…?” And I didn’t want to say “I’m sorry” (that was violent!), but instead tried to listen with empathy and then express myself honestly. To say the least, these attempts had varying degrees of success. Often less successful than I presumed. 

I’ve heard many others, both beginners and experienced NVC trainers, share stories about failed attempts to create connections with friends and family members. Enthusiastic NVC practitioners have tried to practice their newfound skills with sometimes reluctant partners. Frequently, this resulted in less connection and broken relationships with the people we value most. Many people talk about the “NVC allergy” that can arise when we use NVC as a “tool” for connection.

When we meet others in workshops and practice groups who are as interested as we are in learning a new approach and new forms of communication, we easily become enthusiastic. We would like to share and experience this wonderful connection we create in an NVC context outside the workshop room. In our eagerness, it’s easy to forget that others might not have the same experience as us. The people we want to connect with may not be as interested in sharing their inner life as we are.

The main practice

During my first years as a practitioner of NVC, silent empathy, therefore, became the practice to which I dedicated myself the most. With the help of silent empathy, I was able to, again and again, practice integrating NVC as an approach without risking breaking a connection with those close to me. Simultaneously, this approach has slowly and steadily transformed my world. Before it was a place full of idiots and egoists. Today it’s a place of people who, like me, are trying to meet their needs.

I find this practice especially suitable during the first years of practising NVC. With the support of a change in attitude towards people and our intention to create connection, our relationships with others can be transformed without us having to focus on expressing ourselves “correctly”. I can only go by my own experience: I rather have contact with someone with the intention of connection but lacking the skills to express it in words, than with someone who expresses themselves perfectly, but where the intention of contact is missing.

If you want to learn more about NVC and practice empathy and honesty, silently and verbally, I can recommend our online NVC Intensive courses (Level 1 for beginners and Level 2 for those who know the basics), which are organised regularly. In an international group of NVC practitioners, you can create a foundation for integrating skills of communicating with others. Check all our events HERE.

Joachim Berggren NVC Trainer Empathic Way EuropeAuthor: Joachim Berggren

Joachim Berggren is a certified CNVC trainer. He has been a student of NVC since 2009 and has taught his understanding of NVC since 2010. He writes blog posts, offers workshops and hosts events about NVC, as well as offering individual sessions. He is passionate and intrigued about exploring human connection and our capacity to grow and evolve as individuals and groups during our lifetime.

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