Red Green Repeat Adventures of a Spec Driven Junkie

Nonviolent Communication - Chapter 3

Observing without Evaluating

This chapter focuses on understanding the language difference between observations and evaluations, which is the first step in nonviolent communication. It is too easy to mix an evaluation can with an observation in communication.


The dictionary definitions for observance and evaluate are:


  1. a. a customary practice, rite, or ceremony Sabbath observances, b. a rule governing members of a religious order
  2. an act or instance of following a custom, rule, or law observance of the speed limits
  3. an act or instance of watching


The last definition is most appropriate for nonviolent communication: the act or instance of watching.


  1. to determine or fix the value of
  2. to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study


Here, both definitions are appropriate, with the first one being simpler.

In general, to observe is the act or instance of watching. To evaluate is to determine the value of something. So, it is easy to mix an evaluation with an observation because it is simpler to determine the value of something as one is watching it, than to recall later.

Analyzing My Thoughts

After understanding the difference, I understand my thoughts contain evaluations mixed in with observations. I guess over half of my thoughts have evaluations mixed in.

Three observations:

  • I get up at 7:00 in the morning.
  • I sweat when I eat spicy food.
  • I have old computers.

Three evaluations:

  • 7:00 AM is too early to get up.
  • Adding a little spice to food improves its taste.
  • Old computers are easier to use.

Generalizations & Labels

It’s important to understand NVC is not devoid of evaluation, but requires any evaluation be specific to time and context. In NVC avoid broad, static generalizations, even positive or neutral ones, such as labels.

Labels are another type of generalization, so avoid using them, positive or neutral.

I can understand labels reduce ones ability to perceive another human’s complete range of human expression.

If one labels another as a good cook, the label can limit everything one thinks about another person relating to being a cook. Just add: because label.

  • He gets up early because he is a good cook.
  • She stays late because she’s a good cook.

Static vs. Process Language

The chapter introduced the definition and the difference between static and process language.

  • Static: language that is absolute, forever.
  • Process: dynamic, fluid. contextual. in the moment.

Most language is static and life, in general, is dynamic, so there can be a mix up when using language to describe life.

An example of static language:

The apple is on the ground.

An example of process language:

Just a moment ago, the apple was on the tree, then the stem broke and fell
to the ground.

Observing: A Form of Intelligence

The chapter also mentioned the highest form of human intelligence:

Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.
  • Indian Philosopher, J. Krishnamurti

As someone that wants to be smarter, this is a profound statement. Since reading this chapter, I continuously analyze my thoughts: is this thought an observation? Is there an evaluation mixed in somewhere? How can I reform the statement to just be an observation?

Basic Rules: Evaluation vs. Observation

Some rules to identify observations mixed with evaluations and an observation, after each rule, there is an example of an evaluation mixed in with observation and observation.

  1. Use of the verb ‘to be’ without the speaker taking responsibility for the evaluation

    • You are not working.
    • Every morning I see your desk empty, I think you are not working.
  2. Use of verbs with evaluative connotations.

    • Joe is lazy.
    • Whenever I see Joe at his desk, he is playing with his toys.
  3. Implications that one’s inference of another person’s thoughts, motives, etc. are the only ones possible.

    • He’s depressed.
    • He said: “I feel depressed.”
  4. Confusion of prediction with certainty.

    • If you don’t drink a gallon of water a day, you will dehydrate.
    • If you don’t drink a gallon of water a day, I fear you will feel dehydrated.
  5. Failure to be specific about referents.

    • Chinese students only socialize with each other.
    • I have not seen Chinese students socialize with non-Chinese students.
  6. Use of words denoting ability without indicating that there is an evaluation.

    • He is a poor programmer.
    • The last 20 bug reports involve code he worked on.
  7. Use of adverbs and adjectives in ways that do not indicate that there is an evaluation.

    • Tom is slow
    • The way tom walks is slower than me.

Generalization Words

I classify the words: always, never, ever, constantly, nobody, and whenever as generalization words. The really tricky aspect to them is they can express observation and/or evaluation, depending on context:

Example used as observation:

always Thunder always comes with lightning.
ever I cannot recall a time you ever doing nice things for me.
never The sun never sets in the east.
whenever Whenever I wear white and have spaghetti for lunch, I get a stain.
constantly The athletes are constantly training before the event.
nobody I see nobody in the room now.

Example with evaluation mixed in:

always You are always late.
ever He is ever so clever.
never He’s never around when there’s trouble.
whenever Whenever he goes out, he spends too much money.
constantly You talk constantly.
nobody Nobody in their right mind would do that.

I find these are difficult to discern as they are common in language. The use of them in a sentence create broad generalizations.

From the examples, one way I have found to spot the difference is to analyze what the words are modifying. In an observation, they are modifying the verb. In the situation with an evaluation, they are modifying the noun.

Entrenched in Evaluation

Marshall shared a time where he mediated a tense situation between a principal and teachers. From the description, the situation did not come to be overnight, but over a long period of time.

The teachers evaluated the principal’s actions for so long that when Marshall asked what behaviors of the principal bothered them, they could only respond with evaluations. Even when a teacher directly confronted the principal, the teacher defaulted to mention evaluations instead of observations.

So, even with guidance, it is not easy to switch one’s thinking in purely evaluations to purely observations.


This chapter introduced the first step in nonviolent communication: deciphering observations and evaluations. This is easier said than done, as language is static while life is dynamic. I have included evaluations mixed in with observations, which I understand lead to communication mix up.

There are some basic rules for separating observation and evaluation. For me, they will take a lot of practice in order for me to master.