Sunday, July 21, 2013

NVC Niff Clotes: Chapter Eight: The Power of Empathy

This chapter about empathy seems especially difficult to me, though still valuable. I have grabbed a few ideas from it, but you might be better off skimming the chapter rather than reading this post if your goal is to review. Rosenberg tells some interesting stories that I can't summarize.
We have more difficulty empathizing with those above us in a hierarchy. We may tend to hear all communications from that sort of person as commands or evaluations, and face the temptation to react with the usual automatic reactions.
We need not tolerate dull conversation, but rather can choose instead to interrupt and try to re-establish empathy. If this move succeeds, the speaker will feel grateful.
"As listeners, we don't need insights into psychological dynamics or training in psychotherapy. What is essential is our ability to be present to what's really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment."
I will risk redundancy to gripe again about Rosenberg's metaphor of "presence". I can see what this is not, it is not me thinking about how to argue against what is being said, or analyzing it, or daydreaming. But how do I actually achieve presence? Not much help. Can I know what the other is thinking and feeling without being present? I think Rosenberg would say yes. I wish he would give more hints about this missing ingredient. Somehow I must recognize when the other feels that I really have heard her, or not. So there are at least three elements to it, the content of the communication (including an important emotional component), my focus of attention, and the exchange of meta-information which includes "did you hear me?" Yikes. Perhaps it also has to do with staying focused and not allowing my automatic responses learned since childhood to grab me and take me off down a path of conclusion jumping and near-instinctive reactions.
"The more we connect with the feelings and needs behind their words, the less frightening it is to open up to other people."
"Our ability to offer empathy can allow us to stay vulnerable, defuse potential violence, hear the word no without taking it as a rejection, revive a lifeless conversation, and even hear the feelings and needs expressed through silence. Time and again, people transcend the paralyzing effects of psychological pain when they have sufficient contact with someone who can hear them empathically."

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