Compassionate Communication uses the same building blocks in various ways.
A central part of compassionate communication is sharing our emotions, and finding out what other people feel (rather than assuming or claiming what they feel). See list of emotions.
Note: It is a common mistake to think that the following expressions are emotions, but in fact they are not. They are rather judgmental interpretation of what the other person did to us: I “feel” threatened, misunderstood, exploited, manipulated, accused, judged, criticized, belittled, betrayed, rejected, abandoned, ignored (e.g. sometimes when we are ignored, we actually feel relieved).
Another note: We need to express our emotions without involving the other person in them (e.g. not saying “I feel X because you… / because of you”. The other person cannot cause our emotions. Perhaps his behavior is a trigger for out emotions, but they are a result of our mind’s interpretation of the other person’s behavior, and not a direct result of that behavior. Including the other person in the description of our emotions is an opening for manipulation.
Another central part of compassionate communication is sharing our needs, and finding out what other people need. See list of needs.
We distinguish between needs and strategies for meeting needs. The needs are universal, meaning all people have needs for food, sleep, security, connection, appreciation, influence, meaning, etc. The only difference between people is the relative strength of different needs, and the specific strategies by which they are trying to fulfill their needs. For example, one person may try to satisfy their need for security by accumulating a lot of money, while another person might try to satisfy the same need by getting married.
When we are sharing our needs, we will pay attention not to involve the other person in them (e.g. not saying “I have a need for connection with you“). We do not want to communicate the message that the other person is under and obligation to satisfy our needs. It is always only our personal responsibility to try to satisfy our needs. We may seek other people who will help us satisfy our needs, and the world is filled with many people who will be happy to do so. But we must not try to coerce anyone to do so. We may have a strong preference that a particular person would help us satisfy our needs, but this is still just one strategy out of many, and it is not the need itself.
Language can be a wonderful tool to connect between people, if it is used correctly. If used wrongly, it can be alienating and lead to destruction of relationships.
Neutral description of reality
In compassionate communication, we describe reality and situations using neutral descriptions, devoid of interpretations and judgments.
E.g. instead of saying “When you blamed me”, we express ourselves using: “When you said [quote]”. This is because the other person may not think that he blamed us, but rather that he was pointing our attention to the facts (as he saw them) and was educating us. If we use the non-neutral expression “blamed”, we are implying that the other person is “wrong”. This creates resistance in him and alienates him, thus escalating the conflict.
We also do not use language that assumes what other people feel, think, or intend. E.g. we do not say “you are not listening”, or “you don’t care about me”. This is because we cannot really know what goes on inside of them. Instead, we only describe what goes on inside of us, e.g. “I feel [name of emotion]”.
And we can also show an interest in what goes on inside the other person, but ask about it (with genuine curiosity, not implying blame) rather than assume it. This demonstrates that we care about the other person.
Accurate specific description
When we want to request someone to do something for us, we need to describe it in specific terms that the other person can understand and perform. What is the specific action we would like them to do, such as saying something or putting some object in a certain place. If we only say “I want you to be more considerate” or “Could you please be more organized?”, the other person has no way of knowing what we mean by that, and cannot meet our request. Similarly, when we say “allow me to …”, the other person cannot know what we mean by that.
We need to say what we do want the other person to do, and not merely what not to do. For example, if we say “don’t stay at work so late”, intending that the other person would come back home earlier, he may leave work early but go somewhere else other than home.
In addition to the content of the communication mentioned above, there are also points that help us create a smooth communication.
Oftentimes there are misunderstandings in communication. It could be a small technical misunderstanding, or it could be major and significant, e.g. when our request is perceived by the other person as a demand, or when our “no” is perceived as a rejection of the other person. It is vital to make sure that the other person knows our intention. We can request that they repeat what we said to verify that. It is equally important that we make sure we understood the other person correctly, and we can verify that by repeating what they say according to our understanding. In this way, we also show the other person that we are listening and that we care.
When the other person is expressing pain (physical or emotional), the first step is to express empathy to the pain. The other person needs to feel that he is being seen and understood, before he is able to move on with the communication. The first step is definitely not starting to give advice, before an empathic emotional connection is established.