A few years ago I got a lesson in honesty. I was at a summer festival and to make a long story short there was a couple which experienced an incident that led to one of them seeking support and empathy from another festival participant. The other one had confidence in me and I saw an opportunity to be of empathic support. I listened and listened with empathy for a long time. When thinking back of it, I listened for hours. We even missed a meal, but I continued to listen and to be of support… At least I thought so.
Empathy or sympathy?
Later I was told that the person I listened to went to the partner and said things that made their relationship even more challenging to handle than it was before. So what did I learn from this lesson? Well, I had only used one leg of Nonviolent Communication (NVC): empathy. I listened and listened and listened. The person I listened to said things like: “Maybe I should say this or that to my partner?” And I kept listening. I think my listening was perceived as sympathy, or that I agreed with what the person wanted to say to the partner.
What could I have done instead? I could have used the other leg that NVC stands on, the honesty leg. I could have told about the anxiety that raised in me when I heard what the person wanted to say to the partner: “When I hear what you want to say to your partner I feel worried. I’m not sure you will get the contact you are longing for if you say this. What’s on your mind hearing this?”. If I had reflected on what was happening within me based on what the person said, I am pretty sure that the process of the event would have gone in another direction and their challenge might not have become as big.
When I use the word honesty I do not use it in the same way that the word is usually used. While expressing honesty I don’t verbalize my thoughts or my judgments: “I think you are fucked up. I’m just honest, because I’ve heard it’s good to do that”. I use the word honesty to describe what is happening behind my thoughts. I connect my thoughts and judgements to feelings and needs. If I had the thought that “you are fucked up” there may be several reasons for this. Maybe I feel sad, angry or disappointed? These feelings are in turn linked to different needs. Maybe I need respect, cooperation or trust?
Sharing what is happening within me
If I communicate my thoughts and judgments about others, I do not reveal what is happening within me (probably it will be even harder to discover). If I, on the other hand, express my feelings and my needs, I’m expressing what is important to me (instead of claiming what is wrong with you). It is a more honest and at the same time a more vulnerable way of communicating. More vulnerable because I do not hide behind my assessments about you.
If you are curious to learn more about honesty, I can recommend the project “Time for Honesty” which takes place in the last week of March. It will be a week when you have the chance to offer or to participate in various workshops online and offline. Read more on the project’s website.
I am communication consultant and a certified CNVC trainer. I work with groups and individuals who wants to be able to communicate better and building sustainable connections in their family, with their friends, at their workplace and in the bigger community. I am offering lectures, workshops, mediation and individual training both for individuals and for organizations. Anything from shorter presentations to several days or weeks of training. Since 2010 I have offered over 100 of lectures and workshops with inspiration of NVC (Nonviolent Communication). I have attended three one year programs organised by Friare Liv (Liv Larsson and Kay Rung): the Year 1, the Year 2 and the Mediation program. I have been assistant trainer on five of Friare Livs one year programs as well as on several of their shorter workshops.
(This is a blogpost translated from Joachim Berggren’s blog: http://www.jberggren.se/en-lektion-i-arlighet/)