We have found Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to be a practical, powerful way to build bridges of empathy.
Nonviolent Communication is a doable, learnable process based on universal human values that helps people empathize more deeply with themselves and others. It promotes congruency in one’s values in thought, speech and action.
Nonviolent Communication supports our ability to transform blame, anger and criticism into understanding, effective communication and the peaceful resolution of conflict. It focuses our attention on what matters most, leading to language and actions that are efficient, effective and full of integrity. NVC strengthens our ability to inspire compassion and teamwork with others. It guides us to reframe how we express ourselves and how we hear others.
The purpose of Nonviolent Communication is to build relationships of trust where everyone’s values are equally respected and people are inspired to cooperate with each other. NVC’s focus is to create a quality of connection between people that leads to a culture of productive, effective, and meaningful dialog and mutual giving.
At the core of the NVC process is the framework or intention with which it is used. The foundational principle is interconnection. Actions are motivated by awareness that no one can fully meet their needs at the expense of anyone else’s. Our safety and well-being are interconnected. Knowing our choices affect one another elicits a respect for the needs of all.
A second part of the NVC framework is the idea of compassionate giving: giving for the sake of contributing to others, not from a sense of "have to," "should" or "must." It is in our nature to contribute to each other. When people see the common ground they share, they are inspired to help each other and peaceful resolutions to conflicts naturally arise. Compassionate giving inspires more giving.
A third element of the NVC framework is creating power with people rather than power over people. Power with is the ability to inspire through one’s own vulnerability and transparency, a willingness in another person to consider one’s point of view, to be open to one’s influence and suggestions. Power with creates mutuality, cooperation, safety and trust. Attempting power over someone by threatening punishment or offering a reward often creates resentment and makes it less likely one would receive respect or trust. In a power over situation, some people’s needs are partially met at the expense of the needs of others.
"Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. Instead of offer empathy, we often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empaty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.
In NVC, no matter what words others may use to express themselves, we simply listen for their obeservations, feelings, needs, and requests. Then we may wish to reflect back, paraphrasing what we have understood. We stay with empathy, allowing others the opportunity to fully express themselves before we turn our attention to solutions or requests for relief.
We need empathy to give empathy. When we sense ourselves being defensive or unable to empathize, we need to (a) stop, breathe, give ourselves empathy, (b) scream nonviolently, or (c) take time out."
~ from the summary of ch. 7 Receiving Empathically, Nonviolent Communication: The Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Founder of Center for Nonviolent Communication