"When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion."
- Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Compassionate Communication

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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.


Hart, Sura, and Hodson, Victoria Kindle
Respectful Parents Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict Into Co-operation
California: PuddleDancer Press, 2006

The authors present a model based on Marshall Rosenberg's Non-violent Communication, one that is neither authoritarian nor permissive, but based naturally on the recognition of legitimate needs.

Rosenberg, Marshall B.
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
California: PuddleDancer Press, 2003

Compassionate communication requires that we 1) observe without evaluating, 2) express how we are feeling based on needs, desires or expectations being (or not being) met, 3) acknowledge how we have chosen to receive others' comments or actions, and 4) request how others might help us fulfill our needs, desires or expectations.

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