NVC and Requests

At this point, I am very much in the habit of converting both my own and others’ statements to NVC. However, my increased focus on efficiency these days has made me realize that I tend to mostly ignore requests. I’m pretty consistent about expressing observations instead of evaluations, sharing my emotions, and tying them to underlying needs, but don’t usually go on to make clear requests, except for empathy. I do explicitly ask for that pretty often.

But lately I’ve had less time to do emotional processing and have extended conversations where Will empathizes with me. And I’ve found that I seem to be adapting by more quickly formulating specific requests. An example that jumps out at me from a few weeks ago was that I was getting upset when I had Lydia at night and Will would wake up just a little and suggest a course of action for me to take with her, such as taking her for a pottytunity. 

When I’m already stressed out and in a mad mood, I’m not the best at accepting well-meaning suggestions. I talked about that some, but I pretty quickly moved to asking whether Will would be willing to do whatever he was suggesting himself right away. Then, we ended up talking about whether that would work.

My recent experience has left me with a new appreciation for clear requests. I do think that leaving them out can be subtly coercive. Because if I’m not being clear about what I’m actually looking for, the message can be that I want the other person to figure out what I want and fix the problem so I feel better.

What Do I Say When Someone Compliments My Baby?

When someone compliments me, I often feel the impulse to downplay it or deny it, but I mostly just say “thank you.” Or, at least, that’s my plan for what to say.

But when someone compliments my baby, I don’t have a plan; I’m confused about what response to give. If someone tells me how cute my daughter is, I feel uncomfortable saying “thank you” because I don’t think I’m all that responsible. I usually end up saying “I think so too,” but something feels off about saying that.

Downplaying or denying it seems obviously wrong, but sometimes I’ve done that too. Someone will tell me how calm she is and I’ll say something about how she isn’t always that way, out of a combined desire to correct inaccuracy (not sure why I particularly care) and get some recognition for the fact that taking care of her can be difficult sometimes when she’s less calm.

My NVC heuristics tell me to either empathize or express my own experience honestly. So maybe I could reflect back something about how peaceful it can feel to look at a baby, or whatever else would apply? Or say something about how it feels good to hear the compliment, because it usually does?

I’d love advice here. 

Key Terms from Crucial Conversations

I wrote this up and gave it out as a handout at one of my recent communication classes at the Happiness Institute.  Crucial Conversations is one of my favorite books on communication, and I particularly like some of the terms it defines.  Here it is!

Start with Heart

To have a good dialogue, figure out what your goal is at the beginning and stay focused on it no matter what.

Ask yourself, “What do I want for me, for others, and for this relationship?”

When our motives change, it’s usually without conscious thought on our part.

When you’re not sure of your motives, ask: “What am I doing, and if I had to guess, what would it say about my underlying motive?”

Once you get back to what you do want, ask yourself, “How could I behave to get these results?”

Three motives that won’t really get you what you want:

  • wanting to win
  • seeking revenge
  • hoping to remain safe

The Pool of Shared Meaning

The goal of a difficult conversation is to get all the relevant information out in the open.

Sucker’s Choice

The Sucker’s Choice is when we tell ourselves a story about how we’re caught between two distasteful options so justify saying or doing something that violates our own values.

To deal with the Sucker’s Choice, clarify what you really want, what you really don’t want, and ask yourself how you can get both.


In difficult conversations, look for signs of either silence or violence in the other person and interpret them as data that tells you the other person is not feeling safe.

Signs of silence:

  • understating or selectively showing our true opinions
  • sarcasm, sugarcoating, and couching
  • steering away from sensitive subjects
  • withdrawing entirely–leaving the conversation or the room

Signs of violence:

  • trying to force others to think about things your way, including:
    • cutting other people off
    • overstating your facts
    • speaking in absolutes
    • changing the subject
    • using directive questions to control the conversation
  • labeling (putting a label on ideas or people so you can dismiss them as being part of a general category)
  • attacking (moving from trying to win the argument to trying to make the other person suffer)

You can help others move from silence or violence to dialogue by demonstrating that their concerns are discussable.

Safety = Mutual Purpose + Mutual Respect

If the other person is using silence or violence, take it as a sign that one of the conditions of safety is being violated.

Mutual Purpose: Do other people believe that I care about their goals in this conversation? Do they trust my motives?

Mutual Respect: Do other people believe that I respect them? Feelings of disrespect tend to come from dwelling on the differences between yourself and others. To respect someone more, think about the similarities between you and the other person.

Contrasting to Regain Safety

Sometimes, people will hear things as bigger or worse than we intend. One tool we can use in these situations is Contrasting, where you clarify:

“I don’t mean X, I do mean Y.”

Contrasting can be used preemptively or after the fact.

STATE when you have something difficult to share

  • State your facts.
  • Tell your story.
  • Ask for others’ opinions.
  • Talk tentatively.
  • Encourage testing.
    • If you sense that the other person doesn’t actually agree with you, play Devil’s Advocate to make it safe for them to speak up.

The 3 Kinds of Clever Stories.

  • Villain Stories (It’s all your fault.)
  • Victim Stories (It’s not my fault.)
  • Helpless Stories (There’s nothing else I can do.)

To neutralize these stories, tell the rest of the story by asking:

  • “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person do what the person is doing?”
  • “Am I pretending not to notice my own role in the problem?”
  • “What do I really want for me, others, and the relationship? What would I do right now if I wanted those results?”

Responding to Others’ Stories

Tell yourself, “Wow, he must have told a really interesting story!” and get curious. Figuring out where someone is coming from in a difficult conversation is like starting to read a mystery novel halfway through.

Learn to Look

Get in the habit of asking yourself, “Are we in dialogue or out of it?”

When you notice that you’re not in dialogue, say it outloud. “I think we’ve moved away from dialogue.”

Video of me talking about Villain, Victim, and Helpless Stories

I’ve been planning to upload video blog posts for a while now, but hadn’t actually gotten around to doing it for a number of excuse-type reasons.

So, since I subscribe to the philosophy that not only is “perfect the enemy of the good”–“good enough is the enemy of at all“, I’ve posted something.  Expect more in the future!

Here it is:

Five Questions that Let You Watch What’s Going on in People’s Heads

A while back, when I was making Anki decks of the life concepts that I found most important, I wrote these two sentences:

“Communication is authentic when what we express externally corresponds to what’s going on internally.”

“Humans crave authentic communication.”

If you’re anything like me, you spend a big chunk of your waking hours talking to people. It’s important the time I spend communicating be fun, not unsatisfying. I don’t like it when I:

  • find myself planning what I’m going to say next instead of listening to the other person (Note: There is a level of listening beyond just being able to remember the words the other person said. That’s the type I’m referring to here.)
  • wonder whether the other person is really listening to me, or just being polite
  • discover that I’m completely off in my head somewhere else entirely, maybe thinking about what I’m going to eat for dinner
  • get the sense that the conversation is kind of dead, even if I couldn’t say why

Everything I listed above is a symptom of people not talking about what’s actually going on in their heads.

Continue reading “Five Questions that Let You Watch What’s Going on in People’s Heads”

NVC Question #12


Explain to me why “intimidated” is not a proper feeling-word.


“Intimidated” isn’t an emotion—the word includes an interpretation of the situation. The emotion on its own would probably be fear, maybe anxiety, maybe some other mix. When you say “intimidated”, you’re also bringing up a story about the other person’s behavior, and I’d say there are also implications about intent. “I feel intimidated when you say that” seems much more likely to provoke defensiveness than “I feel scared when you say that”. Does that make sense?


Cool, thanks! Someone I am trying to get to know told me he feels intimidated by me and that never sat well with me, thus why I wanted to figure this out.

(Thanks to Dave Jackson for this particular question.)

NVC Question #11


I’m still kind of confused about the NVC general sense of the term ‘need’.

I’d before been thinking that NVC talks about ‘needs’ rather than ‘values’ or ‘wants’ because by thinking of them as needs, people would respect the desire once noticing and taking account of it, in themselves and/or others. So this was kind of my own way of interpreting the NVC term in a way that didn’t state necessity, such as “I need understanding”.

I put together the facts that NVC talks about needs, you’re an experienced user of NVC, and you mentioned you don’t like “need” based thinking, and wondered what was your own way of treating the NVC terminology of needs. (Perhaps you oppose the use of ‘need’ to mean obligations specifically rather than necessity generally?)


I think I understand your question better now.

I guess I was being somewhat imprecise when talking about “need-based thinking”. The needs that NVC lists are all very general. Respect, fun, connection, stuff like that. The most specific ones are stuff like air and water. So sure, you “need” respect, but you don’t “need” it from any one person. You “need” fun, but you don’t “need” to have fun playing this video game right now. Those are strategies.