Your co-worker is listening to political commentary by someone whose opinions do not mesh with yours. Your Uncle has begun talking about “those people”… again. Your daughter has mentioned she wants to spend the holidays with her partner’s family. In moments of “impact,” when we are surprised, triggered, confused, or upset, old stories or judgments about ourselves, or the beliefs or actions of others can surface and get in the way of our expressing ourselves effectively or hearing others.
What can help us recall the powerful skills of Compassionate, Nonviolent Communication in such moments? Some NVC practioners have used the following strategies:
– put a notecard in your wallet with reminders to yourself, for example to stay in curiosity and out of judgment.
– create a shortlist to remind you of needs that often come up for you.
– have an empathy buddy on speed dial; someone you can call for “emergency empathy” when you are triggered. This is especially helpful to set up in advance when you know you’ll be in a challenging situation. You may want to have more than one e-buddy on call.
– have a stock question you always ask, which can help you stay present while you gather yourself. Try “Can you tell me more about why you think _______?” or “I’m confused/curious by ______, can you tell me why its important to you?”
– prepare in advance by doing role plays and/or guesses at what feelings and needs may come up for you and for others
Freelance writer and new NVC student Mike Radice talks about the powerful languaging skills that Compassionate Communication gave him, “What helped me the most was to understand the power of language, and how words we use all the time — words we think are harmless — are actually subtle forms of agitation and create angst in all of us. Some of those words include cheated, overlooked, and alarmed. And then there are words that calm and open up relationships, such as harmony, support, and hope. On the surface, these words seem neutral, but they have real impact on the human spirit.”
These words – naming feelings and needs – can help create authentic space in upcoming debates you might be in, making them both more easeful and more connecting. When we take time to find out where someone else is coming from, we allow them to be heard and give ourselves an opportunity to be heard as well. Neem Karoli Baba, beloved guru of Baba Ram Das and Krishna Das said two things over and over: “Tell the truth” and “love everyone,” and NVC give us practical skills to do both – for others and ourselves.
Try this month’s exercise for a practice in self-empathy and sign up for Bridging Political Divides Oct. 13-14 weekend workshop in NYC, or Empathy for the Holidays one-day intensive class Nov. 10 in Brooklyn.