November 25, 2016

From Denise Torres, MA and Co-Director of the Center for Compassionate Living

What is Compassionate Communication?

It’s a communication tool that shifts our thinking from judgments and blame to inquiry and connection. It’s this shift that:

  • Creates blame-free interpersonal relationships and work environments; and
  • Fosters an atmosphere of openness and trust between colleagues, partners, clients, and family members.

Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent[1] Communication or NVC) has been taught for over 40 years nationally and internationally in such places as Israel, Romania, Turkey, Ghana, and Rwanda, as well as in Latin America.

Why is it effective?

In our culture judgmental thinking, blame, shame, guilt and threats are common strategies we use when there is a disagreement and conflict.  Further, when we hear judgmental messages we react likewise by judging others, or ourselves. As counselors, social workers, educators, and health professionals we know the painful impact this has on our work environments, our clients, and on ourselves. We’ve seen it trigger trauma and violence.

The reason Compassionate Communication is effective is that it’s a judgment free strategy. Without judgments, there is a safe environment where trust grows; without blame, power and agency are restored; and without right/wrong thinking all points of view are valued.

How does it work?

A common thread in conflict resides in the underlying (and sometimes intense) discomfort that arises when someone’s basic needs are not being met–needs like trust, inclusiveness, and consideration. Rather than using blame and judgment to release the discomfort, Compassionate Communication redirects our attention to listening for unmet needs right when a problem arises. In this moment we ask:

  • What’s happened here?
  • What am I needing?
  • What are you needing? And,
  • What can we do to get these needs met?

There are at least three outcomes from this inquiry:

  • First, it acknowledges that everybody’s needs matter.
  • Second, it’s in this recognition that we actually meet needs for acceptance, trust, and contribution for all those involved.
  • Third, when needs are met stress is reduced, confidence builds, and both our personal and community strength grows.

What do you think? Isn’t this what we want for our clients, our workplace, and ourselves?

[1] Nonviolent meaning words and actions that are free from physical, verbal, emotional, and spiritual violence.