Thursday, February 16, 2006

Empathizing with Anger, Part 2 (Responding to William's comment)


Sounds like my empathic guess (about "protecting anyone from anger") did not meet your need for respect or understanding?

I am appreciating in the moment how you became aware of your own jackal and chose to pause before responding. That meets my need for integrity and respect. I wonder how you feel reading my gratitude?

Now, on to the substance of your question, using the word anger in an "empathy pass".

A few things are coming up for me. First, a quote from Marshall: "Never think that what you say is empathy...empathy is where we place our attention." So, for me, I want to remember to keep my focus on observations, feelings, needs, and requests, my presence in the here and now and offer lots of space, i.e. silence to the person I am listening to. Focus, Presence and Space make up about 99% of empathy.

Now, sometimes I may connect with a need that might stimulate a desire in me to offer a verbal reflection of my empathy, an "empathy pass". For me it is vital to stay connected to what need I am hoping to meet with the pass. Sometimes I feel lost in the words of the other, so to meet my need for clarity I offer a pass. Other times I might compassionately connect (guess) that the other might enjoy hearing a reflection of what I hear is going on in them. Then, to meet MY need for contribution (in order to help meet their need for understanding, empathy, acknowledgment, etc) I may verbally reflect in the form of a guess the feelings and needs I heard of the other.

It is important for me to remember that a "pass" of empathy is a strategy...a strategy to meet needs. And like all strategies, you win some and you lose some. I agree with the other trainers that you have heard who said acknowledging another's anger (with the word anger, angry, etc) could have the opposite effect of what one might expect (adding gasoline to a fire). I personally have never had that experience (yet) when I offer my pass as a heartfelt question to meet my need for contribution to their understanding.

I have made an attempted pass that ends in a period with the kind of results you have heard from others. (E. g. "So you're feeling angry because you didn't get what you wanted.") Notice there are two parts of that pass that are less likely to inspire deeper connection: 1. I ended in a period, which is likely to be heard as a diagnosis or criticism. 2. I linked the feeling to the other's thinking, not their need. This is almost guaranteed to provide gasoline to the fire!

On the other hand, in the presence of someone who has said they feel angry and is displaying behavior I associate with anger, I have guessed to get "underneath" their anger, maybe something like "Are you feeling deeply hurt because your need for respect is not met?" And the response I received was akin to throwing gas on a fire as they responded, "No, I'm not hurt! Aren't you listening to me, I just said I was angry!"

In either case, if we stay with the process and recognize that the response of the other is a new observation, we can choose how we want to respond. (Jackal ears in or out OR giraffe ears in or out.)

I believe that an empathic connection is more likely when we leave all agendas, beliefs, strategies, and the like at the door before moving into deep empathy with another. I want to cultivate a presence with the other person, allowing myself to continually "go back" to their feelings and needs, while at the same time staying connected to myself.

When I notice any tendency to want to fix the other, protect the other, advise, cheer up, heal, transform, etc, I want to let that be a wake-up call that maybe I need empathy in the moment. None of those tendencies support empathy!

I want to pause long enough to determine whether or not I can put my needs "on the shelf" temporarily in order to return to empathy. If not, I'm not doing anyone a service by continuing to pretend to empathize. For me, it would be more life-serving in that moment to reveal nakedly my honesty, saying something like, "You know, I'm feeling really torn right now; I really want you to get your need for understanding and empathy met, and at the same time I recognize that I am in pain right now and having trouble staying connected with you. Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say?" I am predicting that his quality of honesty is likely to lead to the kind of connection that is my intention

I wonder if this mets your need for clarity and learning? I look forward to hearing what comes up for you.

1 comment:

William said...

I’m overjoyed hearing your gratitude over my response! Its this quality of freedom that I so much enjoy in the NVC community. My need for acceptance is fulfilled. I also enjoyed reading your response. I’m guessing this may have taken some time, and I’m grateful for such a gift. This meets my needs for growth and connection. I hope this gratitude is received with open arms.
There are few more questions that arise and I’m tempted to continue this discussion. And I’m concerned that perhaps I wont have the time to give the detail response that I would like in this environment (blog, or email for that matter). I’m more comfortable discussing them in person. I’m also noticing the agendas attached to some of my questions and knowing this I would like to sit on them further.