“But Please Don’t Mix the Two”

I can handle you telling me
What I did or didn’t do.
And I can handle your interpretations,
But please don’t mix the two.

If you want to confuse any issue,
I can tell you how to do it:
Mix together what I do
With how you react to it. 

—Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD

If you want to make difficult conversations less difficult, these two stanzas are for you.

In his book Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg lays out a four-step process for communicating more clearly and thoughtfully—no matter the context. The first thing he stresses is the importance of decoupling our observations from our evaluations: 

“The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence… When we combine observation with evaluation, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message. Instead, they are apt to hear criticism and thus resist whatever we are saying.”

An observation is something concrete: Henry said the project needs to be done by tomorrow morning.

An evaluation is how you interpret what you observe: Henry is being unrealistic.

What I like about Rosenberg is that he’s not asking us to be robotically objective. He’s asking us to “maintain a separation between our observations and our evaluations.”

Using the example of Henry, Rosenberg would suggest something like this: Henry said the project needs to be done by tomorrow morning. I feel annoyed because I do not think this is enough time.

I love this concept because it’s so fundamentally simple and powerful. As soon as you learn to decipher what constitutes an evaluation and what constitutes an observation, you start to see how much of our communication is strictly evaluative—the observations behind our evaluations never get discussed.

It is hard to help someone when they say, “We need a better framework.” It is much easier when they say, “Since we implemented the new framework, I am disappointed because I’m having half as many conversations with customers and I really value speaking with customers.”

The first sentence—which is an evaluation absent of any observations—forces you to interpret where the person’s need is coming from. The second sentence—which is an observation followed by how it makes the person feel—saves you from guessing. It helps the listener understand the person better and see where the new framework might be falling short.

This is just a small piece of the value that Nonviolent Communication has brought my way. I hope you get something from it!

For what it’s worth, we are currently working with Rosenberg’s publisher to buy this book for the entire Lessonly team. And this excites me because what this book stands for is healthier and happier relationships with your friends, family, and coworkers. If that isn’t worth $15, I don’t know what is.

Would love to hear your thoughts,



This is Max’s note—a weekly message from Lessonly’s CEO about learning, leadership, and doing Better Work. Sign up below to subscribe via email. No spam, we promise!

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