Empowering your Conflicts with Empathy

One of the key components of having effective communication is nurturing the ability to hear and give empathy to the other when in conflict. I think this is where the magic comes in and where all the retraining for human beings must take place before we can have a truly peaceful world. I’ve been working hard at growing this capacity for myself and it has been THE most difficult, trying and rewarding experience of my life. I’ve been my own guinea pig on the path of peace. Is it possible to be in a scary, hostile, triggering conversation and actually be present to the other person? Yes! Is it possible to go from wanting to scream my head off and say some really nasty things about the other to actually having a back and forth conversation where I understand them and they get me? Yes! Am I able to do this all the time, right in the moment? Not always right in the heat of the moment. But, luckily I have learned to WAIT (stands for Why Am I Talking, i.e. shut up now) and there is usually another opportunity to talk about it. I find that I have a lot of success during these second chances, and giving empathy to the other is the main ingredient for these victories of peace.

How is it possible? Awareness and practice, practice, practice. The empathetic process of being present, understanding, and figuring out the need of the other IS a skill that most of us do not use (especially when we are upset), though we like to think that we do. In heated moments, we tend to defend, argue, explain, question, make our own case, but rarely do we stay present to the other and listen for his needs. Think about your last argument. If you pay attention to your own mental processes during an argument, I bet that rather than listening to the other, really trying to get him, you are already rehearsing what you want to say in your defense.

In the communication process that I teach (based on Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. Non Violent Communication), we literally practice – over and over again – the empathetic response, so that when a difficult situation occurs, my students have the ability to respond differently than in the past.

This ability to respond with empathy has miraculous outcomes – honestly. Even with my poor memory, I can think of every time I’ve been in a triggered situation and listened with presence to the other because the situations turned around for the better every time AND ended in connection rather than the opposite. The trick is to learn the skill and practice it over and over again – so that it has a chance of actually occurring in a live situation. This is the way to building real, concrete peace in our world… one person at time learning and using empathy in conflict situations. It is my greatest dream to empower more and more people with this ability.

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