"If we wish for a compassionate response from others, it is self-defeating to express our needs by interpreting or diagnosing their behavior. Instead, the more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately. We are accustomed to thinking about what's wrong with others than that our needs are not being fulfilled... it has been my experience over and over again that from the moment people begin talking about what they need rather than what's wrong with another, the possibility of finding ways to meet everybody's needs is greatly increased." (Pp. 53-54 Nonviolent Communication by Marshal Rosenberg. )
Effective Communication Using Feelings
Feeling vs Non Feelings
My sons and I tease a talk radio host who said, “Words matter” and summarily butchered the English language and the field of ethics. The irony was not lost on us. He was right about the fact that words matter in communicating. They do. Marshall Rosenberg does a great job describing this in his book NonViolent Communication:
In general, feelings are not being clearly expressed when the word "feel" is followed by:
It is not necessary to use the word "feel" at all when we're actually expressing a feeling.
You can say "I feel irritated" or "I am irritated."
We distinguish between words that truly express feelings and those that describe what we think we are.
"I feel inadequate as a guitar player," is a description of what we think we are.
In that statement, I am assessing my ability as a guitar player, rather than clearly expressing my feelings.
An actual feeling would be "I feel disappointed in myself as a guitar player."
"I feel impatient with myself as a guitar player. "
"I feel frustrated with myself as guitar player. "
The actual feeling behind my assessment of myself as inadequate could therefore be disappointment, impatient, frustration, or some other emotion.
*Is helpful to differentiate between words to describe what we think others are doing around us, and words to describe actual feelings.
The following are examples of statements that are easily mistaken as expressions of feelings: in fact they reveal more how we think others are behaving than what we are actually feeling ourselves.
"I feel unimportant to the people with whom I work."
The word "unimportant" describes how I think others are evaluating me, rather than an actual feeling, which in this situation, might be "I feel sad" or "I feel discouraged."
"I feel misunderstood" -here the word "misunderstood" indicates my assessment of the other person's level of understanding rather than my actual feeling. In this situation, I may be feeling anxious or annoyed or some other emotion.
"I feel ignored"
-again this is more of an interpretation of the actions of others than a clear statement of how we are feeling. No doubt there are times that we thought we were being ignored and our feeling was much relief, because we wanted to be left to ourselves. No doubt there are other times however when he felt hurt when we thought we were being ignored, because we had wanted to be involved.
This is from Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
Why Do Feelings Matter?
Sample: How to do feeling vs opinions
"…unfortunately he didn't know how to become aware of his feelings, let alone express them"
"…this difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings is common, and in my experience especially so in lawyers , engineers, police officers, corporate managers, and career military personnel. These are people whose professional codes discourage them from manifesting emotions. For family, the toll is severe when members are unable to communicate emotions."
"I never know what he's feeling and I feel like I'm married to a wall."
He sat mute and immobile.
She turned to me and explained, "see it happens all the time -he sits and says nothing. "
I responded, "It sounds to me like you're feeling lonely and wanting more emotional contact with your husband" Marshall Rosenberg- Nonviolent Communication
In counseling, we look at how feelings can balance an overly logical approach. When out of balance, either toward feelings or away from feelings, we get some weird decisions. When balanced between thoughts and feelings, people tend to stick with their decisions because they work better for them.
Next blog, we'll talk about how to "do" feelings or how to communicate more effectively
Stay tuned for guest bloggers- Isaac Jacobs, Kristin A Rapp and Stacey Snyder Steinmiller
More from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication- check him out on YouTube to hear him speak.
Communication that blocks compassion:
I use the term "life-alienating communication" to refer to these forms of communication.
Moralistic judgments imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don't act in harmony with our values.
Blame, insults, put downs, labels, criticism, comparisons, and diagnoses are all forms of judgment.
When we speak this language, we judge others and their behavior while preoccupying ourselves with who is good, bad, normal, abnormal, responsible, irresponsible, smart, ignorant, etc.
Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others need and are not getting.
If my partner wants more affection than I am giving, that person is "needy" and "dependent."
If I want more affection than they are giving me, then that person is "aloof and insensitive."
All such analysis of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own values and needs. They are tragic because when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance.
We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Each time others associate us in their minds with any of those feelings, the likelihood of their responding compassionately to our needs and values in the future decreases.
It is important here not to confuse the words "value judgments" with the words "moralistic judgments."
All of us make value judgments as to the qualities we value in life; for example, we might value honesty, freedom, or peace. Value judgments reflect our belief of how life can best be served. We make moralistic judgments of people and behaviors that fail to support our value judgments; for example violence is bad. People who kill others are evil.
Instead of saying that violence is bad we might say instead, "I am fearful of the use of violence to resolve conflict; I value the resolution of human conflict through other means."
OJ Harvey at the University of Colorado has studied the frequency of words that classify and judge people. History shows a high correlation between frequent use of words to classify and judge people and frequency of violent incidents (“It does not surprise me to hear that there is considerably less violence in cultures where people think in terms of human need than in cultures where people label one another as good or bad and believe the bad ones deserve to be punished.” Marshall Rosenberg)
Viewers of TV who have been taught that bad guys deserve to be punished, take pleasure in watching this television violence. At the root of much, if not all, violence whether verbal , psychological or physical whether among family members , tribes or nations is a kind of thinking that attributes the cause of conflict to the wrongdoing in one's adversaries and the corresponding inability to think of oneself or other in terms of vulnerability that is what one might be feeling fear, yearning for , missing
-we saw this dangerous thinking during the Cold War.
The NVC Process
First, we observe what's actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life?
Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated?
And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified
The fourth component addresses what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives to make life more wonderful for us.
The concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being. How we feel in relation to what we observe. The needs, values, desires etc. that create our feelings. The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives.
Can I listen for the feeling and need behind each statement? I don't need to agree or disagree.
I can receive his words, not as attacks, but as gifts from a fellow human willing to share his soul and deeper vulnerabilities with me.
This process works like magic in counseling sessions as well as in real life when people practice it.