by leona on May 4, 2008

In NVC we distinguish between two words which have a profound influence on how our communication with ourselves (through self-empathy) or others proceeds. These 2 words are observation and evaluation.

What does “to observe” mean? In NVC it means to describe what you notice without adding any thoughts or judgements.

What does “to evaluate” mean: In NVC it means we have processed our observation and now we are thinking about what we noticed. We have added something more; our judgements, our perceptions, and/or our own projections.

The key here is to know when you are evaluating and to know when you have made a clear observation. Characteristics of observations are:

  1. Can only be made during and after the event whereas evaluations can be made anytime.
  2. Stays with what can be observed whereas evaluations add include opinions, guesses, calculations, estimations, and fiction
  3. We can only make a relatively limited number of descriptive or factual statements whereas we can go on making evaluations and one evlauation can lead to another.
  4. Leads to agreement whereas evaluations can lead to disagreement especially if they are made as if they are factual.

Lois Einhorn writes about using E-prime and English Minus Absolutisms (EMA) to provide self-empathy and improve the quality of observations. Essentially she has developed a three step model:

  1. remove verb “to be” (e-prime)
  2. remove absolutisms such as all-inclusive words eg. always, all, every and all-exclusive words eg. none, never, nobody etc.
  3. remove loaded words like stupid, dumb, smart, crazy, beautiful, lovely…words that communicate judgement.

What words can you use instead of the verb “to be” in its many forms such as is, are, was, were, has been, will be etc.


Use any of the following listed words + to me
There is no answer becomes there appears no answer to me.
She is an engineer becomes she has a degree in engineering.
This is a crazy idea becomes this seems like a crazy idea to me.

It is raining can translate to: ‘It continues raining’ ..or ‘It continues to rain’ ..or ‘It rains continually’.

  1. use looks, appears, seems, accords with, acts like, acts as if, represents, resembles, seems like, simulates, approaches, approximates, behaves like,
  2. smells like, sounds like, takes after, tallies with, tastes like,
  3. typifies, coincides with, compares with, conforms with, copies, correlates with, corresponds to, corresponds with, depicts, duplicates, emulates, epitomises, equals, equates to,
  4. looks like, matches, moves like, paraphrases, passes for, performs like, portrays, poses like, reflects, acts in the manner of, has the attributes of, has similar characteristics to, has the same characteristics as, has some of the same characteristics as, reflects the behaviour of, replicates the behaviour of, has some of the characteristics of

Mathematically it might look like this: observations = E-prime – absolutisms – labels

For example (and here I will bold the observation part just to draw it out from the rest of the OFNR sequence).

Instead of saying to my child, “You are very rude”, I might say :”I see you poking your tongue out and rolling your eyes at your grandmother.”

What makes observations important in clear and compassionate communication?

  • They set up a point of agreement from which our communication can start.
  • We respond and adjust more appropriately to what occurs, and what does NOT occur, in our lives – we become less prone to jump to conclusions and make inappropriate or unconscious assumptions.
  • We become more tolerant, more accepting, less judgmental, less dogmatic.
  • We become more relaxed, both in a conscious way, through “semantic relaxation” techniques, and unconsciously in that we’re less susceptible to stressful, “knee-jerk” ‘emotional’ reactions.
  • We can more easily assume different perspectives, see problems through different eyes, and discriminate the assumptions we make from the ‘facts’ we observe.
  • We “talk less non-sense” to ourselves.

Observation or Evaluation?

“My son never does his jobs on time” is an evaluation.
“My son told us he would put the rubbish out, but I notice the bin is still at the top of the driveway on rubbish day” is an observation.

Try making observations of your own:

  1. Describe the room you are sitting in now.
  2. Describe your teenage son or daughters’ room.
  3. Describe your body.
  4. Describe your job.
  5. Describe a close friend.
  6. Describe your boss or manager.
  7. Describe someone you love.
  8. Describe the last meeting you were at.
  9. Describe your favourtie hobby.
  10. Describe a chore you dislike.
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