When we pay attention to the words we use and how we use them, we can improve and deepen our relationships with others.
Let’s imagine you have a friend, let’s call her Sally, who is quick to give unsolicited advice when all you want is a sympathetic ear to a troubling situation in your life. Every time this happens you feel frustrated and annoyed. You might want to lash out at Sally, or you might realize you don’t want to share anything with Sally again. Then you may start to feel guilty because you know that Sally has a good heart and is only trying to help, even if you don’t welcome her advice.
When a person or situation triggers disagreeable emotions, then feelings of resentment and negativity can arise. These negative emotions are a reflexive response that helps us protect our egos. Yet it also causes us to avoid the hard work of examining our own emotions and culpability. In addition, the trouble with resentment and bad feelings is that it usually makes unpleasant situations even worse.
When we’re able to pause before we react and take the time to identify what’s going on beneath any confrontational feelings or responses, then we can approach the situation with more compassion and understanding.
We can learn how to do this by practicing compassionate communication, an approach to speaking and listening that helps us respond to others more effectively in even the most difficult situations. Practicing compassionate communication promotes deeper connections with loved ones, more harmonious relationships and a greater sense of inner peace.
Compassionate Communication Protocol
Compassionate communication was created by clinical psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Rosenberg’s technique for communicating compassionately relies on four core steps:
- Observe the situation and then state your observation without judgment.
- State the emotional response you are having to that observation.
- Connect to what you need that isn’t being addressed.
- Make a reasonable request from the other person.
Let’s return to the situation with Sally to help us put this protocol into action. You are sharing with Sally what has upset you. Once again she starts to give advice on how you should handle the situation. You notice that you are beginning to feel annoyed and resentful. Rather than allowing these negative feelings to fester you can:
Observe the situation and then state your observation without judgment.
Sally, I’m noticing that when I share with you something that is bothering me you are quick to give me advice on how I should handle the situation.
State the emotional response you are having to that observation.
When you do this, I notice that I start to feel annoyed and frustrated.
Connect to what you are needing that isn’t being addressed.
What I really need from you is not advice, but a sympathetic ear. I need to know that I am being heard, and that you really care about me and what I am going through.
Make a reasonable request from the other person.
In the future when I share something with you, it would mean a lot to me if you would just listen and offer me some understanding and sympathy.
Humans share several core needs, including autonomy, physical nurturance, connection and respect. Most of our communication is an attempt to meet one of those needs. When we can connect to our emotions and ascertain when and what needs are not being met, then we can communicate those needs to others and ask for what we need.
In my experience, people want to feel genuinely connected to others, to be helpful, and to share and receive care and concern. No one wants to push our friends and loved ones away, creating separation and bad feelings. It’s just that many of us have learned some unhelpful ways of how to communicate. Most people are only too happy to offer you what you need; they just need to know what that is. Often they need us to spell it out for them.
Learning to communicate compassionately takes some practice, but the shift in the dynamic between two people when we make the effort to communicate with compassion can create greater understanding and lead to increased connection and genuine care and concern. Everyone benefits!
If you are having trouble with your communication with your friends and loved ones, please contact Joy to find out how she can help you communicate with greater compassion. Joy offers a complimentary 30-minute consultation. Contact Joy to schedule a consultation today. Call 415-819-8769 or email Joy today.