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My quest and curiosity of understanding how we can communicate more kindly to each other began as an elementary school classroom teacher. I was teaching in a grade one classroom, an age where children are learning to communicate for themselves, take responsibility for themselves and like a sponge, are ready to absorb the skills to do so. I realized that I too was seeking skills and methods of communication that allowed me to connect with others and — unbeknownst to me at the time — myself, more fully.
It become of great importance to me to learn the skills of clear communication, where everyone’s needs are heard and respected. It was ten years ago, in a yoga teacher training that I was recommended the book, Non-Violent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg. A few months later, when visiting my dear friend Anna at her cabin in Lake Tahoe, we pulled the book simultaneously out of our backpacks and had a good laugh. It had been three years since we had seen each other yet in many ways it was no surprise that we were reading the same book! A few weeks later we were both signed up for an International Intensive training to learn the skills and the practices of Nonviolent Communication.
Since then, the principles of Nonviolent Communication have been an integral part of my practice and profession. I’ve come to realize that taking a non-defensive, compassionate approach is applicable in all situations and is even more helpful in challenging ones!
I frequently compare speaking compassionately to playing basketball. The amount of shots a player takes in practice is to support the likelihood of the ball going into the basket in a real game, when there are distractions, defensive players and loud crowds. This is no different than the approach to conversations. Connecting, and engaging in compassionate conversations requires practice. Intentional practice in everyday conversations will make the tense and more challenging conversations more easeful.
It’s with the importance of practice in mind that I facilitate leadership and professional development programs and, most recently, wrote and published a children’s story. Published last month, Be Like A Tree is about a tree and a boy. Both characters hold a sense of curiosity as they long to bring meaning and purpose to who they are. The conversations they have with each other become reminders to themselves and to the reader to be in the world with a great amount of awareness, confidence, and compassion in their own unique and playful ways.
The primary difference-maker is intention
When a person has the intention to connect, to understand and to respect the needs of those they are speaking with, a conversation becomes non-defensive and compassionate.
These non-defensive conversations are open, honest, and empathic, and they are a lot of work!
They require attention as a listener and as a speaker along with the ability to be aware of, and name emotions, values and needs behind the words being spoken or the actions being taken. When students ask me how non-defensive conversations differ from “regular” conversations, my response is always: they don’t have to be. Everyday or “regular” conversations may or may not be defensive, however, they generally have less intention behind them, are fast, and have more of a doing energy than a being energy. These conversations generally aim to get a job done and have less meaning and connection.
The words you use have an impact
Conversations are an integral part of relationships. This includes the relationship and the internal dialogue you have with yourself, as well as the relationships that you have with others and the words that you use to communicate with them.
With a level of intention and awareness, your words can enhance and bring meaning and value to all of your conversations.
I think we are longing to connect to ourselves and to others in ways that have meaning to our self, our relationships and our lives.
The most significant change that I continue to hear from participants who are learning these principles is a new sense of self-awareness and understanding that what we say matters.
While we can’t change what anyone else says, we can change what we say, how listen, and how we respond.
Putting the practice into action
Here are 10 questions you can ask yourself to bring more meaning and connection to your conversations.
- Is my intention to connect, listen, and try to understand the emotions and needs of another?
- Am I aware of my own emotions and needs?
- Can I hear the emotions and the needs of another?
- With my awareness, am I able to express my own emotions and needs using words with clarity and honesty?
- Can I identify the emotions and needs of another based on their expressions to me?
- What is important about what I am saying?
- What might be important with what the other is saying? What values do my words connect to?
- Am I confident the meaning behind my words has been understood?
- Am I confident that I have heard the meaning behind what someone has said to me?
- Whether I agree or disagree, does the understanding bring a greater connection?
Inspired by all things in nature and committed to growth, meaning and adventure daily, Leanne is an entrepreneur who’s driven by movement, mindfulness and empathy.
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