Nonviolent Communication for Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

“Our ability to offer empathy can allow us to stay vulnerable, defuse potential violence, help us hear the word ‘no’ without taking it as a rejection, revive lifeless conversation, and even hear the feelings and needs expressed through silence.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD.

When we use empathy in Nonviolent Communication (NVC), we support having high quality relationships, as well as the prevention and resolution of conflicts.

Colloquially, people talk about “giving empathy.” But technically we don’t “give” empathy. What we give is our full presence, with our entire being. As a result, the other person’s need for empathy, for being deeply understood, is fulfilled. Learning how to “offer empathy” — how to be present with our whole being so that the other person experiences being understood deeply — is one of the essential skill-sets we learn in NVC.

In order to properly understand the value of Nonviolent Communication for empathy, we must first answer the question, “What is the definition of empathy?” in terms of NVC.

What is Empathy?

Our society has multiple perspectives and definitions of empathy.

With the help of our friend and CNVC Certified Trainer, Alan Rafael Seid, we can define empathy as follows:

Empathy is a Universal Human Need for being deeply understood. We can think of it as a respectful or compassionate understanding. When offering empathy, we embody a quality of being completely present with what is alive in the other person moment to moment. Therefore, empathy has a quality of following, rather than leading.

Now the we have defined empathy, let’s take a look at several examples of what isn’t empathy:

  • Sympathy (“I feel your pain. I’ve been there.”)
  • Suggestions (“Let me tell you what I think you should do…”)
  • Fixing or resolving things (“Daddy will buy you a new one!”)
  • Investigation (“When was the first time you felt this way?”)
  • Diagnosing (“This is because you’re an [egomaniac, Aries, etc.]”)
  • Honesty (“When I hear what you’re saying I feel upset…”)
  • Agreement (“You’re right!”)

Defining the Role of Empathy in Communication

The role of empathy in communication is often misunderstood because, as mentioned above, culturally we have multiple definitions and perspectives around empathy.

In NVC, Empathy is a Universal Human Need. Needs can be thought of as core human motivators common to all people; or the conditions necessary for any human to thrive, regardless of culture or geographic location.

The role of empathy in communication relates to the two parts of any communication process: Speaking and Listening. These can also be understood as giving (or speaking) and receiving (or listening). In NVC we call them honesty and empathy. This allows us to define the role of empathy as a compassionate understanding or a respectful understanding. When we are fully listened to — deeply understood or “gotten” — then our need for empathy is met!

Empathy also functions as a pressure release valve of sorts. When we’re in pain, getting heard can relieve the pressure we feel inside. After receiving empathy, people are more connected to what is important to them and they have a lower emotional charge.

An Empathy Buddy is Essential for Success!

Empathy can seem foreign because it is so different from the way we have been taught to communicate. Most of us have learned to listen-to-respond rather than listen-to-understand. This makes it challenging when we reach out to others for empathic support.

An empathy buddy can help move you forward in your NVC skills, by helping you be more connected to your feelings, needs, and requests. An empathy buddy does not have to be a complex or complicated arrangement. It can simply start with agreeing to an empathic listening exchange with one other person. Over time, people can develop multiple “empathy buddies” in order to have ample support.

Whether you are a well-seasoned NVC veteran or this is the first time you are seeing Nonviolent Communication and empathy in the same sentence, everyone can benefit from a healthy, active empathic support system!

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg PhD on NVC and Empathy

When Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, PhD. discussed NVC and empathy, he knew that many times, violence is the result of an empathy deficit. This deficit is explained by the expression “hurt people hurt people.”

Dr. Rosenberg knew that when people are in pain emotionally, they tend to either lash out or withdraw. This is tragic because it means that when we most need others’ care and compassion, we tend to act in ways that make it least likely we will receive what we need.

Rather than lashing out or withdrawing, Dr. Rosenberg understood that empathy gives us a third option: Both an inter and intra-personal connection of the kind most likely to lead to satisfying relationships and mutually agreeable strategies. By giving empathy to someone in emotional pain — and as a result they enjoy less pain and more connection to their needs — we may actually help them discover options beyond violence.

Puddledancer Press Books about Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication and empathy.

Imagine having access to all the empathic, non-judgmental listening you want!
And what if you consistently listened to understand rather than to respond? How would people experience you differently?

With empathy and NVC you can:

  • Create exceptional personal and professional relationships,
  • Offer compassionate understanding to others,
  • Know when and how to ask for that same understanding for yourself,
  • Prevent and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts,
  • Speak your truth in a clear, powerful way more likely to lead to harmony than conflict,
  • Create mutual understanding without coercion.

Whether you are a long-time student — or are brand new to NVC — PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources, including an extensive library of Compassionate Communication and empathy books, to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.

Check out our Compassionate Communication and empathy books… and give yourself the gift of NVC today!

Topic written by Alan Seid, a Certified Trainer, on behalf of PuddleDancer Press for use on

Information on Books related to Empathy

NVC Empathy Web Resources

Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Empathy Articles
Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Empathy Videos
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Empathy Articles
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Empathy Videos

There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web