Hearing the Other Side


Cat (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

A friend just sent me an amusing parody of a cat and his diary entries. From the cat’s perspective, of course, actions we take as humans can look very different from how they may seem to a cat.  The black sweater removed from the sofa, for example, where the cat was sleeping, in this parody becomes a form of torture as once again the poor cat is disrupted from his sleep and displaced. (You can listen to the parody here)

As a human who lives with cats, I enjoyed the humor of this piece. As another friend has said, “Dogs have owners—cat’s have staff!”  It also led me to reflect on how we as humans can “miss” each other—in what another person is saying or intending (or not) by their actions. We may be attempting to meet our needs—for example, wanting to sleep well, so choose to close the door to protect ourselves from noise on the street. From the cat’s perspective (in this story) it’s a conscious act of exclusion and cruelty—since he’s on the other side of the door. His crying of course to get in (not in fact meeting needs for rest or sleep by the humans!) is an attempt to see his needs met.

I see this kind of dynamic repeatedly in my own life when I am experiencing judgement or conflict and with others. Connecting across Differences, the NVC book I co-wrote with Jane Connor, starts with a quote I love: “Enemies are those whose story we’ve not heard.” While knowing each other’s perspective and what’s going on for the other person does not always resolve how the needs at play will be met, it goes a long way in my experience in fostering trust and re-connection, which are key in both parties being able to find happy, mutual, and workable solutions.

There are some simple and practice NVC practices to support this kind of understanding. One is to simply imagine: What needs is the other person or party attempting to meet? Another practice: See if you can come up with three different stories (or evaluations) of the situation that assume a positive or “good intent” by the other party.

What do you think? How has understanding the other person’s experience made a difference in your understanding trust and connection?

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