Saturday, August 28, 2010

Compassionate Communication

A lot with people are talking about how to communicate better. In addition to substantive conversations, I like nonviolent communication as a model to strive for. It’s also referred to as compassionate communication, highlighting the empathetic nature of the process.

You can read more about it in Rosenberg’s book, but there are basically 4 steps that you can employ as needed, when communicating and when listening. Here are a couple of examples for communicating.

Step 1 – Observe without judgment or evaluation. For example, I see you looking away and wonder if you’re thinking, or bored, or something else. Instead of, Am I boring you?, a sarcastic jab.

Another example, I notice you missed your curfew since it’s 12:30 and your curfew is 12:00. Instead of, Why are you always late?

Step 2 – Separate feeling from thinking and express your feelings without criticizing or blaming. For example, I see you looking away and wonder if you’re bored and it worries me that I may not be interesting enough. Instead of, I’m feeling hurt because you don’t think it’s important to respond to me.

In the curfew example, I feel afraid that something may have happened to you when you’re not home by curfew. Instead of, Do you ever think about how worried I get when you’re late?

Step 3 – Connect what’s happening with some human need. For example, I need to feel valued and when you look away when I’m talking and don’t respond, I feel alienated. Here we must distinguish between human needs and how we are to get those needs met. In this statement, I’m just putting it out there.

When you’re out past midnight and don’t let me know where you are, I start to feel afraid that something’s wrong and I need to have peace in my life. I need to have peace, but it’s not necessarily up to you to meet that need. Bringing us to Step 4.

Step 4 – Request something to meet your need. For example, I’d like to hear what you think about this.  Can you tell me?

In the case of the missed curfew, I’d like to hear from you when you’re going to be late. Ask for what you want, not what you don’t want (i.e., I don’t want you to be late).

Bottom line, the other person doesn’t have to give us what we ask for. But asking is important. It helps us gain clarity and express our needs. Then we can decide how to handle things if we’re refused, or perhaps given an alternative. Often we may actually get what we’re asking for. Perhaps your companion is just pondering and can’t figure out how to articulate what they’re thinking. Maybe your child thinks it’s time for a later curfew and will now ask for one.

Listening works the same way. You friend may react to your request with anger or more silence. You can listen to their anger and reflect on it in the same compassionate way, e.g., I can hear from your tone that you’re feeling angry and I’d like you to tell me why. Regarding the curfew, From your explanation, I’m thinking you want a later curfew. You may or may not decide to give your child what they want.

I like the calm, clear communication that results. It takes a lot of work and practice to get there. I’m guessing on this last bit, since I still haven’t arrived.

Talk.  Coldplay.

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