deep listening

5 Tips for Practicing NVC

As part of our core curriculum at Zen Life & Meditation Center (ZLMC) for increasing empathic awareness, we teach the skill set of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). NVC is based on sound principles of good communication. You may be surprised at how powerful these principles are, and how little you actually use them in real life. So I'm going to give you 5 tips for things you can do to begin practicing these skills in your daily life right away.

1. Let Go of the Outcome When you enter into communication with someone, if you are attached to your own agenda, it's going to be hard to listen empathically to their experience. You will constantly be wanting to steer or manipulate the discussion in a direction that assures that your outcome is achieved. The discipline of mindfulness meditation can help you continue to remain in the present and open to what is unfolding.

2. Change Your Mindset from Being Right to Learning If you enter a conversation with the desire to win the argument it will color everything you do and say. You'll have very little interest in actually listening to the other person. Instead of entering the conversation with the assumption you are right, begin the conversation with a clear intention to learn what the other person has to say before you jump to any conclusions. This shift in perspective will help you open and be more receptive to the other person's experience. This is the first step in cultivating empathic awareness.

3. Listen First before Seeking to be Understood One thing you may do when we are arguing or disagreeing with someone is rehearse what you are going to say, as the other person is talking. If your own need for being heard is not being met you can become anxious to be understood. If you begin by listening first, rather than seeking to be understood, you shift the conversation towards empathic awareness. This shift will be felt by the other person, and when they feel deeply heard and understood by you, then when you do speak about your own experience, they are more likely to be open and receptive to what you have to say. Listening is powerful and healing. When we practice deeply listening with others, its surprising how this can often be reciprocated.

4. Don't Interrupt Someone when they are Speaking This requires some discipline. You have to learn to hold your tongue. Again, as you deepen your skill in listening empathically to another person, you'll find it's very helpful to not interrupt them when they are speaking.  When you interrupt someone, it can be confusing for them. Sometimes when people are interrupted they have a hard time finishing their train of thought. Some people speak slower than others. If you're listening to someone, keep these things in mind. Hold your tongue. It's a good way to remind yourself to listen first before seeking to be understood.

5. Deep Listening Doesn't Mean You Agree with What You Hear In our culture there is an unexamined assumption that if you listen to another openly and empathically, you are agreeing with them. Deep listening has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing. How will you know whether you agree or disagree before you listen? So listening itself is simply a way of receiving and learning information about another person's point of view. Your discernment about whether you agree or not, comes after you have fully heard what they have to say.

These are five principles for good communication. They are all part of the NVC training that we teach as part of our curriculum at ZLMC. If you keep these simple principles in mind they will help you learn to listen more deeply and empathically to those around you. I hope you can appreciate that this kind of deep, empathic listening is not common. We really don't listen very well to others. So when you develop this skill in your daily life it will dramatically improve the quality and depth of your connection with others. If you combine these principles with a Zen-inspired lifestyle rooted in mindfulness meditation you'll find that you are developing some powerful new habits that support your remaining connected to others.

Roshi Robert Althouse

Connecting with Others using Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a skill set we teach at Zen Life & Meditation Center (ZLMC) to help improve the quality of our communication with others. It is a natural extension of mindfulness meditation because, like mindfulness, it is rooted in an awareness free of judgments. If you are able to bring mindful awareness to your own experience, you will appreciate how easily judgments arise in your own mind. These judgments can prevent you from being with yourself and others in ways that are more compassionate. As you learn new habits based on the sound communication principles of NVC, you will enrich the quality of connection with your friends and even your enemies. One of the strengths of NVC is the specific and concrete language patterns it teaches. Sometimes when we are in the middle of a difficult conflict and we are not able to think as clearly as we would like, having this formula at your command, is very helpful.

But it's also important to understand that this language arises from a deeper inner awareness based on needs and feelings. If you simply mimic the technique of NVC without the empathic awareness of self and other, people will notice this and may react negatively, feeling they are being manipulated by your words.

So empathy is as much as an art as it is a technique. Its practice in real life is always dynamic and flowing, and  can be learned and practiced to improve its application and effectiveness. Learning and practicing NVC supports communication that is more proactive. It supports ways of speaking with others that do not blame or even imply blame. It does this by helping you focus on what is important to you.  So instead of merely reacting to what someone else has said, you respond from the experience of what you are actually needing and feeling.

When you set about living a Zen-inspired lifestyle of openness, empathy and clarity, you begin the journey of cultivating new, more constructive and proactive habits that will sustain and enrich the quality of your life and your interpersonal relationships. When you learn NVC and  are able to speak more clearly about what is alive in you right now, you speak in a manner that is more genuine and authentic. When your awareness shifts from "being right" to "being connected", you are able to remain open, receptive and empathic towards yourself and others.

With this shift in your awareness and speech, will grow new habits that cultivate increased confidence and trust in your interpersonal relationships. You will be surprised to discover that you can approach conflicts that used to paralyze you with more confidence and fearlessness. You will become more skilled at discerning what is truly important to you. You will be able to listen more deeply and empathically to others. The empathic awareness from which this NVC language arises is the key. It grows out of the practice of mindfulness meditation and the intention to live a Zen-inspired life.

Robert Althouse

A Simple Listening Technique for Conflict Resolution

Most of us dread being in conflict with others. When conflicts arise in our lives, they often do not go well. The prospect of strong disagreement, of raised voices and heated arguments bring frustration and distress for both sides. It's remarkable how this can change when we take the time to listen to each other. The trouble is that, we often find this hard to do in the middle of a conflict, so I'm going to show you a very simple way to structure into your conversation a method that will insure that both sides listen to the other and that both sides end up being heard and understood. First, you need to set some ground rules. Here they are:

  • Each person has as much time as they need to present their point of view without being interrupted by the other person.
  • When they are finished speaking, they will ask the person listening to summarize what they have just said. Nothing can proceed beyond this point, until the person speaking is satisfied that the summary they are hearing is a fair and accurate representation of their point of view.
  • Once they are satisfied, the roles are reversed and the other person speaks without being interrupted by the other.
  • And again, when they are done speaking, they ask the other person to summarize what they have just said.
  • And again, nothing proceeds beyond this point, until the person who has just spoken feels satisfied that the other person is representing their point of view fairly and accurately.

If you want to try this out, you may find the other person is more receptive to the idea if you volunteer to let them go first and speak their point of view. You'll demonstrate to them the sincerity and integrity of your proposal by listening to them without interrupting them and then you'll summarize their point of view in a manner that leaves them satisfied that they have been heard and understood. Notice that this will be easier for you to do, if you are able to let go of your agenda and the outcome of the conflict.

This technique structures into your process, listening on both sides – something that rarely happens in conflicts.

Living a Zen-inspired life will greatly increase your ability to listen to others. It will help you be fully present in the moment without a strong attachment to the outcome. We teach many more useful and practical communication tools in our Core Curriculum classes at the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago. If you are interested, you can sign up for the Primer 1 class. The next one begins on Tuesday, August 3rd from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.  Register by calling 708.445.1651 or online by clicking here.

If you've already done something like this, or you try this technique in a conflict, please comment on this blog and let me know what it was like for you.

Robert Althouse