I write a lot about calm, mindfulness, being circumspect. Living what I write is another story, though.
Being a very impatient person, I tend to react quickly—my reflex is to take innocent remarks personally and overthink it to the bone, assume that someone is tricking me or taking advantage of me, and explode/implode with emotions as a result.
And that's a major problem for nurturing healthy relationships.
Reading the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg taught me the four key elements of compassionate communication:
1. Observation. We objectively observe and state what is happening in the situation—what others are specifically doing or saying that we like or don't like, adding information such as time and context—instead of coming up with black-and-white evaluations or judgmental conclusions and blaming.
2. Feeling. We share how we feel about the observation. Note: Other people cannot make us feel things. Their words or actions may serve as stimuli but our perspective or interpretation is what causes our feelings.
Notice the difference between the two statements:
1. "You disappointed me by not coming over last night."
2. "I was disappointed when you didn't come over because I wanted to talk about some things that were bothering me."
In statement 1, the speaker blames another person's actions for their disappointment. But in statement 2, the speaker traces their feeling of disappointment back to their unfulfilled desire and not to the other person.
3. Need. We communicate and own our needs—specifically the ones connected to the feelings we have identified and shared.
4. Request. We kindly and gently open up about the concrete actions the other person (or both parties) can take to better the situation.
Here it is in practice (an example from the book):
"Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV (observation), I feel irritated (feeling) because I am needing more order in the rooms we share in common (need). Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine? (request)"
Last week, I found an opportunity to use this technique (because knowing isn't enough; the truest way to learn is to practice what we've learned).
Instead of going the passive-agressive route by posting a company-wide message that indirectly addresses an issue that I had with a workmate, I tried nonviolent communication instead and thoughtfully wrote a direct message to the person involved. I stated my observation, shared how it makes me feel and why it matters to me, and listed concrete ways for us to resolve the matter.
I'm glad I did that because if I was quick to speak and got angry, it would've been harder to work together and we could've hurt each other with our words. So far, the needs I shared are now being met which would've been impossible if I didn't clarify them. Here's an insightful excerpt from the book:
"If we express our needs, we have a better chance of getting them met.
Unfortunately, most of us have never been thought to think in terms of needs. We are accustomed to thinking about what's wrong with other people when our needs aren't being fulfilled. Thus, if we want coats to be hung up in the closet, we may characterize our children as lazy for leaving them on the couch...
...when people hear anything that sounds like criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack.
If we wish for a compassionate response from others, it is self-defeating to express our needs by interpreting or diagnosing their behavior. Instead, the more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately."
PS: Highly recommend the book because it contains valuable stories of how compassionate communication has bridged and saved relationships at home, at work, and in other communities. Try it, and let me know what you think!