Let’s try to gather examples of life-affirming vs. life-alienating language.

Life-affirming language acknowledges or seeks to understand our needs and the needs of others.

Life-alienating language is judgmental, moralistic, denies responsibility, and is based in punishment (and reward).

Five Obstacles to Effective Communication by Alan Seid of Black Belt Communications is an excellent series of NVC videos (1, 2, 3):

The first is about life-alienating language – you will need to sign up: Intro (0 min), diagnoses (7 min), denial of responsibility (9:45), life-disconnected motivations (16 min), demands (19:15), deserve language (21:15).

Life-connected vs. Life Alienating Language


Taxi Cab Scene – In or Out Asshole?

Here’s an example where the dude takes a quick guess at a taxi driver’s needs – it’s not a serious example, but consider the other reactions that he could have had to the taxi driver (from the movie Something Borrowed):


Tragic Expressions of Needs

See: http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/general_tips/nvctips_week07.htm (you can subscribe to these NVC tips)

You “made me” and “I had to” language

Marshall uses this example in as he describes his discovery of how language can promote violence.

Deserving language puts people on the defensive

Empathetic Response of a Baby

Communication that Blocks Compassion (Chp 2)

“Certain ways of communicating alienate us from our natural state of compassion ..

“Moralistic judgments imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values.

Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values; distinguishing value judgments (what we value in life) from moralistic judgments (what others did).

“Classifying and judging people promotes violence.

Comparisons are a form of judgment that leads to self-induced misery.

Denial of responsibility often takes the form of implying we have no choice – I ‘had to do it’

EXERCISE: Judgments of Right and Wrong

Judgements of actions and behaviors as right or wrong can be a quick way to recognize the hidden nature of needs.

EXERCISE: Consider an action/behavior etc. that you feel is right/wrong; identify what possible needs might underlie the action/behavior

EXERCISE: Four Ds of Disconnection

The Four Ds of Disconnection are related to how we communicate with or think about others.

  1. Diagnosis, Judgment, analysis, criticism, comparison
  2. Denial of responsibility
  3. Demand
  4. “Deserve”-oriented language

EXERCISE: In your daily life, identify instances of the four Ds in your thoughts or speech, or in the speech of others.