Listening for Needs: Wisdom of Nonviolent Communication

Gemma Jiang, PhD
5 min readSep 23, 2022
Tree of Compassionate Connection; Image Credit: Seed of Peace

Nonviolent communication is the most impactful language of communication I have personally encountered. It is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Martian” because it is so different from the deep seated, habitual fight, flight or freeze reaction patterns most of us are familiar with.

Even after attending four courses with Seed of Peace, on NVC foundation, transforming conflict, empathy and transforming anger, I probably only remember to practice NVC 10% of the time, and only succeed 1% of the time. In the heat of the moment, I have a lot of fight energy.

The good news is I can always reflect with “NVC replays”. I go back to the person and revisit the situation utilizing the classic NVC four steps: observation, feelings, needs and requests. It always deepens the connection, and moves the situation forward in constructive ways. I also go deeper into self-empathy. Acknowledging my own feelings and clarifying my own needs always brings about new perspectives, which in turn moves the relationship towards more connection, more empathy, more compassion.

NVC is like a new operating system for how we communicate. It is a wealth of wisdom. Two nuggets of wisdom that have been transformative for me are grounded in needs and deep listening.


Grounding communication in needs is my biggest takeaway from NVC.

When we are not in touch with our own needs, we are communicating out of blindness. Our feelings can take us and those around us down a rabbit hole that leads to nowhere.

It is important to recognize that behind each feeling there is a need. If we connect with each other at the level of needs, we can be creative about strategies to meet those needs. Conflicts take place at the level of strategies, not at the level of needs. Shared needs build common ground.

Clarification of my own needs in difficult situations has led to three dramatic changes in my life.

I am able to take more responsibility for my own needs by taking effective actions and drawing on my own inner resilience. As a result, I have seen a dramatic reduction of my own anger, as a lot of anger comes from frustration with unfulfilled needs.

Gemma Jiang, PhD

Senior Team Scientist, Colorado State University; Complexity Leadership Scholar and Practitioner; also at