Noticing (and possibly describing) our sensory and mental experiences, and distinguishing these experiences from the interpretations we ascribe to them.
3. Observing: Practicing the distinction between “observation” and “observation mixed with evaluation”
Recollecting the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, Marshall calls the capability of distinguishing observation mixed with evaluation from observation, “the highest form of human intelligence.” A useful exercise for me in practicing observation skills consists of mindful walking.
First, setting an intention to connect with myself, I begin walking, preferably with no set direction in mind.
Then I take turns opening to my senses, noticing what I see, hear, smell, taste and touch. I also notice thoughts and evaluations as they arise. The practice is to simply notice the difference between observing, which is a “thoughtless” reception of information from the world, and evaluating, which is the “play-by-play” commentary running in my mind.
I enjoy doing this for various periods of time.
I have also enjoyed this practice in places where many other human beings have gathered, like shopping malls, the beach, parties.
Observations. Observations are expressions of what it is in the outside world which serves as stimulus to our reactions. The key skill to learn is how to separate out evaluations and concentrate only on exactly what it is that we are observing. It’s as if we have a video camera with us, and we report what it can see. A video camera cannot see “assholes,” but it can see someone walking faster than me and getting to the front of the line ahead of me; it cannot see “people acting unfairly,” but it can see someone who’s hired 20 men and 2 women in the last two years. A video camera cannot even see someone being angry, although it can see someone who is raising their voice when talking, or someone who doesn’t respond when talked to. We want to stay away from evaluations and focus on observations for at least two reasons. First, because they are easier to hear. To prove this to yourself, imagine yourself hearing the messages above before and after the translation, and check how you feel. Second, because they make concrete what it is that we are trying to get across to another person, and enable them to understand us.
Feelings. Most of us in the industrialized world are often at a loss when we attempt to name our emotions, and we easily confuse them with thoughts, judgments and even observations. We often confuse feelings, more than anything, with perceptions and interpretations. Although many of us have heard about making “I statements,” those often don’t go far enough in enabling communication. A statement such as “I feel abandoned” sounds like an “I statement,” but in effect it contains a disguised statement about someone other than me. When hearing it, the other person is likely to feel defensive, guilty or angry. What we want to convey is what we are actually feeling, the real emotion, which is always completely our own. Identifying and articulating feelings is one more step towards achieving the quality of connection the NVC enables. Feelings are that much easier to hear than judgments and hidden accusations. And connecting with what we are actually feeling creates more openness and vulnerability in the dialogue, thereby enabling more connection.
Needs (and values). As inarticulate as we usually are about feelings, we tend to be even more inarticulate about needs. We are trained to not know what our needs are. We are often overwhelmed by them, without even knowing it. In the context of NVC, needs refer to what is most alive in us: our core values, our basic human wants, and our deepest longings. Whether or not our needs are met is the direct cause of our feelings. Understanding and naming our needs helps us, too, to improve our relationship with ourselves and find better ways to get our needs met. Often, when we first try to express our needs, we are actually expressing our images of what we imagine will get our needs met. For example, we are likely to say “I need you to pay attention to me”, when in fact what we need is to be valued and understood, and we imagine that getting attention from this person right now is what will meet that need. Needs are not about a specific object or person, they are about what’s alive in us. Identifying them is a process of connecting with ourselves and others more deeply. Because our needs are strikingly similar, it becomes easier to connect when we get in touch with this level of our experience.
Requests. Once we have identified what it is in the world that stimulates our reactions, and what our feelings and needs are, the last component of NVC is the communication of a request: what is it that we would like to have happen, and who would we like it from. This is where we connect back with taking action in the world outside us. When we learn to separate our requests from our needs, we loosen the tightness in us, and are less likely to express demands instead of requests. We are so used to focusing on all the ways that our needs aren’t being met, that often it becomes difficult to identify what it is that we really want in the moment of communication. It becomes challenging especially to find something that is really concrete, specific, and doable. Thus, for example, “I want you to understand me” is not a doable request, while “I would like you to tell me what you heard me say” is; “I want you to respect my wishes” is not, while “I would like to hear from you what gets triggered in you when you hear me express my wishes” is. Because practicing NVC entails prioritizing connection above other needs, we learn over time to concentrate on requests that enhance the quality of connection in the moment rather than requests that are about future behavior.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Simone Weil
What is Conscious Communication? (a.k.a. Nonviolent Communication or NVC)
The Chopra Center: Conscious Communication is the ability to clearly communicate what you want in life, which directly relates to your emotional well-being. The key principles of conscious communication can help you do just that… (continues)
(See also OFNR: Observation, Feelings, Needs & Requests.)
Link to “Wanting Fully Without Attachment” (essay)