September 16, 2012 ~ Improvisational Empathy w/ Enemy Imagery

Sunday, September 16, 2012 ~ Improvisational Empathy w/ Enemy Imagery

Inspired by Lisa Montana’s ‘Enemy Imagery’ Presentation

Also Dian Killian & Empathy Guessing

And last but certainly not least, a performance by pianist Gabriela Montero, whom I witnessed as an audience member and then spoke with, briefly, during intermission — leaving me both astonished and charmed (not to mention moved, especially by her improvisational acumen and at how someone at her level of skill can still become flushed when receiving appreciation).

Gabriela Montero

Back on  June 10, 2012 we practiced Demystifying Empathy Guessing — next we’ll incorporate that capacity — moving from reactive tone deafness to a more nimble empathic ‘musical ear’ — to work with our enemy imagery, in real time.  Let me offer, by way of an example, an anecdote that was the inspiration, catalyzing what will be our focus.  While attending the symphony, during intermission, I was delighted to discover that our street giraffe blog had been referenced in a post via The Center for Collaborative Communication.  I read it eagerly (and re-posted it, in its entirety beneath).  Later while listening to the improvisational pianist Gabriela Montero — who literally invents a complex, melodious composition, on the spot, from a tune sung by an audience member — a couple behind me conversed with each other while she played, and I noticed quite a bit of irritation arising within me (as is predictably the scenario, as this distraction and that of unwrapping crinkly paper candy are pet peeves of mine, while attempting to soak in each note of a maestro that I may never hear again).  “How rude!” thought I.  And then it occurred to me to improvise — just as the pianist was doing before me — in this incidence with Universal Needs — an empathic inquiry (i.e. detecting the need as the flip side of my judgement’s coin), by way of an enemy imagery process (that Lisa Montana had streamlined, to keep in one’s ‘hip pocket’, for emergency use).  I could immediately sense what I longed for was consideration (is it not obvious that sound carries in these halls?!?), peace/silence (of extraneous – read ‘unnecessary’ talking), hence allowing space for my own appreciation of the breathtaking musicality unfolding before me (or beauty).  Shifting my focus, a quick silent empathy guess of what the couple may have been valuing  registered, similarly, as an appreciation of beauty yet — evidently in their case — music’s muse prompted their acting on a shared understanding or conveyance of meaning, between them.  Somehow this impromptu experience of doing the ’empathic’ math lessened my distractibility quotient and afforded me the presence of mind to savor the performance yet again.  I’m hopeful that even if I had opted to “ssshhh!” the couple, I would have done so with a bit less venom after having gone through such a process.

Practice with utilizing ‘improvisational empathy’ vis-a-vis our enemy imagery:

Enemy Image Process

Three parts of EIP: 1) Empathic connection with self – self-connection with unmet needs related to other’s actions; 2) Empathic connection with other – self-connection with other’s needs behind their actions; 3) Emergence of new possibilities and requests: Self-response-ability to meet your needs. (“Enemy Image” defined as any barrier to feeling connection and compassion with someone. The key to this process is cycling within Part 1, and amid Parts 1, 2 & 3.)

FYI ~ Feelings and Needs

Empathy Guessing Demystified – “How To” Improv Empathy

  • Stubborn > Open-mindedness
  • Inconsiderate > Consideration
  • Incompetent > Competency
  • Difficult > Ease
  • Inflexible > Flexibility
  • Dense/Obtuse > Awareness
  • Impossible > Hope/Confidence or Ease
  • Callous > Compassion, Care

Muse-like inspiration for improv practice:

Gabriela Montero’s Gift – CBS News

In the world of classical music there is a great divide: between the remarkably talented who will never make it and the truly gifted. The gift, in the case of Gabriela Montero, is an ear, or brain, or something that allows her to not just play the notes that Beethoven wrote 200 years ago, but to improvise, to riff on Beethoven the way Jazz musicians routinely do with their music.Making it up as you go along, for classical musicians, can be suicidal in that extremely uptight world.   But Gabriela, a young Venezuelan-born American pianist manages to get away with it. As correspondent Morley Safer reports, her sheer talent has won over the critics. It’s an amazing gift that came naturally and very, very early…

Detailed Description of How To Empathize Improvisationally:

Empathy Guessing Demystified – The Center for Collaborative Communication 

Empathy Guessing Demystified

Beneath posted by Hadassah (at CCC’s link above)

By Dian Killian, PhD

When I was new to NVC and first experienced empathy, I was in awe. How could someone know so deeply what I was feeling? Empathy was so simple and powerful it seemed like magic—or at least telepathy.

As magical, it also seemed beyond my understanding. I recall thinking one day after a training, “I don’t think I’ll ever know what I’m feeling and needing!”

Today, as a CNVC Certified Trainer, I am grateful to see this “magic” at work daily for individuals, groups, and organizations. Yet while still powerful, empathy is no longer a mystery. I “cracked the code” and want to share with you some precepts (based on the consciousness of mindset of NVC) and some basic steps (based on what I call the “semantics of empathy”) that can help make empathy guessing like second nature.

First Principle of Empathy (intention):

NVC is about bringing our focus towards what we want to experience (what will make life more wonderful, as Marshall would put it). This is very different from what we usually get with judgments or blame—a focus on what’s wrong or what we don’t want.

If someone says, for example, “You never listen to me!” they probably have a need to be heard. If they say, “You’re so pig headed and stubborn,” they’re probably wanting openness, flexibility and mutuality. If you tell yourself, “I never follow through on things!” you may desire integrity for your words and actions or completion and effectiveness (what “following through” might give you).

In each case, the empathy guess is the opposite of the judgment—it’s the positive form of a negative assessment regarding what’s “wrong” or “lacking.” The next time someone is complaining or critical, see if you can listen with your “NVC ears” for what they are wanting—this will help you guess their feelings and needs.

Second Principle (form):

Another key concept in NVC that helps de-mystify empathy guessing is that needs are universal and so, by definition, abstract. Look at any word on the needs list—love, support, interdependence, choice, rest, etc—none of these you can pick up in your hands or hold. They are all experiences and—in terms of grammar, are abstract nouns. Judgments, thoughts, and evaluations are descriptive and so are in the form of adverbs and adjectives (modifiers).

Both principles can help with empathy guessing—since what we’re doing is looking for the positive (the opposite of the negative), and a quality on an abstract level.

Applying these Principles

Let’s see this in action. Say someone says, “He’s needy and dependent.” What would be the opposite, positive assessment? Probably that the person is “self-sufficient, independent, autonomous, resourceful or responsible.” If we make these characteristics abstract, we have needs: self-sufficiency, independence, autonomy, resourcefulness and responsibility.

Let’s look at a more examples:
If you tell yourself that someone or something is > You probably need:

Inconsiderate > Consideration

Incompetent > Competency

Difficult > Ease

Inflexible > Flexibility

Impossible > Hope/confidence or ease

Some judgments have little real meaning—for example, “You’re a jerk” or “That’s cool!” Words of this kind—that have a high level of moral judgment—are more expressions of intensity of feeling than the needs at play. Often, they come along with content words that do have needs in them.

For example, if someone says, “You’re impossible,” they might give next a more specific complaint (or imply in context): “You never take responsibility for your actions!” You might then empathy guess: “It sounds like you’re really frustrated and impatient—and wanting responsibility and awareness?” “Impossible” in this content could also be expressing exhaustion, and a desire for simplicity, flow and ease—or hope about change—in the relationship

Hoping these tips help you demystify empathy guessing and more easily share the “magic” of empathy with all those you meet! Remember in practicing a semantic-based form of empathy guessing (as always true in communication) that context is key. Also regardless of the words you use, what really matters in listening to others is your intention—bringing your heart, as well as your head, into how you understand and connect with others.

eBook Packages

Resource: Chapter Three in the new Second Edition of Connecting Across Differences

If you have found this approach to empathy guessing helpful, you may wish to check out Chapter Three in the new Second Edition of Connecting Across Differences where this practice of semantic-based empathy guessing (based on the roots of words and their oppositions) is discussed in detail. There also are exercises that support you in practicing. Practice hearing what is beneath positive and negative assessments, i.e. taking note of which values may animate both empathic (emotive) expressions and the more content laden ones. 

For more, peruse pg. 93  of the book beneath, titled the “roots and oppositions” exercise, which depicts how to decode the needs underlying judgments (see pages 91  and 92  – i.e. “Enjoy the Talking Head Show” – for further details).

See also:

FYI ~ GabrielaMonteroTV – YouTube

“When improvising,” Montero says, “I connect to my audience in a completely unique way – and they connect with me. Because improvisation is such a huge part of who I am, it is the most natural and spontaneous way I can express myself. I have been improvising since my hands first touched the keyboard, but for many years I kept this aspect of my playing secret. Then Martha Argerich overheard me improvising one day and was ecstatic. In fact, it was Martha who persuaded me that it was possible to combine my career as a serious ‘classical’ artist with the side of me that is rather unique.”

“My first Christmas,” Montero relates, “when I was seven months old, my grandmother bought a two-octave toy piano for my cousin who was three. I began to play the songs my mother sang to get me to sleep. She recorded me.”

Web Resources

Gabriela Montero on ’60 Minutes’

An 11 year old Gabriela Montero plays
the Grieg Piano Concerto, 1st

Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill & Gabriela Montero perform John Williams Composition “Air And Simple Gifts” at President Obama’s Inauguration, Washington D.C., 1/20/09

This entry was posted in Arts & Literature, Empathy, Enemy Imagery, Politics, Practice Resources - CCC:NYC, Practice Resources - Kinyon's NVC Mediation, What's Up Next? and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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