This is part two of a three part series in communication. In part one of this series we looked at the three different communication styles: passive, assertive and aggressive. If you missed it or would like to review it, click here. In part two observations vs. evaluation will be discussed, along with examples of each. When we become more aware of these differences in our communication, not only will it change how we respond, it changes how we listen too; which in turns helps the ones we are speaking with be less defensive, feel more valued and heard.


            “The butterfly is sitting on the flower” is an example of an observation. In this example I am stating a fact vs. giving my opinion of the butterfly, i.e. “The beautiful butterfly is sitting gracefully on the flower”.  Observing can be challenging for most of us because it is the nature of our minds to want to judge, criticize or place a personal analysis on things and people. How many people do you know that love being judged or criticized? 


            When we place our perceptions or judgments onto something or another person, we are making an evaluation. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines evaluation as “to judge the value or condition of (someone or something) in a careful and thoughtful way.” An example of this is,  “You’re lazy because you never do the dishes when I ask.” Not only is this an opinion and judgment of another person, but it is also an example of an aggressive communication style. An observation statement would be, “I see the dishes are on the kitchen counter. I have asked you twice to please put them in the dishwasher. Please do this before I get home tonight.”

The following chart is from the book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”(Pages 30-31) by Marshall B Rosenberg, Ph.D. He created it to aid distinguishing between observation and evaluation.

Communication Example of observation with evaluation mixed in Example of observation separate from evaluation
  1. Use of verb to be without indication that the evaluator accepts responsibility for the evaluation
You are too generous. When I see you give all your lunch money to others I think your being too generous.
  1. Use of verbs with evaluative connotations


Doug procrastinates. Doug only studies for exams the night before.
  1. Implications that one’s inferences about another person’s thoughts, feelings, intentions, or desires are the only ones possible


She won’t get her work in. I don’t think she’ll get her work in. Or… She said, “I won’t get my work in.”
  1. Confusion of prediction with certainty
If you don’t eat balanced meals, your health will be impaired. If you don’t eat balanced meals, I fear that your health may be impaired.
  1. Failure to be specific about referents
Minorities don’t take care of their property. I have not seen the minority family living at 1679 Ross shovel the snow on their sidewalk.
  1. Use of words denoting ability without indicating that an evaluation is being made
Hank Smith is a poor soccer player. Hank Smith has not scored a goal in 20 games.
  1. Use of adverb and adjectives in ways that do not signify an evaluation has been made
Jim is ugly. Jim’s looks don’t appeal to me.

From the chart we can see that our choice of using an observation or evaluation in our communication really affects what we say and how others hear us.

Take five minutes each day this week to explore what you are observing vs. evaluating, and then incorporate observations into your assertive communication statements.  In the next and last part of the series I will explain verbally abusive communication and how to recognize it. For now, keep being the best person you can be.  Or as Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady, said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

Nicole Burgess is a licensed marriage and family therapist located in Indianapolis, IN. She works with children, adolescents, individuals and families who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma or life transitions. She is located close to Carmel, Fishers, Lawrence and Greenfield.