Observation vs. Evaluation

A key differentation of compassionate communication speaks to the difference between observation and evaluation. Marshall Rosenberg speaks to this in the following excerpt, which is also available as a written text in his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

He names Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher, as a first inspiration, when he read from him: “Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.”

See a short film ‘Too quick to judge‘ about a situation where evaluations gain the upper hand over observations and how everything gets resolved – something that often does not happen.

Marshall Rosenberg - Observation without Evaluation (Audio)

I recalled studies I read at university about dangerous forms of thinking such as

  • racism
  • sexism
  • anti-semitism

and how people who think in that way cannot make that separation between observation and evaluation. They mix up their interpretations with facts.

Example how this mechanism can get in the way of our wish to resolve differences peacefully

Working with school educators: What is the director doing that makes it hard to be around him?

He has a big mouth.

This was not what I asked for – namely what the director did, that was unpleasant for them.

They could not do it.

He talks too much.

He wants to be the center of attention all the time.

He thinks he is the only one who has anything worth saying.

They find out how hard it is to do.

Observation found, with the help of Marshall Rosenberg:

During every staff meeting that had and no matter what the topic, he would come up with his childhood or wartime experiences. And staff meetings would last at least 20 minutes longer as they were scheduled.

They did bring in evaluative words, when they tried to speak about this, so he got defensive.

Then, when they tried to implement it, they forgot all of it and said:

You have a big mouth.

So Marshall had to help them again in the live meeting and they were then able to bring the non-judmental feedback to the director. He was glad to hear this.

In the following clip Marshall works with a group of people on working out a clear observation, relating to a difficult situation.

How to Express Observations | Nonviolent Communication explained by Marshall Rosenberg