Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

In this book, American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg explores the concept of empathy. He says human needs are universal and it is empathy that allows us to understand each other. Empathy allows us to see that others, just like us, are trying to meet their needs in the best way they know how. It is also what allows us to have compassion for those who suffer when their needs are not met.

Rosenberg developed his approach in the 1960s and his philosophy was distilled into the first edition of the book, published in 1999. It has since earned international acclaim for helping people across the world to reflect more deeply on what they feel, how they think, and how they connect with other people.

The book lays out concrete strategies for connecting with others and also with ourselves in a manner that is conducive to understanding and honoring one another’s needs. There are practical strategies to break the habits of judgmental thinking and speaking that alienate and disconnect us from others, or from ourselves when the judgment is self-directed. There are also specific rules and steps to guide our thoughts and our words when communicating with others until, with much practice, it becomes more second nature to see the other point of view while allowing our own point of view to be heard.

Much of the foundations for empathy, compassion, and kindness have been laid out by religious and spiritual teachings. This book gives us the tools to implement them in our day-to-day lives. If properly practiced, it can help with communication and relationships at home, at work, or even with a stranger. It really has helped me in all areas of my life, not just to communicate better, but to understand others better and to relieve that burdensome weight of judgmental thinking with empathy and understanding. And for those of you who may be less inclined towards self-help literature, Microsoft’s current CEO Satya Nadella reported that it was “the one book that transformed Microsoft’s culture from cutthroat to creative.”

Ultimately, this book is about creativity, as well as communication. With empathy, we gain the lens to perceive, communicate, and understand our own needs and the needs of others. When we come to see that the people who seem so different from us are just trying to fulfill their needs, just like we are, then together we can create solutions that will serve everyone. If we can all do it right, it sounds like something that might just save the world.

Vu Nguyen, MD
Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center
Southern California Permanente Medical Group