Expressing yourself without alienating others

Honesty flower


hon⋅es⋅ty [on-uh-stee] From Dictionary.com
noun, plural hon⋅es⋅ties.
1. the quality or fact of being honest; uprightness and fairness.
2. truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness.
3. freedom from deceit or fraud.
4. Botany . a plant, Lunaria annua, of the mustard family, having clusters of purple flowers and semitransparent, satiny pods.
5. Obsolete , chastity.

The way honesty is used in Nonviolent Communication is to say what you are feeling (emotion), the observation that stimulated the emotion, what you are wanting (needs), and if you have a request. Marshall uses the phrase, what's alive in me (you). Honesty is the complement of empathy. Demonstrating empathy is acknowledging what the other person is observing, feeling, needing and requesting. Because of how powerful empathy is at creating connection sometimes empathy is given priority over honesty. I find honesty is just as important as empathy. Without the honesty the other party may not understand what is going on for us. When we are communicating in NVC we are either speaking honesty or demonstrating empathy.

Before expressing honesty though, I find it wise to evaluate if the other party is ready to hear what I have to say. If you are in the middle of a heated argument your not likely to be listened to with an open heart. If you are upset and the other party is not the stimulus for the upset and they know how to demonstrate empathy, you have a shot at being heard. Unless they are skilled at Compassionate Communication, you are very unlikely to receive empathy.


Have you ever been in the position of the men in the comic above? The first one is thinking what I would refer to as brutal honesty. The second man is trying to understand what the "real request" is. The last one knows there is no "good" answer. In keeping with NVC the last man could say, when you ask that I am worried that no matter how I answer you will be upset. I would like some understanding of what you want from me, would you tell me what response you want from me? Most likely someone who would ask the look fat question probably doesn't know what they want. This would be a good time to ask a clarifying request.

If we decide to express honestly and the person we are talking to is not familiar with Nonviolent Communication most likely the first time honesty is expressed he or she will hear criticisms and judgments. Since this is the majority of communication most people hear in my culture, I am actually more surprised when they don't hear criticisms and judgments when I speak compassionately. Occasionally I will get someone in my training who is familiar with NVC and I am very surprised that he or she can demonstrate empathy after I have expressed what is alive in me.

Compassionate Honesty vs Judgments, Criticisms and Evaluations

An Expression with Evaluation or Judgment Compassionate Honesty
You are always late. That's rude, when will you show up on time.
You make me so angry when you are disrespectful.
Living with you is like living with a brick wall, I don't know what you are feeling.
You were lazy and left the dishes you promised to do in the sink.
I'm tired of living with a slob.

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