February 2006 - Compassionate Communication
This time of year, when winter is the coldest in many parts of the U.S., we long for a rest, to be able to stay in bed without having to venture out into the cold. Our minds start longing for Spring, or we get depressed from lack of sunshine or frustrated by having to stay indoors most of the time. We start to notice the small signs of hope that early spring brings ó daffodils and tulips peaking up through the ground, buds forming on the bushes and flowers, days getting longer. Others that are adventurous outdoors types, love the snow and winter sports, thrilled by the aliveness that brisk winter air brings for them.
Following the end-of-year holidays of November and December, many companies start ramping up hard in January though most people would rather work a bit more slowly. As we look toward February and Valentineís Day, many of us would rather think about those we love rather than those we donít.
How do we reconcile these conflicting desires, interests and priorities?
One way is simply to recognize that we are all different. We can be gentler with each other, be more tolerant of each other, enjoy our diversity rather than expecting everyone else to do what we want to do or think the same way we do.
In the area of communication, we can try to make our words more positive and less negative.
I heard someone speak last week who described the way our culture trains children. We punish, blame and threaten children who do not behave, then we expect that will make them behave or be better people. When they grow up, they copy the same behavior by punishing, blaming and threatening others. It struck me as I listened, There is something wrong with this picture!
Can you imagine how a child might develop fully in a positive way if they were told every day how talented they are, how much they are loved, what great joy they bring to their parents and that they are great addition to the world?
Can you see how a child being told every day that they are stupid, that they canít do anything right and that they will be sent away for being bad might prevent them from fully fulfilling their potential?
What we learn as children carries forward into our adult lives and into the workplace. Those who were constantly criticized as a child may only know how to communicate in a way of blaming, criticizing, degrading or expressing anger.
There are much more effective ways to communicate to get what you want. For example, here are two versions of the same communication:
Try reading those two communications out loud to yourself. How do you sound? How does your body feel? Can you hear and feel the differences?
As you read those two versions, which sounds more like what you do regularly? Can you see familiar patterns in the way your co-workers communicate?
How do you feel when you read the first one? Does it raise your blood pressure or make your stomach clench?
How do you feel when you read the second one? Does it make you feel calmer and more willing to help?
If you are on the receiving end of the first communication, would you feel likely to respond in anger or would you feel willing to resolve the issue quickly?
Again, if you are on the receiving of the second communication, would you feel likely to respond positively and to try to resolve the issue quickly?
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of the Center for Non-Violent Communication, talks about the two types of communication as "Giraffe" and "Jackal" 
The Giraffe has the largest heart of any land animal, so Giraffe communication comes from the heart. Jackal language makes demands, denies responsibility, blames, threatens and denigrates others.
Dr. Rosenberg describes the differences this way:
So, back to my example of corporate communication. If we know that we can encourage others to help us by treating them respectfully, we can compose our communications in a way that asks them for their assistance without judging them, blaming them, degrading or demeaning them in the process. We can assume that they are willing to assist us if we state our needs clearly and positively as in the second communication example.
No matter what your job, your vocation or your station in life, changing the way you communicate can make you a much more powerful and successful person, improve your chances for job promotion, improve your personal relationships and actually make you healthier. Why, healthier? Well, studies have shown that anger, suppressed frustration and destructive energy are actually damaging to our bodies as well as our psyche.
Donít take my word for it. Try it out for yourself.
For the next month, practice with any communication you have to make Ė could be a letter, a speech, a presentation, a conversation or a simple e-mail. Write it out in draft form then very carefully look for any anger, blame, judgment, criticising, degrading or demeaning language. Change that language using the second example above in these ways:
Now, start working on your communication:
Review your communication again and notice how it has changed from your first draft. When you are comfortable with it, send it or deliver it. Pay attention to the results you get. Are they any different from what you got if you have sent or said things in a hurry, or been more negative?
Though constant practice and paying attention to the impact of your communication, you will fairly quickly learn to start in a positive way and overcome any "jackal" training you may have had as a child. When under stress or tired, you may find you revert to the jackal training. Thatís natural and normal. Simply apologize and restate your communication in a positive way and others will usually be understanding.
Even if others are not communicating in a positive way, you can. Simply step back and acknowledge that maybe they are under stress or following their unconscious early training. If you keep being positive, you will see the dynamics change over time, even with your worst enemies or detractors.
Each small step one person takes ripples out and affects so many more people, that it is impossible to calculate the full impact. Think about how good you feel when someone greets you with enthusiasm or someone does something unexpectedly kind for you. You feel better and treat others better, then they treat others better and so on. The same happens when someone is very rude; people react and continue that negativity with others throughout the day.
You can be the change that you want to see in the world.
I sincerely hope that through small efforts like this article, we can influence a few people to join in making the world a kinder, more compassionate place. There are some good references listed for more information on this subject.
A Season for Nonviolence, January 30 - April 4, is a national 64-day educational, media and grassroots campaign dedicated to demonstrating that nonviolence is a powerful way to heal, transform and empower our lives and our communities. Inspired by the 50th and 30th memorial anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this international event honors their vision for an empowered, nonviolent world.
 Excerpt from the booklet: Teaching Children Compassionately, a nonviolent Communication presentation and workshop transcription by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. available from http://www.cnvc.org/matls.htmNonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D, Puddledancer Press, 2003 ISBN: 1892005034. Many others by Dr. Rosenberg listed on Amazon
About our resource links: We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links. We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.
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Page updated: March 31, 2014
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