Power of communicating with empathy
It’s such an amazingly simple act, yet apparently not exactly hardwired into our automatic behavior. Letting someone know that they have been at a minimum heard and accepted (and maybe even understood, when possible) can be a critical first step towards positive change, or desired outcomes. I’ve been trying it more and more lately, and watch tension and frustration diffuse before my eyes. A simple example: I was visiting a friend and her 4-year old was getting increasingly irritated by the fact that we wanted to carry on a conversation and neither of us was heeding his pleas for a playmate on the floor. I didn’t have much hope of changing the circumstances, but was amazed at his reaction when I simply acknowledged how frustrating it must feel for him for me to have entered into the picture, taking his mother’s attention away from him, and now no one is playing with him. I saw his body relax and heard him say, “Yeah, that’s right!” and then he immediately did his own thing long enough for us to focus on our conversation for a while. That was too easy. Made me wonder why I don’t do it all of the time with my own children and other people in my life. The prevailing pattern is more often the opposite – I hear (or think I hear) a point, then I make a counterpoint, and wait for the next counterpoint. That is communication, right? More like debate, maybe. And as a result of this kind of pattern, we actually don’t communicate effectively, because misunderstandings abound as we spend a lot of energy just trying to be and feel heard.
To experience the amazing effects of the “nonviolent communication” (NVC) model, try it yourself . . . great resources include:
- Center for Nonviolent Communication: www.cnvc.org
- The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy: http://cultureofempathy.com
- Connecting to Life: www.connecting2life.net
Note 1: A big thanks goes out to my friend, Darci Shaver, for her passion and frequent reminders of the importance of this form of communicating.
Note 2: In the Netherlands, I’ve seen the NVC model referred to as the “Feedback Methode”, or the 4G’s (take particular note of the word “ik/I” in all 4 steps!):
1. Behavior: “I heard you say . . . / I saw you do this . . .”
2. Feeling: “I got the feeling that . . . / I became . . .”
3. Consequence: “And then I . . . / When this happens I . . .”
4. Wish/Need(s): “The next time I need . . . / I would appreciate if you could . . .