Nonviolent communication

by Anna Finlayson and Daren DeWitt


You’ve got to ask! Asking is, in my opinion, the world’s most powerful – and neglected – secret to success and happiness!

Percy Ross

The fourth key area of our experience and communication on which NVCSM recommends we focus our attention is the art of making requests.

Requests are specific strategies to meet our needs

After we have expressed our need to someone, we move on to making a request to them. We are asking them to do something to help meet a need of ours. Our requests are strategies which can potentially get our needs met. Needs are universal. The strategies with which we are asking to get our needs met are specific – we are asking to get a need met by a specific person, in a specific way, and often at a specific time. So, for example, if we have a need for recognition, we may ask a specific person to whom that need is related, to tell us what they valued about the contribution we made to a particular project.


The full NVC sequence may look something like:

‘When I recall our meeting last week and how you told me the areas you wanted changed in the report [observation], I feel frustrated [feeling] because I would like some recognition [need] of the ways I have contributed to the work. Would you tell me what you value about the report that I wrote?’ [request]

Confusing needs with strategies can lead to conflict

In ordinary communication, we often confuse ‘needs’ with ‘requests’. We don’t mention our need, but ask for the strategy as if it were a need: for example, ‘I need you to turn your radio off.’ (Our actual ‘need’ here is for peace and quiet).

Confusing the need with the request, or strategy, can contribute to conflict. Our needs are important to us, so we often hold onto them dearly – it can mean a lot to us to get them met. When we confuse needs with requests, we cling on to having our needs met in a particular way by a particular person. Separating the need from the request helps us to be determined about getting our need met, and flexible about the way in which that need is met. This in turn gives the person we are in conflict with the opportunity to be flexible – to meet our need in a way that will also meet any needs that they have.

Our requests are more likely to be met with a ‘yes’ if they meet the following five requirements:

  1. If they are specific – exactly what do you want... and when, where, who is involved and so on?
  2. If they offer choice – if the other person hears your request as a demand, they may react negatively. People enjoy the respect expressed in being asked. Phrases such as ‘Would you be willing to... ?’ encapsulate this spirit.
  3. If they are positive – in the form of a ‘do’ rather than a ‘don’t’.
  4. If they are do-able – put in a bite-sized chunk.
  5. If they take the other person into account. It’s important to get a sense of what is going on in them before asking them to do something. This could involve finding out what needs are alive in them so you can make a request that meets their needs at the same time as meeting yours.

Types of request

There are three main types of request we can make of others:

  • An action request (for them to actually do something) –

For example: ‘So, would you be willing to put the blue pin-stripe suit on the mannequin in the window?’

  • A request to connect with what is going on in another person –

For example: ‘How do you feel when you hear what I’ve just said?’ or ‘What comes up for you when you hear this?’

  • A request for another person to connect with what is going on in you –

For example: ‘Would you be willing to tell me what you understand me to have said [so I can check that I have made myself clear]?’

NVC can help us express ourselves clearly to others, using observations, feelings, needs and requests. Of course, expressing ourselves in this way is only half of the story. We also need to be able to handle what comes back at us from others! In NVC, we call this the dance of communication, backwards and forwards between ourselves and others, as we try to fulfil our intention of meeting everyone’s needs!

The next page, entitled Listening – four choices, outlines the different ways we can respond to what we hear back from others.