Being Heard Can Make All the Difference

When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good. . . . When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements which seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens. How confusions which seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.

Psychologist Carl Rogers, one of Marshall Rosenberg’s influential teachers

About private NVC support sessions:

My friend Julie Greene introduced me to nonviolent communication (NVC) in 1997. Julie told me that most people walk around with a deep well of unmet needs to be heard and to be understood. She suggested that the pain we have about not being heard can make it difficult to be present and at choice when conflicts arise. She encouraged us to receive as much empathy support as possible. Doing so, she suggested, could increase the possibility of our being fully present with ourselves and with others, in part, so that we don’t attach our desperate need to be heard to the person who happens to be standing in front of us.

It’s so easy to imagine that this person in front of me right now is my only way to be heard, especially if I’m not being heard elsewhere. However, if I do experience being heard elsewhere, I may still have sadness that this particular person is not hearing me, but I’m less likely to experience rage or deep grief, terror or despair because the need is not met.

One way to be heard is to let friends or family members know how much we’d love to be heard about something, and ask them to just reflect back what they hear us say for 5 to 10 minutes, instead of offering solutions or analysis. Another strategy is to develop a network of NVC friends who can be available for occasional empathy exchanges; these friends can be people we meet in NVC workshops and study groups. A further way is to establish empathy buddies who commit to doing regular empathy exchanges, perhaps weekly. (I have 3 empathy buddies with whom I’ve exchanged weekly empathy calls since 2002; this has really helped me sort out big issues and little annoyances.) A further strategy is private empathy support sessions with a seasoned NVC practitioner.

Receiving empathy support is often a deep relief for people accustomed to hearing advice or diagnosis when they share their experiences, because empathy support addresses that need to be heard and understood.

Rick Migliore, an engineer in Santa Rosa, describes his experience of private NVC support sessions:

“The one-on-one NVC work that I have done with the BayNVC trainer has been very beneficial to me. She has helped me to go from feeling overwhelmed by strong emotions and feelings in difficult situations to seeing the underlying needs that are trying to be met. This understanding has allowed me to be more in control of my reactions to situations as they come up in my life. I now feel greater ease and comfort in difficult situations as I can better see what is actually at work within me and find more harmonious ways of meeting those needs.”

NVC couples support sessions:

An Oakland parent participating in couples support sessions said:

“My husband and I received magical couples support from the Bay Area Nonviolent Communication trainer we worked with. We entered our first meeting angry, frustrated and hopeless. In addition, my husband was skeptical of the NVC process. At the end of our first meeting, we walked out feeling connected, clear and tender towards each other. Within two hours, we made the shocking discovery that in a different way we were longing for the same thing. It was revelatory that what seemed like irreconcilable differences between us and incomprehensible behavior of the other was actually a different strategy to fulfill the same need. A month passed by during which the clarity we gained during the first meeting with the trainer inspired each one of us to make some adjustments in our behaviors, which we knew would contribute to the comfort of the other. The second meeting was also surprising. I envisioned and hoped for trying to come up with an agreement or a deal for the future. Instead, we felt moved to express gratitude and more gratitude for the adjustments each one of us made so far, because these adjustments had made an enormous difference. We did talk about some ideas for the future but more importantly we regained trust in our future, in our ability to really understand, care for and respect each other.”

In NVC couples support work, we slow conversations way down. The seasoned practitioner explores with each person in turn what deeply matters to them behind the issues and concerns they express. Before responding, the listening partner reflects what they heard is most important to the speaker before offering any responses. Thus each person has confidence that their experience has been heard and understood by the other. Sometimes this is exactly what was needed. Sometimes it is the foundation on which decisions can be built.

The reflecting process can feel slow to some people, yet the outcomes are often helpful even when the process seems ‘cumbersome.’ One East Bay architect commented, “I think the NVC language is artificial and I find it awkward to use. On the other hand, I really like what happens to connection between us when we take the time to work this way.”

Most of us realize that speeding on the freeway carries certain dangers, and when we see an accident we tend to slow our speed so we have more control of our vehicle and have more time to respond to unexpected actions of other drivers. In the same way, slowing down our communication can support more connection and active consideration for ourselves, family members and co-workers when we see a conflict rising.

One of the principles underlying NVC is that we want to hold everyone’s needs (what matters most deeply to them) with care, and to find actions and plans that include everyone’s needs. This is a powerful commitment, because if people agree to actions they don’t actually want to do, then those agreements are often not kept. When any of us (speaker, listener, or NVC support practitioner) hears a tone of voice that might indicate there is less-than-willingness behind someon’s request, we do not proceed with the agreement until together we discover what else matters to the speaker. In everyday life, we are so habituated to giving up or pushing to get what we want, so resigned to the costs of compromise, it is almost a wonder to see that holding everyone’s needs with care can result in amazing, creative solutions.

About Meganwind Eoyang:

Meganwind Eoyang came to the study of Nonviolent Communication from a very different world. She grew up fighting in gang wars on the south side of Chicago, and then studied and taught martial arts to increase her sense of safety in a dangerous world. Her longing for sweet, deep connection with fellow humans arose after first finding safety and meaning in nature. She was excited to discover that Nonviolent Communication offers clear steps for practicing the compassion, self love, and love for others which her Chinese, European and North American (and other) spiritual traditions invite us to live. She has been a staff trainer with Bay Area Nonviolent Communication since 2004.

Finding NVC support sessions:

If you would like to arrange individual, couples or family NVC support sessions, contact Lynda Smith at lynda@baynvc.org, or at 510-433-0700 ext. 213.

For more information from the BayNVC website, including the requested contribution sliding scale for NVC support sessions, you may click here.

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