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Compassionate Communication

Tips and tools to help you in supporting our courageous contributors through online commentary

Word choice matters. Context matters. Your intent matters. More so now, perhaps, than ever before – what we say to ourselves and in communication with others matters. Consequently and in an effort to ensure that we are doing all that we can do to meet the needs of our courageous contributors, this section speaks to empathy and to the use of compassionate communication when responding in text to what others elect to share with our project audience.

First and foremost, let us consider the strength and courage that it takes for people to genuinely show up and be seen; even when choosing to share anonymously. When we can’t control the outcome in response to raw disclosure, we exercise vulnerability by definition; which inherently involves uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. This and more, according to Dr. Brené Brown, whose research on shame and vulnerability substantiates that this sort of risk-taking is not only a definite strength but an absolute prerequisite to fostering love, joy, acceptance and belonging in life. Given the necessity of feedback in response to vulnerable action and for the purposes of growth, however, disclosure stands to trigger our greatest fears and insecurities. In other words, what we say in response to vulnerability has tremendous power – both to heal and to harm.

Most social scientists agree that empathy is a universal human need. Consequently, we’re built for it! Literally, the word means to “feel into” and is oftentimes measured by the capacity to understand (or feel into) what another person is experiencing; as if standing in their shoes. While the natural tendency of our pack species involves moving towards empathy and expressing with compassion; all too often our best intentions are thwarted by our habitual response to pain and cultural perception of ‘problems.’ Before providing you with tips for supportive commentary, consider these common barriers to empathic response identified by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg; whose work evolved into what is known today as ‘Nonviolent Communication’ or ‘NVC’.

If we think of empathy as a respectful or compassionate understanding – a way of being with another, instead of doing or saying the ‘right’ thing; the heartfelt intention to connect and to communicate support is likely to surface. When communicating in real time, the ideal response involves guessing at what the vulnerable party may be feeling, needing &/or valuing for clarity and deep understanding. Given that our contributors are likely to remain anonymous, however, and with the complexities involved in receiving empathy by way of words alone in mind; our suggestions for how best to show support on this site are kept relatively simple: 

  1. If you like, feel touched &/or inspired by what you read – use one of our affirmative emojis to communicate exactly that! After all, our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are easily reinforced by external factors like attention and recognition.
  2. If you feel gratitude for what you’ve read &/or for the writers themselves, consider expressing appreciation for needs met. Consider making your commentary more meaningful by giving voice to (A) the action(s) that resulted in feelings of appreciation (e.g. “When you said ____” or “By sharing openly about your experience with ____”); (B) the desirable feelings that you consequentially experienced (e.g. “I felt validated/tender/encouraged”); alongside (C) the needs that were consequently met (e.g. “because I needed to know that I wasn’t alone in my experience” or “I needed freedom from my own ways  of thinking about that”). NOTE: This is NVC in action and an example of what Sarah Peyton calls ‘resonant language‘ used to generate warmth and connection. It is arguably the most meaningful way to express gratitude. 
  3. If compelled to give words of encouragement, consider sharing an affirmation that has helped you during times of struggle without advice-giving. For example, “When feeling hopeless, I’ve found support in this quote offered by the late MLK: ‘If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.’ Here’s hoping that you, too, can find peace in doing small things in great ways.”

For more on how compassionate communication can help us to heal and to connect, look for instructional offerings online with The Center for Nonviolent Communication, The NVC Academy &/or join Bri and members of the DiabeteSangha for education and practice offered monthly by way of a virtual empathic exchange. Additional details can be found here or by way of exploring content on our FaceBook feed