epistemic status: very low. I am not a domain expert here. This was supposed to be a book review of Non-Violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg, but I got carried away. I welcome criticism and feedback.


Congratulations on purchasing the popular board game, "Conflict Resolution"! You may have heard of it or even played it before, but it's important to read the rules thoroughly to fully understand the game. Most importantly, have fun!



The goal of the game is to resolve a conflict between two parties under guidelines that protect both parties from mistreatment, abuse, or further hurt feelings. In an ideal world, we would resolve conflict by plugging our brains into each other, living each other’s life experiences, and understanding where the other person came from. However, this is not possible, so we attempt to communicate our experiences to each other. The issue is that mistakes can be made, lies told, and situations escalated. The game aims to solve this problem by providing a set of rules that make it hard to take advantage of the situation. When used correctly, these rules can ease a situation and resolve conflicts without confrontation. Our game attempts to solve this issue by a set of rules that we think would be hard to take advantage of. When used properly these can ease a situation and solve issues without confrontation.



The game is for two players, but the rules can be scaled up for more players.

Assume that conflict occurs when one party is hurt by the actions of the other. If both parties are hurt, separate the two-way-hurt game into two different games. The roles are as follows:

Hurt: This is the person who feels hurt

Friend: This is the person whose actions caused the hurt

Remember those roles, they are going to get a lot of mileage in this post.


Starting the game

 1) Hurt is allowed to express their hurt feelings without judgment.

Anyone can express how others' actions made them feel at any time. No one is ever wrong about how they feel. If someone feels hurt, no one can deny that.

2) Hurt doesn't need to start a game every time they are hurt.

Discussing feelings isn't owed to Friend, and Hurt does not need to be consistent with what they bring up or let slide.


Hurt's allowed moves

1) Hurt can state the following:

  • The action that made them hurt
  • Their emotional reaction (that they are hurt)


2) Hurt is not allowed to blame, accuse, or judge Friend for the emotional reaction that hurt feels.

It is important for Hurt to own their emotions. Hurt is the only one responsible for their own emotions. To say Friend made Hurt feel the way they do is giving them way too much power over Hurt. Just because Hurt is hurt, it doesn't mean Friend is to blame.

Additionally, Friend cannot be expected to predict feelings. We all experience the world differently and predicting people’s emotions all the time is not possible.

Negative Example 1: hurt says, "You hurt my feelings! That's wrong!"

  •  This breaks rule 2, we are not allowed to blame others for our emotions.

Negative Example 2: hurt says, "you know I hate sand and you still took me to the beach? That's rude!"

  • Unless Hurt had previously said "don't take me to the beach" it's unfair to expect friend to predict the negative response.


 3) Hurt is not allowed to blame, accuse, or judge Friend's action.

Put aside all notions of "who was right and who was wrong" because it doesn't matter in this context. Arguing whether Friend's actions were good or bad is not allowed because any judgment is prohibited in this game. Regardless of whether Friend's action was a wise one that led to unfortunate hurt feelings or an evil decision that caused hurt feelings, the outcome is the same: Hurt's feelings were hurt. Regardless of intent, we need to ensure that Friend's action does not happen again.

The outcome of this game is independent of any judgement or blame because if someone’s action causes hurt, the action needs to be stopped regardless of intention.

Negative Example: Hurt says, "You did a bad thing by commenting on my hair, you know I'm sensitive about my hair loss"

  •  This is not allowed by rule 3, we cannot judge anyone's actions. Maybe Friend didn't know about the sensitivity. Regardless, of whether this was a bad thing or acceptable thing, Friend's action needs to change. To discuss whether the action was good or bad is irrelevant, distracting, and should be avoided.


4) Hurt's hurt feelings should be avoidable.

The point of this game is to resolve conflict. If something is brought up that cannot be changed by actions, it doesn't fit the scope of this game. It is always healthy to discuss feelings, and people should do that often. But if you bring up feelings that are not actionable you will not be able to resolve them in this game.

Negative Example 1: Hurt says ," I don't want you to change anything, I just want to understand where you were coming from."

  •  This breaks the rule. If Hurt had their feelings hurt, they deserve to have that action avoided in the future. For  Hurt to say they don't want any change, they are saying they would allow themselves to be hurt again later.

Negative Example 2:  Hurt says ,"I just want an apology and I will be happy."

  •  This breaks the rule. There is a whole section on apologies later, but an apology with no changed behavior means nothing, it's just words.


5) Hurt doesn't have to play along

If at any point Hurt feels like the relationship is truly lost, they can leave the conversation and end the relationship. This should be avoided at all costs but can be done.


Friend's allowed moves

1) Friend can either accept that Hurt feels this way and change their actions or they lose the game (and friendship).

Regardless of intent or circumstances, Friends actions need to change to preserve this relationship.


2) Friend cannot deny or argue about hurts feelings.

Hurt is justified for feeling this way, no one can deny the feelings they feel. Everyone feels different ways in different circumstances, and no one is ever wrong for that. It is always wrong to tell someone they shouldn't feel a certain way.

Negative Example: Friend says, "If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't be hurt"

  •  This breaks the rule. **Hurt** was still hurt by the action regardless of how anyone else would have felt in their position.


3) Friend should not defend their actions

Hurt is passing no judgement on friend so therefore friend has nothing to defend. To argue over whether Friend's action is right or wrong would be moving the conversation in the wrong direction.

Negative Example: Friend says, "But I was sleepy when I said that!"

  • Hurt is passing no judgement. Arguing whether friend's action was right or wrong is counterproductive because regardless of the intent, change needs to happen.


4) Friend doesn't have to play along.

 Friend doesn't need to play this game and hear out Hurt. Although, not playing the game and discussing Hurt's needs will end or halt the relationship. If that is acceptable to Friend they can choose that. This should be avoided at all costs.


How to win

This game is won when Hurt follows all the rules and states the action, emotional response, and sets a boundary. Then friend must accept their feelings and discuss and agree upon a boundary. Most of this so far hasn't been a discussion, this is the first part that truly is, we must set boundaries. This term comes with its own baggage, and I might be pushing the definition further than is usually used here.


Boundary negotiations

Both parties must agree on a boundary to be set. Action for what should be done if the boundary is broken should also be discussed. If you can agree on a boundary you win! Otherwise everyone loses the game (and relationship).

A boundary is a rule or change in action for one or both parties. Here are some qualities a boundary must have:

  •  It should be healthy, simple, and concrete
  •  The boundary must prevent **Hurt** from being hurt again
  •  The boundary shouldn't be a punishment of any sort

A lot of the time a boundary might look like this, "Please don't say that again or we have to discuss how we can avoid this further." But other times it may look like, "I think our daily get-togethers should be about an hour by default, unless we discuss otherwise. Is that okay with you?"

The rules  for setting a boundary are as follows:

  1. Hurt proposes a boundary and whether it's negotiable.

I would love to live in a world where hurt could just propose a boundary and no discussion, but the problem here is that:

  •  Boundaries are pointless if one party doesn't respect/abide by them so just declare "this is my boundary!" Isn't useful without discussion.
  •  preventing the action may mostly fall on Friend, so Hurt may need input on what is feasible or other options that also will prevent the action

Hurt must decide if they are willing to negotiate the boundary. Deciding this may depend on the following questions:

  •  is this the first time this action has ever been brought up
  •  is this action socially acceptable
  •  can Friend discuss boundaries in good faith

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then hurt may want to consider a non-negotiable boundary. Otherwise, allowing the boundary to be discussed is usually a net positive move. Of course it opens the door to possible manipulation or bad faith arguments so Hurt must be careful.


2) Friend must agree upon boundary or suggest a viable alternative that has all the qualities of a good boundary defined above.

Discussion can go back and forth until a conclusion is reached. If a boundary is reached, you win!


In other knockoff versions of this game, apologies are used. In this game apologies don't matter much. Hurt isn't passing judgment so there is nothing to apologize for. Apologies should never be expected or forced in any way. If Friend wants to offer an apology for their actions they can, and hurt may or may not accept the apology. Regardless,  if hurt were to change their mind on setting boundaries because of an apology that would be a mistake. So the apology should, in essence, be ignored by both parties as boundaries are set.


Following the rules

Here is the tough part. Not everyone plays by the rules here. In fact, reminding people about the rules or sending them this post is not okay. People are allowed to express themselves however they want, and we can't tell them they are doing it wrong. The best we can do is try to steer the conversation in this direction. For example, Hurt may say, "you stabbed me in the back" which is not an allowable move in our game because it is accusation and judgmental. Friend may say something like, "I hear that when I ate the last cupcake from the fridge you felt upset." Friend is basically translating Hurt's statement into Non-Violent Communication and now follows the rules of the game.

Even if someone isn't playing right, a lot of the rules still apply:

  • - you are the only person in control of your feelings, and no one is responsible for them but you.
  • - you should never feel responsible for someone’s feelings.
  • - you never NEED to bring something up, only if you want to.
  • - You never can get upset at someone for not expressing their feelings in the moment, we all have different changing thresholds for what we want to discuss.
  • - you never need to justify your feelings, no one can deny how you are feeling
  • - You can never tell someone what they are feeling is wrong
  • - you never need to apologize
  • - You never can demand an apology
  • - an apology doesn't make things better, only actions do
  • - you never need to justify setting boundaries
  • - you never need to just accept boundaries; they need to be agreed upon.



Do not play this game if:

  • - you desire an apology
  • - you want to hurt someone
  • - you want someone to feel remorseful or sorry
  • - you want someone to repent for previous actions

But why don't people resolve conflict like this

And scene! Game allegory aside, I will be talking as myself now...

I think if everyone resolved conflict like this, a lot less people would be manipulated, and relationships may be better. But we don't, we don't even come close. Often when an action is taken, people try to figure out "why".

Nate Soares on lesswrong-

One hypothesis I have for why people care so much about some distinction like this is that humans have social/mental modes for dealing with people who are explicitly malicious towards them, who are explicitly faking cordiality in attempts to extract some resource. And these are pretty different from their modes of dealing with someone who's merely being reckless or foolish. So they care a lot about the mental state behind the act.

(As an example, various crimes legally require mens rea, lit. “guilty mind”, in order to be criminal. Humans care about this stuff enough to bake it into their legal codes.)

Nate concludes his post by stating that; regardless of intent, actions look the same. Our drive to discover intent seems strong but is not required in almost all cases. To ignore the intent of someone’s actions goes against some primal evolutionary drives but is needed to resolve conflict outlined in this post. A pillar of the thinking that led to these rules is that it is never acceptable to judge another's actions. I will write a whole post about this later and link it here, but I hold the belief that it is never acceptable to judge someone as a person or even their actions. Any time I feel the urge to judge someone, I try to flinch away from that feeling and instead say that "their current world view does not match my own".

This tiny shift in perspective, from wrong to disagreeing about what's important or true in life can allow us to live a judgement free life. We can still pick friends and social groups that align with our current world views without being a hypocrite. We can still choose a partner to spend our life with and we can still decide to keep or say goodbye to relationships. But we aren't doing any of that because of what's right and wrong, we are doing it based off who is compatible with us. No blame being assigned, just happiness when we find people similar, and sadness when we see people drift away.

Resolving conflict should happen in all relationships, especially healthy relationships. Using these skills can strengthen your relationships with others and relationship with yourself.


New Comment
11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:22 AM

Congratulations on your first post here! Very thoughtful and a creative way to explore conflict resolution. You gave me a lot to think about. Thank you!

NVC has changed the way I go about conflict resolution. I liked your presentation of the content, but I disagree with your on-role for apology. The key is that apology shouldn’t focus on right or wrong for the action that caused the hurt feelings, but instead it essentially comes in three parts:

  1. An acknowledgment of Hurt’s feelings.
  2. An expression of non-intent in causing the hurt.
  3. An expression of mitigation, realignment, or restitution

“I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings, when I took the last cookie that you had been excited about. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I didn’t know that it was so important to you. Had I known, I would have left it for you, or at least ask you to split it.”

Note that the apology does not necessitate an expression of regret in the action that triggered the emotion in Hurt. It is totally possible to not regret the action, and even genuinely feel that it was the right decision.

“I’m sorry that I embarrassed you when I was defending that kid being bullied. I was focused on their well-being at the time. I wasn’t trying to embarrass you. Should I need to defend someone again in a social situation like that, how can I minimize how it affects you?”

The key to a good apology is to center on the effects on Hurt, and their emotions. You are friends. You don’t want to hurt each other. Put on your Consequentialist hat, and deal with that effect. Step one is really the key. Often people just want to be heard and their feelings acknowledged.

Note that Hurt is not required to accept the apology, but given that it is centered around their feelings, it my experience that people usually do accept.

Thank you for this. I had been defining apology as - expressing remorse for ones actions.

Your three part apology is different, you don't have to express remorse for your actions. I like your definition better and I think if I reframe my definition of apology to what you have here, it completely fits within this framework and I can add it as an essential step.

It’s been a part of my practice for so long, that I don’t remember where exactly. It likely was somewhere in the polyamorous community/media. I find it especially helpful when the problem is miscommunication. It’s helpful even outside of a NVC context.

I wish that more people used this approach when people accidentally hurt others, rather than to non-apologies like “I’m sorry that you got hurt,” which generally translates to the nonsensical “I regret that you had feelings.” I think that key difference is accepting the causal link between their feelings and my actions.

🤔 Maybe I should write up a post.

Hello CrimsonChin,

Congrats on writing your first post here! (as far as I can see) I have read the book in question, if you mean the intro book to NVC? And I did find it amusing seeing you write the concept into a Kickstarter special. :) I hadn't thought of that, and enjoyed seeing your creative way to review that book.

When learning NVC, my partner and I took an intro course, and during it one of the course holders showed us a game that they made, which participants could take back with them afterward. We did play using that game when learning the ropes of NVC. I'm not sure if that would be interesting for you, and if it is, let me know and I will post a link to it. 

Moreover, at this course we were told to practice on our own or with someone familiar with the method for a couple of years, before using it with others. And I agree, and believe a game like yours is best played with 
a) Friend, referring to some kind of mutual positive relationship already, and b) Someone familiar with NVC, or open to working on their automatic thoughts/feelings and habitual strategies.

One part I read that I have a bit stronger opinion about is this one:

The point of this game is to resolve conflict. If something is brought up that cannot be changed by actions, it doesn't fit the scope of this game. It is always healthy to discuss feelings, and people should do that often. But if you bring up feelings that are not actionable you will not be able to resolve them in this game.

Connection is a core goal in NVC, and also conflict resolution using NVC.
If we only look at two people, conflict can in many cases be 'resolved' through the actions of self-connection and self-understanding. The way to that sort of resolution, often goes through a set of actions that include being seen, understood, heard and/or met with empathy.
I strongly disagree if by this paragraph you mean to exclude those actions from the game, as it seems to me you are implying with the wording "It is always healthy to discuss feelings [...]". 

The reason is from our experiences, and goes something like this:

Person 'Hurt' feels sad/angry/etc. because 'Friend' "did something". However, through the actions of empathic presence, listening, space holding and/or understanding from 'Friend'/'Hurt' (as this can change), they boost their individual and/or relational connection level. Person 'Hurt', (or 'Friend') find out what their true need(s) are, which results in self-connection. 
In the majority of our cases the actions of 'Friend' and reactions of 'Hurt' were only superficially connected, and the 'conflicts' were resolved through connection with ourselves and/or each other, and realizing the 'conflict' wasn't really a 'conflict' after all, but the cries of unmet needs.
Thus resolving it without any further actions, or at least none related to the original 'offense'.

I hope this feedback is useful to you in some way.
Take care.


Thank you so much for the read, the feedback and sharing your experience!

I think I see what you are saying here. If I may try to use a fake example: My wife takes out the trash bins every week, and I never thank her or even acknowledge this is something she does. Therefore she feels unrecognized and upset. Through her expressing these feelings to me, me deeply acknowledging her feelings, validating her feelings, and acknowledging all the hard work she does around the house; that might be the action needed to solve the issue.

So my rule, don't bring up something that can't be resolved by action would make the above discussion and healing impossible.

I agree with you.

Your comment also made me realize that by making rules I kind of missed the "connection" part that is so important in the book.

I will think about how to correct this but I am thinking about the following changes:

  1. I will remove the rule you brought up. I was coming at it from a, "it's unfair to bring up something with the expectation of an apology", but I think I can deal with that case by also...

  2. Adding a section in "winning the game" that discusses validating feelings and creating a connection.

  3. I might need to rethink my apology section too, I see how an apology WITH an acknowledgement may actually solve a problem.

Do you think I understood you correctly?

Hello again CrimsonChin,

thanks for your reply, and acknowledging my feedback. Appreciate it. And you are perfectly welcome.

My wife takes out the trash bins every week, and I never thank her or even acknowledge this is something she does. Therefore she feels unrecognized and upset. Through her expressing these feelings to me, me deeply acknowledging her feelings, validating her feelings, and acknowledging all the hard work she does around the house; that might be the action needed to solve the issue.

Examples are complex. I do not think this example fits my point exactly, but I can try and show how it would work. This is of course a bit idealistic:

Wife goes to you and says: "I feel unrecognized and upset about not being acknowledged for taking out the bins". 
You are both on the same team, with the same goal of achieving more connection. Since you are on the same team, you add clarity by expressing your own thoughts/feelings:

You say: "When hearing you say that, I admit that I have felt dejected and numb, because you didn't ask me to acknowledge you, and I have really wanted to".
You say the former to create clarity, not out of defense. Defense sounds more like this: "Why didn't you tell me before?! I've waited for so long for you to tell me!" (Which isn't that unnatural of a response, to be fair.)

Winning would then look something like this:

Wife says: "Are you saying you not only wanted to, but were willing to acknowledge me, and the only thing holding you back, was me asking you?" (*Belief: Receiving acknowledgment is a reflection of the strength of our bond, and should happen without prompt.*)

You answer: "Yes, I want, and I am willing, to acknowledge you, and the only thing holding me back is that I believe that I had to wait for you to ask first." (*Belief: Asking for acknowledgment is a reflection of the strength of our bond, and should happen without prompt*)

Both pause to feel and self-connect. 

(I can also add an apology here, but the kind of apology I write here is more high level, and not really a natural part of this game. But I thought it might be good for reference.)

Wife: "I feel confused knowing I have expectations that are different from yours. I also feel sad knowing I could have reached out for acknowledgment at any time. And I also apologize for feeling unrecognized and upset towards you, and by doing so pulling myself away from you. I also feel relieved knowing you want to acknowledge me."

You: "I feel relieved knowing you want my acknowledgment, and likewise confused about our differing expectations. I feel down-cast knowing you have been open to receiving my acknowledgment for a while, and also knowing how much it would have meant to you. I apologize for feeling dejected and numb towards you, and starting to pull myself away from you. I also feel eager hearing you say that you want my acknowledgment".

From my experience, most 'conflicts' are like this, and re-connection is done step-by-step. Neither might have the energy to continue the game at the moment, as things have escalated for a while, and things need to settle. However, this might still be a satisfactory first win in this area for both of them. 
When they are ready, they might want to address the confusion, the sadness and the apology, and lastly work out how to go about giving/receiving acknowledgment to/from each other.

In this example, they are already acknowledging their individual feelings, the feelings of the other, and experienced a positive shift between them - from being opponents to the connection of being on the same team. Definitely worthy of a small celebration.

Hope it helps somewhat.


  1. Have you or others actually tried this? Howe well does it work in practice?
  2. Things sound pretty binary based off your post (come to a settlement preventing hurt or friendship over). That seems unreasonable? Sometimes people's desires come into conflict and they're not willing to change. I think it would be a shame if a relationship was broken on those grounds. Of course, if the nature of the relationship changed somewhat but still existed (e.g. less implict trust), that seems like a better outcome.
  3. How's this work as an internal therapy tool?
  4. There's something about the vibes I don't like. It feels like the game is slanted in favour of hurt, or at least your presentation of it is. Sometimes, a hurt is unreasonable and needs to be removed. Sometimes, the interpretation of hurt is wrong, and needs to be changed.

Thanks for the comment! This was my first post on lesswrong so I have been nervous. Thank you so much for the read and feedback!

  1. This is almost entirely theoretical. I can't pretend these are tried and true. I have been doing something like this for 6 months with awesome success but I don't have a lot of conflict.

  2. I see your point and agree. Maybe I was being dramatic. Maybe I should change "loss of friendship" to something like, "unresolved relationship tension"?

  3. Is this IFS you are talking about? I just heard it for the first time last week and then a couple more times this week. I really need to learn what it is. Considering I didn't know about IFS when I wrote this, any parallel or usages would be entirely accidental.

  4. I too am uncomfortable with the power Hurt has. These rules are a bit unfair because I didn't write these rules to be the "best way to resolve conflict" I wrote them to be the "best way to resolve conflict while not getting taken advantage of".

So I think you are right, sometimes a person can have misguided emotional responses and the BEST thing to do would be to try to discuss those emotions and have them see how they could avoid the inappropriate response in the future. The problem with this is that talking someone out of their emotions or trying to change their emotional response is exactly how bad actors manipulate and abuse others. So under the constraints I set up, this can't be allowed.

What if I added a part in the conclusion that states this is not the ideal rules for conflict resolution if you are willing to accept the risk of being manipulated. These are only the rules if you want to completely avoid the possibility of being manipulated, and are willing to accept the tradeoffs? Do you think that would square the vibes?

1.  At least add say you've being doing something like this in the post for 6 months with awesome succees. A bigger ask would be providing more detail on what you mean by "awesome success" would be helpful. Give us a reason to believe this works. 


I see your point and agree. Maybe I was being dramatic. Maybe I should change "loss of friendship" to something like, "unresolved relationship tension"?


What if I added a part in the conclusion that states this is not the ideal rules for conflict resolution if you are willing to accept the risk of being manipulated. These are only the rules if you want to completely avoid the possibility of being manipulated, and are willing to accept the tradeoffs? Do you think that would square the vibes?

Making the changes to "loss of friendship", along with adding your reasoning behind the rules in the conclusion would imrpve the post IMO. 

3. When I considered tweaking this to be an internal therapy tool, I thought it would be similair to IFS. It is somewhat well known on LW. Kaj Sotala's mutli-agent models of the mind sequence has a good exposition on the topic. There are probably better expositions, but that's where I learned of it. There's also a good discussion on the value of IFS and why rats like it here.

Your comments made it clear when this technique is valuable, so thanks. With some luck, I might try it out. 

Thank you. I'm going to work on the edits. Also thank you for the link, I am going to read up on IFS before finals edits to see if I can see this with new eyes.