March 23, 2014 ~ On Turning Points (& Turning Towards)

Sunday, March 23, 2014 ~ On Turning Points (& Turning Towards)

Recently — beginning in early February when we discussed the Three Layers of Empathy and continuing up until recent weeks when we explored Scary HonestyIntegrative Expression we’ve considered how to practice various components of NVC (such as the classic dance between empathy and honesty).

Next we’ll continue experimenting with these skills, as we inquire into how to choose between the two, i.e. whether it’s preferable (or more connecting?) to empathize with another or honestly self-express (or some hybrid of the two!?!  see:  integrative expression) — as always — keeping a ‘needs-consciousness’ as our cornerstone for any conversational edifice we may construct.  Not wishing to confuse the territory with the map, I’ll still offer a few insights culled from my own (trial-n-error) experience.

Speaking only for myself, NVC is not always my ‘go to’ map.  I wouldn’t, to be absurd for a moment, purchase tickets to see a ‘giraffe’ comedian, as I’d much prefer the ol’ garden variety ‘jackal’ brand of humor.  As I recently read a recent New York Times column which quoted Oscar Wilde — “A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave” — I recognized that too often I tend to see NVC as ‘learning to behave’ (and as that saying goes, well behaved women don’t often make history).  Of course, this is a distorted view; nonviolent resistance — think Rosa Parks — certainly wouldn’t fit neatly into the category of the well-behaved.  Nevertheless, most of the writing that I relish is thick in so-called jackal criticism and interpretation (here’s just one example:  the climate change deniers have won).  So, at least from my vantage point, the initial threshold is to not walk the earth with any illusory expectations (see:  Leather Earthers), nor attempt to view the world as though it ‘should’ be conducted through ‘giraffe-spotted’ spectacles.  Instead the aspiration is to accept things, as they are, while perceiving when and where it is most effective to employ the skills inherent to my own practice of Nonviolent Communication (without imposing on anyone else, as I once heard it put, to act as though I were the only one who knows of this tool).

Similarly, NVC consciousness is not a mode I will always be in, nor even will intentionally cultivate.  However, when the occasion arises — whether organically or, for example, in the midst of a stressful conversation — choosing the lens of NVC is first about choosing to come from what is often referred to as an ‘intention to connect’ (which, in my practice, means turning towards another with curiosity and openness as to their experience).  However transient it may be, it’s the capacity to attend to what is alive in another (including, a kind of stealth/silent empathy, which entails an attunement to what they may be viscerally/emotionally experiencing and tracing how this may relate to their needs).

It’s possible to disagree with another’s world view, for (an illustrative, if extreme) example, to listen to a ‘flat-earther’ and yet stay open to the ‘feelings of fear’ and ‘need for safety’ that comes when, from their point-of-view, one believes one’s ship will drop over the edge at the horizon.  This is a crucial distinction, as it’s easy to get caught in the quicksand of either offering a kind of flat, mechanical empathy (like a pavlovian dog drooling at the sound of the bell) instead of an authentic tuning in (or to send mix signals of feigning receptivity while experiencing and seething with reactivity).  All too often, I’ve noticed a tendency to dilute any pure empathic receptivity by way of the filter of my own thoughts, judgements, etc. and then as a correlative tend to infuse any responses with my own identification/anecdotes.  It’s a bit of a tight wire act, as sometimes sharing what comes up within us immediately after another shares can resonate with another’s (limbic/communal sense) and come across as much more natural; however at other times identification (sharing anecdotes or similar fodder from one’s own experience) can repel, as the person feels increasingly estranged by what we’re peppering in.  As I’ve been on both ends of this, it’s become apparent that this ‘tainting’ of a seeming receptiveness to someone else, which actually masks one’s own conveyance of interpretations/evaluations, not only leaks (but also can wreak havoc) and is readily picked up on, intuitively, by others.

hat on table

So, it becomes an actual discipline to track whose ‘needs’ are on the table (or who has thrown their proverbial hat into the ring), at any given time, and when attuning to another come from the empathic awareness that Carl Rogers described as possessing a couple key ingredients:  ‘unconditional positive regard’ and ’empowering what is alive in the other’ (rather than ‘what’s alive’  in ourselves).  This is why guidelines such as the Manskes’ Three Layers of Empathy can be a invaluable framework to keeping on task, empathically-speaking.


And just as empathy has its inevitable tricky snares, so too with our own honest self-expression which can also be diluted as we shrink from our own ‘scary honesty‘ (authenticity that makes our palms sweat or heart race).  To be emboldened to self-express in ‘giraffe’ — identifying any stimulus as an observation, being self-responsible enough to acknowledge anything we’re adding to it (our interpretations/evaluations, i.e. ‘what I’m telling myself’), referencing visceral sensations and emotions and how it relates to the values in play, and finally crafting concrete (connection/action) requests or collaborative invitations as to the direction to move in next can also be quite challenging and require a hefty dollop of mindfulness, even a degree of self-discipline.  To be able to express while letting go (see:  Wanting Fully Without Attachment) is yet another feat.  Last but not least, to be able to track when or if we are losing presence, thereby necessitating a shift away from empathically receiving and towards self-expression, and whether or not there is sufficient spaciousness in another to receive our truth is yet another hard-earned skill.  So to begin, since it’s always the cornerstone, let’s take a closer look at how one shifts to needs consciousness.

Abraham Maslow’s pyramid, pictured beneath, is a familiar one and while the notion of “Universal Human Needs” — in Nonviolent Communication — is not one that is organized hierarchically, there is still some overlap in the categories of both.


An alternative categorization by a Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef has referenced by Marshall Rosenberg and incorporated into NVC mediator John Kinyon’s Needs list which identifies nine groupings of needs, yet can also be further distilled into three meta categories of 1) peace (well-being); 2) love (connection); and 3) joy (self-expression):

[PDF] Needs sheet – John Kinyon

Nine Universal Human needs

While considering these categories, the simplification to nine, and then three, categories is in part due to an awareness of how limited our psyche’s “bandwidth” can be in the midst of conflict, such as in the context of being a mediator.  Sometimes, being able to track ‘which of the three main categories of needs’ is most relevant in this moment can be invaluable short-cut, when our cognitive capacities are being stretched to the brink.

Another parallel that can be useful is how these three meta categories relate to the triune brain (which can come in handy, to be mindful of, especially in a pinch or piqued dialogue):

  • Peace (or well-being/security) relates to the survival instincts of the reptilian brain

  • Love (or connection) similarly correspond to the limbic brain 

  • Joy (or self-expression/meaning) relate to the neo-cortext

Green-Light-Communication (Prefrontal Cortex Online);
Yellow-Light-Communication (Limbic System Aroused?);
Red-Light-Communication (Reptilian Brain on red alert!)


So, as we track ‘whose needs are on the table’ it can be useful to note which part of the brain is most in play, whether in ourselves or another, at any given moment.  Recognizing whether someone is at a more basic level, of lizard brain survival or limbic belonging (verses cortex’s meaning-making) can help us with our choice, of how to attune or best attend to the needs in play, whether through self-connection, empathy, or honesty.

Note the Two ‘Choice-Points’ Beneath:

1.  Self-Connection/OFNR
(vs. Habitual Reaction)
2.  Empathically Receive/Listen or
Honest Self-Expression?


Which way to turn?

One option is the ‘jiffy-lube’ mediation skill known as “Breath/Body/Need” (described beneath) — in which you try to identify one need at stake, whether in yourself or another:




See also:

Benefits of Empathy: You Do Not Have to Fix People: Newt Bailey (1)

Benefits of Empathy: Empathy Gets Rid of the Poison of Resentment: Newt Bailey (3)

Benefits of Empathy: Empathy Prevents Conflicts: Newt Bailey (4)

Benefits of Empathy: Empathy Resolves Conflicts: Newt Bailey (5)

Benefits of Empathy: Empathy Builds Trust: Newt Bailey (6)

Carl Jung said, “while we may be the protagonist of our own lives, we are also the extras or spear carriers in some larger drama…”

 On choosing differently, i.e. between various NVC options:

Responding to Anger – Tree of Compassionate Connection

Printable versions – US version &  A4 version


Communication Flow Chart – ZENVC

The Fearless Heart

Dialogue and Nonviolence by Miki Kashtan

I have often reminded others (and myself in the process) that our commitment to nonviolence is only tested when people do things we don’t like. How are we going to respond when we see an individual, a leader, a group, or even a nation, acting in ways that are not aligned with what we want to see happen in the world?  Nonviolence gets its power from love, from breaking down the barriers of separation and cultivating compassion for everyone, from the courage to face consequences to our actions, from the willingness to stand for truth, from the fierce commitment to overcome fear and act in integrity.  Responding nonviolently to what we don’t like, then, invites us to find ways of bringing love, courage, and truth to the situation even while we are trying to transform it… (continues)

Turn Turn Turn (To Everything There is a Season (Pete Seeger)

Via Wikipedia:  The lyrics are taken almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes, as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible[2] (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), though the sequence of the words was rearranged for the song. Ecclesiastes is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

NYT:  Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94

Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

The universality of human needs also entails a quality of indivisibility, as with the idea of the United States being ‘one country, under God, indivisible’.  They are both distinct and yet unified, as we all possess shared desires and yearnings for (these abstract qualities of these values also known as) universal human needs, regardless of how the strategic means we enact to meet our needs may vary.  Embodying a ‘needs consciousness’ offers us insight as to how to ‘turn towards’ our partners, during critical crossroads, and amplifies the capacity to hold a ‘transpersonal we’ space, as detailed beneath:

See also:  Transparent Communication – SoundCloud

Transparent Communication
& WE-culture

Transparent communication, developed by Thomas Hübl, enables us to “access a more extensive level of information in our lives” and to “move beyond the interpretation (understanding) of humans as objects in the physical world and thus experience humans from within”.  This method helps us to “acknowledge the true cause of many conflicts, looking beyond the symptoms to the root of the problem”.  The aim of this method is to establish a new WE-culture by “achieving a high degree of interpersonal clarity, supporting our authentic expression, not to mention an expansion of the collective intelligence” more…

On Turning Towards…

Do You Turn TowardTurn Away Or Turn Against Your Partner

There are three responses to a bid for connection: turning toward, turning away and turning against.

1. Turning toward. This means to react in a positive way to your partner’s bid for emotional connection. Research indicates that over time, these couples develop stable, long-lasting relationships. They also can access humor, affection and interest in each other during conflict. They can stay connected and not let temporary negative feelings destroy the relationship.

2. Turning away. This response is essentially ignoring or avoiding the bid or acting preoccupied. A consistent turning away response leads to defensiveness and seems to result in early divorce in married couples.

3. Turning against. Couples who turn against each other’s bids for connection appear more argumentative, critical and sarcastic. According to Gottman’s research, this style leads to divorce in a majority of cases, but not as quickly as couples who more habitually turn away from bids.

A Deeper Look Into Turning Towards Your Partner:  Gottman Blog


Dr. Gottman’s definitions for the following behaviors are given below, as well as examples to clarify the ways in which they may be expressed. For the sake of this exercise, we are going to keep the bid (one which you’ve likely made on many occasions) the same in each scenario:

Nearly Passive Responses
These are one or two word comments or mild shifts in behavior with no verbal response – your partner may not stop what they are doing, but you know that you’ve been heard, e.g.  Sam: “Do you want to go out tonight?”  Mia: [Continuing to get the kids ready for school] “Mmmm”
Low Energy Responses:
These involve a few words or a question to clarify a bid, e.g. Jamal: “Do you want to go out tonight?” Ava: “Sounds fine. Where?”
Attentive Responses:
These involve opinions, thoughts, and feelings, e.g. Gabrielle: “Do you want to go out tonight?”  Liam: “That sounds great. You like that Thai place down the street?”
High Energy Responses: 
These involve full attention with good eye contact. High energy responses may be enthusiastic, include humor or affection, and/or sincere empathy, e.g. Rosie: “Do you want to go out tonight?”  Wiley: “Hooray! Oh, hold on a sec while I cancel my date with the couch…”
In the next few days, try to notice the ways in which you and your partner respond to such bids for attention, empathy, or connection in your interactions.

Turning Towards

4 horsemen-Gottman

The Four Horsemen and How to Avoid Them

Gottman Institute:  Build Mindfulness in Emotional Moments 

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

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