Sunday, June 30, 2013

NVC Niff Clotes: Chapter Seven: Receiving Empathically

NVC helps us express our observations, feelings, needs, and requests, but also can help us hear them coming from someone else. I sometimes have difficulty understanding the distinction between empathy, sympathy, compassion, etc. "Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing." That's not much. "Empathy with others occurs only when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgements about them." That's impossible, if I take it literally. I'd like to transpose that to something like "Minimize your preconceptions, open yourself to new possibilities." Even then, it is not clear how to accomplish this, or to know you have done so.
Oddly, it is easier to know what not to do. "Instead of offering empathy, we tend instead to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling." The means are confusing, but the goal is clear: "We give to others the time and space they need to express themselves fully and to feel understood." Rosenberg talks about being present. I hope I understand, but I don't think I can explain, which makes that questionable. Again, Rosenberg ignores his own advice and tells us what he doesn't want: "Believing we have to 'fix' situations and make others feel better prevents us from being present." I interpret this as, we can't understand properly if we start responding to new information before our understanding is complete. And it is specifically an emotional understanding we seek: "intellectual understanding of a problem blocks the kind of presence that empathy requires." "The key ingredient of empathy is presence: we are wholly present with the other party and what they are experiencing. This quality of presence distinguishes empathy from either mental understanding or sympathy." This is too metaphorical for me. The best I can do is interpret this as, don't be doing something else, concentrate on the emotional content of the message they transmit to you. Think about the message later, respond to it later, come up with solutions or ideas later, for now, just absorb it. Then turn it into observations, feelings, needs, and requests. "Listen to what people are needing rather than what they are thinking."
We're not present if we're trying to get something specific from someone or change their thinking of behavior, to convince them or trick them. It comes willingly or not at all. "By maintaining our attention on what's going on within others, we offer them a chance to fully explore and express their interior selves. We would stem this flow if we were to shift attention too quickly either to their request or to our own desire to express ourselves."
Sometimes, the NVC approach, especially if used in a formulaic or mechanical way, will spook people. It will not seem genuine, and may seem manipulative.
Use paraphrasing to confirm that we got the message accurately, and "give the speaker an opportunity to correct us." Asking for new information about emotions can put people off, but "people feel safer if we first reveal the feelings and needs within ourselves that are generating the question." It's good to use reflection to show that you've understood what they're saying, but this can also backfire because "when hearing themselves reflected back, people are likely to be sensitive to the slightest hint of criticism or sarcasm." We need to make it clear we are "asking whether we have understood." "All criticism, attack, insults, and judgments vanish when we focus attention on hearing the feelings and needs behind a message. The more we practice in this way, the more we realize a simple truth: behind all those messages we've allowed ourselves to be intimidated by are just individuals with unmet needs appealing to us to contribute to their well-being." Seen properly, we can turn accusations into opportunities.
Rosenberg is not too clear on when to stop empathizing. He mantions a "sense of relief" and a "corresponding release of tension in our own body" when this happens. I am tempted to make a joke. A "more obvious sign is that the person will stop talking."
Sometimes we may need to empathize with ourselves before we can empathize with others. Or we may be able to request empathy from a cooperative conversation partner.
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