Nonviolent communication

by Anna Finlayson and Daren DeWitt

Listening - four choices

NVC gives a way of listening so others feel not just heard, but understood!

Dr Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training (PET)

When we listen, we often habitually hear what is being said as judgments, whether judgments are being verbally expressed or not. Listening in terms of judgments is likely to lead to misunderstanding and conflict, and to our needs not getting met.

Once we know how, we have the choice to hear every message as an expression of a person’s present feelings and needs, even if they are expressing judgments. Listening in terms of feelings and needs is likely to lead to understanding and harmony, and to needs getting met.

Any message can be listened to, or received and responded to, in the following four ways:

  1. Judging others in terms of being right/wrong, good/bad, at fault
  2. Judging ourselves in terms of being right/wrong, good/bad, at fault
  3. Sensing our feelings and needs
  4. Sensing others feelings and needs

Once we are aware of this, and know how to listen in these four ways, we always have a choice about how we receive what is being said.


The comment: ‘Haven’t you done that report yet?’

  1. Judging others in terms of being right/wrong, good/bad:

[Silently] What a pain in the neck she is. What’s wrong with her? She’s so pushy!

[Out loud] ‘Don’t be so pushy. You’re obsessed with deadlines.’

  1. Judging ourselves in terms of being right/wrong, good/bad:

[Silently] Oh no, I never do anything right! What’s the point in even pretending I can do this job!

[Out loud] ‘I’m sorry. I just didn’t have time. How hopeless of me!’

  1. Sensing our feelings and needs [connecting with ourselves silently or expressing aloud]:

‘I’m disappointed [my feeling] because I like to do what I say I’ll do [my need for integrity].’

  1. Sensing the feelings and needs of others [guessing out loud]:

‘Are you frustrated because you value efficiency?’


Looking at the above example, consider what might be the consequences of each of the four expressions.

Another way of describing this approach to listening is translation – of blame and judgment into feeling and need. Any judgment or criticism that a person utters can be translated into their feelings or needs. If you then empathise with the person by guessing their feelings and needs, it will go a long way to defusing the situation.

Likewise, if you notice you have very judgmental thoughts about another person, you can translate those thoughts into your own feelings and needs, and maybe give yourself some empathy in your mind for how you are feeling. Then you can communicate your feelings and needs to the other person, possibly also along with your observation and a request, all of which is much more likely to be responded to positively by the other person than if you had expressed your original judgment to them.