Speaking with an Open Heart

Peaceful Communication

Having good relationships with others is a basic condition for achieving peace and harmony. Learning to communicate with empathy and positivity will help you improve and deepen all your relationships!

The art to meet our needs

Positive communication or peaceful communication is the art of understanding both the feelings of others as well as our feelings and needs. Based on this understanding, we can look for ways to meet everyone’s needs. People are constantly striving to meet their needs in different ways, whether it be conscious or unconscious. To meet a need can be many things like trying to find the perfect relationship, to make more money or to go on exciting trips. These are all examples of ways to try to meet basic needs such as security, love and freedom. Often our strategies do not meet our needs as well as we would like, simply because we do not understand what we long for on a deeper level. To learn to identify our needs correctly dramatically increases our chances of finding good strategies. When you get a deeper understanding of yourself and your environment, it will be much easier to make your life more joyful and to have meaningful relationships.

Communication, empathy and honesty

To communicate constructively is a subject of concern to us all but at the same time something that we are in general not very knowledgeable of. How can we understand others and ourselves in a relaxed and clear way?

Problems with communication and the importance of practice

To communicate with empathy is to look at the feelings and needs behind the words.

Communication is a very important aspect in the life of each human being. We communicate constantly throughout our life to be able to do just about anything. But even though it is so crucial, there are not many who understand how the way we express ourselves affects ourselves and our surroundings. Why do some ways of communicating create problems and conflict, and how can we talk in a way that makes understanding easier?

I would say that almost all conflicts arise out of misunderstandings. All people communicate, and the reason for communication is to be able to meet our needs. With needs I mean basic things like food, security, love and so on. The reason we have so many conflicts is mainly that people do not know how to express their needs clearly and understandably. With positive communication, we try to change that by understanding and expressing our own needs as well as trying to listen to the needs of people around us.

Much of the problems lie in the way that the language is being used today. The way we communicate advocates a hierarchically social structure and is not suited to today’s needs. We grow up surrounded by conflict and naturally pick up the reaction patterns we can see around us. We have no real education in how to express ourselves and the traditional school system does not look at how to handle conflicts or how to relate to feelings and needs. Instead of expressing our needs we tend to talk about what we do not want and make judgments of that which we do not appreciate. By looking deeper at the issues that arise when we communicate, we can learn and develop a deeper way to communicate with other people, as well as with ourselves.

As you will see, when you have learned how to communicate with positivity, you will be able to meet your needs better in all areas of life. You will find it easier to make new friends. You will have better relationships and you will do wonders in your career. Empathy gives us the possibility to deepen and strengthen all our relationships.

Many people hesitate to resolve conflicts because they do not know how to communicate in a way that can meet everyone’s needs and are afraid to deepen the conflict. Those who will address conflicts may handle the situation with a violent language to try to meet their needs.

I think that there is a possibility for everyone to get their needs met in all situations. Often it can seem if as different needs conflict with each other, but that is merely on the surface. When we understand each other’s feelings and needs there will always be a solution within reach. This may sound easy enough, but the real effort is to get to the point where we know what it is that we and other people need on a deeper level. In all situations, everyone only tries to meet their needs, and that in itself is a wonderful thing. It might not look so nice, but that is only because people are generally not very skilled in getting their needs met. When we are deeply rooted in this understanding it will be much easier to communicate without feeling afraid that someone is going to be hurt, as there is no real conflict of interest. We are merely trying to understand and bring more clarity to the situation. Try to think of a conflict and write down what you think are the feelings and needs of everyone involved?

Empathy

Empathy means to understand what other people feel and long for.

To have empathy for someone is all about trying to understand that person´s feelings and needs. Empathy is a crucial skill when trying to improve our communication and to resolve conflicts. Feelings and needs are often not in the centre of our communication and to identify them we must be able to listen with attention and tune in to the subtle details of the conversation. When we are focused on finding the feelings and needs behind the words of someone it is much easier to have understanding and compassion for the actions that sprung from them. We can see what needs that are motivating the actions instead of only seeing the action itself and how it might or might not have met our own needs.

Honesty comes naturally from empathy

Honesty gives us freedom and simplicity.

I think that everyone would like people in their surroundings would be honest and to be comfortable with speaking the truth themselves. We all long to be accepted as we are and to have deep relations where we feel free to open up and speak from our hearts. When we clearly express our needs it becomes easy, to be honest, and with that comes a great feeling of calmness and freedom. Instead of giving our point of view or trying to debate with someone we only express what we feel about the situation and what needs we have that have not been met. This will be much easier for someone else to listen to and the possibility to get your needs met is dramatically improved.

Honesty without positive communication can create conflicts. Think of what would happen if we told everyone what we thought about everything. “You are getting fat”. That would do nothing but create conflicts. But if we look closer at that same statement, is it being honest? ‘Fat’ is more of a judgment than a truth. To say the same thing with positive communication could sound something like this “When I see that you have gained weight I get worried. I like to see you in good health. How do you feel about it?”. When we talk with empathy we do not need to be so afraid that someone will feel criticized and we can resolve issues that we might not have had the courage to address previously.

To be honest, does not mean to always say what you feel about everything. Everything you say has a purpose and will try to meet some need in yourself. Sometimes you will not need to express what is happening in yourselves, sometimes your need for integrity is greater than your need to be heard. It is important to feel safe with how much we share with others. With practice in expressing your feelings and needs, you will find greater security and strength in doing so. To talk the truth is good for your self-esteem, and to use empathy with honesty is an unbeatable combination. Do you find it challenging to be honest sometimes? Why do you think that is?

Look at what is happening in yourself

We can look at an example where I am with a friend who I think is talking too much and who I am not interested in listening to. First I try to sense what is happening in myself. Which feelings and needs are there? Maybe an irritation, a longing to participate or to do something more meaningful. What can I say in this situation? Think about what you would say.

To express honesty through expressing what you long for often gives better results than to share what you don’t appreciate. If I a say – “It feels irritating when you talk all the time and I’m not participating”, it would be honest, but not that easy to listen to. It is easy to interpret the sentence as if I am putting the responsibility for my irritation on my friend, but I had at all time the possibility to interrupt him. I could as well have said – “It feels irritating when I am sitting here and listening to something that I am not interested in without interrupting”. If I instead were to express my need it could sound something like this – “I long to participate more in the conversation, would you mind to make a few pauses here and there so that it is easier for me to be included?”. In this sentence, I take responsibility for what is happening to me and ask for something that could contribute to me. What would you do in the same situation?

A look at your relationships

In this exercise we are going to look at your relationships and how you feel about them.

Do you have any persons in your life that you have a hard time communicating with? Pick two for this exercise. For each person try to answer these questions:

Can you describe what makes it difficult to talk to the other person?

Can you guess what feelings you have and what needs you are trying to meet?

Can you guess the feelings and needs of the other person?

It makes things easier when we assume that there is a good intention behind everything that’s being said and to try to find that intention. Nobody does anything because they are “bad people” or because they are “evil” but rather because that is trying to meet a need and are longing for something.

My friend Charley:

He can get angry and start to scream when I say what I think.

I want to be able, to be honest and relaxed.

Charley may want to feel accepted and he gets frustrated when I do not share his point of view.

Active listening and reflections

By giving you full attention when someone talks and by reflecting back what you hear them say, you can make someone feel heard. And to be heard is often exactly what we long for the most when we say something.

Active listening

To be able to talk about something without feeling worried about being interrupted is in itself very gratifying.

Active listening is about giving your full attention to the one who talks. It feels good to talk without being worried about being interrupted and especially when it is something emotional that we speak about. If you listen to someone with your full attention it will give great support to the one you are listening to explore what is happening inside of him of her in a deeper sense.

Most people have a great need to be heard and to be understood. Often there is no need for good advice but simply that someone listens with interest and presence. To help the talker to feel understood you can nod, say a short “OK”, or make other gestures to confirm that you have understood.

To be heard without needing to think about getting any kind of judgment will contribute to gaining the courage to communicate on a deeper level. But often when we talk to someone we get a response that makes us less eager to open up. For example, you can be met with good advice, criticism or something that shifts the attention away from the subject you want to explore.

When was the last time someone listened to you with his or her full attention?

Reflecting back what you hear

To reflect means to give short summaries of what you have heard back to the one you are listening to. When you make reflections you confirm that you have been listening and have understood, and you also give the possibility to clear up any misunderstandings. Another reason to make reflections is to be able to focus the attention on the things that matter, like what feelings and needs that are expressed behind the words.

The following conversation is an example of how to respond with reflections.

– I need to pass the exam tomorrow.

– It is important for you to pass the exam.

– If I get a good result I will be able to change to another school next term.

– You really would like to change school.

– I sure would.

In the above example, the reflections are trying to express what has been said differently. This can be very helpful and is easy to do. With some practice, you can try to hear what is expressed behind the words and reflect that back.

– I have had a really hard day today. It started with a bad argument with my husband this morning. Then I had more to do than I could handle at work and on the way back home there was a horrible traffic jam.

– You have had a hard day and are tired.

– It was very hard, and I am all out of energy. And now I am going to go home, but I can´t manage any more fighting.

– It sounds like you would like to have some rest and calm when you come home?

– Yes, that would certainly feel good.

When you reflect you use your own words to tell how you understand the situation. Sometimes your reflection will include guesses, questions and interpretations. To be a little off track is not generally a problem as it invites to further clarify and deepen your understanding.

– I can’t stand to continue at work any longer. It’s a constant pain.

– You feel very tired from the hard work?

– No. It’s more that I am bored with what I am doing.

– You would like to do something more meaningful?

– Exactly.

In the example above the reflections focus on what feelings and needs that are expressed behind the words. The first guess is not correct, but the following explanation gives a deeper understanding of what´s happening.

It is common that someone talks about the same problem or situation several times. If you can make that person feel heard and understood, the need to retell will probably end. It helps to talk about a problem or situation to someone else to get a new perspective on the issue and to get reflections back helps to clarify it further. To be heard and understood contributes to calmness and relaxation, and from that calmness comes a deeper understanding from which new ideas and solutions can arrive. Think about if you know anyone who repeatedly talks about the same thing. What do you think is the feeling or need which that person is trying to express?

Make sure that your reflections do not shift the focus away from the talker and that you keep it short and concise so that the speaker does not lose their direction. To do that you will have to listen with curiosity and presence and try to understand the feelings and needs of the speaker. Do not try to elaborate too much and at the same time don’t just restate what has been said mechanically, but try to find the essence and reflect that back to the speaker.

I can’t understand that it should be so hard to find that key. It makes me go mad!

It sounds like it is frustrating when you can’t find your key.

Make one or more reflections on this sentence:

“I can’t understand why she won’t stop whining about her problems all day.”

You can at any time ask someone else to reflect what they have heard you say. It can especially be of use if it is an important and sensitive subject. To ask for a reflection can feel strange at first, but it can be of great help to feel understood and it gives the one who is listening, an opportunity to listen with empathy.

– I get sad when you do not arrive on time for our meetings.

– (silence)

– Can you repeat what I said so that I know that you understood?

– Yes. You are sad because I came late.
Give your full attention to a friend
When you talk to someone, practice to give your full attention and to let the other person talk freely without giving advice, criticism or sympathy. Only try to listen with curiosity and show now and then that you have understood with short confirming answers.

It is often interesting to listen actively as people generally long to be heard and to listen can be a fast way to get a nice connection with someone.

If you would happen to come with some advice, analyze what has been said or in any other way shift the attention away, just notice it for yourselves and put the attention back on the speaker. You may also notice how the other person reacts on being interrupted.

When you have been listening actively for five minutes or so, you can try to make short reflections on what you hear. Try to focus on reflecting what feelings and needs you can recognize.

You can do this exercise twice within the next 24 hours. Afterwards, write down your experience in a workbook. You can save this book and use it as a workbook for all the exercises that Write down what active listening and reflection are, and what benefits they have.

Responsibility and the four parts of peaceful communication

Next, we will look at how we can take responsibility for our feelings and needs. We will also make a brief introduction to non-violent communication that can be of great help to create understanding and connection.

To take responsibility is about looking at ourselves when we communicate. To take responsibility for our feelings and needs and formulate ourselves with this in mind. Here are a few examples of how to express responsibility as well as how to not express responsibility.

Sentences that do not express personal responsibility Sentences that do express personal responsibility
You only think of yourselves. I would like to share more time with you.
You hurt my feelings. I got really sad after we spoke last time
You make me angry! I got angry and frustrated when you left home without cleaning.
You are slow! I am tired of waiting.

 

By taking the responsibility of what´s happening to us, we at the same time gain power to change the situation. It is easy to focus outside of ourselves and see the problems in our surroundings. “If only that was different I would be happy. If I instead focus on what I feel and what I need it will be easier to adapt after the circumstances or to do a request to meet my needs.

When you start taking responsibility you also gain the power to find solutions.

Other peoples behaviour and actions can have a great impact on our feelings and it can easily be mixed up so that we start believing that they are the actual reason for those feelings. It is important to separate these things. If we look at our feelings as something that we are creating we would also see that we have the possibility to change how we feel. But if we think that our feelings are the result of other people and external circumstances we will have less power over the situation, as it is much harder to create change outside of ourselves rather than inside. Someone else can create stimuli that start a reaction within ourselves which leads to strong feelings, but never the less, these feelings are something we create ourselves.

When someone puts the responsibility for their feelings on another person there is a big risk that the other person will start feeling uncomfortable and start to defend themselves. Then, instead of listening to the complaint it is easy to take a defensive position and start thinking of ways to put the blame back where it came from. This kind of scenario will probably end with that no one feeling understood and both are sad and angry and without coming anywhere closer to a solution.

To take responsibility for your feelings might sound strange, and maybe even dangerous, as we are accustomed to looking outside to find the cause of our problems. This practice will give us a bigger responsibility, but on the other hand, it will give us the power to form our own lives without waiting for someone or something else to change.

Think about two people that you have a hard time talking to. Let´s take a look at how you can take responsibility for what´s happening when you meet them. Answer these questions for each person.

– What is making you feel uncomfortable when you meet?

– Can you express what’s happening in you with responsibility?

– Can you think of anything you can do to feel better when you meet next time?

Example:

When I meet my sister I get upset and angry. She talks about how I live my life and what she thinks I should do with my life.

When I hear my sister talking about my life I feel sad and afraid that she does not accept me as I am. I would like to feel secure and accepted when I see here.

I could tell her that I do not feel secure when she talks about my life and that I would like to feel more accepted as I am now.

Observations, feelings, needs and requests

As support to communicate with empathy, we can look at a communication model used in non-violent communication. In this model, we break down want we want to say into four parts to express it clearly. The four parts are called: Observation, Feeling, Need and Request. Observation is to describe a situation clearly and objectively without personal values and interpretations. Feeling is about expressing and taking responsibility for what you feel. Needs is about understanding and expressing your basic needs. Request is to express clearly what you would like someone else (or yourself) to contribute to meet your needs. When you have gained an understanding of these four parts they will serve as useful tools that will allow you to get your needs met as well as creating deep connections with other people.

Example:

Observation:
When I see that you haven´t taken out the garbage,

Feeling:
I feel irritated and sad,

Need:
I need help and support.

Request:
Would you agree to take out the garbage every morning before breakfast?

These parts can be used together as a whole as in the example above or used separately depending on the situation. When using a communication model like this it can be easy to get lost in semantics instead of talking from your heart. Therefore I recommend using this model primarily as a way to gain a better understanding of our language, to contemplate and practice when we want to be able to express ourselves clearly. When and where it will be of use to you is for you to decide, but it is always good to have these four aspects in mind before trying to communicate something important for you.

When using positive communication in your everyday life it is important to be able to speak naturally. Focus on what happens in yourselves and the one you talk to, but allow yourselves to talk freely. If you focus on if you are doing it right or wrong you will miss the point, which is to make contact. When you notice that you have lost contact (which will happen all the time), try to put your focus back on what is happening now. What is happening inside yourselves and in the one you are talking to? This will be one of the primary tasks when studying and using positive communication, to notice when you are lost and to go back to the practice.

We will go through all parts in more detail later on.

To listen and speak with empathy

Positive communication can be used as a support to express ourselves, but maybe even more important is to use them as a support to be able to listen actively. When we express ourselves using these principles it will be easier for the listener to take in our message without being afraid or feeling accused. When we listen to someone else with these principles in mind they will be a support to be able to understand what that person is trying to express.

When you talk with empathy you are based on responsibility and honesty. By casting aside judgments and interpretations you can always talk frankly as what you say is only about what you see, feel and long for. It makes it easy to open up and be able to connect deeply.

To listen with empathy is about understanding that the interpretations and judgments that someone else says, in reality, is carrying on another message. My grandmother has, for example, a habit of showing her affection by being worried and complaining. When she tries to say, I hope that you are happy and well, it often comes out as; Are you eating well? You should eat more meat. In the same way, I can choose if I want to reply by saying, – But grandma, you know I am a vegetarian and I can take care of myself, or I could respond by saying, – I am fine, thanks. How are you feeling yourself?.

In this exercise, you will practice how to write sentences using the non-violent communication model.

Every sentence should include observation, your feelings, your needs and a request.

Write at least five sentences of your own choice. If you are uncertain if you have done it the right way, just leave it as you think. We will look closer to the four parts in the next chapters, and you will have more possibilities to practice.

Example:

– When I see you throw away your food I feel sad. I need care and respect for nature and I wish that you would take less food so that you can eat it all.

– When I see the stock market go up and down I get worried and nervous. I need relaxation and calmness and would like for us to invest in gold instead.

Observation and feelings

It is easy to express our dissatisfaction by making judgments on our surroundings. If we instead would describe what actually happened and how that made us feel you will be both truer and also easier to understand.

To make an observation

An observation is a description without interpretation.

A pure observation is to describe a situation without adding values, analysis or judgments. When you make an observation you try to be correct and on the point. You can compare it with a film camera documenting its surrounding. The camera can for example document a persons height, but not assert if the person is tall or short. All humans see the world through their own unique filter and no one shares the exact same world view. We are applying our interpretations to everything that is happening. It is our inner interpretation of the outer world. In a sensitive situation where there is a risk of misunderstanding and conflict it can be most valuable to take the time to make a pure observation. An observation is important for both parties to get a good understanding of the situation that triggered the dissatisfaction. And by not adding judgments and interpretations in the observation it will be much easier to listen and to understand.

It is easier to understand each other when we avoid interpretations.

It is common when communicating to only share our interpretation of the situation. This will not clearly describe the real problem and will probably not contribute to solving a conflict. To use judgments will instead create more friction in an argument and will push a solution further away. When you express your unsatisfied needs by making interpretations and judgments you risk that the one you are talking to will have a hard time listening to you and instead start thinking of ways to defend his/her world view. It easily becomes a battle of world views instead of a sharing of experience.

Example of observations and interpretations.

Observations Interpretation
You are telling me that we won’t win the game. You are so pessimistic.
You did not do the dishes today, so I did them instead… You never clean up after yourself, am I supposed to do everything?
You were laughing when I did not know the answer to the question. You think you know everything!
She paid for my new jacket. She is generous.
He told me that he did not love me. He is cold!
You promised me that you would come home after work today, but you did not. You do not care about me!

If you look at the different sentences above, which do you think is the most pleasant to hear, the interpretation or the observation? Can you understand how easy it is to feel threatened to hear some of the interpretations? The interpretation is a loose observation with all kind of feelings and needs mixed in. When using interpretations we often end up with something that is exaggerated and in the end not true at all. Even interpretations that express something positive is not always such a good idea to use as that creates labels and can limit other qualities to grow. A girl that is always appreciated for her looks can for example start adapt to this label and create a self-view of being “the pretty girl”. At the same time interpretations can give life to your words and is not something you need to avoid all the time. We should stay aware of the limit of interpretations and know how to stop using them when misunderstanding and irritation are close at hand.

In this exercise, you get to practice making observations. Consider what has happened the past days, and then record it as pure observations in your workbook.

Write down at least five observations from the events of the last 24 hours. You may also write down other things like feelings and needs if you want to.

Example:

– On the way to the subway, I saw a brown dog and felt happy.

– My colleague was talking faster than usual, I did not understand him and I thought he was stressed.

Understanding and expressing feelings

A cornerstone of positive communication is to understand your own and others’ feelings. If our needs are met, we experience pleasant emotions such as joy, inspiration, peace, security, affection and hopefulness. If our needs are not met out feelings are less pleasant, such as anger, sadness, confusion, insecurity, mistrust, nervousness, irritability or frustration.

Expressing feelings can sometimes be perceived as criticism. The other person might believe that you think that they are the one that caused the feelings. All your emotions come from yourself and therefore it is important to express responsibility for what happens in yourself, then it is easier for others to listen to you. Therefore it may be useful to express the unmet needs that gave rise to the feeling. Then it becomes clearer that the feeling comes from yourself and not from anyone else. An example might look like this:

I have a need for peace and relaxation after work, that´s why I became irritable when you called me yesterday.

It is good to end by expressing a specific request that describes how the person can act to better meet your needs. If you do not make any requests, it may be difficult to know how to proceed and it is easy to focus on whose fault it is instead of finding solutions. By making a request we offer a concrete way for the other person to meet your needs providing a great starting point to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

Example:

– I would like to see you soon, please contact me as soon as possible if you change plans.

Thought emotions

Thought emotions do not express what you feel but contains interpretations.

Based on our experience we create different feelings. When we describe how we feel, we often confuse feelings with thoughts. We use the word “feel” for much more than just feelings, such as our interpretations and judgments about someone or something outside ourselves. Here are some examples of judgments that are hiding behind the word “feel”.

Examples of thought emotions:

– “It feels like I’m not enough for you”.

The sentence does not describe the feeling but a thought. You thought that the other person believes that you are inadequate. To “feel” inadequate is thus a thought and not a feeling. The other person can have any reason for her behaviour which has nothing to do with this interpretation, and therefore it is important to see the differences between thinking and feeling.

The risk is that the other person would feel uncomfortable to hear this thought emotion. He or she would probably have more willingness to listen to you if you would only express your feelings and needs. If you simply say what you felt and what you are longing for, is less likely that the other person would perceive it as an accusation, and the chances are greater that he or she would like to listen and find a solution.

– “When I do not know what to do. I feel sad and frustrated. I would like to feel accepted and appreciated for who I am.”

More examples of thought emotions:

– I feel as if you ignore me.
– I feel mistreated.
– I feel misunderstood.
– I feel exploited.
– I feel rejected.

Behind the thought feeling, you can find a real feeling and an observation.

In the above examples, the person expressed what he thinks and not what he feels. When we take a closer look at the examples, they are created from an idea that is strongly linked to the feeling. Thought emotions can be misleading to use when we communicate when neither the speaker nor the listener understand the emotions but instead hear judgments or interpretations.

When you use thought emotions, you will still not express what you feel and need, and there is the risk that you will not be understood. To gain a deeper understanding of your feelings and needs, it is therefore important to identify the pure emotion and not a thought emotion when you want someone to understand how you feel.

Example of the pure emotions of the same sentences:

– I feel sad when you are not saying hello.
– I feel uncomfortable when you do that.
– I feel frustrated and long to be heard.
– I feel angry when you want me to clean all the house myself.
– I feel sad and lonely when you do not want to spend your free time with me.

It is important when we communicate that we understand each other. Sometimes we might understand each other better if we use thought emotion, humour or irony. It is not wrong to use the word “feel” in a way not consistent with what we teach here. Everything that works is good. However, it may be worthwhile to be aware of how misunderstandings can arise from this type of usage of words so that we can clarify what it is that we want to say when needed.

Listen for underlying feelings

Even if people make use of interpretations and thought emotions we can, with the help of deep listening, still understand what the other person meant. We try to listen for the underlying feelings. We can do this by listening, guessing and asking questions. Instead of focusing on that you are being called a pessimist, you can, for example, ask, “Do you get bothered when I talk about the bad weather?”

Here I have made some examples of how to listen with empathy when a person expresses himself in a way that can be difficult to hear. The other person is trying to hear the feelings behind the words:

The workplace

Boss: You are a traitor and a disgrace to the company,
Worker: Do you feel disappointed that we lost the client?

Couple in divorce

Woman: I feel betrayed and deceived, you are not the same person I married!
Man: It sounds as if you are sad and would like to get a better understanding of what I am trying to do?

At home

Dad: You are so selfish!
Daughter: Are you frustrated that I forgot to bring the book to you?

In this exercise, you train yourself to be aware of how you feel in a day. Take some time over the day to notice what is happening in yourself and write down feelings, needs and observations.

During the next 24 hours, you should note how you feel. You can take the time to feel as often as you can and want. You can take a moment to notice how you are feeling before and after you eat lunch, when you have a break and start a new task. Then write down at least 10 emotions and observations in your workbook.

Example:

I feel tired, hungry and sleepy. I’ve cleaned for several hours and had a sandwich for breakfast.

Needs and requests

Everyone appreciates being able to contribute to their surroundings. If you express what you long for and give simple and clear requests, it will be easier for the people around you to meet your needs. Compare the difference of expressing what you are unhappy about with expressing what you would like to have, and you will understand which one that will produce the best result.

In order to meet our needs, it simplifies to know what they are.

We always try to meet a need, consciously or unconsciously.

Needs is something fundamental that all people on earth share. The need for love, closeness, food, sleep, security, community, play, laughter, creativity, understanding and acceptance are a few. Based on if our needs are met or not, feelings are created. In every moment in life, there is a need that you are trying to meet, regardless of whether the attempt is successful or not. You can at any time, ask yourself the question: What are the needs I try to meet now? By understanding and expressing your needs you are more likely to get them met.

Needs can easily be confused with strategies. Strategies are the ways you try to meet your needs. Wanting to make money, for example, can perhaps correspond to a need for security. Making money then becomes a strategy to meet the need for security. There are a variety of strategies to meet the same needs, some may be successful, others not. It is therefore important that we understand the difference between a need and a strategy so that we do not get stuck on a strategy that does not meet our needs.

Examples of needs Strategies
I yearn for freedom and joy I should buy a sailboat
I yearn for love, security and stability I want to marry and start a family
I yearn for pleasure and relaxation I’ll go to buy an ice cream
I need confirmation and love I’ll go out dancing and flirting tonight
I long for fellowship and relaxation I’ll go out and drink a few beers with friends
I long for relaxation and focus I’ll sit and meditate

Listen for underlying needs

When we understand our underlying needs we can get a better understanding of what we are trying to do. By examining your thoughts, feelings and desires you can find new ways to meet your needs. For every need you have, there are countless ways to try to meet it. To make a good strategy you first have to identify the need, otherwise, it can easily appear that a particular strategy is the only method available, which greatly limits your ability to meet that need.

When we communicate, there is always the underlying needs that we are trying to meet, consciously or unconsciously. So there is always an opportunity to listen for underlying needs, to get closer and deeper understanding. When you manage to find the underlying needs of someone else, you will probably feel a connection with that person and can more easily understand and have acceptance for behaviours that otherwise may be hard to handle. You can assume that all actions are based on an attempt to meet a beautiful longing, but this is not always obvious.

The following example shows how to listen for the underlying needs of the sentences.

Father and son at home:

Son: “I need a new jacket Dad, the jacket I have now is completely out of style.
Dad thinks: It sounds as if he longs to be liked and that he is anxious not to be accepted without a new jacket.

Partner and husband at the party:

Partner: “I bought a new dress and you have not even noticed it!
Spouse thinks: – Is she longing for appreciation?

At work:

Manager: You´re late for the weekly meeting for the third time, your behaviour is unacceptable!
Employee: It sounds as if you have a need for trust between us and respect for the efficient use of our time?

In the kitchen:

Boyfriend: I really would like if you could help me with the dishes, I have been cleaning the kitchen several times the last days.

Girlfriend: It sounds like you need more help and that your efforts in the home would be recognized and valued?

Take a moment to write down the things you long for and make a wish list. It might be a new relationship, buying a house, finding new friends, To find good friends at work, to get better contact with family members, to get a fit body, buying new clothes, etc..

Think of at least 10 things for your wish list and write it down in the workbook.

Then look at each wish and consider the needs behind that wish and write it down for every wish.

Write down the things that comes up spontaneously. If you are unsure, ask yourself, “What would it give me to have …”

Example: What would it give me to have more money? Maybe it would give you the opportunity to buy a new car. Then continue with the same question. What would it give me to buy a new car? Freedom? Security? Simplicity? When you can´t go deeper, you probably have found the real need behind the strategy.

 

Expressing your wishes

To express a wish gives someone else an opportunity to meet their own need to contribute.

To express a wish is to describe what the other person can do to help you get your needs met. If you have shared difficult feelings and unfulfilled needs with someone, you may want to close with a wish. By doing so you will present a solution to the problem and remove the focus from who is to blame and what has gone wrong. If unmet needs and feelings are expressed without being followed by a concrete request, it can easily be interpreted as criticism which will not make it easier for you to be heard and get your needs met.

If you are not willing to get no for an answer you are making a demand

It is important to understand the difference between a wish and a demand. A wish is what you express what you would like someone else to do to help you and is based on that the other person also wants to help you. It should be from a longing to help and not for any other reason, such as fear of unpleasant consequences if your wishes are not met. The wish becomes a demand at the moment when no is no longer acceptable as an answer. It is natural for humans to want to contribute to others’ well-being. If you express the wish but the other party does not want to do what you ask for, then it´s more than likely that your wish will leave some needs unsatisfied in the other person. Then it is a good opportunity to start to listen with empathy and try to understand what needs are not met. The goal is that everyone’s needs will be met, not that one person´s needs will be met at the expense of someone else.

Say what you want instead of what you do not want

Wishes are much more effective if it is said in a positive form. A positive wish is a wish that includes what you want the other person to do instead of what it should not do. For example: “Can you play with your toys?” Instead of “Do not play with my things.” This is particularly important with children, as it otherwise will stimulate the child to think about what not to do, and then they will often do just that. When you encounter yourself making a negative wish, try to find the positive form and say it well. It can be difficult to find a positive counterpart, but often you will find something that is good.

Example:

– I do not want dirt in the bed. Can you please play on the carpet?

– Don´t make so much noise. Can you try to be quiet?

– I don´t want any flowers. I would like to have a chocolate cake.

Often when we communicate, the need for understanding is important, then you can make a wish to get a question answered:

– Can you reflect on what you heard me say?
– How do you feel when you hear me say that?

A concrete request has a greater chance of being fulfilled than a vague desire. If I say, “I want you to be kind”, it is hard to know what exactly to be done. How are you kind? What does it mean? If I instead say “I would like you to share the food with me”, it is much clearer.

To emphasize the importance of clarity when making requests, I will now give the following examples of vague and clear requests. What wishes do you think has the best chance to be fulfilled?

Vague wishes Clear requests
I want you to give me more attention I want you to come to me every hour or so and check on how I have it.
I want you to keep clean around you I want you to wash your dishes, make the bed and wipe the sink after you have had lunch.
I want you to listen to me I want you to let me talk until I am done and then reflect what I said.
I want you to accept me I want you to let me do this my way.
I want you to invest more time in our relationship. Can you take the time to talk about our relationship after dinner?
I want you to help more at home. Can you mow the lawn today?

Do you have any wishes that you would like to express but have not done so yet? Often we have things we long for others to contribute to us so that our lives will be more satisfactory, especially in our intimate relationships. Think through the unspoken desires you are carrying and then write them down in your workbook.

Find at least five different wishes that you have not told but would like to tell. Think about and write down your answers to the following questions for each wish:

What is stopping you from expressing the wish?

What needs do you meet by not expressing your wish?

What needs do you hope will be met, if you express your wish?

Write down how you would say the wish if you could express it now?

I wish my friend would bring something to share when he comes over and hangs out.

I’m afraid he would get angry and think I am stingy.

By not asking I meet the need for simplicity and calm.

By asking it could meet my need for appreciation and fellowship.

Could you bring something to offer when you come over tonight?

Communication that complicates contact

Now we will look at different examples of communication that can make it more difficult to create contact. We have many behaviours that are not constructive to us, but as we learn more about them we can more easily pay attention to when we use them. In this way, we can find other ways of communicating that will better meet our needs and replace them.

When we learn to recognize behavior patterns that do not favor us, we are able to change them

The common language we use can often be counter-productive to bringing people together, and instead, create greater separation and less understanding between people. Much of the way we talk has to do with habitual patterns that we have learned from our parents, school and television. We can break the patterns that do not serve us, but first, we need to identify what formulations that prevent contact and understand how to use positive communication instead. The following are examples of language used in conversations between people in everyday life.

Giving demands or commands

A demand will probably only meet the need of one part, but a request can meet everyone´s need

If you speak in a way that can be interpreted as an order, demand or requirement, it will often be uncomfortable to listen to. This type of communication encourages a hierarchical approach, where one person has a higher status and thus entitled to give orders. Speaking like this is unlikely to create mutual respect and connection. The motivation to obey orders is instead some form of reward or a fear of some unpleasant consequence. To create more contact it would be good to find the motivation from the possibility of enriching your own and others life. That does not mean that it is always wrong to make orders, sometimes your need for efficiency is greater than your need to make contact, but then it´s good that you are aware of how you use your language and that you can adapt the way you communicate when you need more understanding.

Example of demands:

I expect that you have cleaned your room when I get home.

Positive communication:

I wish that you will clean your room before the day is over, are you willing to go along with that?

Giving criticism

Criticism can be replaced by sharing your observations, feelings, needs and desires

One way to get someone to end a behaviour is to give criticism. The reasons for criticizing someone is probably to show that an action does not meet our needs, or it could be a desire to help the other to do better for his own sake. Criticism is not a constructive way to go about achieving change. Instead, it often triggers defence or guilt, which makes it difficult to find new solutions. To use empathy and acceptance helps the person to get past their self-criticism and find constructive solutions. There is always a beautiful longing behind every action, try to see that longing.

Examples of criticism:

That’s foolish of you!

Positive communication:

What can you do to remember it the next time?

Giving praise and flattery

Praise can be replaced by telling how happy you are and what the cause is

By giving praise we can show that a behaviour meets our needs. But praise and flattery can lead to people behaving in a certain way just to get confirmation and reward, rather than the motivation to contribute to his own and others’ needs. Getting to much praise can create pressure to behave in a certain way and might create a problem rather than a help. What you want to say is what action you liked and describe how that made you feel.

Examples of compliments

You are so intelligent!

Positive communication

When you made that calculation, I was really surprised.

To reduce the problem

A good way to get someone to stop worrying is to listen to and acknowledge the concerns of the other

By saying things like, “It was not that bad”, or “You will get over it soon”, we probably are trying to reduce the pain that the other feels. We want to contribute to peace and relaxation. In many cases, it instead contributes to that he or she does not feel understood or heard. To instead listen with empathy and reflect what we hear are a way to help the speaker to explore their pain. Another reason is that it is not always easy to be in contact with someone pain. Pain is often perceived as something unpleasant to be removed. Many have learned that we should not cry as children and as adults, we should not be upset. Now try instead to allow the feelings and emotions that pop up in yourself when you hear pain from someone. Be with your pain, and stay with your friend’s pain, then they might be able to dissolve by themselves.

Example of how to shrink the problem

It was surely not that bad.

Positive communication

Were you sad about what happened?

To tell a story or to divert the subject

If you want to be understood it might help if you try to understand the person you speak with first

When you listen to a story, you automatically start associate to similar events in your own life and you can get an impulse to share your experience, perhaps by interrupting the speaker. Behind this behaviour is perhaps a desire to be involved, to show that we can understand the experience of the other and also be heard yourself. If someone talks to you because he or she wants to be heard and understood you will not be able to meet that need if you change the focus to yourself. There is a risk that the person who is talking loses the desire to talk further or feel insecure in the situation. Sometimes a conversation between two people more resemblance some kind of sport where you try to have the focus on yourself as much as possible. Both are trying to make contact through being heard and does not see that the contact they are looking for can be obtained by starting to listen instead.

To divert to another subject can also be a strategy to get the person that shares their worries to think of something else, perhaps by switching to a lighter topic. Try to be aware of what needs you are trying to meet if you stop someone else talking.

Example of telling a story, or divert the subject

It reminds me of once when I ……

Let’s go and buy ice cream instead!

Positive communication

How does it feel now?

I’m a bit tired now, can we talk more about this after lunch?

To give advice

We find long term solutions by looking at feelings and needs

A common reaction when we talk about a problem is that we get some advice back. The advice does not meet our need to be understood and can be frustrating. If we want to listen with empathy we need to make an effort to understand the feelings and not to find a solution. The advice can be good, but it fits better after we have been heard in our emotions and had the opportunity to express them and feel heard in them. The reason why advice is so common is probably that we want to be supportive and help solve a problem. It may also be because we think that it’s uncomfortable to see the difficult feelings that arise and we want to skip that by finding a quick solution with a piece of advice. If you think it’s hard when you listen to someone’s problems, try to do the opposite and instead of trying to get away from the feelings, go in and examine them. You will surely be surprised by how the unpleasant feeling can disappear when we no longer are trying to get rid of them.

Examples of advice and solutions

Would it not be best if you did like this ….?

Positive communication

What do you think is a good solution to the situation?

To show sympathy

Replace sympathy with empathy, and you get both contact and freedom to be who you are

Sympathy in the way I am using it now means to act as you feel the same as the one you’re talking to. Sympathy can lead to feelings of affection and can be support but sympathy creates a form of co-dependency, which makes it more difficult to explore other aspects and changes our emotional state. It is easy to simply reinforce the feelings and thoughts instead of listening to them and allow thoughts and feelings to change and be replaced by something new. We can still be compassionate, but without showing this kind of sympathy. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and the feelings of the one that you are listening to. This will give everyone the freedom to be who they are.

Examples of giving sympathy

How annoying he is, poor you!

Positive communication

It sounds like you have a very hard time right now with him.

Based on the material you have just read, you may write about how you make use of similar ways to communicate that complicates things in your own life and how you would like to speak in the future.

Remember to a situation where you have given someone a demand.

Describe what happened.

Where there any need that was not meet in yourself by the way that you acted in?

Was there any needs in the other person that you do not believe was met by the way you acted in?

Describe how you would like to act in a similar situation in future.

Repeat the procedure on the following examples:

Remember a situation where you have given advice or suggestions for solutions to others problems.

Remember a situation where you have given criticism to someone.

Remember a situation where you have shown sympathy or trying to “shrink” someone’s problems.