Communicating Compassionately

photo of people reaching each other s hands

All too often, relationships of all kinds can be coloured by disconnection, alienation, and hurt. Loved ones, children, parents, friends, and colleagues can and do fall into negative patterns of communication that cause conflict.

A few years ago, I was thankful to discover Non-Violent Communication (NVC) which helped scaffold my understanding of how to think about the way I am communicating with others, particularly in situations where emotions are running high and it feels that there is a lot at stake. NVC helps us to remember our common humanity and strengthens our ability to remain compassionate, even under trying conditions. There are four parts to the NVC process:

  • Observing
  • Expressing and receiving feelings
  • Expressing and receiving needs
  • Requesting

NVC is about giving and receiving from the heart. It is also about being able to observe our own and others behaviour without evaluating or making judgements. Of course, sometimes we can fall into traps which block our communication and founder of NVC Marshall Rosenberg identified three main types of communication that block compassion: Moralistic Judgements, Making Comparisons, and Denial of Responsibility.

  1. Moralistic judgements imply wrongness or badness instead of recognising there is misalignment in our values and the values of others. Examples of some words that may convey a moralistic judgement are: ” The problem with you is that you are just so selfish”, “He is such a trouble maker”. This type of communication promotes conflict and differentiation rather than harmony and commonality. It is sometime also called blame, insult, put-down, labelling, or criticism.
  2. Comparisons are another form of judgement that alienate us from one another. Comparing ourselves with others is a sure way to make ourselves miserable. Dwelling on differences in physical appearance, intelligence, achievement and so on leads to unnecessary suffering.
  3. Denial of responsibility clouds our awareness that each person is responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. The way we use speech is important and can displace responsibility. For example: “you have to do it” or “you must stop that” conveys that the individual receiving that message is not in control or responsible for their own behaviour. Similarly, responsibility for feelings can often be misplaced when phrases such as “You make me feel terrible about myself” are used. It is untrue to say that anyone has a direct channel to another persons feelings or can make another person feel a certain way.

The spirit of non-judgement intended by NVC is perhaps best communicated by Ruth Bebermeyer’s lyrics from the song ‘Lazy Man’:

I’ve never seen a lazy man;
I’ve seen a man who never ran
while I watched him, and I’ve seen
a man who sometimes slept between
lunch and dinner, and who’d stay
at home upon a rainy day,
but he was not a lazy man.
Before you call me crazy,
think, was he a lazy man or
did he just do things we label “lazy”?

I’ve never seen a stupid kid;
I’ve seen a kid who sometimes did
things I didn’t understand
or things in ways I hadn’t planned;
I’ve seen a kid who hadn’t seen
the same places where I had been,
but he was not a stupid kid.
Before you call him stupid,
think, was he a stupid kid or did he
just know different things than you did?

I’ve looked as hard as I can look
but never ever seen a cook;
I saw a person who combined
ingredients on which we dined,
A person who turned on the heat
and watched the stove that cook the meat –

I saw those things but not a cook.
Tell me when you’re looking,
is it a cook you see or is it someone
doing things that we call cooking?

What some of us call lazy
some call tired or easy-going,
what some of us call stupid
some just call a different knowing,
so I’ve come to the conclusion,
it will save us all confusion
if we don’t mix up what we can see
with what is our opinion.
Because you may, I want to say also;
I know that’s only my opinion.

If you would like to learn more about how to apply Non-Violent Communication in your own life, you can make an appointment at one of the two locations listed on the welcome page of my website

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