January 5, 2013

Reflections: Good communication requires true empathy


Some of my biggest heartbreaks have come from problems in communicating. When this would happen, I felt angry, sad and hurt, yearning for connection that seemed to elude me.

Through the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., I am learning to connect more compassionately with others by attending first to my own feelings and needs.

In his book, "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life," Rosenberg writes, "What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart."

When communication between two people fails, Rosenberg asks us to challenge reactive assumptions, judgment and blame with a simple observation of what happened. Next he asks us to notice the feelings we experience in relation to the event.

What feelings are stimulated? A common belief is that the feelings stem from events, actions or other people. Rosenberg invites us instead to consider our feelings as indicators of our universal human needs and to consider needs as "the energy of life."

Peggy Smith, a certified NVC trainer in Maine, demonstrates the typical manner of expressing in NVC: "When I see you throw a book at the cat, I feel frustrated, annoyed and concerned, because I really value well being and harmony."

She states what happened, her feelings and the needs that inspire those feelings. Finally she makes a request: "I would really like to understand what's alive in you right now. Are you willing to tell me?"

Speaking in this way opens up countless possibilities for exploration, discovery and support of mutual needs.

Waite Maclin, owner of Pastor Chuck Orchards said, "Unasked help is not received."

Clearly asking for what we want can increase the odds we will get that.

Smith says, "One of the biggest problems in communication is trying to be nice in how we say things instead of being real. While trying to be nice, we often confuse others and are unclear."

Smith says that often a belief that we don't matter contributes to our unwillingness to ask for what we want. Therefore, says Smith, "we are afraid to ask for what our heart really wants. Also we don't take time to deeply connect and know what we really want."

Recently I found that one of my colleagues did not complete an important task for three months. I felt upset, but instead of reacting in anger, I took time to connect with myself. I noticed how I felt when I told myself, "She really dropped the ball!" I felt disappointed, because of needs for competence and support.

Upon my empathy buddy's suggestion, I wondered how my colleague was feeling and what her needs were. I guessed she was worried because of needs for safety and support. I took a day to cool off and to allow my new awareness of needs to shift my view of the situation from judgment to compassion.

On the next day, I approached her with an open heart and shared my observation of what happened, my feeling of disappointment, and my needs for competence and support.

She expressed regret for her mistake and reassured me that I could count on her in the future. I felt relieved and happy that we not only avoided a potential conflict but also strengthened our working relationship.

Smith states that through cultural conditioning, most of us have learned to react in ways that are unlikely to meet our own or the other's needs, what Rosenberg coined as "tragic expressions of our own values and needs."

Examples of this tragic conditioning can be seen in words such as "should" or "have to" that rob us of choice. Overcoming such tragic conditioning requires powerful tools of connection: presence, empathy and compassion.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)