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Compassionate Communication –The Method

By Scott Braxton, Ph.D., MBA

Imagine you are in the middle of an argument with your husband. You are not quite sure why he is so upset and you are getting ready to storm out and give him the silent treatment. Then you remember that you are a black-belt in Compassionate Communication. You resuscitate the conversation, find out how he is really feeling, understand his underlying needs and you finish the evening more deeply connected to him than you can remember being.

This is the second in a series of articles about Compassionate Communication (CC), a skill that allows us to express ourselves with honesty and clarity. At the same time, we learn to connect with others and really get to know what is in their heart. The method of CC is remarkably easy, and it is entirely transformative.

There are four components to the process of Compassionate Communication. First, observe what is actually happening: what is the other doing or saying that is enriching or not enriching your life. It is imperative that this is done without any judgment or evaluation. Second, state how you feel when you observe this action—hurt, scared, frustrated, amused, delighted, etc. The key is to use genuine feelings, not accusations such as “I feel… abandoned, abused, dismissed, ignored or disregarded (e.g. you are abandoning me).” This would only cause the other to become very defensive. Third, discuss what needs, desires, values, etc are causing these feelings. You may feel quite vulnerable here, especially if you are not used to expressing or even acknowledging your needs. To know and get related to your needs is one of the most profound benefits of practicing Compassionate Communication. Fourth, make a specific request that would enrich your life. Unlike a demand, where the person really has no choice, a request is an honest appeal for a specific action and it is perfectly fine for the person to accept, decline or make a counter offer.

For example, I might say to my daughter, “Charlotte, when you come home from school and leave your saxophone and backpack at the front door I feel irritated because I am needing more order in our common areas. Would you be willing to put your things in your room when you come home?”

So, what’s the difference between Compassionate Communication and Manipulation? The real difference is in the heart of the person communicating. Are you being open and honest with your feelings? Are you making a request that will enrich your life and is also in the best interest of the other person? If you are using this method to get someone to do something they are not willing to do, that is manipulative. You may get short-term results, but you will sacrifice long-term trust, relatedness and love.

Compassionate Communication takes practice. You must also be willing to switch to compassionate listening and help to hear how the other is feeling and what they are needing, sometimes translating their accusations into genuine feelings without making them wrong. This takes great skill, but the rewards are tremendous.