What is Compassionate Communcation?
Compassionate Communication is an integration of a worldview and language that helps people communicate their needs more clearly and hear the needs behind other’s words. The outcome of my use of this model is stronger relationships, less likelihood of taking other’s comments personally, and an enhanced ability to resolve internal and external conflict with win-win solutions.
Ten years ago, when I was learning CC, I “used” it with my father and transformed our very unsatisfying relationship. Since then, I have been practicing and sharing CC with others! (Here’s a link to the song I wrote to commemorate my life-changing interaction.)
I divide the basic elements of CC into these categories:
- Four Literacies –> Four Steps
- Three Skills
Once these are learned there are Infinite Applications of this tool to your life!
What is the worldview upon which CC is based?
The worldview or intention that underlies the CC model is one of cooperation or partnership. This model helps us when we want to apply our personal power in ways that help all people meet their needs (rather than just ourselves). This intention takes us to the place that the Indian Philosopher Jalaluddin Rumi referred to when he wrote: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
What are the Four Literacies of Compassion
These are the building-blocks of compassion that underlie each of the four steps of the model. Developing any of the four will help you communicate more effectively. Putting all four together, as suggested by the CC model (See next heading), will magnify your proficiency at living compassionately. All the literacies have two components: 1) Awareness and 2) Language. Click this link for a description of the The Four Literacies of Compassion.
What are the Four Steps (OFNR) of CC?
These steps are like the grammar of a foreign language in that they provide a helpful guide to our communication. Once the intention of CC and these steps are integrated into our communication process, we have greater choice to be creative about the form our communication takes. Remember that these fours steps, without the intention to create win/win solutions, may be heard as mechanical or lifeless.
Observation (O) — The concrete actions affecting our well-being
- Distinguished from evaluations
- Describe what happens like a video camera
- Begins the process of connection with agreed-upon actions
Feelings (F) — Our internal feedback system. Click this link for a Feelings Inventory.
- Distinguished from thoughts
- Reflect our internal emotional state in relation to the observation
- Does not take the form of “I feel that/you/like/she/he.” This form of speech shifts from the feeling or heart energy to thinking or head energy
Needs (N) — The life energy creating our feelings. Click this link for a Needs Inventory.
- Distinguished from strategies or requests
- Universal (all humans have them) while strategies are personal and specific
- Are the root cause of our feelings
- Connecting at a needs level is a path to resolving conflict
Requests (R) — The way we create the world we want in the moment
- Distinguished from demands
- Have no conditions; demands do
- Are doable, clear, and in the present
- Attempt to meet everyone’s needs
What are the the three skills of CC?
We apply the four steps of the model through the three skills or modes of Compassion Communication:
Self-Empathy — being fully present to what’s happening inside of us. This is the foundation of this process. Being “connected” to yourself and compassionate with yourself allows you to be present to others.
Empathy for others — Empathy is our state of being when we focus our attention on what is happening in the other person (i.e. their feelings and needs). This tool helps me to hear the “energy”/needs underneath the words share with me. It’s especially helpful when the other person is highly agitated.
Honesty/Transparency — Honesty is our state of being when our attention is on our own feeling and needs in the moment. In certain instances we may provide a response that reflects our state of being.
What does Self-Empathy or Empathy for others look like?
Empathy helps us connect with another person by being present to what’s happening in them. While empathy is where our attention is focused not our response, we may want to share an empathetic response at certain times. Two such times are when we sense that the speaker would like to hear an empathetic response and when we are not certain that we understood the feelings and needs underneath their words. An empathetic response takes this form:
F: Do you feel ________________
N: because you need (want or desire)_________? (The “because you” clause keeps responsibility for the emotions with the recipient of the response)
What happened to O and R?
Observation is dropped because it is implicit that the empathizer is responding to the words (or non-verbal message) that the empathizer perceives. The empathizer might add the observation if they felt it helped meet their or the speaker’s need for clarity.
Request is implicit in the empathy question or guess. It’s a doable, present request asking what is going on with the other person.
What does Honesty look like?
It’s been said that Empathy stimulates healing while Honesty stimulates growth. After we connect on an empathetic level with another person and they experience a shift or relaxation, they may be open to hearing our honesty. When we want to share what is “alive” or happening inside of us with another person, NVC asks us to use this basic form:
O: When I observe _____________________
F: I feel ________________
N: because I need (or want or desire)___________. (The “because I” clause makes it clear that the cause of the feeling is the speaker’s responsibility)
R: Would you be willing to ________________?
The Three Request Types (filling in the “R blank”)
- Empathy – Asking the person to connect with your feelings and needs
- Honesty – Asking the person to share their own feelings and needs
- Agreements – specific to the situation, also in the present and doable
Dialogue puts the First Three Skills Together to Connect
In Dialogue we are first fully present to our own inner experience (Self-Empathy). From that self-connection we move to being present to the other person”s inner experience (Empathy) or to expressing from the connection to our inner world (Honesty). The other person may provide Empathy or Honesty in response. The other person’s response may trigger an unmet need and asks us to move back into Self-Empathy. Once we reconnect with our self, we again choose Empathy or Honesty to enable connection. This dance happens until we are “connected” or we honor our needs for self-care by ending the dialogue.
A Note on Tone/Energy
Honesty tends to be “declarative” in sharing what is happening inside me (If I’m sharing uncertainty it may be less declarative.) Usually the energy beneath the words is purposeful (i.e. “In this moment, this is what I am experiencing”). When you offer your opinions, thoughts or advice, you are in Honesty – sharing the “life” that is present in you.
Empathy is a question or a request, no matter the words you use. Empathy is not the words; it’s where you focus your attention. When we want to get confirmation about our guess, the energy is exploratory and curious (i.e. “Are you experiencing this in the moment?”). When you speak from an energy of wonder about what is happening with the other party or offer an empathic reflection because you sense they might enjoy hearing it (e.g. if they have shared their vulnerability), you are in Empathy – connecting with the “life” that is present in another person.
When we make requests in CC, we use language (“Would you be willing…?”) that conveys similar exploratory energy to what is present in Empathy.