Much of this information is taken from Marshall Rosenburg's wonderful book, 'Non-Violent Communication.'
Communication is probably the most potent force for good or for harm on the planet. If you use it destructively, you can do great damage. To be a clean and effective communicator takes practice, so I invite you to take in what you can in this article, and then be gentle with yourself as you grow and learn more. I hope that, after reading this article, you'll be inspired to continue to gather more information about how to relate with loving communication.
First of all, what will be presented here may be totally new ways of relating and communicating for you, so it will take a lot more time to integrate it fully and be able to use it as well as you might wish to. However, it's a start. Even if you simply use it to communicate differently one time a day, that's a seed for new possibilities in your life. Be kind and gentle with yourself - give yourself room to grow, and know that if you are reading this, it is because you want to grow and learn loving communication.
ALTHOUGH COMPASSIONATE COMMUNICATION IS VITAL TO OUR EMOTIONAL WELL BEING AND TO OUR VERY EXISTENCE, the art of communication is one of the most difficult arts to master in life, because it is the Art of "Being Aware of Yourself and your own feelings." We communicate with each other via our words, our emotions, our facial gestures, body language, and our actions. Most of our communication is non-verbal. We take our cue about the meaning of another's communication only 7% from their words, and 93% from their tone of voice. As you all know, when speaking to an animal, what you say doesn't matter. What registers and is responded to is the tone.
Example, the meaning of: "What are you doing?" is totally different when using a gentle tone of voice than when using a harsh tone, using the same words: "What ARE you DOING??!!"
The subject of compassionate communication has a great deal to do with self love, because often our inability to communicate effectively stems from low self esteem, which = a lack of self love. With almost all other arts, it is obvious that to master the skill, you must master the tools. To be come a master communicator, one must learn to master oneself. Unless you master the tools of becoming aware, your communication will probably not serve you well. What you will express to others will be whatever unresolved feelings or issues you have within you. You will also miss what they are wanting and trying to share with you.
Most of the communication styles we've learned are unhealthy. Each of us filters the world through our past experiences, so we often use communication styles modeled by our parents or primary caregivers.
There are 4 basic styles of communication:
1) Aggressive - Often people think that they are responding assertively when they are actually being aggressive. These personalities come on too strong and their energy bombards or pushes at people. Because of life experiences, they are full of hurt, anger, and resentment. They all too often lash out at others or overly defend issues. The aggressive response tends to evoke aggression in others and make the aggressive communicator even more out of control, which further alienates them from others. To be in control is a dominant need for them. Then they feel safe: if they control or push others away, then no one can hurt them.
2) Passive - Passive communicators tend to appear weak and self conscious. Deep down they feel insecure and may experience self doubt. They let themselves get pushed around and say "I'm sorry" for things they didn't do. They radiate a sense of wanting to speak up, but they don't, so there is a feeling around them of unspoken expectations and unmet needs. Being passive perpetuates the cycle of negative thinking toward oneself and one's self image, and self esteem drops even lower.
3) Passive Aggressive - They will say one thing to your face and another behind your back. This is the most insidious of the styles because it is harder to confront and subtler than the other two styles mentioned. They deny responsibility: "I was just joking." Trust is non-existent and these people feed on negativity and gossip. They act in this way to achieve a pseudo sense of control. They find if they can subtly defame another, they are somehow achieving a victory for themselves and they think then that they will look (or feel) better than another.
4) Assertive - The *gold star* of communicators. Their communications are compassionate in their delivery. It is the ability to relay a clear message without blaming, shaming, criticism, or insinuating. They are compassionate listeners. Compassionate listening requires a deep connection that goes beyond the person's words. An assertive communicator gives undivided attention.
Where do you see yourself?
Martin Buber said:
An ancient Chinese philosopher once said: "The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another." Do you remember a conversation where you were really trying to get something across to another, and you came away feeling awful, or not heard? It happens all the time. That is not compassionate communication.
Sucker holes to communicating well:
When choosing to be in a conversation with someone, first of all one needs to watch out for:
The great poet and mystic, Rumi, said: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there."
Ask yourself before you respond to someone where you're starting to come from. If you are coming from a belief in wrongdoing or rightdoing, from needing to fix or blame someone... then think again. The interaction you will have will be a form of violent communication.
What stops us from being present: (see which of these you do...)
We often hear coercive or guilt-riddled, blaming and shaming statements such as the following:
Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment. The cause of our feelings is located in our own thinking. For instance, if a person says to another: "You doubt me all the time," what is that person really thinking and feeling? What they are really feeling is the following: "I am feeling insecure. I don't know if I trust my own competence and I am needing to know that I do things well."
What messages are conveyed to the other person in the statement "You doubt me all the time!"? Projection, guilt, shame.... you're wrong for doing this, it's your fault I feel this way, etc. In order to be able to relate to another and not blame them for what goes on for us, we have to shine the light of consciousness on our own feelings and discover what we are really feeling and needing.
Most people have trouble doing this. We live in a culture of blame and shame, and of denial of feelings. Why would someone choose to deny responsibility? To be complaining, a victim, and/or a martyr... they are already judging themselves harshly and so they don't want to admit that they are the ones creating this for themselves, feeling this way, because they won't deal with themselves lovingly. We've had role models of being rejected, so we do the same thing to ourselves, and we pass it on to our children, or partners, etc. People are terrified of rejection, and no one wants to be seen as bad or doing something wrong.
We often hear people say: "Don't cry. Don't be sad. Don't be angry. We are told in so many words that we're bad or it's wrong to feel. If we can't feel our own feelings, and be gentle with ourselves for having them, for having an unmet need, how then can we deal with anyone else's feelings in a loving way? What then do we do with those feelings? We have to throw them off on someone else for "creating those feelings in us" - for "making" us feel that way. This is called projection. This is a Denial of responsibility. An example:
When we learn to deal with ourselves lovingly, we can then treat others in the same way. When we take responsibility for what is going on for us, we can then respond clearly and without hidden agendas.
The cause of our anger or distress lies in our own thinking - in thoughts of blame and judgment: When we relate from this place, what we offer others is life alienating communication - communication that disconnects us from others and even can cause damage. We are contributing to violence when we communicate in this way.
The 3 stages in developing emotional responsibility:
A Form of Life Alienating Communication is:
The use of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don't act in harmony with our judgments. Take a look at your language. Do you use phrases such as:
What do you think is going on when someone responds to another in this way? Once again, it is a belief that people deserve to be punished = that people are bad or evil. It primarily comes from a belief that you yourself think you are bad or inadequate and deserve to be punished.
Comparisons are a form of judgment and result in making your life, or others, miserable. Blaming, labels, criticism, put downs, insults, comparisons and diagnoses are all forms of judgment If you want a compassionate response back, if you want someone to be on your side and able to hear what you would like to share, or would like them to meet a need that you have, it is self defeating to blame them, shame them, criticize them, or interpret or diagnose their behavior. Someone who feels the need to defend themself against you will not be someone you can easily talk to or make requests of.
J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.
What's the difference between an evaluation and an observation?
An observation is simply noting a fact without drama, judgment, putting a spin on it, or having your own hidden agenda in there. Here is X, and you are simply noting one's relationship to X, or the facts of the matter. OBSERVATIONS ARE TO BE MADE WITH SPECIFICS OF TIME AND CONTEXT. It is noting factually what just happened in this moment - it is not making comments to the effect of what someone "always" does, or "never" does, or how someone "always" is, or "never" is.
An evaluation is your own judgment of what's going on. Opinions are like assholes - everybody's got one. And an evaluation or judgment you make is likely to change at any moment. When we combine observation with evaluation, people are apt to hear criticism.
Have you ever evaluated someone negatively and then had it turned around on you when that person did something loving the next moment? It's a waste of life energy, actually, to evaluate because it will change in a moment. Making an evaluation is an impersonal way of communicating that is a way to hide the authentic feelings YOU are having. It is also language with violence in it vs. the language of compassion. Example: "She just never arrives on time. She is so thoughtless!" vs "Today Sally arrived a few minutes late."
Another example would be making this statement, an evaluation: "Violence is bad," vs. expressing it in this way, stating one's own feelings about a matter: "I am fearful of the effects of violence to resolve conflicts. I value the resolution of conflicts through other means."
Evaluations usually contain words such as: never, whenever, ever, seldom, always, and frequently. These words, when used as an evaluation or exaggeration, provokes defensiveness rather than compassion.
Feelings vs. non feelings: allowing ourselves to be vulnerable when expressing
Owning our feelings helps to resolve conflicts.
Distinguish feelings from thoughts: "I feel that you should know better," "I feel like a failure," "I feel unimportant," "I feel that you doubt me all the time," "I feel misunderstood," "I feel that's unfair!" "I feel as if I'm living with a wall." None of the above are truly expressions of how a person is feeling. The following is, however, an example of a feeling: "I feel scared when ______ because I think that _______ ."
Words such as "that, as if, like..." are not revealing feelings.
Acknowledge feelings and express why they were there: "I felt ______ because..."
If you communicate instead, by saying, "This is what I think...," or "I am wondering whether ______ ," or "I am aware that I am feeling ______ right now," or "I am aware that I need ______ ," or, "What I would really like to hear from you right now is this..." - then you are not blaming someone else for what you are feeling. That way they are safe with you.
You can also help another to be safe with you when you are in an upset by saying: "I am aware that I am feeling ______ right now, but it has nothing to do with you. It's my stuff."
It is easy, often, to feel badly about yourself, or feel badly about something and take it out on another. We tend to think that if the other person were different, we'd feel OK. This is never true. We ourselves choose how to respond to any given thing in life. We are not victims.
How would one express feelings in these sentences?
Coming From the "I" Place: Taking Ownership for What's Going on for You & Releasing Shame and Blame
If you say to someone: "You did this...," or "You made me feel (angry, sad, crazy, etc.)," or "You are so.....," or "If you weren't so....," or "why did you do that?" - you are blaming and shaming. Those are "you" comments, and "you" comments are usually always critical and violating. "You" comments damage a person's spirit and sense of themselves. And, "you" comments damage their ability to trust you. They also make you the "victim."
When you speak from the "I" place, you gain a deeper sense of inner strength. You stand in your Power, because you are taking responsibility for what is going on for you. You accept that no one "did it to you", and that you are responsible for how you choose to feel. When you speak from the "I" place, because you are aware of what is going on for you, your communication is apt to be less charged with blaming others or with your own unconscious emotions. Then you are less caught up in the emotion you are feeling or in the situation itself. You will be able to simply express what's going on. You will find yourself speaking more factually, calmly, and reasonably, and people will be able to hear what you have to say instead of wanting to get away from your unpleasant innuendos (blame or shame) or distressing emotions. When you speak from the "I" place, you release the need to control, direct, convince, or manipulate others. You are simply, factually expressing and sharing how it is for you, how you feel and think. And it's OK that everyone's Truth will be different. When we speak our truth calmly, from the "I" place, we avoid the pitfall of making someone else wrong, or trying to convince anyone of anything.
Giving a negative message
People give one another negative messages constantly. There are 5 options to deal with receiving a negative message - only #4 and #5 deal with it effectively and create compassionate communication:
Requests vs. Demands
Requests are received as demands when others believe that they will be punished or blamed if they do not comply. To tell if it's a demand or a request, observe what the speaker does if the request is not complied with. If it's a demand, the speaker then criticizes or judges.
There is a wonderful expression that speaks eloquently about how people feel when a demand is put out to them. It goes like this: "All I know is I feel won't, when I'm told to do a don't"
There are 2 options to receiving a demand - neither works to allow you to have a good relationship with another:
A demand is not a compassionate communication.
If we interpret noncompliance with rejection, then our requests will be heard as demands.
Phrasing such as: "Would you be willing to ______?" rather than "Do this," or "I want you to do this," shows we are requesting, not demanding, if we allow the answer to be a no without then blaming the other for their response.
When we have self righteous thoughts such as:
"I'll usually respond to when you call - but if you come across like a high and mighty boss you'll feel like you ran into a wall. "
Ask 100% for what you want - that doesn't mean you'll get it, and that has to be OK.
Let a person know that this is a request: "I have a request to ask of you." Define your objective clearly when making a request.
Express requests in positive action language - "What you do want?" Express what you want clearly and specifically.
Whenever we say something to another person, we are requesting something in return. It may be:
After we've expressed ourselves vulnerably, we often want to know:
Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. It is listening with the whole being. Being with someone - not looking at them to see if they fit into our theories or shoulds. We are fully present and we give to others the time and space they need to express themselves fully and to be understood. Empathy can only occur when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgments about the other person. There is a Buddhist statement that aptly describes this ability: "Don't just do something. Stand there."
The more we empathize with the other party, the safer we feel, and the more they will then be able to empathize with us when we choose to share.
If you feel angry, humiliated, taken advantage of etc. when listening or conversing with another, you may need to withdraw physically, scream silently, or take time out to give yourself empathy before returning to the conversation. Giving oneself empathy = discover the needs that have been powerfully triggered: finding out what you, yourself, are needing and wanting, and giving compassion and understanding to yourself.
A compassionate response to this statement: "I feel as ugly as a pig!" for instance, might be: "Are you feeling disappointed with your appearance today?"
No matter what others say, we are only hearing what they are:
We know the speaker has received adequate empathy when:
All criticism, attack, insults, and judgments vanish when we focus attention on hearing the feelings and needs behind a message. An individual with an unmet need is what it's all about. They are appealing to us to contribute to their well being, and through listening with compassion, we do that for them. Any conversation is a opportunity to give love to people, if you hear what people are needing: "Are you feeling ______ because you are needing ______?" This = not taking it personally and seeing the other's need without judgment.
Reflect back to them that you fully understood and heard them by paraphrasing what they said or what we understood them to say. Ask it in the form of a question:
Mirroring is another word for paraphrasing. It is a way of fully being present with another person. When you mirror someone, what you are actually doing is turning yourself into a mirror. You do this to let them know that you have really heard, or "gotten", what they have communicated. In mirroring, you reflect back to the other person what they have shared. This is accomplished by repeating what they have said in the form of a question, to see if you got it right, to see if you really understood what they are wanting to get across to you. It is important to do this in a sincere way - letting them know by your tone that you are truly connected and interested, that you understand what they are saying - that you "get it". When that occurs, you both have shared a true moment of intimacy and connection. Nothing feels better.
People can feel a fake mirroring, however - one that really doesn't care about what they are saying. Watch out for not truly being present with another. That will feel very yucky and cause harm.
Some forms of mirroring may start out like this:
When you mirror, you are making no judgment calls on what is being shared. You are just there to get their experience, to get whatever it is they are trying to share. Therefore, there is no "you are right or wrong" or advice put out to someone in mirroring. It is a powerful way to let them know that you have understood their experience, you understood how something felt to them, you understand what they just went through, or what they thought about something. You don't bring your feelings, or stories, or memories, or side comments about yourself into it. What you look for is - are they feeling angry, sad, fearful, or happy about their experience? Do they like or dislike something? What are they trying to accomplish by sharing the information with you?
If you have done a good job of mirroring, you will get a response like: "Yes! That's it!! Exactly!" or "Absolutely!" or "You got it!" If you get a "no, that's not it", or a hesitation of some sort, they will usually explain it again. So you try again. If you cannot be a good mirror at some point, kindly let the person know that you would like to hear what they are saying, but you are unable to at that moment. People need to get emptied out of what they are feeling. If they don't, they can get so full that they explode, or they may feel lost in some way and unable to move forward in their life. If you give them the space to get it out and be "mirrored," they will naturally heal, be able figure it out for themselves, and move on.
You will find that if you mirror, even if someone is totally upset and off center, they will be able to regain clarity very soon. Sometimes the change is miraculous. The more they open and share, the more intense it gets, the more you mirror. Remember - we all just want to be truly understood when we share. We all want this. It is a basic human need for good psychological health.
What about people who don't answer back - what's going on for them? Often they have withdrawn from the conversation out of a fear of doing it wrong. What would you say to them? You can Mirror them or future pace them. (See future pacing information at the end of this article).
See how well you can paraphrase these using empathy:
Hooking Others (Includes discounting, or putting others down)
7% of what a person takes from what you said comes from your words. 93% comes from your tone of voice. If you put out an unfair or nasty feeling, tone, or comment to another, you are hooking them. You are "zinging" them, or getting in a verbal punch to the gut. If you do this, the other person will feel bad, blamed, or shamed in some way (unless they have learned to mirror and not take it personally! ) They may not even know why they feel bad, because hooking is an underhanded, covert, and often unconscious thing. But the conversation, and any connection with them, will be over at that point.
Often, when people hook, they are not in touch with what they are really feeling. They will let their unexpressed anger or upset out in a way that hurts another, is sarcastic, or unfair. When people do this, they are not owning or aware of their own stuff. They may say something like: "I was only teasing you. Why are you so upset about it?" But what they have actually done was hit below the belt. Hooking usually comes when you least expect it. That way the person has made sure that you won't confront them, that you will be taken aback and knocked off center.
Hooking usually occurs when someone is trying to regain a sense of power, but does it unfairly. Or, it can occur if they themselves have felt hurt but do not know how to express it cleanly. Hooking another can be expressed through a contemptuous sound or gesture; it can be expressed by simply shaking your head, or rolling your eyes, or turning away with a look on your face. It can be expressed by a sarcastic comment, such as "Yeah, right".
Be aware if you hook another. You can do this by being aware of what is really going on for you. Hooking is a nasty, underhanded, unsafe, and unclean way to communicate.
Instead of giving another a negative message, you can:
See Someone's B and P - Their Brilliance and Purpose
What you want to reflect back to a person is their highest intention: what their soul is trying to learn, to create, share, or experience. All thoughts, actions, and feeling come from wanting to do good in some way - to share love in one form or another. Even if what someone is doing appears distorted, or seems frustrating to you - the need to experience or share love or do something good is behind it, if you look closely enough. That is what you look for: you mirror or reflect back to them their brilliance and purpose. Ask yourself, when mirroring, what is their B and P here? What are they trying to accomplish? When you do this, a person will walk away from your communication feeling wonderful, validated, and totally uplifted.
Your own stuff - getting hooked
If you find yourself hooked, it means that somewhere during the conversation, you got pulled in or triggered by the other person's energy, by their upset feelings, or by something that was said. This means that you probably have something going on inside of you, an issue or an upset, which matches, or is similar to the upset of the person you are mirroring. Your own wound or upset rises to the surface and gets rubbed, so to speak. If that happens, and you retaliate or withdraw in some way, that is an invasion of your stuff into the other person's process and space. If you get hooked, you cannot be present, real, kind, or connected. If this happens, do your best to catch it and own it. If you are too charged to be a good communicator excuse yourself from the conversation by being honest about what's going on for you. You can later check inside yourself to find out what it is - if you do, you will learn something about yourself.
Resolving Internal Conflicts: Dealing with inner messages which are filled with judgments
Example: I should do something more with my life! I'm wasting my education.
Restate the message in the following form: When a, I feel b, because I am needing c. Therefore I would like d.
Example: When I spend as much time at home with the children as I do, I feel depressed and discouraged because I am needing the fulfillment I once had in my profession. Therefore, I would now like to find part-time work in my profession.
Resolving Anger: Focusing attention on what we are needing
Anger is the result of life-alienating, violence-provocative thinking. At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled. Use it as a wake-up call to realize that we have a need that is not being fulfilled... and that we are thinking or behaving in a way that is not likely to get that need met. If you direct your anger toward punishing people rather than getting your needs met, you add to violence and lose energy that could be used to meet your needs.
Instead of righteous indignation, connect emphatically with your own needs and the needs of others.
When our heads are filled with judgments about someone, they will most likely not be very interested in our needs. Then we have severely impaired our chances of getting the result we were looking for. The more we hear them, the more they'll hear us. If you blame me, you've lost me. When we hear the other person's feelings and pain, we recognize our common humanity.We also want them to hear our feelings and pain. Practice translating each judgment into an unmet need.
When you relate to someone, ask yourself: "Is the strategy I'm using going to get me the results I'm looking for?"
4 steps to expressing Anger: Give yourself empathy first before responding
If you do find yourself taking it personally, feeling upset or responsible in some way for someone's feelings, or caught up emotionally in what they have shared, you have gotten "hooked", and you will feel guilty, blamed, and upset. Then it is likely that you will jump back at them with defensive feelings of your own.
If you find yourself beginning to get hooked, or if you feel confused, you can do what is called a reality check. Tell them you need to check out what is being said, because your mind is telling you that it's your fault or that you did something wrong. Or maybe you simply don't understand what is being said. You are needing to check it out to see if they are meaning it the way you are taking it. "I need to do a reality check here. My mind is telling me that..... is that true? Or, "I'm hearing you say this. Is that what you mean?" Then you get clear. The mind can often trick us into hearing things a certain way due to our own issues.
Speaking Your Truth Directly to Another
For clean communication, make every effort not to make comments about another in an offhand way or behind their back. Avoid comments like "Can you believe so and so did this?!" Even if a person does not hear this comment directly, they will feel the energy of it. And it will distort the relationship and your ability to communicate or relate with them cleanly after that. If you have some upset with someone, or want to say anything at all about them, it is best to do it only if they are present. Use the above communication tools and express it to them directly in an honest, responsible, and non-blaming way. It is better to first figure out what is bothering you and why, that way diffusing your need to voice comments about another.
Future pacing is an effective communication tool to let another person know what will be happening, or what they can expect. It prepares them for what's coming up. You can also use it to let another know what you would like to see happen, or what you would like from them.
An example: "We'll be getting in the car in a few minutes, and I'm aware that we may be feeling tense about being on time. Can we agree to let it be OK that we're running a little late?" Or "On the walk tomorrow, you may find that there will be some steep places. If you have any concern about this, would you be willing to let me know?" Or "I would just like you to be aware that I'm feeling.... right now, so I may not be able to ....".
Future pacing allows you to set things up so that they will work out in a harmonious way. It also honors another, as it gives them the opportunity to know what to expect, to be prepared ahead of time for a given situation, and to work in cooperation with you. It lets them know that you care about their well being enough to create a sense of safety for them. It allows them to handle what may happen with dignity and calm, as they are forewarned.