March 9, 2014 ~ Scary Honesty


Sunday, March 9, 2014 ~ Scary Honesty

Following-up on last week’s  ‘flight simulator’ theme — i.e. “in moments of crisis, we ‘sink’ to our level of training” — I remember once filling in as a facilitator in an established NVC practice group (that had been ongoing for longer than I’d been studying NVC).  I knew that traditionally it was organized as an empathy circle, however during check-in I acknowledged my own sense that it’s as important to practice the other two skills (self-connection and honesty) as it is to practice empathy and suggested how we might.  Somewhat surprisingly (somewhat not), most present acknowledged that they hadn’t much experience with how to practice [NVC] honesty (as distinct from sharing in order to receive empathy).

On another occasion, NVC certified trainer Kelly Bryson (author of Don’t Be Nice, Be Real) spoke of Marshall Rosenberg’s palpable regret, near the end of his active professional engagement, with how NVC was being conveyed — read ‘distorted’ (mine own evaluation) — mostly in the form of the ubiquitous outcrops of empathy only circles, devoid of the (requisite) correlative/counterbalance in the practice of honesty.  See also:  Kelly Bryson Personal Growth Through Honesty NVC – YouTube

An Invitation… – Session #3 – Honesty – Nonviolent Communication Training 

A Conversation With Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.


Q:  Your approach to Nonviolent Communication involves four basic steps. What are they?

MBR:  Of the four components that we teach, three of them answer the question, what’s alive in you?

One of them is, “what are you reacting to?” What is either making life wonderful, or what isn’t? It’s very important to identify this, to be specific about it. We call that an observation. Can you make a clear observation without mixing in any diagnosis, any evaluation?

A second component is, “how do you feel about what you’re observing?” And the third is “what needs of yours are connected to your feelings?” Observation is what people are doing. Second, how do you feel? Third, what needs are related to this?

And then four, what would make life more wonderful? Make a clear request. Who would you like to take what action to meet your needs? So three of these components are involved in answering the question, what’s alive in you? The other is what are your requests in relationship to what’s alive in you that would make life more wonderful for you? The other part of the process is to receive the same information back from other people, regardless of how they communicate. In this respect, we show people how to translate any message that comes at you into what that person might be feeling and needing and requesting.

[PDF] Exercises – Nonviolent Communication

  • Observation or Evaluation?
  • Expressing Feelings
  • Acknowledging Needs
  • Conveying Requests

See also:   Improvisational OFNR


Marshall Rosenberg – Observation without Evaluation

I once mentioned being frozen, like a proverbial deer-in-headlights, whenever someone acted in a way that stunned or pissed me off.  One of my first NVC teachers simply said, ‘well, that’s a time to make an observation.’  I suspect that all too often, one impediment to voicing our own truth is a sense of not knowing how (or where) to start…

Observing without Evaluating

Observations must be specific to time and context.
Instead of saying ‘you are always late’, we can say: ‘you were late the last three times to our meetings’.


Observation & Evaluation
Observation without Evaluation
‘You lied to me about your grades’. ‘I heard you say you passed all your courses, but this report card shows two Fs’.
‘The boss is procrastinating around this decision’. ‘The boss told us she would announce the decision by last week, but we still haven’t heard’.

Observation Challenge

Feelings Vocabulary | Needs Vocabulary

Miki Kashtan once shared an anecdote that I’ve chewed on, quite a bit, ever since.  A friend had asked her to review a draft email to get a second opinion on how it might come across to its intended recipient (for example, whether observation was being mixed with evaluation, etc.).  When Miki pointed out phrasing that seemed laced with judgement — not adhering to strict NVC guidelines – her friend nodded in acknowledgement of this, but then offered that phrasing it any less critically would have been too sanitizing (from her perspective), rendering it somehow inauthentic.  I truly appreciated Miki conveying this example (as I related to it).   I’ve never been of the mindset that merely by applying myself to NVC, I’ve somehow signed on an imaginary dotted line, thereby abstaining forevermore from ‘jackal’ or vowing an (unrealistic) intention to speak pure – read ‘Stepford’ – giraffe.  Perhaps what is important, from my point-of-view anyway, is to cultivate a mindfulness of when I’m observing verses when I’m interpreting, to become more skillful at phrasing clean and self-responsible observations when possible, and to become more conscious of and take responsibility for my own interpretations as such (including being willing to pay the price when I opt to speak in more evaluative – read, ‘harsher’ – tones).  Note from the first example in the grid below, taken from Marshall Rosenberg’s chapter on observations (pgs. 30-31), that even in its pure form, NVC isn’t about not having any evaluations/interpretations, but not ‘mixing’  the two (or learning to distinguish or separate out our interpretations from that which we’re observing).

Distinguishing Observations from Interpretations:

When you said/did __, I told myself (made it mean) __


Example of observation
with evaluation mixed in 

Example of observation separate from evaluation

1. Use of verb to be without indication that the evaluator accepts responsibility for the evaluation You are too generous. When I see you give all your lunch money to others I think you are the being too generous.
2. Use of verbs with evaluative connotations Doug
Doug only studies for exams the night before.
3. Implication that one’s inferences about another person’s thoughts, feelings, intentions, or desires are the only ones possible She won’t get her work in. I don’t think she’ll get her work in. or She said, ‘I won’t get my work in.
4. Confusion of prediction with
If you don’t eat balanced meals, your health will be impaired. If you don’t eat balanced meals, I fear that your health may be impaired
5. Failure to be specific about referents Minorities don’t
take care of their property
I have not seen the minority family living at 1679 Ross shovel the snow on their sidewalk.
6. Use of words denoting ability
without indicating that an evaluation is being made
Hank Smith is a poor soccer player. Hank Smith has not scored a goal in 20 games.
7. Use of adverb and adjectives in ways that do not signify an evaluation has been made Jim is ugly. Jim’s looks don’t appeal to me.

Beneath via

The Scary Honesty (A Valentine for Marshall Rosenberg)

By John Kinyon


In times spent with Marshall Rosenberg, I often heard him tell stories with an honesty that I found courageous.

This was not a surprise. Marshall has said that, in order to create a true connection, honesty is just as important as empathy.

He coined the term “scary honesty,” because of how terrifying it can be to tell people what is true inside of us.

Part of learning how to be honest with people is dealing with them “freaking out,” Marshall said. It helps to be ready for the fact that those who hear our truth may become angry, hurt, or upset. They may well react in ways that stimulate fear in us.

The crucial distinction, Marshall points out, is recognizing that we’re not afraid of other people or their reactions. Instead, we’re afraid of our own internal reactions to their reactions. In other words, it’s not the other person who is scary. It’s the thoughts and feelings that person can evoke in me that I fear.

Another crucial distinction, of course, is that we can either be honest in a way that tells people what we think about them (i.e., how we’re judging them), or we can tell them what is “alive in us,” as Marshall would say. The latter gets expressed in more neutral, nonjudgmental language, in terms of OFNR (observations, feelings, needs, and requests).

However, despite our most sincere attempts to communicate our truths non-judgmentally, without blame, criticism, or demands, other people can still misinterpret and grow upset. Even so, the vulnerability created by the scary honesty is worth it, because it can open up channels of dialog and understanding that weren’t possible before.

And now I will be honest with you. Empathy with others has always come far easier to me than scary honesty. One of the hardest things for me to learn—and something I have to keep learning, over and over—has been the high price of saying “yes” when the answer was really “no,” or in staying quiet about my real feelings and desires. That’s why I’m grateful for Marshall’s teaching and his lived example. They are a continual reminder, and an invitation, to live my life more honestly and courageously.

As Marshall reminds us, the scary honesty is actually a great gift. It’s a rare thing, in our society, to tell other people what’s really going on in us and to be willing to say what we would like to receive. This gives others a chance to enjoy giving to us. And if they reciprocate that honesty, they give us the same gift. Even if the message is hard to hear, it is still a gift because it is the truth. As the old saying goes, the truth really can set us all free.

Read Part 2, “The Importance of Play”.

Truth or Dare?

  • Do you recall times when you yearned to be transparent yet bit your tongue instead?
  • Do you remember other times when you did speak out, only to regret it later?
  • Do you want to be able to speak your truth more often (and more effectively)?
  • Are you looking for a ‘flight simulator’ where you can practice this kind of honesty?

Excerpt beneath by Miki Kashtan

Full Authenticity:  I am aware of a lot of conditioning in the culture to not be authentic about our inner experience. I can totally see that unless we consciously work on this conditioning to be “nice”, we can easily fold the tool of NVC into the conditioning. With enough practice, unfortunately, it’s possible even to use NVC to mask the truth of our experience. A Naturalizing the NVC language comes from aligning ourselves with the truth and expressing from that place. I want to learn more and more how to express myself in ways that are completely authentic and require the least amount of effort for the other person to hear me.

Combining Truth and Care:  One of the reasons why the conditioning to be inauthentic is in place is because of the widespread perception that truth and care are incompatible. I challenge that assumption deeply, and have come to believe that any truth can be combined with sufficient care to maintain connection while delivering it. Even a painful truth can be connected. We cannot protect ourselves or each other from pain. We can speak in ways that provide care even during pain. Before speaking I reflect on the truth, I look for and find the care inside, even when that’s an effort. I take an extra breath, if necessary, to ensure that they are united inside me, and I let the words emerge from that… (continues)

Jeff Brown on NVC Honesty

NVC Honesty Jeff Brown Q and A

When Empathy might not be the most Life-Serving Response

by Jeff Brown

Frequently when I am teaching people empathy skills and practice, I get a question that sounds something like this:

“How could you just stand there and talk with the person endlessly if they ______,” and then the person fills in the blank with any number of scenarios.

This illuminates how empathy — whether done silently or out loud — is actually NOT the preferred response in certain situations. So, as valuable and life-giving as empathy can be, I invite you to consider ditching empathy in the following situations and trying the alternative:

SITUATION: You notice resentment or irritation when you imagine offering your empathic presence to another.

ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: Remind yourself that the only way that empathy connects is when the listener is acting out of the joy of giving, and is meeting his or her own needs by offering the empathic presence. In other words, empathy is not a commodity that we “dole out,” but rather a compassionate embrace of the other that enriches our life.

SITUATION: You are too upset or triggered in that moment to genuinely offer your empathic presence.

ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: Take a time out. Take a deep breath. Shine the light of empathy on yourself (“self-empathy”). Connect with your own feelings, needs and requests, and/or ask another person (not the person who triggered you) you trust to listen to you with empathy.

SITUATION: When you want to share your own truth with the person.

ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: Express yourself honestly to them. This sometimes involves “Screaming Compassionately,” as in, “I am overwhelmed and needing to take care of myself, and I am not able to hear you right now! Can we talk again after dinner?”

SITUATION: The other person has a need that is more alive than empathy, such as information, clarity or honesty.

ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: Tune in to the person’s present-moment need(s), and respond accordingly… rather than defaulting to or assuming that empathy is always the primary need. It can be extremely irritating to receive empathy – particularly the verbal reflection of feelings and needs – when another need is alive… (continues here: at Jeff Brown’s blog)

See also:  Heartfelt Communication

NVC Need and Hope for Honesty in our World

Heartfelt Communication’Jeff Brown quotes from Neale Donald Walsch at the beginning of the clip beneath, “As long as we’re afraid of being hurt by the truth, we’re going to lie.  And while we don’t like it, we will tolerate an entire society built on lies.  Yet it is society’s refusal to become truthful that causes most of the pain society is forced to endure and the vicious circle is complete.  We sidestep the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in an effort to avoid pain and yet, in the process, we cause pain.”

Quote, “the molten pit of human reality”

Chris Hedges: The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies

Excerpt from piece above:  Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil” holds that only a few people have the fortitude to look in times of distress into what he calls the molten pit of human reality. Most studiously ignore the pit. Artists and philosophers, for Nietzsche, are consumed, however, by an insatiable curiosity, a quest for truth and desire for meaning. They venture down into the bowels of the molten pit. They get as close as they can before the flames and heat drive them back. This intellectual and moral honesty, Nietzsche wrote, comes with a cost. Those singed by the fire of reality become “burnt children,” he wrote, eternal orphans in empires of illusion.

See also:

August 18, 2013 ~ On Not Holding One’s Tongue

March 31, 2013 ~ Expressing Integrated Honesty

February 24, 2013 ~ “And the Truth Shall Set You Free”

November 4, 2012 ~ Being the Eye of the Storm

October 7, 2012 ~ Ahimsa?

Hamlet – Bill Murray as Polonius – YouTube

See also:  To Thine Own Self Be True – Hamlet 

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