As human beings, we all share a basic set of needs. In 1943, Abraham Maslow presented his Hierarchy of Needs which suggested that we first attend to basic physiological needs like food, water, and shelter, and then progress through the needs for safety, love and belongingness, esteem, and finally self-actualization. While more recent theorists have critiqued Maslow's idea of a hierarchy, these broad needs still exist and are at the base of the process of Compassionate Communication, a process exemplified by Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Communication (NVC).
Rosenberg reminds us that life-alienating communication contributes to our behaving violently toward others and ourselves. This happens when we make moralistic judgments of people and behaviors that fail to support our values, when we use comparisons, and when we deny responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Rosenberg suggests that we have an alternative in NVC, in communicating from the heart. He recommends that we instead consider four steps in our communication around sensitive issues. First, we might recognize concrete factors perceived to be impacting our well being. Secondly, we might acknowledge our feelings in relation to those observations. Thirdly, we might recognize the needs, values, and desires connected to those feelings. And finally, we might request concrete actions in order to improve our well-being.
Sounds simple enough, but old habits are indeed hard to break. While adults may consider a new communication "process" too contrived and difficult to sustain, persistence and practice may be well worth it. We need to remember that children learn from example. Communication styles and behaviors that adults model for children become that next generation's normal. Compassionate Communication and NVC give us an alternative to language leading to defensiveness and distance. They instead give us language to inspire empathy and connection and a much more hopeful way of being in the world.
Additional information can be found on the Wikipedia page on Compassionate Communication.