A heart-centred way of communicating in which the aim is to enhance life for everyone. Connection, belonging. As the aim is to get everyone’s needs met, it also teaches us how to have and maintain healthy boundaries, and to become unattached to the ‘how’. As Brené Brown says, ‘It’s how we remain wild hearted’. It is also known as Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
Why should I take the time to learn Compassionate Communication?
1) It helps me have power with, not power over.
In a society that’s looking for inclusion and diversity, and to hear the voices of the marginalized, this is really important.
In a work setting this helps in giving feedback and assessing performance and in creating a culture that encourages and supports creativity and innovation, as well as diversity and inclusion.
2) It helps me respond, rather than react, in emotionally triggering situations.
This means I get to be the manager/partner/parent/child I want to be – I’m bringing my best self to the situation, and the relationship strengthens as a result.
In a work place, this allows interaction on a human-to-human level, removes the enemy images, scarcity and judgement, that results in the person in authority needing to win.
3) It helps me hear and connect with the needs and feelings of the other person, so I can show empathy (not necessarily agreement) and stay out of judgement and shame.
We all have the same feelings and needs, so it’s possible to connect on this level, even when I don’t agree with the action taken or the behaviour displayed.
In the workplace this means I can have the conversations around performance, review and outcome without blame and shame, which results in better relationships, and a higher chance of maintaining engaged staff. It also helps to create a culture in which creativity and innovation are supported.
4) It helps me to start and maintain, the hard conversations, and the tricky subjects.
As Brené Brown says, ‘Clear is kind, unclear is unkind’.
In the work place these might be difficult conversations around performance, reviews, outcomes or feedback for example. As with all difficult conversations, the clearer and more precise they can be, the easier they are to have.
Compassionate Communication teaches us how to make these conversations personal – and that’s where the connection is to be had.
Conversations of all types have an impact on those involved – better to be truthful about that, and turn up fully for them, than to try to maintain a ‘professional manner/distance’ that inevitably leads to a lecture, not a conversation.
Disagreements and differences in opinion and outlook are perfectly acceptable in a conversation. ‘No’ is a perfectly acceptable response to a request.
5) It teaches self-responsibility and therefore self-empowerment
When I realise I am responsible for my feelings and for getting my needs met, then that awareness gives me the power to choose how to do this.
It also means I get to chose how I feel – I CAN choose and influence that, it isn’t at the whim of outside forces or someone else. In the ever changing, unpredictable world in which we are living, this is a very important power to have and to know how to wield.
In the workplace it means managers don’t pretend they don’t know what’s going on with their teams/direct reports. They listen to the niggle and start the conversation to find out what’s behind it. Being honest with ourselves, and choosing to honour and fulfil our needs, results in a far calmer and more open management style – the manager becomes a person again.
It also means managers empower their direct reports to do the same, and they stop any rescuing and codependent behaviours and tendencies. A manager can encourage, promote and allow the growth and development of their team/direct reports without fear for their own position. In this scenario, everyone wins.
Things Compassionate Communication is still personally helping me to learn:
- It feels better to have connection with another person than to be right and ‘win’ (power with is better than power over)
- To recognise and empathise with my ‘blame’ armour so I can take it off (and so stay wild-hearted, courageous and vulnerable, as Brené Brown terms it).
Ways I’ve personally and successfully used Compassionate Communication:
1. In the daily gratitude cards I gave to my husband and two children everyday throughout 2020.
These gratitudes started off almost as a way to manipulate and get more of the behaviours I wanted. Having learnt about Compassionate Communitcation, I decided to practice using it through these cards.
The gratitudes expressed on them became more heartfelt and were solely about sharing how their actions had enhanced my life. There ceased to be any ulterior motive.
Giving appreciation can be so hard, because often the other person finds it difficult to hear/take. This can often be because their experience is that there is an ulterior motive to the praise/appreciation – and as we usually give it, there often is!
Using Compassionate Communication in this way also allowed me to introduce it as a way of communicating to my family. With no other direct teaching, my kids have copied the style and can, and do, now give their appreciations in this way.
2. Towards the summer in lockdown 1.0, when things were getting quite tense, I used Compassionate communitcation to mediate the ever-increasing arguments, upsets and disagreements between my girls.
This took far longer than telling one of them to apologise to the other (my previous stock answer). It meant hearing the feelings and needs of both to the situation they each perceived had taken place, and in getting each to hear the feelings and needs of the other, all the while keeping blame, shame and judgement out of the conversation arena.
The results were phenomenal. This way of listening allowed each to really talk about their feelings and needs and what was really going on for them. I received insights into the inner worlds of my girls I would never had had otherwise, and that awareness gave me the power to choose differently too.
It also resulted in fewer arguments going forward, as each had a greater understanding of the other, and a greater willingness to look to understand the other’s feelings and needs when disagreements did inevitably arise.
3. I’ve also used Compassionate Communication to explore disagreements with my husband.
Prior to finding Compassionate Communication, I had always found it easier to remain calm and neutral whilst mediating between others, rather than in a situation in which I had a ‘side’. However, Compassionate Communication allowed me to remain curious and to get out of the blame game (which inevitably results in a win-lose situation).
Using Compassionate Communication has meant that I gained a far greater understanding of the inner world of my husband, and he of mine. This results in greater connection, trust, belonging and love.
It also meant that we could reassure our youngest that disagreeing with people is ok. Having a different perspective, ‘arguing’, is ok. At first, she tried to tell us to ‘stop arguing’ and ‘just agree’ (which speaks volumes to the way she had seen us previously deal with disagreements) but she’s now been exposed to a different way of being. One in which difficult feelings are heard and acknowledged, differing needs heard and acknowledged, and conversations that allow everyone to feel truly heard, seen and understood, are the norm. Agreement on everything isn’t necessary for connection.
4. I’ve transformed my inner dialogue by applying Compassionate Communication to it.
When the harsh inner critic starts up, I show it empathy, acknowledge it’s presence, and then search for the feelings I’m experiencing and the needs that are underneath them. This gives me a practical way of ascertaining what I can do to move forward. I either take an action to meet those needs, or I request something of someone else to get those needs met. It pulls me out of catastrophizing, helps me look at a situation objectively and helps me separate the truth from my stories.
I’ve also used it to empathise with another person whose behaviours/actions/speech isn’t to my liking. This may be before I have a conversation with them, or even for people I will never have a conversation with (politicians as a perfect example here). It helps stop the loop thinking/overthinking that I can be prey to by giving me a practical way to break the thoughts. And this helps me live in the present.
I hope this short summary goes someway to explaining how practically applicable Compassionate Communication is, and how it can really help heal relationships and revolutionise cultures. If you have any specific questions you’d like answers to with regards Compassionate Communication, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org. 😊