compassionate communication

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there. -Rumi

The quote is on the home page of the Center for Nonviolent Communication founded by Marshall Rosenberg PhD,

I have studied Rosenberg’s work and believe the world would be a changed place if communication skills were taught in elementary school. What a leap of faith (or no thought whatsoever) to think all children are taught or modeled healthy ways to communicate and appropriate social skills from their parents or caregivers. Our schools  would do well to have experiential learning classes to practice having a voice, being heard in a nonviolent way, actively listening and thinking before you speak.

Next time you are in dialogue be mindful and notice. Are you really listening? Is your mind on ‘more important’ things? Are you crafting your response of what you want to share or argue before the other is finished or made their point? Do you want to impress or be right? In my experience, more people than not have never truly been listened to. I have seen this in my teaching of undergraduates as well as in my counseling practice.

I asked students to pair up and each spend five minutes talking with the other sharing any personal information they wished so they could get to know each other. I asked them not to interrupt, to be completely present and listen. They then introduced their partner to the rest of the class with what they learned. Simple, right? The exercise was powerful for many of them. They felt heard, welcomed and respected. They recalled a great deal of what their partner told to them. And it was something they hadn’t experienced before and it felt good!

In my therapy practice, I often have clients who feel dismissed, not valued and not heard. Often they are women who feel they do not have a voice (more on this in another post). I am continually surprised that people do not know how to communicate in a healthy way. I am not talking about occasionally getting mad and yelling or being triggered by some past wounding. Just general communicating to connect, be understood and get needs met.

We are social beings. We want to communicate and connect. We want a tribe where we feel at home. The idea behind nonviolent communication is to bring compassion into the dialogue. You want the other person to be heard as well as yourself. You want their needs met as well as your own. There is no place for blame, attack and defense. According to Rosenberg, we get to be “authentic in our communication, increasing understanding and deepening our connection”. Communication becomes giving and receiving.

I recently saw a quick formula for having a voice. Being assertive and not aggressive (and there is a wide breadth of difference). Try:  When you…………I feel………..because………..        What this actually opens you up to is vulnerability. It is risky. It takes practice. Something amazing happens when you risk vulnerability- the other person softens, feels empathy or compassion and you are a role model because often they take the risk too. There is no passive-aggressive manipulation. Be honest, be direct and be kind. Isn’t it what we all want?

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