In the blog post series “AI explains NVC“, Joachim Berggren (JB) asks questions about NVC to Alex Incognito (AI), a fictional character representing Artificial Intelligence in the form of the tool ChatGPT.


JB: In my conversations with you, Alex, we have now come to the third component of the NVC model, namely needs (the four components are observations, feelings, needs and requests). I’m curious how well you can describe the difference between needs and strategies. My question this time is therefore: According to Nonviolent Communication, what is the difference between needs and strategies?

AI explains the difference between needs and strategies

AI: Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a communication method developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg that emphasizes empathy and understanding of others’ needs in order to build connection and resolve conflicts.

According to NVC, needs are the underlying universal human values that drive our actions and behavior. Needs are things like the need for safety, connection, autonomy, and self-expression.

Strategies, on the other hand, are the specific actions or behaviors that we use to try to meet our needs. For example, if someone’s need is safety, a strategy they might use to meet that need is to lock their doors at night. Another person may have a need for self-expression and a strategy they might use to meet that need is through writing.

The important difference between needs and strategies is that strategies are not always effective in meeting our needs and can sometimes even create conflicts with others. In NVC, the goal is to identify and communicate our needs clearly, rather than getting stuck on specific strategies.


JB: Thanks! As usual, I like how you explain the awareness of NVC. And as usual, there are some nuances I would like to clarify. Firstly, I want to state that the prerequisite “to build connection and resolve conflicts” is at least as much about my own needs as about others’. If I’m not in touch with my own needs, it’s hard for me to make connections with others. And if I don’t have any clue about my needs it also seems harder to resolve conflicts and arrive at mutual solutions, with the aim to fulfil the needs of all involved.

In the last paragraph, you write that “The important difference between needs and strategies is that strategies are not always effective in meeting our needs”. Rather than expressing it this way, I would like to formulate it like this: because needs are unspecific, specific strategies are a prerequisite for meeting needs. Although not all strategies meet needs effectively, we need to use strategies to meet our own needs and those of others.

Needs and strategies

I would also like to add my thoughts about how to clarify the difference between needs and strategies. Needs are the common driving force that helps sustain and develop life, both in humans and other species. When needs are described as universal, it means that all people share the same needs. Regardless of gender, age, skin colour, cultural background, sexual orientation, etc. we are united in our common drives. For the most part people don’t share the same strategies.

Because needs are general and universal, they are not linked to specific:
– persons
– actions
– places
– times

Although the needs themselves are not linked to the above specific traits, they are useful when we are meeting our needs. In many cases, we need specific people who perform actions in places at specific times in order for our needs to be met. Strategies are the specific actions and plans people use to fulfil their needs, whether they are aware of their needs or not.


Needs are rarely, if ever, in conflict with each other. Most conflicts arise when we stick to a certain strategy that does not meet the needs of other people and vice versa. Conflicts around strategies can arise on all levels, from the individual to the largest group levels. Some strategies even threaten the harmony of our planet and our entire existence.

Different uses of the word need

In many contexts, the word need is used without referring to a specific need, but rather to a strategy. One example of this could be: “I need you to say yes to my suggestion before I’m willing to change my mind”. Another way of using the word “need” without reference to general human needs is through so-called “acquired” needs, “I need a new mobile phone.” This “need” is different from the “innate” needs we use in NVC. The needs behind “a new mobile phone” might be connection, recognition or ease.

Expressing our needs vaguely

Behind every action is an attempt to meet needs, so when we express judgments, criticism, blame etc. we are actually trying to fulfil our needs. When we express needs in this indirect manner, we make it harder for others to connect with us. Expressing our needs in this way can create defensiveness and more resistance than if we would refer to our needs directly (and take responsibility for our inner life).

One example of indirectly expressing our needs could be “I think you are a bad team player”. Depending on who’s saying it, in which circumstances etc. it could potentially involve many different needs, for example cooperation, harmony or easiness. One way to express our needs directly might be: “I’m longing for cooperation”. 

Another way of trying to fulfil our needs is to express vague requests. We sometimes express what we want in a way that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. It can be perceived that others should be able to read our thoughts. Even if others want to support us, it’s hard for them to know exactly what we want, if we don’t express ourselves specifically. When others do not do as we wish, we might be disappointed or experience some other kind of discomfort. By expressing a strategy through a request in a vague way, we make it even more difficult for others to get in touch with their joy to contribute.

Shifting needs and strategies

When we are able to differentiate between strategies and needs we often find new ways to meet our needs. At the same time, when we hear others’ needs, our own needs can shift. If two parties in a conflict are able to identify and connect with each other’s needs, it is potentially easier to resolve the conflict. We all share the same needs, so connecting at the level of needs often creates greater recognition.

If you would like to have the list of needs always available for you, you can download it HERE.

In my project the Needs’ Year, in addition to 52 blog posts about specific needs, I also wrote two general texts about needs. You can read the FIRST HERE and the SECOND HERE. Earlier I also wrote about needs in this blog post.

In this blog post, except of being inspired by Marshall Rosenberg, I have gotten a lot of inspiration from the book Cracking the Communication Code by Liv Larsson and Katarina Hoffmann, specifically the chapter about the key differentiation between needs and strategies.

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.

In the blog post series “AI explains NVC“, Joachim Berggren (JB), is in dialogue with a fictional character, Alex Incognito (AI). Alex uses Artificial Intelligence to help Joachim explore questions related to NVC. Joachim asks questions and Alex generates answers from the tool ChatGPT. The text from ChatGPT is not edited, it’s just copy-pasted. The only change is the layout so the text fits in the blog post. Alex’s answers are indicated in italics.

To learn more about NVC, please visit the Empathic Way Europes website and check out other blog posts and our coming events.

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