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Compassionate Communication: a Loving Way to Connect

by Moreah Vestan

Have you ever wondered if there was a communication method that really worked to bring people closer? How would your relationships be impacted at work, at home, with friends, if you interacted from a place of connection?

I've gotten very excited about Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as taught by Marshall Rosenberg, in his book by that title. The method uses a giraffe (land animal with largest heart) and jackal (land animal with smallest heart) to indicate when we are coming from a big heart instead of a small one in our interactions with others. Here are some of Marshall's quotes, with permission from The Center for Nonviolent Communication: 

"And the other way we give of ourselves is through how we receive another person’s message. To receive it empathically, connecting with what’s alive in them, making no judgment. Just to hear what is alive in the other person and what they would like. So Nonviolent Communication is just a manifestation of what I understand love to be.

"So for me, if we’re connected with the Divine in others and ourselves, we are going to enjoy what happens, and that’s the spiritual basis. In this place violence is impossible.

"So many times I have seen that no matter what has happened, if people connect in this certain way that it is inevitable that they will end up enjoying giving to one another. It is inevitable. For me my work is like watching the magic show. It’s too beautiful for words.

"If we get that quality of connection, we’ll like where it gets us. Once again, all we have to do is get both sides connected to the other person’s needs. To me the needs are the quickest, closest way to getting in connection with that Divine Energy. Everyone has the same needs. The needs come because we’re alive."

I'm taking a 5-month, one day each month, class in NVC. The basic model is Observation, Feeling, Need and Request. One way to remember is to think the word "Oftener"--It'd be good if I used this OFNR. Example: Let's say your friend is 30 minutes late. You may want to yell and insult and be righteous, but if you want a connection, it'd be aided better by OFNR.

"When I see that you're here 30 minutes later than you said you’d be (Observation--just facts, no judgment), I feel sad/ hurt/ angry/ disappointed--whatever is true that is not a judgment--because I need respect and consideration and getting there on time. Would you please call me when you are going to be late." (Request that is specific)

I'm sure you can all think of examples where it might be difficult to control your temper, whether with an employee who comes in late most days, a boss who interrupts often, a child who usually watches TV before doing homework, or a partner whose habit it is to make plans with friends before talking to you. You probably all remember the ill will and anger when you've accused, complained, and been righteous with someone. Though NVC is no panacea, the very fact of the intention to connect gives it a power and usefulness not to be overlooked. Another situation might be messes left in a shared household. One can nag and rant, or you can try: "When I see the dishes left in the sink day after day, I feel frustrated and annoyed and angry, because I need consideration and cooperation and support to keep the house looking nice. Would you tell me what you are willing to do to make our house neat?" As H. Holley Humphrey describes it in her article on Empathic Listening at www.psncc.org/holley.htm, NVC is "a mixture of communication skills and awareness to use when you genuinely want to connect. You can use it to applaud someone's victory or to help uncover what's really troubling her. The result is often a deeper sense of connection, relief, and joy!" (Contact holley@empathymagic.com).

For example, if you're feeling fantastic about having met a new partner, someone might try to bring you 'down to earth' by saying, "Enjoy it while it lasts!" This is not a comment designed to make you feel better! If instead your friend's response was an empathetic, "You must feel very happy!", you might feel encouraged to continue. Perhaps, "Yeah, I've been looking a long time! Now I know it was all worth it!"

To quote Humphrey, "An empathic listener will stay with you as long as she honestly can until the conversation seems complete." Perhaps she will say, "Sounds like you've gotten discouraged" and you might reply, "You're right, but now my search is over.

"With the focus consciously on the speaker, both people have a deeper, more meaningful experience. It becomes a mutual exploration. It is done "with" someone not "to" them.

"How Can You Listen More Empathically? Primarily, it's about quality attention. Your heartfelt attitude of acceptance and alertness helps the speaker express clearly what she is trying to say. First, focus on discovering her unmet needs, with the intent to connect. Don't get caught up in "doing it right." It's not about being clever. Sometimes even just connecting silently is plenty. It's your intent that counts. To guess her unexpressed need, ask yourself, "What might she be feeling? What might she be wanting?" During pauses in her speaking, help her clarify her feelings and needs (or just her needs) with guessing phrases such as: 1. Seems as if you wish ... ? 2. Were you wanting ... ? 3. Are you hoping... ?

“Don't be dismayed by "No" answers. Simply use that information to hone your next guess. If you get stuck, you might say, "I'm stuck right now. It would really help me to listen better if I knew more about what you are wanting. Can you help me out?”

Also, continues Humphrey, “Don’t take things personally. When people seem to be complaining they are really poorly expressing their own feelings and needs. Hearing ‘You're so selfish!’ you might say, ‘Were you hoping I would help you out instead of reading a book?’

“If a grown son says ‘There's no use talking to you,’ you could try, ‘Are you wishing I would just listen without trying to fix it?’

"Again, to receive criticism empathically, listen for the unspoken need. In hearing it as that person's need, you'll be less tempted to defend yourself and more available to connect."

"Empathic listening is a combination of - Having the intention to connect. - Focusing on clarifying the speaker's needs first. - Remembering that criticism is someone's poorly expressed feelings and unmet needs. - Checking the timing before offering your feelings, suggestions, corrections, etc.

” For me, hearing of Marshall’s successes with Compassionate Communication between Israelis and Palestinians, warring tribes, conflicted organizations, and alienated students among others, I see NVC as a tool that can make a huge difference toward individual and world peace.

See Also:

Communicating from the Heart
How many times have you kicked yourself for how you said something or how it was received? Your intentions may have been good, but the other person ended up feeling hurt or angry or worse. You ask yourself, "What could I have said so no one had bad feelings?"

Are You a Positive Thinker?
Are you a positive thinker; the kind of person who can get the most from life and your relationships? Try this quiz and find out.

You Can Choose: Is Today Going to be a Good Day or Bad Day?
Every day you have a choice: Will it be a good day or a bad one? It really IS up to you. You can't control the external circumstances of your life but you can control your response to them.

Moreah Vestan is a life coach, speaker and writer on personal growth topics--self-discovery, compassionate communication (www.psncc.org) , and fulfillment of mind, heart and body. Some of her essays here are in her 2004 book, Pleasures and Ponderings: From Nun to Nudist to Now. Read her archived essays or order her 16-page booklet, "68 Ways to Create and Continue the Life You Choose" at http://communication coaching.net.

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