We know from Dr. Rosenberg’s work that conflict arises because there are unmet needs on the table. When conflict happens to me I instantly feel the physiological pinch of the painful negative emotions linked to these unmet needs. I do NOT like this experience. I’m pretty sure no one likes it. Both my psychological and physiological impulse is to make these feelings stop NOW.
Before I encountered Compassionate Communication, I relied on an assumption for a solution: If I’m unhappy it’s somebody’s fault. They are the problem. I think we use this judgment to ease the emotional storm by giving it a label. As a bonus, this judgment also tells me how to stop the discomfort. What I need to do is to tell the other person that they’re wrong, one way or another.
What I’ve also learned is that judging like this is a “power over” stance. It lets me believe that my needs are more important than another person’s needs. In the past, this sense of privilege gave me permission to try to manipulate the other person into doing things differently, so my needs would be met. Though this didn’t work at all well, it was the only strategy I knew.
We’ve all been taught to believe in this same strategy: that judgment, blame, demand, shame, and guilt (and their related behaviors) are effective ways to get our needs met by others. It hasn’t been for me (and probably isn’t for any of us) because people react to judgmental speaking and behavior not only with resistance; they are often triggered to use the same strategies to affect our behavior.
A key break from this strategy took place for me when my desire to stay connected (with others and myself) became greater than my desire to be in judgment or to be right. To do this I had to learn to shift my focus from wanting my negative emotions to stop to listening to what they were trying to tell me. I had to remind myself, even as they clamored for attention, that if I didn’t stop to listen—to myself and to the other person—sooner or later I would be having the same kind of argument again. Once this was clear I could see that what I learned growing up about judgments and blame was wholly inaccurate and not at all helpful. A person is not a problem. The problem rests where the unmet needs are. For both of us.