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Empathy is a quality of being present with someone, and going as deep as possible with what is most alive in the moment. One way we support this "going deep" in Nonviolent Communication is by inquiring about what need is present.

Empathy itself is silent. You can also say things out loud to help let the other know that you are in empathy with them. One way to express it in one's mind or out loud - especially for beginners - is to make an empathy guess using the four part model, which looks like this:

When you see (hear, remember, etc.) ______(observation) are you feeling ______ because you are needing ______?

Some specific examples:

  • When you see the ocean waves, do you feel peaceful, because your need for spaciousness is being met?
  • When he says you are lazy, do you feel hurt, because you need more consideration?
  • When I see that I got this termination notice, I'm feeling scared, because I want to be able to eat and have a roof over my head (needs fo sustenancy and shelter).

The intention is to connect with the other person (or oneself - self-empathy). An empathy guess is my wondering where the person is - it is put in the form of a question so the person can reflect on the feelings and needs and respond with affirmation or corrections. It's not so important whether my guess is accurate; the support comes from my intention to be present with the other person, wherever they are.

Authors include: Judy in Vermont