Other Conversational Responses

When we hear criticism, or when someone tells us something that is uncomfortable to hear, we sometimes respond with what we call “other conversational responses”.

We call them “other” because the goal in NVC is to be in empathy, and we find that these types of responses limit empathy rather than promote it.

Types of conversational responses

When someone says

I’m depressed.


  • You should see a therapist.
  • You should get a dog!


  • It’s your own fault for never going out.


  • You poor thing! Things will get better.


  • Are you feeling depressed because you need fun and adventure?
  • Are you feeling depressed because you need kindness or closeness?
  • Do you need inspiration or challenge?

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When someone says

I’m probably going to fail that exam.


  • But you’re great at math!
  • You can do it if you study!
  • You’ll do fine, I have faith in you!

Changing the subject:

  • Did you hear about <news event>?


  • Are you feeling worried because you need clarity around the exam?
  • Are you feeling frustrated? Is it something about effectiveness or skill?
  • Are you feeling nervous and needing confidence?

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When someone says

You’re always late!


  • I’ve only been late a few times!


  • I’m never late!


  • Are you feeling frustrated because you arrived at the time we agreed and you need mutuality or reciprocity?
  • Are you feeling impatient because you need effectiveness?
  • Are you feeling annoyed because you need commitment?

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When someone says

I just found out my child has been getting in trouble at school and not telling me about it.

Devil’s advocate:

  • Maybe it’s a problem with the class or teacher?
  • It’s probably some other kids getting them in trouble.


  • It’s normal to act out at this age.
  • I’ve heard the teacher is strict.


  • It’s because they don’t get enough recess time anymore.


  • Are you feeling disheartened because you need honesty or integrity?
  • Do you feel frustrated because you need peace or cooperation?
  • Are you feeling surprised and needing predictability?

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When someone says

They just yelled at me and stormed off!


  • What did you do to provoke them?
  • Where do you think they were going?


  • That wasn’t really yelling.
  • People yell at me all the time. What’s the big deal?


  • I’m guessing you feel confused and could use some clarity?
  • Are you angry because you need respect?

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When someone says

I was sick and missed 3 days of work. Now I’m struggling to catch up.


  • One time I got so sick I missed an entire month of work!

Relating (story-telling):

  • I keep getting sick too! My kids keep bringing home colds, and then I catch the cold, and then…

Sarcastic humor:

  • But did you really “miss” it?
  • Sick of what? Work?


  • Are you feeling overwhelmed because you need support?
  • Are you feeling exhausted? Do you need some rest?

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