Marshall Rosenberg

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Marshall B. Rosenberg
Rosenberg lecturing in Nonviolent Communication workshop, Neve Shalom ~ Wahat al-Salam, Israel (1990)
Born (1934-10-06)October 6, 1934
Canton, Ohio, U.S.
Died February 7, 2015(2015-02-07) (aged 80)
Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.
Residence Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Michigan
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Occupation Peacemaker
Known for Nonviolent Communication

Marshall Rosenberg (October 6, 1934 – February 7, 2015), an American psychologist, developed Nonviolent Communication, a communication process that "helps people to exchange the information necessary to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully". He became the founder and Director of Educational Services for the Center for Nonviolent Communication,[1] an international non-profit organization.[2]

According to his biographer, Marjorie C. Witty, "He has a fierce face-- even when he smiles and laughs. The overall impression I received was of intellectual and emotional intensity. He possesses a charismatic presence."[2]


Rosenberg was born in Canton, Ohio. His parents were Jean (Weiner) Rosenberg and Fred Rosenberg. Marshall's grandmother Anna Satovsky Wiener had nine children. Though living in impoverished circumstances, she kept a settlement house, taking in needy people. She loved to dance and was a model to Julius, her son-in-law. His grandfather worked at Packard Motor Car Company, and his grandmother taught workers' children to dance.

In Steubenville, Ohio his father loaded trucks with wholesale grocery stock, and Marshall went to a three-room school.

Jean Rosenberg was a professional bowler with tournaments five nights a week. She was also a gambler with high-stakes backers. His parents divorced twice, once when Marshall was three, and when he left home.

The family moved to Detroit, Michigan one week prior to the Detroit race riot of 1943 when 34 people were killed and 433 wounded. At an inner-city school Marshall discovered anti-Semitism and internalized it. "Growing up as a kid, I couldn’t stand to see people torment other people." He developed a "kind of awareness of suffering – why do people do this – and particularly, why does it have to happen to me?"[2]

"My family was very affectionate. I got heaps of love, and if it had not been for that, the effects of this self-hatred could have been much harder to deal with."

His maternal grandmother, Anna Satovsky Wiener, was dying of ALS in the dining room, cared for by Uncle Julius and his mother. His parents were also caring for his grandfather and aunt. Marshall hid under the porch and learned to be invisible. Uncle Julius projected a model of compassion in the care for his maternal grandmother (Julius's mother-in-law). Julius was a pharmacist with a drugstore on Woodward Avenue.

His brother was seven years younger, outgoing and precocious, attracting attention. Marshall stood up to defend him and suffered in fights. The brothers were estranged for a 44-year interval. "My brother is like my mother is like my wife Gloria. They stir things up everywhere they go. Now I love that characteristic in all of them, but..."[2] Marshall explained, "I was in the hospital a lot, though from sports, violent ones that I was good at, probably more than fights."

Summer camp instilled a love of nature: "My safety requires a high-density of trees and a low density of people."

Marshall Rosenberg married his first wife, Vivian, in 1961.[3] They had three children. In 1974, he married his second wife, Gloria, whom he divorced in 1999.[4]


Eventually Marshall's father bought a house in a better neighborhood. Marshall attended Cooley High School and graduated in 1952 as valedictorian.

A neighbor boy Clayton Lafferty first mentioned psychology to young Marshall. He wrote a high school term paper on criminal psychology. "I did an honours program as an undergraduate, and my professor’s father, who was a warden, got me an opportunity to see what psychology is really like in prison." (Ionia reformatory)

When considering medicine as a career he worked with an embalmer for a while to measure his interest in the human body.

At age 13 he began Hebrew school but got expelled. Twice his father beat Marshall, once so badly he missed school the next day.

Marshall's first college was Wayne State University. With money earned he entered University of Michigan and worked as a waiter at a sorority and a cook's help at a fraternity. He fell in love with a Catholic girl who wanted him to convert. Putting up with anti-Semitism, he graduated in three years.

The State of Wisconsin paid for Marshall's training as a psychologist. Marshall recommended Carl Rogers book Freedom to Learn.[5]

"Of the twenty-seven of us in our first year class [at Wisconsin], only three got through – not the ones with the qualities you would want them to have. I got through because I had been through worse in Detroit."[2]: 752

Professor Michael Hakeem radicalized Marshall when he indicated that psychology and psychiatry were dangerous in that scientific and value judgements were mixed in the fields. Hakeem also had Marshall read about traditional moral therapy in which clients were seen as down on their luck rather than sick. Marshall was influenced by the 1961 books The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz and Asylums by Erving Goffman. He also remembered reading Albert Bandura on "Psychotherapy as a learning process".

Marshall's practicum placements were the Wisconsin Diagnostic Center, schools for delinquent girls and boys, and Mendota State Hospital. There psychiatrist Bernie Banham "would never have it where we would talk about a client in his absence." In Mendota Marshall began to practice family therapy with all parties present, including children. After graduation, Marshall worked in Winnebago with Gordon Filmer-Bennett for a year to fulfill his obligation to the state for his graduate training.


Marshall showed a need to explore and try out different things: "Ask Carl Rogers. He asked me to be on his research project because he wanted many people doing many different things."[2]

In 1961, Rosenberg received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.[6] and in 1966 was awarded Diplomate status in clinical psychology from the American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology.

Rosenberg started out in clinical practice in Saint Louis, Missouri forming Psychological Associates with partners. In making an analysis of problems of children in school, he found learning disabilities. He wrote his first book, Diagnostic Teaching, in 1968, reporting his findings. He also met Al Chappelle, a leader in the Zulu 1200s.[7] Marshall went to teach his approach to conflict resolution to the gang in exchange for Chappelle appearing at desegregation conventions, starting in Washington, D.C. While Chappelle was harnessing communication against racism, Vicki Legion began to collaborate to counter sexism. "I started to give my services, instead of to individual affluent clients, to people on the firing line like Al and Vicki, and others fighting in behalf of human rights of various groups."

The superintendent of schools, Thomas Shaheen, in Rockford, Illinois called upon Marshall to deal with conflicts in an alternative school that was established. In 1970 Shaheen became superintendent of schools in San Francisco, California and was charged with racially integrating the city’s schools. He called on Marshall to help as before and Marshall organized a group but Shaheen was dismissed before it could come into action. Marshall decided to stay in California and promoted the Community Council for Mutual Education with the help of Vicki Legion. NVC "evolved out of my practice with people who were hurting, and experimenting with what might be of value to them, whether they be in the correctional school for girls, or people labeled schizophrenic." [2]:783 The San Francisco experience gave me the exciting concept that we could start local projects to train masses of people in the skills, quickly and with no money.[2]:793

He worked for four years in Norfolk, Virginia’s school integration. As a caricature of his program in street talk he offered this version, spoken to himself:[2]:813

Thug, identify observable behaviour. Identify feeling. Identify reason for feeling. Identify wants. Put that out. Make sure other person connects with it. And thug, you’ll know a miracle start to happen after a bit.

About 1982 Marshall spent his last $55 for admission to Midwest Radical Therapy Conference, which was the "best investment I ever made because I met people and made connections that I still have." The importance of strokes of appreciation or affirmation, between communicants, had been emphasized for instance by adherents to transactional analysis. "My workshops before this time used a language of conflict resolution and talked about getting power with people and stuff like that. They focused entirely on helping people deal with behaviors that were painful to them and finding ways of changing them. There was nothing about celebrating with people or affirming each other, or the words 'nurturance' or 'compassion'." Marshall says the program led to the femininization of the program (beyond conflict).

Marshall Rosenberg was called to many states, countries, and conflicts to provide his expertise in nonviolent communication. In 2004 he was visiting about 35 countries per year on his mission as a travelling peacemaker.[8] Marshall enjoyed success in his work:

Such incredible things happen when I leave groups, so that when I go back, I can hardly believe what they’ve accomplished in the time since I was last there. I see this everywhere I go. The people I work with want to radiate this process and transform things. They want everyone to have access to these principles, and they have enormous energy for spreading this kind of work.[8]

From his home base at Albuquerque, Marshall supported his followers elsewhere with a Center of Nonviolent Communication there in New Mexico. He died at home on February 7, 2015.[9] The Center has continued, after Marshall’s passing, connecting people all over the world to certified NVC trainers nearby.[1]

According to Albert Ellis, Ted Crawford, who wrote a book Making Intimate Connections with Ellis, "particularly liked the anger-resisting philosophy of Marshall Rosenberg and made presentations on it."[10]



  • (2012) Living Nonviolent Communication: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation. (288 pages; compilation of prior short works) Sounds True. ISBN 978-1604077872
  • (2005) Being Me, Loving You: A Practical Guide to Extraordinary Relationships. (80 pages) ISBN 978-1892005168
  • (2005) Practical Spirituality: The Spiritual Basis of Nonviolent Communication. (32 pages) ISBN 978-1892005144
  • (2005) Speak Peace in a World of Conflict: What You Say Next Will Change Your World. (240 pages) Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press. ISBN 1-892005-17-4
  • (2005) The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift. (48 pages) ISBN 978-1892005151
  • (2004) Getting Past the Pain Between Us: Healing and Reconciliation Without Compromise. (48 pages) ISBN 978-1892005076
  • (2004) The Heart of Social Change: How to Make a Difference in Your World. (45 pages) ISBN 978-1892005106
  • (2004) Raising Children Compassionately: Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way. (48 pages) ISBN 978-1892005090
  • (2004) Teaching Children Compassionately: How Students and Teachers Can Succeed with Mutual Understanding (41 pages) ISBN 978-1892005113
  • (2004) We Can Work It Out: Resolving Conflicts Peacefully and Powerfully. (32 pages) ISBN 978-1892005120
  • (2003) Life-Enriching Education: NVC Helps Schools Improve Performance, Reduce Conflict and Enhance Relationships. (192 pages) Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press. ISBN 1-892005-05-0
  • (2003) Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. (222 pages) Second Edition. Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press. ISBN 1-892005-03-4
  • (1986) Duck Tales and Jackal Taming Hints. Booklet. (Out of Print)
  • (1983) A Model for Nonviolent Communication. (35 pages) Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers. ISBN 0865710295
  • (1973) Mutual Education: Toward Autonomy and Interdependence. Bernie Straub Publishing Co. (Out of Print) ISBN 0-87562-040-X
  • (1968) Diagnostic Teaching Special Child Publications (Out of Print) ISBN 0-87562-013-2


  1. ^ a b Center for Nonviolent Communication
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Marjorie C. Witty (1990) Life History Studies of Committed Lives, Vol. 3, Chapter 7, page 717, "Marshall Rosenberg", UMI Dissertation Information Service, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  3. ^ News Network Anthroposophy Limited. "Founder of nonviolent communication dies". 
  4. ^ "My Heritage". 
  5. ^ Carl Rogers (1969). Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become. (1st ed.) Columbus, Ohio: Charles Merill. Excerpts
  6. ^ Rosenberg, Marshall B. (1983). A Model for Nonviolent Communication. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers. ISBN 0865710295. 
  7. ^ The Zulu 1200s being an organization involved in the Black Liberation movement. See the Google Books summary for Black Liberation in the Midwest: The Struggle in St. Louis, Missouri, 1964-1970
  8. ^ a b Kabatznick, R. and M. Cullen (2004) "The Traveling Peacemaker: A Conversation with Marshall Rosenberg." Inquiring Mind, Fall issue.
  9. ^ "Obituaries: Rosenberg, Marshall B. Dr.". Albuquerque Journal. 15 Feb 2015. Retrieved 20 Feb 2015. 
  10. ^ Joffe-Ellis, Albert Ellis with Debbie (2010). All out! : an autobiography. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. p. 472. ISBN 9781591024521. 

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