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.
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.
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?”
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.
You didn’t like the last board meeting. At all. One of the board members raised his voice, in an attempt to be heard. You left feeling upset, anxious, agitated. You want more respect, safety, mutual understanding, and -of course- collaboration. A real sense of working together for a shared purpose, in a way that nurtures the relationships between the board members.
You are aware some old pain is being triggered from your family of origin. So, -Nonviolent Communication savvy as you are- you decide to get support from your empathy buddies. And after five empathy sessions, role plays, and mediation exercises you realize the issue is not just this one board member, it is also the way the meetings are facilitated, the group dynamics, and historical baggage that some board meetings carry into the meetings.
The whole situation seems so overwhelming and complicated, that you have no confidence that you can contribute to more compassion and collaboration. You are ready to resign and give up on your dream of a harmonious, collaborative, respectful board. Done. You just can’t do it, it’s too hard…
You hear this voice in your head ‘Creating your dream is one conversation at a time. Creating your dream is translating your vision into concrete, do-able, action-oriented, time specific, tiny steps and getting support to take these steps.’
So you set-up your support system: empathy from your buddies, advice from your mentors, encouragement from your friends, and self-care from yourself.
You are ready to take the one step that maximizes your chance of success. A small step, sure, and still: one first step. You invite the board member for coffee to talk about this board meeting, so you can understand where he was coming from. You rehearsed the one sentence you want him to hear. You enter the conversation with confidence and trust in your compassion and empathy skills. And that is enough. No matter the outcome of the conversation, you succeeded. Because you showed up in a way that was in alignment with your dream of collaboration, respect, and safety.
What could be your first step? You want help to set yourself up for success? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.
My friend is unhappy at work. She wants her boss to understand her troubles and acknowledge their shared responsibility in the problems. She hopes this will inspire him to support her finding a position where she will be seen and appreciated for her qualities.
Current conversations haven’t helped. She wants my advice how to proceed.
I tell her that I would start with “Beginning Anew”, and use feelings and needs language. As I talk, I notice that she grows quiet. I ask her how this idea lands with her.
It doesn’t. At all. She is sick and tired of having to listen first, of being the empathic and compassionate one. So far it turned out that her listening ended any conversation. The other responds to her accurate reflections of feelings and needs with “Exactly, that’s it” and walks away. No interest in her experience. No intention to include her needs.
I understand my friend.
Listening is just another strategy for connection. Reflecting feelings and needs can help to establish trust and understanding.
And it might not be sufficient.
Nonviolent Communication is not very nonviolent if it sustains an imbalance in resources. It is not very nonviolent if it excludes the needs of some and emphasize the needs of others. It is not very nonviolent if it silences the have-nots and favors the haves.
Sometimes we need self-expression as a strategy for connection. Sometimes we need to “scream in giraffe” (a term coined by Marshall Rosenberg) to be heard. Sometimes we need to take action to make sure all needs are included, also ours. Peace, connection, understanding are not possible if not all needs are supported.
Let’s practice using NVC to express our anger and unmet needs AND maintain connection. Let’s practice using NVC to support ALL needs. Let’s practice using NVC to awaken our awareness that our needs are interdependent, and that none can be happy if not all are happy.
You want to learn to scream in giraffe? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be excited to work with you!
Thank you, John and Ike, for facilitating the Mediate Your Life retreat.
I thoroughly loved it. I loved the community, the safety, the acceptance, the learning, and the comradery on the path of compassionate communication. I feel grateful for all the practical tools and practices that I directly can use in my daily life. And most of all, I feel touched, inspired and appreciative of the respect, inclusion and openness you showed towards any idea offered by anyone at any time. With all your years of experience in teaching, training and mediating you never pretended you knew it all. Every day seemed like a fresh, new day with new answers to new challenges to best support the participants in this workshop at this moment.
You modeled how I want to build community and collaboration. Not contracted and constricted, guarding my carefully crafted opinions. Not scared that my ideas will be swept off the table as irrelevant and uninteresting. Not attached to my points of view, thinking that I know the truth, and the only truth.
I aspire to stop my chatter mind when someone offers an idea I don’t know, or might even feel resistance to. And then listen. Just listen. What does the other person have to say? What is important to them? How are they contributing to expanding my world view? Where is the valuable gem in their words? How can I honor their willingness to share their unique wisdom with me?
It seems so simple. Just stop and listen. And then, with an open heart and curious mind, explore their ideas. Like tasting wine. Or chew chocolate. Oh, the wonderful nuances of this idea… how it reveals itself… what an unexpected surprise to hear this…
My monkey mind immediately protests. ‘What if the idea is harmful, like blacks are lazy?‘ I don’t have any other answer than that you can always empathize with them. Understanding where the speaker is coming from, their fears, pain, desires. How those are captured in this idea. How there might be something precious in their idea, even if I don’t like the way they express what is important to them. And I can imagine that creates connection, and maybe a new understanding for both of us.
It sounds simple. Just stop and listen. I guess it takes a lot of personal growth, radical honesty about where you’re stuck, and courage to let go of preconceived ideas, before you can show up like that.
Ike and John thank you so much for being role models, as I strive to be who I want to be.
Contact me if you want support to open up to new ideas and build collaborative communities 512-589-0482
My sister had great advice for me the last time I visited the Netherlands: do even less.
I immediately implement it. At the Nonviolent Communication retreat, I continuously stop myself in my tracks, in my well-developed habit of speaking or doing if no one else does, and ask myself ‘Why do I want to say this?’ ‘Why do I want to do that?’
It takes a while, before I can answer those questions. I have such a strong habit of being helpful, I am so used to making sure everyone is happy, that I only can say that doing much is a strong pattern.
The why behind the doing
After a day or so, I connect to the ‘why’. I just want to belong, be accepted, and be seen. And I have learned that being helpful, kind, funny are great ways to get a sense of acceptance. I can not imagine I will matter, belong and be appreciated, unless I actively work on getting them.
‘I don’t get anything, unless I work hard for it.’
So here I am at the retreat, asking myself non-stop ‘Why?’ And then stop, focus on my breath, feel into my experience. And leave it at that. Only talk and act if I have a wildly enthusiastic impulse to speak or act.
The relief in the not-doing
That what I fear, is not happening. People don’t fall apart, the world doesn’t collide into catastrophe, I am not blamed for all the suffering in the room. Nothing terrible happens if I don’t speak or do something. The world does perfectly fine with me just sitting on my spot, enjoying my breath and the life in and around me.
The acceptance and appreciation for being you
A burden is taken of my shoulders. I am not responsible for everyone’s well-being. People can take care of themselves, of each other, yes, even of me. I can relax, lay back, and see everyone doing their own thing. And be part of the gang. Just by being me. Laughing wholeheartedly when I feel amused, showing my vulnerability, being present when someone cries. Just being me brings me everything I want.
I never received as much appreciation as at that retreat.
I did less, and was more. That was enough.
Try it for yourself: do less and be more. You’ll love it.
If you want help letting go of your habit of having-to-do: Nonviolent Communication is a perfect tool to work on that. I am happy to coach you in those skills. Contact me 512-589-0482.