Enjoy Improved Relationships by Using Nonviolent Communication, Part VII

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This is part seven in my series on Nonviolent Communication.  You can find parts one, two, three, four, five, and six here.

The What

Today we'll be focusing on empathy, which involves not just understanding on an intellectual level, but having an empathic connection.

Empathy provides support - it shares in whatever big, bad issues someone is dealing with and helps them feel less alone.

It's important to remember that often we can't give empathy to others until we've gotten enough of it ourselves.  If that's the case with you, you might need to withdraw and give yourself a bit of empathy before you can be in a place to offer it to someone else. 

Offering empathy can also diffuse violence.  Once a violent situation has been diffused, it's easier to see that the other person is dealing with a real struggle, which then makes it easier for us to offer our help.

The How

One way of doing this is to restate what you've heard from the other person.  That's often all people want - to know they've been heard.  Reflect back the feelings and needs that you understand the other person is sharing.  To do this, you'll need to listen for these things being shared and not just react to what they are saying.

Having a fight?  Are you getting defensive and tempted to put your "but" in the other person's face?  Are you offering excuses?  ("You never put your things away!"  "But I'm tired when I get home.")  Instead, try reflecting back the feelings and needs to the other person ("It sounds like you're really angry when I come home and throw my clothes on the floor and that you want a peaceful environment without a lot of mess.")


Keep in mind that it's hard to get empathy if you're telling a story from the past instead of sharing what's alive in you right now.  Don't dredge anything up.  Instead, describe the action of the moment that is setting you off, state how you are feeling about it, and then convey what need is not being met, along with a request for how the other person can meet that need.

If you find yourself in a lifeless conversation with a "babble-on-ian" (someone who just babbles on and on and on, instead of considering the reason behind what they are sharing), then interrupt them - in a kind way.  Say something like, "It sounds like you're still feeling hurt by what your friend did years ago and you want some understanding."  While at first this might seem harsh, it's more considerate to interrupt someone than to listen without care.

Ask if and how the conversation is meeting the other person's needs.  (What's the point of their story?  What are they trying to convey, in feelings and needs?)   And by all means, if you realize that you are going on and on about something, take a moment to reflect on these questions for yourself!


It's worth mentioning a reminder here about the choices we make and how important it is to discover the values behind those choices.  Often what we'll be babbling on about is our unhappiness with some situation that seems out of our control.

Try this exercise:
  • Make a list of what things you feel you "should" do that you don't like to and that keep you from enjoying life.  ("I should take out the garbage each week, I should mow the lawn, I should pay my bills...") 
  • Then write, "I choose to" in place of the "shoulds."  ("I choose to take out the garbage each week, I choose to mow the lawn, I choose to pay my bills...")
  • Once you acknowledge that you've chosen to do these things, it becomes easier to see your motivation behind them. ("I choose to take out the garbage each week so I don't have a houseful of bugs and a stinky mess, I choose to mow the lawn so it will be a welcoming place for my child to play, I choose to pay my bills so that we can enjoy things like working electricity and a roof over our heads...")
  • In doing this exercise, you might actually find that you don't really have to do that chore, or you might better appreciate the benefits resulting from it.  Regardless, it's helpful to be conscious of the reason behind the task so that we can experience them as positives for our lives.

What's Next?

What's next in this series?   I'll be wrapping things up with a final post focusing on anger & gratitude

NVC concepts can make such a difference in how you view yourself and others.  Feel free to ask any questions regarding NVC you might have in the comments - and don't forget to sign up to receive Syncopated Mama blog updates by email, so you don't miss a single installment of this series!

Resources I've used to learn about NVC

Keep reading!  Find the conclusion to my NVC series here!
Linked up with Thrifty Thursday at Living Well Spending Less
Yes Works for Me 
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