The Practice of Compassionate Communication

by Peter A. Rafle, Sr., Right Relations Committee

In our current era of misinformation and raised rhetoric, it has become even more important to possess the tools to resolve conflicts and create a basis for ongoing communication. One way of resolving conflict is to use the process of Compassionate Communication. Compassionate Communication enables an exploration of conflict in a way that reduces blame and engenders compassion. It is based on recognition of each person’s humanity and basic goodness. As writer/educator Steven Covey writes: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Compassion is more than “expressing sympathy in times of stress or feeling sorry for someone who is in a negative situation.” Compassion is also interchangeable with sympathy, or a sharing of emotions. But, more than feeling sorry for someone, compassion can motivate one to feel a need to help.

Compassionate Communication is an effective method of conflict resolution that uses nonviolent communication, sincerity, empathy, and attentive listening to seek out the underlying needs of the parties involved. The first step in this process is attentive listening. Focus on what the person is saying without judgment or making assumptions. When a pause occurs, make a request for clarification in a positive non-threatening voice. Look to discern their needs and gently probe for the clarity you need before responding. For example, “ I heard what you said about X. Does that sound right? Could you tell me more about how you have come to that conclusion?” Restating what you have heard, and asking for more, shows that you are earnest and genuine in your desire to help. The process will be more secure moving ahead.

The next step is to explore your feelings. When confronted with a difficult situation, describe your feelings using specific words to provide clarity to connect your emotions to the deeper related needs. Be precise in the description, for example, by using words such as “agitated,” “demeaned” or “off balance” instead of “fine” or “bad.” Examine how your needs are related to the strong emotion prompted by the situation. Next, try to understand what the other person is feeling and the needs they might have that underlie the action and/or words you are facing.

Gently, and empathetically present questions to gather more bits of information to begin the path to resolve the dispute and pave the road to continued open dialog. As you explain your needs, feelings, and reactions the discussion will become one of mutual trust and understanding.

In summary, Compassionate Communication explores conflict in a way that reduces blaming and engenders compassion. It recognizes the humanity and basic goodness of each person. Try it for peace’s sake.