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Beginning Anew (3/3)

“There is a world of difference between a complaint and a criticism. A complaint only addresses the specific action (…). A criticism is more global -it adds on some negative words about your mate’s character or personality. (…) A criticism ups the ante by throwing in blame and general character assassination.” (Gottman, J.M. and Silver, N., The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, 1999, p. 27-28)

The third and last step of Beginning Anew is sharing your complaint.

The first step, appreciation, builds a context of turning toward. It conveys the message “Hey, I really like you and I value our connection.”

The second step, expressing regret, tells “I want to learn how to be a better friend to you.” You own your responsibility for the dynamic of the relationship and you acknowledge your contribution to needs unmet.

The third step is an invitation for your friend to reflect how her behavior might have contributed to your needs being unmet.

Complaints follow the same pattern as any other NVC-expression:

  1. Observation: the specific action you refer to, as factual as a robot would describe, had he been in the room. Without judgments, evaluations or interpretations.
  2. Needs that were unmet. Needs are universal, strategies are local in space and time. We all want love, acceptance, belonging, autonomy, safety, purpose, etc. We chose different strategies to meet those needs. Some might meet their needs for purpose and contribution by working for Amnesty International, others by designing a high-performance, light-weight car wheel.
  3. Feelings that arose from those needs being unmet, like anger, sadness, fear, disgust, contempt, surprise or flavors of those. Feelings often have a physical experience. Pseudo-feelings have a thought mixed in with them, usually blame about how someone did wrong. Pseudo-feelings could be: neglected, ignored, disrespected, violated, put down.

If you combine these three NVC-elements, your complaint might sound something like this: “When I came home last night and saw two plates and a pot with food remains in them, I felt sad and irritated, because I have a need for support. You could end your complaint with a connection request: “What did you hear me say?” or “How does that land for you?”

Because your message starts with an observation the other person can confirm, you are less likely to trigger a defensive response. Your roommate would probably agree that that’s what she left behind. When you would say “The kitchen was a mess” or “You are inconsiderate and egoistic.”, she might start to argue. Feelings and needs help your roommate understand your reality: these are the feelings I have (instead of pretending my thoughts about you are the truth) and those needs are important for me. This invites your roommate to empathize with you. “Oh, I didn’t know you cared about a clean kitchen and wanted support.”

I’m curious to read how translating your criticism into a complaint changes your relationship.


You want to learn to Begin Anew? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.


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Beginning Anew (2/3)

The second step of Beginning Anew is expressing regret.

Beginning Anew (2-3)The first step, appreciation, builds a context where you see the other person and yourself as human beings with the ability to contribute to life. Your appreciation conveys the message that you include yourself in the respect for your basic goodness. Regret isn’t an invitation to beat up on you, do the “you’re-a-bad-person” bashing or play a guilt trip. Regret is not about taking the blame for how the other person feels. Regret is about mourning what you did that contributed to needs being unmet.
An apology NVC-style is the same as any other NVC-expression: observations, feelings, needs: “I feel sad to see you feel upset over the way I expressed myself. I understand your needs for emotional safety, consideration and respect weren’t met. I wished I had taken three deep breaths to calm myself down and remind myself of my aspiration to show up with compassion and empathy.” Your regret can end with a connection request: “What did you hear me say?” or: “How does that land for you?” Or you can end with a solution request: “What can I say or do to restore connection and trust?”

When you express a regret, you want to keep in mind that what you did (or didn’t do) is not who you are. You are not a bad, disrespectful, inconsiderate, egoistic person, because you did something you regret in retrospect. When you made the choice you now regret, you tried to meet a precious, universal need. Perhaps you didn’t have enough resources and creativity to make a choice that included all needs: yours and those of other stakeholders. When you hold your actions as the tragic expression of unmet needs, you build a container of self-acceptance and self-compassion. This compassionate environment supports learning how to show up differently and honor your values.

Expressing regret is also an opportunity to learn about the other person, their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and needs. Your regret is an acknowledgment of their pain. You convey that you are aware of how your actions contributed to the pain of their unmet needs and that you care enough about them and the relationship to express your mourning.

Once your regret is shared and understood, you both can brainstorm strategies that might have worked better. You can ask for input to expand the creativity and resources you were lacking in the first place.

The first step of “Beginning Anew” is appreciation. The second is regret. This is the basis for deeper understanding and compassion. For others. For ourselves.


You want to learn to Begin Anew? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.


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Beginning Anew (1/3)

When you wished your partner, sibling, co-worker had shown up differently, don’t complain.

Start with appreciation.

What did they say or do that contributed to your needs? How did they enrich your well-being?

You wonder how this helps getting your complaint across?

Your complaints isn’t the only thing happening.

If you start with your complaint you’re missing the big picture. Some of your needs are met, and some of your needs are unmet. Both are happening at the same time. It is about seeing the positive and the negative in your partner. It is acknowledging that they are more than their actions. Even if those actions triggered pain in you, their failure might not be intentional. It might be the consequence of their own overwhelm, ignorance or deficit of needs. Starting with appreciation, helps convey to your partner that their human needs matter, as much as yours. When you start with appreciation, you acknowledge the needs being met and you empower your partner to support from a place of “We”.

Beginning Anew is about building relationships.

In this safe environment, your partner can hear your complaint as an invitation to connect and understand. It establishes trust that your complaint is not a rejection of them, nor an expression of their wrongdoing. Neither is it about shaming and proving your moral superiority. Nor is it a license to blow up and get your frustration off your chest, without considering the needs of your partner.

Beginning Anew is the start of a learning cycle.

You express what worked for you, before you express what didn’t work for you. You share the idiosyncratic manual of your well-being, without demand-energy or blame. Just facts of life: this apparently works for me, this apparently doesn’t work for me. When you start with appreciation, it is easier for your partner to listen. We learn best when we feel safe and have a sense of unconditional acceptance of our basic human goodness. Our brain relaxes, we let our defenses down and our pre-frontal cortex can receive the information necessary to learn and better serve all needs.

If you want your complaint to be heard, start with appreciation. Sincere appreciation that comes from your heart. Pretty sure your complaint will be heard.


You want help to Begin Anew? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

THANKS, DAVID! Thank you for editing this post and adding your idea that beginning anew is about seeing the big picture. I think it helped clarify my point. Love, your weiffie, Elly.