Some people think that looking for the compassionate connection and talking in a compassionate way takes more time. Well, initially you’ll find yourself using more words but read the examples below and judge for yourself if it was worth it compared to the time absorbing conflicts that arose because these people didn’t know how to. You might find it’s worth it to apply Non Violent Communication for more than one reason.
How somebody’s stress is not about you
While thinking about going away for a holiday a house owner considered renting out the house for that period of time and called a local B&B to see if they had been overbooked and knew any people still looking for a place to stay. To much surprise the owner of the B&B responded by saying “There are laws about renting out your house to holiday makers you know!” While staying empathic the house owner soon found out that the B&B was struggling even with the holiday season coming up and had many nights yet to fill. You could have thought it was about seeing competition but it really was just about making a living with what you do. What may sound confronting, aggressive or defensive is just a strategy for someone to meet their needs, to make ends meet as it is in this case.
More in a hurry than I am!
During a lecture I gave I explained how we, even though we are motivated by positive intent, still tend to “explode” at times. Especially in traffic this can be so. One of the participants explained how traffic and other drivers didn’t bother her at all. She explained how she would think that if they wanted to go faster than she did they must be more in a hurry than she was. She continued to explain how communicating at home with her teenage daughter to her was a continuous problem. He daughter would for example tell her to clean up the mess she was creating on the table by leaving the newspapers there. She would take offense and the get into a fight with her daughter. How to solve that? The solution seemed close at hand to me. I told her I was very hopeful as she already was showing the necessary skill in traffic. She only needed to apply the same kind of thinking at home. She seemed confused by my answer and asked me to explain further. I told her that if she could see her daughter as someone who was in more of a hurry than she was in clearing the table she probably would feel better and avoid a conflict. At that she laughed. She could see that she would only need to shift her focus to achieve what she wanted. This certainly is not a cheap mind trick but a very effective way to create a better relationship. We often only need to shift our focus to create a different perception of reality. A perception in this case that seems to me to be closer to the truth of what was really happening. I wonder if the daughter felt irritable at seeing the newspapers pilling up on the table. I guess that she just wasn’t able to say how she enjoys seeing a clear table and how it gives her a sense of order and peace in the house. Like her mum all she needed was a shift in perception. A shift in perception through discovering mutual needs is a great way to keep and restore harmony in relationships! Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
Are we out of ham?
My partner made me breakfast and when it arrived i saw that there were three slices of ham with the eggs. I really enjoy ham and eggs so i said: Hey, are we out of ham. To which she replied: I thought that would be enough. Hearing her response made me wonder if she thought she had done something wrong. Sure enough she thought i wasn’t satisfied with what she gave me and “she should have given me more!” A misunderstanding of each others intentions happens so easy and can create a lot of friction if not “nipped in the bud.” Any comment we hear can give us a better understanding of the speakers perception. In this case the comment i had made said everything about me. I Wasn’t necessarily conscious of that but her validating my experience would have made me aware. She could have said something like: I guess you really enjoy having ham in the morning eh? I would have agreed to that. If she would then say: “we’ll need to get some more when we go shopping” that would have been enough clarity and confirmation for me. Since my partner seemed to interpret my comment in a different way i asked her if she was disappointed because she was doing the best with what we had in the house and had wanted to cook breakfast to my liking. When she acknowledged that that i told her that i really enjoy her cooking breakfast and in particular enjoy the ham. It’s so good, i could always have more! She smiled! Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
During a training I gave I handed out an exercise. One of the participants, a woman, notices that I didn’t punch holes in the paper. She wanted to store the exercise in the binder that came with the training material I had handed out. She was determined to find a solution and found a paper punch on the premises. The problem: the binder had 4 rings; the punch did 2 holes at a time. So she had to figure out how to adjust the holes she would make with the paper punch so that all 4 holes would fit the rings in the binder. Her husband is also present and is watching her progress. As she nears completion he exclaims: “you’re brilliant!” She seems happy with that remark. She then tries to fit the paper on the rings, looks up at her husband and replies with some disappointment: “Well, I guess I am not brilliant enough!” The paper didn’t fit the rings. The topic is appreciation. This exchange gives us a wonderful sequence of events to show why in compassionate communication we try to avoid showing appreciation in any way that others may interpret as being good or bad. It seemed that the wife was brilliant, intelligent or good one moment and kind of dumb, wrong or bad the next. The husband didn’t say this but his remark lead up to her conclusion that if success makes her brilliant, her lack of success then must make her not brilliant enough. I imagine this was not his intent. So in compassionate communication we express appreciation in a way that connects it to the needs that are being met; your own needs and the needs of others. I imagine the husband was appreciating the creative way in which she was looking for a solution. He could have said something like: Honey, I really enjoy watching you find creative ways to solve this problem. His wife would have experienced this as appreciation just as much I think. Being successful or not would not have effected her experience of the appreciation she heard. How valuable is that? The appreciation you give in this way will last a lifetime! Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
“Don’t put that apple on top of the dirty towels!” i said when we came out of the spa and my partner wanted to put the free apple you get at the exit in the bag. “Ok”, she said, “i’ll juggle it all the way home.” A slip up on my part. I realized immediately that when i said “Don’t” i stimulated resistance in her. She was just trying to contribute and take care of things. Just not in the way that i would enjoy. Trying to prevent that from happening i said “Don’t!” With hindsight i would rather have said something like: “Oh honey, would you put that apple in the backpack for me. Those towels are dirty and i enjoy the apple better knowing it was stored in a hygienic place. Not hard to say, just requires a little mindfulness. Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
I had noticed that my partner was hesitant to tell me when she thought i didn’t quite look the way i would enjoy, afraid i would hear it as a judgement and retaliate. I could understand her concern. In previous relationships i had learned this could be a sensitive issue. Over time though i had started to appreciate friends who, looking out for my best interest, had told me when something was stuck between my teeth and things of that kind. It also became clear to me that i, most likely not unlike yourself, had learned in life that having something not quite in order was a reason to be made fun of. Once kids have learned this behaviour it creates a lot of shame for the one who is the butt of the joke. We’ve all been there. Remembering the shame we than become hesitant to say anything and we feel awkward to mention it. I decided i wanted to discontinue this habitual pattern and asked my partner to tell me when she noticed something out of order. The other day she did. I had dressed and had not noticed that one side of my collar was sticking out over my sweater. She said: You have something of a Geek-factor happening with your shirt. I smiled because i understood what she meant. She said it with a smile because she knew i would be happy to hear it. Friends that were walking with us however looked to see if i was irritated. I explained that i was happy to hear it and had my “Giraf-ears” on. Even in fun, i did realize though that hearing someone referring to you as a Geek or having a Geek-factor on a bad-day may be heard as a judgement and lead to unnecessary irritation. Just: “Your collar is sticking out of your shirt on one side” will suffice. It’s ok to have fun. It will stay fun if we use descriptive language and avoid expressing ourselves in words that may be heard as judgements. Personally i would have thought it funny if she would have said something like:” Is your shirt trying to make a pass at me? Your collar is waving out of your shirt on one side!” Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
When I came through the park the whole sidewalk was ripped up! Reply…The Vandals! No, it was the city parks people that did it. Reply…..The Vandals! It is easy to hear an event that creates outrage. The trigger words being “ripped up”. It implies that something was done with brute force and without any consideration for others. Even indicating who did that didn’t change that meaning. The meaning is in the trigger words. Another example could be: I see all the tools have disappeared. Disappeared indicates that something was sudden and the present whereabouts are unknown and within the context it would also indicate that somebody other than yourself should know and probably is to blame for this. The use of the word disappeared in this context is not accurate. It is not that the tools were there one second and gone the next. It is obvious that there is no magic at play, that someone must have taken the tools and that I just found out about it. The feeling that is most likely associated with the event is not surprise, which would correspond better with the word disappearance, but outrage and frustration. How to prevent this confusion? Well words that are of a more descriptive nature would help. So for example: I walked through the park and saw city works in process and the sidewalk was removed. Or: When looking for the tools I discovered that they were no longer in the place where I saw them last. There is no reason to hear outrage or blame in these words. Saying it this way helps others to stay more present in the conversation instead of going into anger or fear because of imagined blame. Even better if we, in case of the example of the tools, end our statement on a clear and present request as we like to do in NVC. Find out about “clear and present request” and read NVC, a language of life by Marshall Rosenberg.Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
Over a cup of tea!
A couple is having a cup of tea and have agreed to go out for a nice walk together afterwards. The man is reading a book. The woman says: “Well, are you done with that tea!” The man looks up and seems to be irritated by the question. He says: “Why are you always rushing me?!” So, what could have been a nice walk together is now tainted by tension between the partners over a cup of tea! She could have responded in kind saying: “You and your stupid book!” or in defence “I am not rushing you, i am just trying to clean up before we go!” Neither of which gets her the connection she wanted. It will be called an incident and both will possibly feel anger, guilt and shame over this interaction. Looking for a compassionate connection what could she have done seeing her husbands reaction? Well, if she checks in with how she felt she might have said something like:”Oh that didn’t come out the way i wanted it to. Let me rephrase honey: “I’d like to clean up before we leave. Are you finished with your tea or would you like me to wash it just before we go? Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
Driving the car together!
A couple sits in the car and is driving down the highway. She is driving. All of a sudden and without saying anything he indicates with his left index finger while his hand is still on his knee. His finger seems to be making repeated movements pointing to the left. She blows up feeling irritated: “You always do this. Accusing me that I’m a no good driver and don’t see what’s going on in the road. Stop it, you arrogant chauvinist asshole!” Having had this scene before he goes to silence. Both sit fuming in their chairs. Looking for the compassionate connection what could he have said? We’ll trouble started way before this trip in the car. Many interactions went before this one. At times when she is driving and talking to him he gets anxious about other traffic in the road. He’s afraid for their safety and worried that she might not have seen the danger as she is talking. Interrupting her by saying things like “Look out, get to the left, brake!” had an adverse effect. He’s at a loss now how to ask for her attention to their road safety and has minimized his expression to just one finger indication. His communication with her before only left her ashamed and furious and made her think that he was attacking her driving style. He might even have made the mistake of actually doing so by saying something like: “You always talk and get distracted while you’re driving” or even worse “You see, women shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car.” Knowing that our every action has a positive intent no matter how clouded over it may seem what was the man trying to do? Well, quite simply getting them both safe from A to B. Did she have the same intent? Yes, of course! So this is where they could have connected. He was actually trying to help her, he just didn’t know how to make the connection. What could he have said? Well, what about: “Honey, I’m feeling anxious about that blue car behind us and afraid something might happen. Have you spotted him too? Now ask yourself, how would that feel? Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
You talk too much!
How would you feel when someone says that to you? Do you feel embarrassment or maybe indignation? When someone is hearing more than they feel comfortable with, how would you like to be told of that? Looking for a compassionate connection what someone could say is:”Excuse me. I notice that I am not quite able to take on board what you are trying to say and give you the attention i would like you to have right now. Would you mind if we continue this some other time? It sounds lengthier than “would you please shut up”, but think of the difference it will make in the relationship for both yourself and the other. Have you used the shorter version (only takes 3 seconds to say) and found yourself still fuming half an hour later non the less? Can you imagine how different that would be when you use compassionate communication? I timed it for you. The compassionate version only took 10 seconds!Compassionate Non Violent Communication applied
Don’t get fixated on your health so much!
A has seen the doctor and talks to B about some long standing health issues. A:”Went to see the doctor today. He has no clue what is wrong with me. I don’t know what to do.” B:” You know, it’s all probably stress related, the more you worry the worse it gets. Its a fine day! Start looking at the bright site more!” An all time favorite. No matter what seems to make someone anxious the best help that a person might get is “not to be so anxious about it.” You see it makes others uncomfortable when someone else is! They feel anxious because someone else is anxious. Not for the same reason though! They are anxious because they think they have to solve your problem. If the anxious person would only hide or shut up about it everyone else would be al-right. It is the confusion between showing sympathy and empathy. People can get confused and think that they are supposed to suffer with you instead understand that all that is required is listening empathetically. So how do two people in this kind of conversation feel? Well say person A is anxious, talks about it to person B and gets the reply not to worry about it and be so anxious. Is A now less anxious. No of-course not. A might feel ashamed for mentioning the problem and might feel hopeless and irritated. Unless B is a doctor A was not looking for medical advice but just someone who would listen and understand. B could have given that if B had known what empathy really is. So how might B have felt given the response that A heard. Well, B might have felt frustrated and anxious too. If in B’s mind A is presenting an insolvable problem B gets stuck with it. Since B probably doesn’t like getting stuck, B would rather not hear about it. So B’s strategy will be to give some kind of answer that will make A stop talking about it. The tragedy is that this came in the form of a reply that didn’t do much for A. A might stop talking about it today but when the stress of the anxiety through unexpressed emotions rises, A will bring it up again. Reflecting on the last time however A might choose a strategy that guarantees B will listen and A will not accept anything else. This might sound like: “I know you don’t want to hear this but i am really worried about my health and giving me a put down is not helping. I need you to listen to me and shut up!” Unfortunately this might make B defensive and say something like: “I don’t mind listening but you nag and go on about this without end. When will it ever stop? It’s like i can do anything about your situation!” Does anybody get heard here? I don’t think so. If hostilities don’t continue the best that was achieved was a stalemate. Nobody is feeling happy about it and most likely A and B will have a heard time talking about anything else when this stands between them. Looking for a compassionate connection how could be B have responded to A. Now B might have said something like: “are you anxious and worried about this and would you like clarity about your situation? Not only would this get A in touch with feelings and needs that are alive, it would also let A know B is trying to understand or understands already. To be understood is already a big relief. A’s anxiousness would probably decrease. What could A have done seeing B’s reaction? Well, A might have said something like: “Is it difficult for you to hear me talking about my health because you would like me to feel better and have no solution? Not only would this get B in touch with feelings and needs that are alive, it would also let B know A is trying to understand or understands already that B might be stuck hearing A. B’s frustration would probably decrease and now the connection is made might be able to hear A’s plight better. A long story? Certainly it is, just to explain the complexities of how we fail to communicate. You will see that the solution in comparison then didn’t take so many words!