Simple Steps to Inner and Outer Peace

Quote of the Week

“Please don’t give me anything or do anything for me unless you can do so with the kind of joy a little child has when it feeds a hungry duck.”

— Marshall B. Rosenberg

Simple Steps to Inner and Outer Peace

by Michael Neill

I have long been a fan of Marshall Rosenberg’s model of ‘non-violent communication’, a simple system of empathic speaking and listening that encourages a rich understanding of the emotional and psychological underpinnings of most of the conflicts we experience in our lives.

Until recently, however, I’d never really done much with the techniques. ‘They might work in Rwanda or the Middle East’, I told myself, ‘but they’d never work in my house!’

Fortunately I’ve learned not to take the ramblings of that voice inside my head too seriously, and more recently I’ve begun to use this simple model to diffuse tension and promote peace with my family, friends, and most surprisingly of all, within myself.

Here’s the model in a nutshell:

1. Focus on what is ‘alive’ in this moment in both you and the person you are communicating with

There are essentially two different categories of things which can be alive in us in any given moment:


Take a few moments to think about a recent upset you have experienced with someone close to you. What feelings are alive in you as you think about that now?

If you came up with things like ‘disrespected’, ‘betrayed’, ‘misunderstood’ or ‘hard done by’, you are actually describing the judgements which lie underneath your feelings. On the other hand, if you came up with things like ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘angry’, ‘fearful’ or ‘loving’, you are indeed speaking in the language of feelings.

To put it another way, we feel feelings in our body, but hold judgements in our heads.


While I would describe what Rosenberg calls ‘needs’ in terms of ‘strongly held desires’ or ‘values’, the essential model is the same – we feel how we feel and do what we do, for better and for worse, in an attempt to get our needs met. And when we find a better way to meet those needs, we take it.

An analogy I often use with my clients is to imagine the route you take to work each day is crowded, unpleasant, and takes an hour. I show you an alternative route which is nearly empty, beautiful, and takes less than ten minutes. How many times will I need to show you the new route before you begin taking it?

In the same way, the moment we recognize our needs and find a better way to meet them, we increase our peace and life changes for the better.

2. Focus on what we can do to make life more wonderful (for ourselves and others).

In the NVC (non-violent communication) model, we make life more wonderful for ourselves and others by taking and requesting that others take concrete actions in support of meeting our respective needs.

A concrete action is one that we could both agree had happened or not happened if we were watching a video-tape of the event. In this sense, ‘I forgave him’ is NOT a concrete action; ‘I told him that I forgave him while looking deep into his eyes’ is one.

The key distinction around requests is that between a request and a demand. For me, the key to this distinction is how someone reacts to the request being denied.

If we respond to ‘no’ with kindness and understanding, it was a genuine request; if we respond with anger and judgment, it was a ‘disguised demand’.

So let’s put it all together. Here’s the sequence Rosenberg lays out:

Observation => Feelings => Need => Request

Here’s how it played out recently in a conversation with my son:

‘When you play on your computer instead of feeding the dogs (observation), I feel angry and then sad (feelings), because I really want to feel like I’m doing a good job raising a responsible son (need). Would you be willing to feed the dogs each morning before you get on your computer?’ (request)

Because I had taken the time to work out what unmet need (or unfulfilled desire/value) in me was ‘causing’ my uncomfortable feelings, I was able to approach my son without blaming him for my feelings.

Because I wasn’t blaming him for my feelings, he was more likely to be able to hear the request – and like most people, when you’re not feeling threatened or emotionally blackmailed into doing it, helping make life more wonderful for someone else is a really fun thing to do.

Of course, when he said ‘no’, I used the same formula in an effort to find out what is alive for him and how I might be able to contribute to making his life more wonderful.

‘I’m sensing that when you hear me say that (observation), you’re feeling angry and a little bit scared (feeling). I’m wondering whether you’re wanting me to treat you more like a grown-up and less like a little kid (need). Would you like us to sit down together and re-negotiate who does what around the house?’ (request)

Although he looked at me a little strangely, he said he was actually fine with the current distribution of labor and went off to feed the dogs, something he has done without prompting every day since.


(c)2006 Michael Neill, author of ‘You Can Have What You Want’ All rights reserved – Read more tips at

Coaching Call to Action

My coach has been sharing Marshall Rosenberg’s work with me for a number of years. If you’d like to learn more about his work click here for Marshall’s book Nonviolent Communication on Amazon.

Observation => Feelings => Need => Request. It’s such a simple formula. For those of you who have worked with me, you know that when you do not get your needs met, you are not at your best. This is a great way to communicate to get your needs met. Try it out.