Brent:  This listening with empathy is a new business for me.  I don’t often find myself being empathetic.  It is something I am willing to try, but honestly it doesn’t fit my personality too well.  I’m one of those people who give solutions and be done with the problem.  I usually don’t find any need to talk about thoughts and feelings and such—too mushy for me, really.  I am not against the idea, but it comes very hard to someone like me. 


We are social beings and we meet or try to meet most of our needs through our interactions with others—from the chitchat we exchange with a stranger at the grocery store, the gossip we share with our neighbor, the conferences at work to plan a new project, to the many levels of potential intimacy between partners, and the carefully planned negotiations between countries in conflict. 


What kinds of relationships do you have with others?  At home, with friends, at work?  What kinds do you want?  Only you can decide.  Here are some questions to aid your reflection.


  • As you look at your interactions with people, are you pleased with what you see? 
  • How would it benefit you professionally to have stronger people skills?
  • With specific individuals, are you as close as you want to be?
  • How much energy do you want to put into your relationships? 
  • Is avoiding conflict lessening your aliveness in a relationship?
  • Is losing your temper lessening the quality of your relationships? 



Doesn’t everyone have their own style of communicating? 


Yes.  Every culture develops its own language system—words, grammar, and a complex set of subtle customs about what topics will and won’t be talked about and in what ways.  Within a society, families have further subsets of customs.  Any group of people develops its own vernacular, including couples.  If they come from similar backgrounds, they may have similar expectations of how people relate and seldom find conflict arising.  When there were traditional roles for men and women, many marriages ran fairly smoothly by following them.  For some friends, shared activities or a high tolerance of differences, mean an equally low need to process. 


And you may seldom think about this until you move into a culture with a noticeably different language system—such as a foreign country, a college dorm, a marriage, or a communication class.  Or you study this book.


To these language systems, you need to add individual personalities.  Many personality tests reflect that some people find listening easier than talking, and others find talking the easier part of a conversation.  Some prefer a large amount of personal sharing, others thrive on much less.  Some are slow to anger, some quick.  Some people are nourished by many relationships, while others are quite satisfied with only a few contacts. 


Therefore, it is likely that you will find some tools in the upcoming chapters more useful to you than others.  Various readers will resonate with different ideas.  I do not want to imply that we all “should”—or even can—excel in every skill.  I encourage you to start where you are and move cautiously—try out a few of these ideas and see which ones enhance your current relationships.  If one tool does not seem very useful, set it aside for now and try another that looks promising to you. 


This strategy will let you walk into new ways of talking and thinking, if and when it fits for you, rather than throwing yourself at some ideal, which can be bruising.  Really!  I hope you will honor your own journey in this matter and trust your sense of what works for you.



OK—so go slow.  Don’t expect perfection of myself.  And take what fits.  Got that.  Now, what’s the big picture of the communication skills for moving into dialogue and dealing with anger?


We are recycling through the basic tools—sharing our observations, feelings, needs, and requests, while listening for the observations, feelings, needs, and requests of the other.  Plus holding the entire conversation with an attitude, an intention, of deeply valuing ourselves and the other person. 


Here are my ideals, my goals: 


  • Replace my evaluations with observations
  • Notice and accept all of my thoughts and feelings exactly as they are in this moment
  • Be quickly aware of my anger, and shut my mouth so that my words might be choiceful  
  • Translate my feelings, criticisms, and judgments into needs  
  • Take the time to notice and value my needs  
  • Connect with others by speaking openly of my feelings, needs, and requests, as appropriate to the situation  


  • Listen carefully—wonder about the needs and feelings of the other person  
  • Hold the possibility that what they are observing may be different from what I am seeing    
  • Make reflections of what I hear and check them out to assure that I understand the speaker 
  • Translate all the criticisms and judgments I hear into needs and requests    
  • Cultivate an attitude of appreciation and respect for myself and others   
  • Value getting everyone’s needs on the table, and met, if at all possible  



This list sounds impossible.  Do you actually do all these things?


No.  Like everyone else, I find some skills easier than others.  Some I have done for years.  Others are less familiar to me.  Studying, practicing, teaching, and writing about NVC remind me to focus on the importance of needs.  I slowly, steadily improve and I like the results.