Compassionate Communication: NVC in the Workplace
By LaShelle Lowe-Chardé
In weekend NVC retreat, a participant, let’s call her Carol, described a meeting at work in which her boss offered feedback. The words, tone, and volume of the feedback didn’t meet Carol’s needs for kindness and respect. Carol asked how she could approach this situation.
When I suggested empathy, Carol’s eyes got wide and a wrinkle of worry appeared on her forehead.
Remembering your boss might be feeling overwhelmed and needing empathy isn’t about giving them a “get out of jail free” card with regards to their behavior.
Empathy is helpful in a number of ways. One, it helps release you from the slavery of roles. Your “boss” suddenly becomes a human being – Sally. Facing Sally is easier than facing a boss. You also get to be another human being rather than an employee.
You can replace “My ranting boss” with “Sally is stressed out.” Responding to stressed out Sally opens up a wider range of options and it’s easier to find compassion.
It’s not so easy to trust that creating connection will help you and others meet needs. And sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the other wants to connect. Your mind might be quick to judge Sally: “Overbearing control freak”, “heartless perfectionist”, “she shouldn’t…!”
To the extent that you can see the situation for what it is – Sally is stressed out – is the extent to which you can intervene and create connection. Though we are all trained not to interrupt, my experience is that most of the time people are relieved to be interrupted when it helps them to be heard.
How would empathy for Sally look in the context of a work meeting?
In the dialogue below you can see the four elements of Nonviolent Communication (NVC); observation, feeling, need, and request. Each time you interrupt, you translate what Sally says into one of the four elements.
Let’s look at how a dialogue might sound.
You: (interrupting) Sally, I want to make sure I am on the same page with you. The two events you are referring to are the auction and the banquet, is that right? (OBSERVATION)
You: (before Sally can continue) “Which one are you wanting us to focus on first?” (REQUEST)
Sally: Well, all of it was a disaster.
You: (You jump in quickly). Yea, both didn’t go like you wanted and you want to make sure we learn from our mistakes here (using colloquial NVC here to point to her FEELING and NEED).
Sally: That’s right. Like you didn’t hire enough staff for the banquet.
You: (Using your jedi powers, you dodge this possible hook by remembering that Sally is stressed and probably fearful regarding the success of your company. When people are stressed and fearful they often use blame to try to meet their needs for acceptance.)
Yea, so you would like to start by talking about staffing? (REQUEST)
One of the most important elements of NVC is that it helps you get out of roles and back to being humans. At the work place especially it’s easy to get lost in a maze of rules, expectations, requirements, and demands. To get out of this maze bring your attention to the four elements of NVC – observation, feelings, needs, and requests.
This week at work, experiment with seeing your boss or someone else you work with as a person rather than a role. Offer empathy and honest expression in a low-key situation. For the workplace, it might be more connecting to skip the feelings element and focus on the other three at first.
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