Underlying Concepts of Compassionate Communication

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Contribution, John Wiley, 2001 Concepts List

In case it might be of interest, here's a handout I prepared for a non-credit NVC college class in 2001. At that time I was interested in discovering implicit assumptions within the NVC process, and this list was my first attempt to combine those with major explicit concepts. Some items make general reference to a body of work or subject area, but not specific citations. I haven't reviewed this since then and it probably contains lots of irrelevant stuff, so feel free to delete it if not useful.

Underlying Concepts of Compassionate Communication

by John Wiley, 2001

A. All people are inherently compassionate, but most have been trained in ways that interfere with it.

Carl Rogers, altruism, heroism, transformational mediation

B. All people share a small set of core fundamental Needs.

Hierarchy of needs, interpersonal vs. intrapersonal priority of needs

C. Connection and self-actualization are fundamental human Needs, and both involve other people.

Philosophical and spiritual factors

D. Needs come into conflict when they are unclear to either party.

Any clarification of Needs is beneficial to the connection

E. We are all equal, as is the importance of our Needs.

Humanitarian principles

F. We are each responsible for the origins of our own Feelings.

Others can be no more than a stimulus for how we feel

G. We are each responsible for the expression and meeting of our own Needs.

Projection or transferrence of responsibility damages individuals and relationships

H. Problems arise from ineffective (tragic) strategies for expressing and meeting Needs.

Taking responsibility for meeting our own Needs is the first step in NVC

I. Communication is a process.

Clarity arises from dialog focused on building connection

J. The NVC process shifts attention from our thinking, to what's alive in our hearts.

Natural progression: Observations ð Feelings ð Needs ð Requests

K. NVC reframes our perceptions and behavior by placing focus on Feelings and Needs via questions.

Active Listening or paraphrasing is not NVC, questions vs. assumptions

L. Judgment, guilt, duty, blame and shame all lead to disconnection and violence between people.

Research on Shame/Rage spiral, benefits vs. costs of shame, high costs of coercion

M. Confusing our thoughts & strategies with Observations, Feelings and Needs leads to pain and conflict.

Thinking who is what, deciding what people deserve, strategies based on inequality

N. Changing strongly reinforced learned behavior requires considerable motivation, time and practice.

Alternative is conflict, violence and ultimately the end of civilization

O. "No" in response to an NVC Request is usually the most fruitful response.

No means the other person isn't coerced and we/they aren't clear on Needs

P. Words are not required for communication, thus Intention is key to effective NVC.

Nonverbal communication is pervasive & influential, Intention guides us & influences others

Q. All principles of NVC apply to interpersonal and intrapersonal communications.

Practicing first on self leads to compassion for others

R. NVC Empathy is a process of clarifying Feelings and Needs via NVC dialog.

Other forms of empathy may lead to conflict

S. Empathy is often required first for ourselves, before we have the capacity for giving it to others.

Clarity on own Feelings & Needs enables "giving from the heart"

T. People progress from focus on rules and authority, to rebellion and on to interdependence.

Harvey, submit or rebel vs. equality and abstraction

U. Language influences our perception and behavior.

"I feel that..." or "I feel you..." are not Feelings, words that imply blame or judgment

V. Vulnerability and appreciation are important in building connections between people.

Differences between praise and appreciation, importance of expressing our Feelings and Needs

NVC Assumptions

1) Our basic nature is cooperative and compassionate.

(References: Mary Clark, In Search of Human Nature, J. Heath 
[from Marion’s lecture on 11/3],  Field of Primatology – bonabo chimps, Frances        
Collins - National Human Genome Institute - Language of God) 
     2)   Our desire to get our physical and psychological needs met is the basis for our  
      (References: Key Differentiations –  NVC Trainer Certification Package, 
      Burton - Needs theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Manfred  
      Neef – needs-based economy, Ghandi
     3)   Our emotions stem from our needs. When our needs are being met, we feel 
     positive emotions, when our needs are not being met, we feel negative
     (References:  Field of Nueroscience - Candace Pert - The Molecules of Emotion    
     The Budhha, Thichnaht Hahn - Active Budhism – Creating True Peace, 
     Field of Cognitive Neuroscience -  Michael Gazaniga - Split brain experiments,
     Coate & Roseti - The Power of Human Needs in World Society, Eisler, R.
     Tomorrows Children, The Chalice in the Blade – partnership education.

4) Anger is a combination of a feeling or feelings mixed with a judgment of blameworthiness of others.

     (References: work around Carl Jung’s work, Carl Rogers - A Way of Being)

5) Attributing blameworthiness to others is likely to lead us to withhold

     communication or resources from others, and/or initiate verbal or physical 
     punishment against them.

6) Verbal and nonverbal negative affect is usually perceived as incompetent communication behavior. We are more likely to be seen as a competent communicator (effective + appropriate) when we express our feelings, explain how those feelings are connected to our needs, and then make clear requests of the person we want to meet our need. Therefore, it is important to increase awareness of one’s feelings and needs which can be facilitated by developing a literacy (vocabulary) about feelings and needs. (References: Daniel Goldman – emotional flooding & physiological testing which might show that, + as we engage our neocortex, the physiology begins to change?

7) Our needs are never in conflict, but our strategies for getting our needs met are

     often in conflict. Needs are universal. Every human has the need for physical 
           nurturance, physical and emotional safety, autonomy, self-expression (and more),
           but strategies derive from dispositional differences, different cultural norms, as
           well as differing conflict resolution styles.


8) When people are able to understand one another’s needs, compassion is likely to be stimulated, and then people are often motivated to help one another get needs met, even those needs which, at first, seem to be mutually exclusive or difficult to meet. On the other hand, when people hear criticisms or negative evaluations of their needs, they usually defend, reciprocate in kind, or distance themselves rather than try to meet the other person’s needs.

     9)   Once people are able to understand what others are needing, even long standing
     conflict is likely to end quickly.
   10)  Evaluating others’ behavior either negatively or positively is an act of
           dehumanization. When we do not ask others what is going on in them,
           but instead we evaluate their behavior according to our standards, we
           are not in touch with their humanness. This often leads us to justify
           treating others unfairly, to give more to those we consider to be good,
           or to harm or punish others.
  11)   When people are meeting our needs, we tend to label them positively
            and/or evaluate their behavior as positive. When people are not meeting our 
            needs, we tend to label them negatively and/or evaluate their behavior as 
  12)   When we evaluate others negatively, they usually deny our evaluation
           thus negative evaluation is not an effective tactic for educating people
           about how to do things differently, and often leads to conflict.
   13)  We are all trying to get out needs met, but communicating for the purpose of
   creating a connection with another person engenders more cooperation, 
   compassion, and understanding than communicating with the sole purpose of 
   getting one’s needs met. When people believe that our purpose for 
   communicating with them is solely to create a connection with them, and that
   everyone’s needs matter, they are more likely to trust, disclose and cooperate,
           and our all of our needs are more likely to be met.

     14)  Moralistic judgments which evaluate actions or beliefs negatively (such as some
            people are “bad”) can lead us to believe that it is acceptable to dehumanize 
            others by punishing them verbally or physically.
     15)  A concept of justice which includes the belief that people who are considered

to be “bad” deserve to be punished, and people who are considered to be “good” deserve to be rewarded is a dehumanizing system of justice which is not effective in the long run. Because “bad” and “good” are subjective evaluations, this type of justice system leads to noncompliance, retaliation, and a lack of trust in its ability to serve people fairly.

     16)  Enforcers of cultural norms tend to believe that punishing people for not
             adhering to cultural norms educates them to adhere to cultural norms, but

punishment is not effective because punishment used to deter behavior does not

             cause people to accept the norms but only to obey the norms publicly. Whenever
             people feel that they are being forced to do something, they feel resentment.

17) Sometimes force may be necessary to stop a person or people who are doing harm to others, but we would always want to use protective force rather than punitive force. Punitive force is when we treat others inhumanely because they did something “bad,” and we believe they deserve to be punished and that punishment will teach them to never do what they did again. Punitive force includes beating or torturing while they are incarcerated, withholding necessary physical or psychological support, belittling them for their actions or their position. With protective force, we would prevent them from harming others while giving them what they need to maintain their physical and psychological integry and creating a connection with them by empathizing with the needs that motivated their actions. Empathizing with the unmet needs that are motivating their actions leads to a connection that later allows for further education about how to get needs met in ways that are less harmful to others.

       18)  In order to be effective, rules need to be made by a consensus of all those who  
will be affected by those rules (even children).

19) Agreement or physical help that is given out of guilt, shame, or fear

leads to resentment, and reduces the likelihood that further agreement or
help will be given. This includes the agreement to follow rules. It also    
increases the probability of retaliation, and conflict or violence in the future. 
 20) Rewarding people for behaving in certain ways is an act of dehumanization.

       21) People will respond to rewards until they realize that they are being
              manipulated to act in certain ways by those rewards, then they usually stop 
              responding, and often feel resentful. This resentment often leads to retaliation
              against the person who used the rewards to manipulate their behavior.
       22) Labeling people positively is less effective for creating a connection with
another person than telling them what they did or said that met our need.

23) Do not give up on your needs, do not give in to others ideas, and do 
              not compromise. Never rebel against or submit to another person.
              It is more effective to maintain the dialogue until one or both of you has
              genuine shift of belief or need. 

       24)  Do not apologize to others. Instead, tell them how you feel about what 
              is happening. When we allow others to convince us that we are the cause
              of their feelings, we get caught up in an ineffective cycle of guilt, shame,
              and blame. It is possible to regret that another person has been triggered or  
              stimulated by something we said or did, without accepting blame for their 
              for their feelings. 

25) Empathy is more effective than colluding with another person for helping

      that person deal with what need has not been met. To collude, or to agree
               with that person’s evaluation of another person, may give them a bit of
               comfort, but they usually won’t settle their issues and move on to more
               pleasant feelings until they receive empathy.