We all have fears. We all have wounds. We all have needs.
For most of us, the fear that those needs will not be met – that the people upon whom we most depend will refuse our needs and perhaps even wound us – is the biggest fear we have.
We fear, most often, that the people closest to us will tell us that we don’t matter.
Compassionate communication addresses that fear.
Fear is the root of conflict. Attack and defense are valid responses to a threat, and fear tells us that we are threatened and must respond.
However, when people within a given community agree to use CONSTRUCTIVE METHODS of discussion and resolution, fear can be managed.
“Compassionate Communication” is a toolkit of techniques that help manage fear, bridge conflicts and promote win/win solutions.
The core concept behind this toolkit is that everyone has been wounded in some way – but yet, everyone needs things within that given community.
Aggression, defensiveness and withdrawal are responses to avoid further wounding. Therefore, within a community, we can avoid aggression, defensiveness and withdrawal when we AGREE IN ADVANCE NOT TO WOUND EACH OTHER, and instead seek solutions that have everyone feeling safe and fulfilled.
Ideally, a discussion involving compassionate communication provides a sense of safety, recognition, respect and, of course, compassion for everyone involved.
By identifying our own fears, facing them, and acknowledging the fears of others in an effort to help us all face our fears together, compassionate communication ideally helps everyone involved in a conflict get what they need.
Compassionate communication isn’t about making excuses to continue counterproductive behavior patterns. It’s about looking for workable and mutually respectful solutions to disputes.
It’s a pretty deep toolbox. I’ve attached a few links to the bottom of this note that explain the techniques in more detail.
The core ideas, however, are these:
* EVERYONE INVOLVED HAS VALID FEARS AND NEEDS
* THERE IS NO SHAME IN FEAR
* THERE IS NO SHAME IN NEED
* FEARS AND NEEDS ARE TO BE RESPECTED IN SAFE DISCUSSION SPACE
* EVERYONE GETS A SAFE SPACE TO SPEAK
* EVERYONE AGREES TO COOPERATE
* COOPERATION INVOLVES MUTUAL RESPECT AND RECOGNITION
* THROUGH COOPERATION, RESPECT AND RECOGNITION, SOLUTIONS CAN BE FOUND
– Take a few minutes to ground and center yourself; breathe; if you can, get some alone-space, and give space to others
– If possible, shower, bathe and/ or meditate
– Reflect: ask yourself:
— What do I WANT to accomplish with this discussion?
— What do I NEED in order to feel safe and/ or fulfilled?
— What are my BOUNDARIES for compromise?
— What do I need to do to take CARE OF MYSELF?
— What are the SIGNS that I feel threatened/ fearful/ attacked? (If you recognize these signs in advance, you can work around them when you feel them manifest)
– Look for TACTICS (things you might do) rather than ACCUSATIONS (things you fear others might do)
– Again, breathe
– Allow yourself to TRUST that your needs will be met
– Circle up; if it feels safe to do so, touch. If it feels safer to have space, then allow for space.
– Declare the circle (or whatever) as a SAFE SPACE.
– Everyone, in turn, thanks and acknowledges everyone else for being courageous enough to work together.
(As I have mentioned to Coyote, courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the decision to face fear and work past it.)
— State a PRACTICAL RESOLUTION for this discussion, realizing that one talk won’t fix all problems
– Agree to the following GROUND RULES:
— Everyone gets to speak
— Everyone listens – really LISTENS – to what others say
— Everyone will employ POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT and “I” STATEMENTS when possible.
(examples: “Yeah, you’re right”; “I feel scared because…”)
— All parties agree to reach a PRACTICAL RESOLUTION GOAL for this discussion
(example: “We’ll figure out how to keep the house clean without one person doing all the work.”)
— No one will be insulted, coerced, degraded or disrespected.
– In turn, each person speaks:
— This is what I WANT from this discussion
— This is why I FEAR I won’t get what I want
— This is how I would like to meet this GOAL through the discussion
– Group discusses PRACTICAL METHODS to address the problem.
(example: “Let’s set up a chore schedule so that everybody takes turns cleaning the kitchen”)
– Take time-outs if needed, but discuss the situation until the GOAL IS ACHIEVED to general satisfaction.
– THANK everyone for speaking, hearing and working toward a solution.
– If contact feels safe, hugs and cuddles are good; if space feels safer, allow for space.
– Write down the agreement(s) the group has come to. Sign them.
– Schedule a time, a week or two from now, to meet again and discuss whether or not the goal has been met. If not, re-discuss and re-negotiate.
As Sandi says, Re-negotiation is always an option.
PRACTICAL TECHNIQUES WHEN SPEAKING AND LISTENING
– USE “I” STATEMENTS, not “YOU” STATEMENTS
– Use “I PERCEIVE THAT (whatever)…” or “I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT (whatever)…” or, best of all, “I THINK MY PERCEPTION IS THAT (whatever)…” This way, you’re not telling the other person what they’re doing, you’re observing what you perceive is going on.
(This technique helps you distance yourself from loaded emotions, too, which is constructive when you’re seeking safe space for yourself and others.)
– AVOID using accusations, overstatements, attacks or “you” statements
(examples: “You hate me”; “You never do [whatever]”; “You’re an asshole”)
– If/ when you find yourself (or get called on) falling into an accusation or attack, acknowledge this, apologize and restate what you said using an “I statement.
– When you speak, speak slowly. Breathe deep. Pitch your voice lower. If/ when you notice your “fear signs,” slow down. Breathe. Take a moment. No one is going to harm you here.
– Neutral terms: Whenever possible, use emotionally neutral terms, step back from “loaded words,” and over-speak – maybe even to an awkward degree – in order to disconnect emotional triggers when speaking.
– Mirroring: After someone’s done speaking, rephrase what you think they said and then ask “Does that sound accurate?” If they don’t think so, try again.
(This technique helps show that you’re listening to the other person, displays respect, and allows you to reach common ground)
– Positive terms: Whenever possible, use POSITIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE terms and phrases, not hostile or destructive ones. The goal is a win/ win situation.
– Definitions: When discussing things, especially emotionally loaded things like boundaries or agreements, CHECK IN WITH EACH OTHER to make sure everyone is defining the terms you’re using in the same way. If not, figure out and agree on a definition that works for everybody.
(examples: What does “sex” mean? What does “love” mean? What does “clean” look like?)
– Everyone will have slightly different definitions; everyone’s definitions are valid. The goal is to find one that works within the community.
– Remember, EVERYONE IS PART OF THE DISCUSSION. No one gets beaten down, no one gets out of holding up their end. Everyone participates and is valued for doing so.
Compassionate communication assumes that all parties wants to find a working solution to the subject under dispute.
It’s about negotiation toward fair and practical resolution for everyone involved.
It recognizes that everybody hurts and everybody needs.
Ideally, compassionate communication provides safer space for everyone to grow.