Screaming in giraffe

Adrenaline rush

I’m biking on Duval Street. It is a busy two-lane street, where cars drive 40 miles per hour on average. Since there are no separate bike lanes, I choose to bike on the sidewalk, to keep me safe. As always, I am alert and careful. Especially for cars backing out.

But this one I didn’t see coming. Out of the blue, a black pick-up truck backs out of it’s parking spot at at least 20 miles an hour.

I hardly have enough time to turn my handlebars, jump off my bike, and land on knees and palms on the gravel surface. I feel a bruise growing on my right thigh.

The truck driver probably doesn’t notice me and keeps backing out. “What an idiot! He didn’t look over his shoulder and blind spot! He’s incompetent and a danger to other cyclists!” Infuriated I jump up and bang on his window. “What?” “You almost hit me as you were backing out!” “Are you okay?” “Hardly.” “I’m sorry” and he drives off.

Nonviolent Communication?

When I tell my friend about this incident, she asks incredulously “I thought you were practicing Nonviolent Communication?” “Yes, but this is screaming in giraffe.”

Now I realize I was not. I was just screaming.

Four steps to get support for unmet needs

Screaming in giraffe means we use force to draw attention and support to our needs. Usually we sense urgency about this. I believe there are four elements of successfully screaming in giraffe (versus just screaming):

  1. Awareness of our needs being unmet.
  2. Enough self-acceptance and compassion to see our needs as beautiful(instead of a deficit, as if there is something wrong with us for having those needs, as if we’re ‘needy’).
  3. Transform any enemy image of those, whom we think are responsible for our needs being unmet, so we can ask for their support to meet our needs (how do you think I did on that count?). Like offering our requests with Santa Claus energy.
  4. Openness to explore strategies to meet as many needs as possible: ours and those of other stakeholders (that’s way harder when you perceive urgency).

Listening to unmet needs

When we hear someone screaming in giraffe, it helps to listen for unmet needs. Rather than focusing on how they express themselves (which might just sound like screaming), we can use empathy to deepen our understanding of their experience, listen for needs, and figure out strategies that meet as many needs as possible.

Live the life you really want, with yourself and others

I believe this process helps us to live the life we really want and create the closeness and authenticity we long for.

Contact me

Let me know how this landed for you: I would love to hear from you.

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Our four choices when receiving hard to hear messages

(This is a re-post from January 2018, when it was still cold. I hope this is a refreshing reminder that everything is impermanent, also temperatures)

It is sleeting. The road is getting slippery. It’s also getting dark. And it’s rush hour. Everyone seems anxious to get home, before the road completely freezes up and driving becomes a car balancing act on ice.

I’m on my bike. And I feel scared. I don’t like biking when it sleets. I have had my share of slips and falls growing up in the Netherlands with these road conditions. I have no desire to add one more to my track record.

I have to cross a busy street without stop signs or traffic lights within half a mile. I decide to cross without that support.

I wait and wait and wait till there are no cars in either lane. I cross the first lane as careful as I can. Before I am half way, the cars from the other side have a green light and are coming at me. I have to wait. As I look over my shoulder, I see that the cars behind me also got a green light. They’re speeding up. One truck in particular. In my lane. I see him coming right at me. I feel terrified he will drive into me, but I have nowhere to go. There are cars in either lane and I can’t make myself smaller with my bike. I just have to hope and pray that the truck is gonna spot me, before he hits me.

He does. He swirls around me within six yards, hunks at me, and continues with at least 50 miles per hour. No one gets hurt.

I tremble as I get on my bike to finally cross the street.

In my upset I start to rant blame toward him: “He is f*cking going way too fast on a slippery road, and the idiot was probably texting too. What a moron he is!”

After biking a few blocks, I turn the blame toward myself: “You are an idiot too, not taking the time to walk over to the traffic light and cross when it’s safe. You’re a fool for risking your life for a few minutes efficiency! You’re not competent to ride a bike! (Ouch, that’s very painful for a Dutch woman to hear)”

It’s only when I am home and feel safe, that I start to empathize with myself: “Gosh, Elly, you were terrified that you would be hit and end up with a wrecked bike, broken legs or arms, or… dead. You want to know that car drivers care about your needs for safety and consideration.”

It takes a few more hours, before I start to empathize with the car driver: “He probably didn’t see me at dusk. He probably didn’t expect a cyclist in the middle of the road. Maybe he was tired and anxious to get home safely. Who knows, he might have had to pick up a sick kid.”

I feel super grateful for Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings on our four choices when receiving a hard-to-hear message:

  • ​blame outward
  • ​blame inward
  • ​empathy inward
  • ​empathy outward

Realizing I can choose how I respond to difficult messages and situations helps feel empowered. I am not in full control about what’s happening around me, but I am in control of how I respond.

How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.

Judgments, criticism, and blame are tragic expressions of unmet needs

Unfortunately, we usually hear them as a message of wrongness of us, of who we are in our core being. We take the message personally and defend or doubt ourselves, or we withdraw within.

It is often easier to hear criticism, blame, and judgment from a stranger, from someone who is not that close to us. As soon as the message comes from someone who matters to us and the issue is tied to our sense of self-worth, we struggle.

How’s that?

Empathy with a partner, dear friend, or sibling when they express blame, judgment, or criticism is harder, because they are more important than a stranger. Their opinion of us matters more than the opinion of someone we don’t care about. We spend so much time with them, that they become our main strategy to meet our needs for love, acceptance, belonging: essential needs for our human existence.

David Schnarch talks about differentiation as “your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others-especially as they become increasingly important to you.” Differentiation would be very helpful to hear hard-to-hear messages more easily. Unfortunately, differentiation is not something that’s being taught at school.

Image courtesy flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8043877054Now what?

I offer two tips that can help you reach enough differentiation to hear hard-to-hear messages without too much upset.

Localize the criticism

Translate the negative message about you as a person into an event that is localized in time and place. Transform an evaluation of you as a person, into feedback about something you did. It is about, for example, the fact that you left without saying goodbye yesterday afternoon, instead of being judged as a cold and uncaring person. When you help your loved one distinguish between you and your behavior, it is easier to empathize with what they are trying to say.

Guess feelings and needs

We experience our shared humanity at the level of feelings and needs. We all know what it is like to feel sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, scared, ashamed, embarrassed. We all have needs for acceptance, love, support, understanding, safety, reassurance, connection, belonging, play, autonomy. When we move beyond the details of the story into the depth of feelings and needs, we develop a sense of understanding. We might even ask questions to better understand the other one: “Tell me what saying goodbye means to you?” “What rituals did your family have around saying goodbye?” “In an ideal situation, what would saying goodbye look like?”

Go practice!

I am pretty sure that these two tips help you to hear your spouse, child, co-worker share their hard-to-hear-message with more acceptance, compassion, and understanding.


You want help to listen with empathy to hard-to-hear messages? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session to see how I can help.

Fear in, jackals out

Sometimes our blame, criticism, and anger is actually an habitual, automatic response to our fear.

We perceive we’re in danger and we get so scared we immediately react with counterattack. We don’t allow ourselves to stop, breathe, feel, and connect to our needs. We don’t even think about it, our reptilian brain takes over. Fight and flight at the same time.

Image courtesy to David Nayer

It goes something like this: “Michelle is teaching an intro Nonviolent Communication at church.” “What a bitch!! She didn’t even connect with me first!! Who is she to barge in and think she is the big star?! Over my dead body: it’s not gonna happen without my support!! I’ll offer another workshop that same day, and make sure that no one shows up at her event. She is a selfish, inconsiderate taker.”

Bang.

Anger in full explosion.

There is something yummy about anger. You’re bumped up, you’re in control, you’re riding the wave of adrenaline. A little bit like flow, but without the peace part. Ready to crush, to slash out, and destroy. No one is gonna fool you, you stand your ground.

Feeling into your fear is much harder. To allow it to rush through you, to feel what it’s like to be that scared, to be thinking you’re helpless and cannot protect yourself from harm.

Yet, that’s where your empowerment lies.

In your vulnerability.

In this precious place of longing for safety, acceptance, inclusion, and belonging. All these needs that help us to survive and thrive.

If we dare to stop, if we have the guts to step into our fear, breathe, and be penetrated by it, we can open the door to self-care and self-compassion. “My beloved self, I see you’re scared she will get more attention than you. I get how afraid you are that she will attract more NVC-enthusiasts than you. I know how you’ve come to believe that being popular and interesting will bring you love and belonging and a sense of worthiness and mattering. I understand your pain. I’m here for you. I love you the way you are and I care for you.”

When we acknowledge our pain, we can offer ourselves support and understanding.

That’s how jackal ears out can help you to heal old, old pain.

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You want help to translate your jackals out into self-care and self-compassion? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.

Use your self-criticism to nurture self-compassion

“Michelle is offering a free intro Nonviolent Communication at church.”

Sounds neutral, yes? And yet, all your jackal ears are pricked up. Turned inwards.

Image courtesy to David Nayer

Remember the jackal? The animal that’s the Nonviolent Communication symbol for all the criticism, judgments, evaluations, labels, and blame?

Well, you can be perfectly able to empathize with others in a compassionate, generous, and open-hearted way, and have BIG judgments of yourself.

In fact, I have found many people who are drawn to Nonviolent Communication experts at empathizing with others, and blaming themselves.

After hearing that Michelle is offering a free intro at the church, my internal monologue would be something like this: “Of course she is teaching. She should do that, she is a fantastic, inspirational teacher. Lots of people will show up, and become NVC-converts because of her. She is WAY better than you, little loser. You just sit there in the corner of the room, whining that only two, maybe three people show up at your classes. And those are losers too, people who have absolutely no one else to turn to, otherwise they would not chose you.” (Sometimes inward jackals invite outward jackals, just to reinforce their point. They are highly collaborative in that way, and offer their support eagerly.) “You’re never gonna make it, and you’ll never be recognized and appreciated for your qualities, which were not much to begin with.”

This would just be the beginning. I could go on like this for a VERY long time. Self-criticism is a well-developed pattern I have, and one I’m not ashamed of at all. Isn’t that amazing? We would probably NEVER talk like that to someone else. We wouldn’t have the guts. But with ourselves we are okay with it. Brené Brown, Edward Teyber, and Bert Hellinger wrote about why we do this. I want to focus on what we can do with this.

Actually, it is quiet simple. You listen deeply to yourself. You guess what your inward jackals are trying to tell you. Maybe you feel sad, because you wished you had more people in your class? Because that would convey that you add value, and bring you the appreciation and acknowledgment you long for? Maybe you feel scared, because you are afraid you’ll never receive this appreciation? Maybe frustrated that you don’t have enough self-confidence to step up to the plate and get out there?

After your guesses, you listen to their response. If your guesses are right, they will relax, and allow you to be in touch with your pain. If they don’t, you might guess more. The truth is that jackal ears inward are a HUGE help to understand what’s important to you. They’ll tell you straightforward where you’re stuck, what you aspire, and how you need support. Keep them on for a while, and deepen your self-compassion.

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You want help to translate your inner jackals into self-empathy? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.

From blame and criticism to self-connection and understanding

Everything always starts with connection.

Image courtesy to David Nayer
Image courtesy to David Nayer

Well, maybe not always. Maybe not even so very often. Maybe, just maybe, hardly ever. Maybe, we usually start with a judgment, a counterattack, a criticism. We hear a message and something in us gets triggered. The message doesn’t even have to be a difficult one, it can be a neutral one, or even a positive one. Instead of listening, wanting to connect, trying to understand, we stand ready with our well-trained battalion of jackal thoughts.

“Michelle is offering a free intro Nonviolent Communication at church.”

Just that one sentence, and off you go. ‘She is an idiot. She has no clue what Nonviolent Communication is about, she has only be teaching it for half a year, she didn’t even study with Marshall Rosenberg himself, she just took some classes with Peter, who is an idiot too. Why didn’t they ask me? I have facilitated classes for more than three years, participated in all kinds of programs with renowned trainers X, Y, and Z, etc., etc.’

An endless stream of angry, blaming thoughts.

Oops. No connection there. Just disconnect through labels, judgments, criticisms. Doesn’t sound very NVC, does it?

And yet, these thoughts contain an immense richness, a whole world of inner experience, a wealth of feelings and needs if we would just empathize with them.

Maybe you feel hurt, you want acknowledgment and appreciation for the value you add. Maybe you feel frustrated, because you care about the integrity with which Nonviolent Communication is taught. Maybe you feel scared, because you want people to really get the support they need. Maybe you feel sad, because you were hoping for more collaboration and inclusion. Maybe you feel lonely, because you want more connection and acceptance.

Behind these jackal ears outward is world of beautiful, precious, human, universal, and timeless needs. And that is the basis for connection.

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You want help to translate your jackal ears outward into feelings and needs? Contact me for a complimentary, discovery session 512-589-0482. I would be delighted to talk with you and see if and how I can help.

Empathy helps. It always does.

You wake up in the morning and you are already dreading the conversation with this parent in the afternoon. You fear he will blame you for the poor grades of his daughter. You don’t like these difficult conversations. You anticipate conflict, and want connection. You want tools to listen to and talk with the angry parent and maintain your inner calm.
Maybe it is not a parent, but your boss. Or your colleague. Or your spouse. Or even yourself.

 

 

Empathy helps. It always does.

 

 

We all share the same human needs, and if we focus on those -no matter how the other person expresses him/herself- we immediately create connection. Because we understand what it is like to want support, or respect, or belonging, or to be heard, or to matter. We all have these beautiful, universal needs.

 

 

Now the discussion is not about being right or wrong, your way or the high way, it is about finding ways to support all needs. It is about being creative enough to find strategies that everyone likes.

 

 

And that’s possible.

Image courtesy to www.cnvc.org

 

Nonviolent Communication helps us to capture a language of feelings and needs that supports connection. It is easy to learn and effective to use. A community helps to practice this language in a safe setting, so we can experiment with new behavior and set ourselves up for success.

 

I am honored and happy to invite you to our Communication for Connection Practice Group. We meet every Monday, 7-9 pm, 6405 Culpepper Cove, Austin, TX 78730. Suggested donation $10. We can also work one on one to help you learn these compassionate communication skills.

 

Contact me if you want to see if the group or individual work is a good match for you, 512-589-0482.

Can advice be true empathy?

Something is jammed in my neck. It is stiff and painful. I can turn it -carefully- to the left and right. I can bend it forward. I can hardly bend it backward. Drinking my tea is a challenge.

Image courtesy to Flickr
Image courtesy to Flickr

I tell my husband about it. He immediately comes up with advice: take a ten minutes very hot shower, roll your back, let me give you an ortho bionomy  treatment.

I love it. I love all his advice and faithfully follow up on all his suggestions.

Sometimes advice is much better than just empathy.

Marshall Rosenberg defines empathy as the ‘respectful understanding of what others are experiencing’. It is the slowing down to really get what it’s like to be the other person, to see their world through their eyes, to imagine walking in their shoes.

My husband could have responded with guessing my feelings and needs, our usual form of empathy. ‘I hear you’re in pain. Are you confused what happened? Are you worried about your neck? Are you scared you have a herniated disk and your insurance won’t pay for treatment? You want health, reassurance, physical safety?’ What if he had walked away, after I affirmed that he got it?

I would have felt sad, lonely, confused, maybe even frustrated that I didn’t get the support I so desperately wanted.

For me, true empathy always leads to the opening of the heart and a natural longing to relieve suffering and to contribute to life. For me, true empathy is not only guessing feelings and needs, it is also guessing the implicit, unspoken request hidden in what’s being shared. For me, true empathy leads to an openhearted curiosity to figure out how to support the other person’s needs and honoring your own. My husband got that without many words. He acted on it right away with his advice and offer for treatment.

Sometimes, advice is the natural result of true empathy. And more than welcome.

Thank you, David, my neck is much better and my trust that I can heal much increased.

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You want help to empathize with implicit requests? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.

 

Empathy for unsollicited advice

You struggle with your co-worker. You feel frustrated and upset and you want more collaboration, understanding and support. You’re looking forward to talk about it with your friend. Alas. As soon as you start talking about the situation, she responds with advice. “You should sit down with him and tell him what’s going on for you and what you want from him. If that doesn’t help, you should go to your boss and let him intervene.”

You’re noticing you’re getting triggered. Something doesn’t work for you. You don’t want advice, you want understanding for your struggles, acceptance of your experience, and trust that you have the inner wisdom to navigate the situation with care and compassion. Maybe even some encouragement ‘You can do it!’. Or hope that the situation can and will be resolved.

You’re about to tell her that her advice didn’t work, when you remember ‘Empathy first’. You have heard yourself say that só often, and now -when it would be really helpful- you almost forgot. ‘Empathy helps. It always does.’

So instead of expressing your frustration, you start guessing her feelings and needs. “Are you sad, because you want me to do well at work?” “YES!” “Are you hoping that your suggestion will help me to move through this situation with grace and resolution?” “YES!” “You just want to support me and see me happy?” “YES!” A sigh of relief… A pause… Then she starts talking. How hard it is for her to see her friends being stuck. How this reminds her of her childhood, when she was expected to resolve situations she was unable to resolve. How scared and powerless she felt.

Image courtesy to FlickrAnd you listen… Just listen… You give her space to share her pain when other people are struggling. And your frustration dissipates. Instead of judging your friend of doing something wrong, you now see a human being who wants support and understanding. Just like you. And in this space of compassion, all you want is connection. From one human heart to another.

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You want help to empathize with advice? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.

How to change commitments and maintain connection

CommitmentI take my commitments very seriously. My yes is a ‘yes’ forever. At least, as long as they work for me. If they don’t, I do my utmost best to make them work until I give up and walk away. Just like that. “I want a divorce.” “I’ve found another job and am gonna leave.” “I’m moving to the USA and won’t be your big sister anymore.”

Balancing autonomy and togetherness

Gosh. Even after all those years, it hurts. My heart aches with all the broken commitments that were so important to me. I wished I had known thén what I am starting to learn now: how to balance my need for autonomy and pursuing my own dreams and my need for connection and supporting what you want.

I suck at that. I tend to accommodate others. And if  my needs go unfulfilled for too long I assert them. And forget those of others in the process. I just can’t believe that I can have my autonomy ànd our togetherness.

Asking support for our needs

So when I noticed how overwhelmed I feel with all the empathy calls, mediation triads and business support groups I’m in, I decide to drop one. Just tell my colleagues “Hey, I need more spaciousness, I have too much on my plate, I’m getting out of here.”

And so I do. I tell Adam that I want to end my participation in our collaboration. He empathizes with me. Then I ask how that lands for him. (I have come that far!) He feels sad and a sense of loss, he values our connection. As I listen to him and feel touched by his feelings and needs, something dawns on me. Something new I learned in Mediate Your Life. What if I include his needs in my choice? What if we work together to find a strategy that supports all needs? Not just mine, not just his, but ours?

I feel surprised. This is new territory for me. Instead of dumping my choice and running away, I engage the other person in finding a strategy that works for both of us. I let the results follow the relationship.

Including all needs leads to better solutions

It works out beautifully. We decide to talk once a month, and experiment with a new format. Then evaluate and maybe adjust the agreement. This solution is better than anything I thought of before, because it not only supports our needs for autonomy and connection, but also for learning and challenge.

Gosh, it sounds so simple. It probably is. But for me it is revolutionary: I can hold on to what is important to me ànd maintain the connection. I can have the best of both worlds.

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You want help to change your commitments? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be excited to brainstorm together how to do that ànd include the needs of others.