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The Art of Fine Metalwork and the Art of Empathy and Nonviolent Communication- woven together for you....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Empathy's such a tricky thing!

 It's so hard to do, or rather BE in empathy with someone.

Today I noticed how even though I have been in this process called Nonviolent Communication for over seven, yes, seven years, I still see how fast my automatic responses come up.

I see it best with kids, and today I had another chance to learn/experience more at school with the first and second graders I teach.  A little girl in my class suddenly left the room, and despite my efforts did not want to come back, apparently something another little boy had said triggered some hurt in her.

Finally she returned, and at the end of the class, she kept repeating over and over: "What will I tell my Mom when she asks me how the class was, and I wasn't present for a part of it?"

I noticed that the first thing that came up was: " Oh I'm sure if you tell her what happened she'll understand..."( solutions...). She persisted, following me to the gate, "..but what will I say?...I'm afraid she'll be upset! "

Suddenly the 'simplest' thing came to mind: "You mean, you don't know what to say?
"Yes!" ...I see a little relief starting to come...
And you're really worried she won't understand?
"Yes!" face slowly smoothing out...
...would you like an idea from me? Positive again - Do you want me to talk to her?
"Yes! But I don't know if she has your number..."
Shall I e-mail her?
"Yes!" Suddenly she brightened up, turned and skipped away happily.

The Magic of Empathy worked again. All I did was put a question mark on the "obvious", reflecting  her feelings back to her, and giving her the direct experience that she is heard - BEFORE offering a solution, this is what, in my experience, creates healing, emotional relief and strength to move on.

And yet how strong is the impulse to educate, offer solutions and consolation first! How happy I was that she didn't give up!

So, what's your experience?

Also I'd love to hear if you have any insights, and, if my little experiences contribute  to you.


  1. Hi Yael,

    It is so easy to offer solutions, as your post so beautifully illustrates.

    Problem solving is a way of interacting, but perhaps it lacks an intimacy that empathy instead demands of us.

    Curiously in both my coaching and therapy work with adults, it's empathy that moves people on more quickly. Empathy is validating. It gives people a deep experience that, whatever it is they're going through is okay, no matter how distressing. And the human connection itself allows a kind of healing that a problem solving approach does not.

    Thanks for a lovely post!

  2. Hi Christine
    Thank you for your meaningful comment..it resonates for me. It's not to say that as coaches, or as friends, or in any relationship we cannot offer solutions...rather, in NVC (Nonviolent Communication), we offer empathy Before anything else. As Marshall Rosenberg puts it: When there is a certain quality of connection - the solutions find us! Thanks again!