4/3/16 ~ Conversational Flow (On Being Cheeky)

What’s Up Next?

Sunday, April 3, 2016 ~ Conversational Flow (On Being Cheeky)

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Inquiry:  How do you gauge your level of cheekiness (a.k.a. receptivity versus nonviolent resistance), conversationally-speaking?

Hart’s Communication-Flow-Chart

ZENVC’s Communication Flow Chart

First, a confession…

Sometimes I use this blog as a convenient log for recording lessons worthy of remembering and further practice (especially given that my mind too oft seems like a sieve).  One such example occurred during a recent teleclass with Jim Manske (see:  Taste of Compassionate Leadership Free Teleclass – NVC Academy).  In it, he spoke of how to be non-defensive in our communication with others by listening and then first replying with the phrase, “So, for you ____ is important.”  He cited an example of someone recently approaching him with a sense of having woken up irritated with something he had said and wanting to talk about it more with him.  By beginning with the word ‘so’ and then a comma, he suggested that we slow down and remind ourselves of an intention to lean in a bit towards the other (and their stated dilemma) than we otherwise, more reactively, might have.  Then by prefacing ‘with you’ next, we can wholly focus on what matters to the other, rather than how we ourselves might again be reacting to (internally).  He also suggested that instead of a perfunctory plunking in a garden-variety ‘need’ word, we could experiment with a variety of other kinds of empathic guesses/reflections — such as observations, feelings, wishes, and so forth (as detailed with his ‘three layers of empathy’).  The context in which he placed this skill, was that of John Gottman’s notion of ‘softened start-ups’ where we approach others in ways that may be more conducive to collaboration and dialogic flow.

Template for Softened Start-Ups:

Practice:  “So, for you, ______* is important…”

*insert a reflection/empathic-guess here — see:  Three Layers of Empathy

One tweak that I might offer, along street giraffe lines, is that instead of routinely stating the phrase — ‘So, for you, ____ is important’ — one might instead contemplate it silently (somewhat akin to the NVC concept of ‘silent empathy’ — by internally guessing feelings and needs prior to opening one’s mouth).  Thus this phrase offers a kind of contemplative template encouraging greater receptivity within and priming the vocal chords pump for how one might then opt to externalize or word our reply more creatively/improvisationally).

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Note the ‘deeper layers’ (of values/needs) that conflict unearths:

John Gottman: What We Really Fight Over

Weekend Homework Assignment: Softening Startup – The Gottman Institute

By: Ellie Lisitsa

Excerpt:  “…As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, discussions invariably end on the same note they begin. If you start an argument harshly by attacking your partner, you will end up with at least as much tension as you began with, if not more. Softening Startup of your conversations is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts. If your arguments start softly, your relationship is far more likely to be stable and happy. Here are proven skills Dr. Gottman suggests for softening your startups when bringing up an issue of disagreement with your partner… (continues here:  Softening Startup)

Practice Softened Start-Ups – YouTube

See also:

Diffusing Difficult Conversations with Love | Dr. Julie Gottman

Gottman Method Couples Therapy: The Softened Start-up Technique – YouTube

The notion of a ‘softened (rather than hard/harsher) start-up’ brought to mind this passage from the Tao Te Ching:

Tao Te Ching 8: Be like water



The supreme goodness is like water,

nourishing all of creation

without trying to compete with it.

It gathers in the low places unpopular with men.

Therefore it is like the Tao.


In dwelling, live close to the ground.

In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.

In speaking, stand by your word.

In governing, lead with integrity.

In making a move, choose the right moment.


One who lives in accordance with nature

does not go against the way of things.

He moves in harmony with the present moment,

always knowing the truth of what must be done.


“Lao Tzu likens the Tao to water. The paradox of water is that although it is the softest of substances, it’s also one of the most powerful. Whilst yielding, it is also powerful enough to cut through rock and shape canyons and mountains. This is to say nothing of its essential life-giving properties. All forms of life are completely dependent upon it; without water, there would be no life upon this planet…” ~ Blogger Rory’s commentary continues here:  Beyond The Dream

By being receptive to another, we are embodying the reflective, mirroring qualities of water thereby fulfilling the two criteria that Carl Rogers highlighted as crucial to any truly empathic gambit:  1) empowering what is alive in another (rather than in ourselves) and 2) coming from unconditional, positive regard.  By saying, or thinking, ‘so, for you…’ — we discipline our focus to be on that which is ‘alive’ in the other and then by also emphasizing what they see as ‘important’, our attention is on what they may valuing in the moment (cultivating greater spaciousness/openness and, hopefully, less myopia/self-centeredness).

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This effort towards an unguarded (non-defended/non-defensive) stance evokes the consciousness of nonviolence, as epitomized in leaders such as Gandhi/MLK.

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Philip Yancey on what living out the instructions of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7):

“The movie Gandhi contains a fine scene in which Gandhi tries to explain his philosophy to the Presbyterian missionary Charlie Andrews. Walking together in a South African city, the two suddenly find their way blocked by young thugs. The Reverend Andrews takes one look at the menacing gangsters and decides to run for it. Gandhi stops him. “Doesn’t the New Testament say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?” Andrews mumbles that he thought the phrase was used metaphorically. “I’m not so sure,” Gandhi replies. “I suspect he meant you must show courage—be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred decrease and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and I have seen it work.”

Gandhi’s Philosophy – YouTube

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For more, see post on the Seeds & Roots of NVC

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his own words:

“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social contract theory of Hobbes, the ‘back to nature’ optimism of Rousseau, and the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the non-violent resistance philosophy of Gandhi.” ~ MLK, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”


Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Tenth Anniversary of the Anniversary of the Assasination of Mahatma Gandhi:

“Mahatma Gandhi has done more than any other person of history to reveal that social problems can be solved without resorting to primitive methods of vio­lence. In this sense he is more than a saint of India. He belongs – as they said of Abraham Lincoln – to the ages. In our struggle against racial segregation in Mont­gomery, Alabama, I came to see at a very early stage that a synthesis of Gandhi’s method of non-violence and the Christian ethic of love is the best weapon avail­able to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity. It may well be that the Gandhian approach will bring about a solution to the race problem in America. His spirit is a continual reminder to oppressed people that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence.  The Gandhian influence in some way still speaks to the conscience of the world as nations grapple with international problems. If we fail, on an international scale, to follow the Gandhian principle of non-violence, we may end up by destroying ourselves through the misuse of our own instruments. The choice is no longer be­tween violence and non-violence. It is now either non-violence or non-existence.  Oppressed people can deal with oppression in three ways. They can accept or acquiesce. Under segregation they can adjust to it. Yet non-co-operation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is co-operation with good. The minute one ac­cepts segregation, one co-operates with it. Oppressed people can, on the other hand, resort to physical violence, a method both whole nations and oppressed peoples have used. But violence merely brings about a temporary victory and not permanent peace. It creates ever new problems. Gandhi has come on the scene of history with still another way. He would resist evil as much as the man who uses violence, but he resists it without external violence or violence of the spirit. That is what Gandhism does. It is a method of the strong. If the only alternative is be­tween cowardice and violence, it is better – as Gandhi said – to use violence, but there is another way.  I myself gained this insight from Gandhi. When I was in theological school, I thought the only way we could solve our problem of segregation was an armed re­volt. I felt that the Christian ethic of love was confined to individual relationships. I could not see how it could work in social conflict. Then I read Gandhi’s ethic of love as revealed in Jesus but raised to a social strategy for social transformation. This lifts love from individual relationships to the place of social transformation. This Gandhi helped us to understand and for this we are grateful a decade after his death.”

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Lastly, why mention ‘cheekiness’ as a kind of barometer, or continuum, for our conversational conduct?  Along with the spiritual roots that inspired a nonviolent ethos is also the sense that nonviolence isn’t about passivity any more than it is about aggressivity.  It’s a kind of counterintuitive [Taoist watercourse way] assertiveness that has to be calibrated in accordance with circumstances as they present themselves (see two ‘cheeky’ examples by noted religious figures in the clip beneath).


  1. impudent or irreverent, typically in an endearing or amusing way.
    “a cheeky grin”

Fr Bob on Turning the Other Cheek – YouTube

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Water is a force-to-be-reckoned with — just ask the rocks of the Grand Canyon — so whether one opts towards the more genteel or turns the faucet on full blast is always a calibrated judgment call…

It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

See also:   October 7, 2012 ~ Ahimsa?

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Gandhi has said that he preferred to teach a violent man nonviolence than a cowardly one, as such (nonviolent) resistance entailed both the capacity for courage (the ability to bravely strike out instead of cower) coupled with a discernment as to when and how to refrain from this option.  This is reminiscent of Taoist sayings about ‘knowing how to yield’ — see:  Tao Quotes about yielding — which in the context of NVC could be analogous to another distinction, that of ‘thresholds’.   Knowing one’s given threshold, in any particular circumstance, means knowing how much one can bend — how flexible one can be — until there is a breaking point.  With more grave matters, the threshold would be higher (less willingness or flexibility in accommodating another).

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