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You Never Listen to Me!

In the previous article, we looked at why Feelings are beautiful. Here, we’re going to explore one of the ways I use Nonviolent Communication (NVC), mediating in conflicts between two people. (It also works with warring tribes!)

Rachel and Paul, a young, unmarried, professional couple, wanted to come and see me – they had been going through difficulties. They lived together in London, but they found it difficult to find a time in the evenings when they were both free.

When we finally met, I told them that I wasn’t going to take sides, and made a proposal about my role. I said that if I heard something that would make it difficult to get the progress they were seeking, I would translate it into a language that I thought would be more likely to help, and check to see if it’s accurate. They agreed.

At first they were eager to let the other talk. Eventually Rachel got round to talking about the time they spent together in the evenings: “When we go out for meals, you always look bored or tired”, she said. And then, raising her voice and looking directly at him, she said, “You never listen to me.”

I knew from experience that this message would make it difficult to get the progress they were seeking, so I interrupted and asked Paul, “Could you tell me what need you heard Rachel express there?”

He paused for a moment and said with a sigh, “She thinks I never listen to her.”

I said, “Thank you for telling me what you think she thinks. What I asked for was what need Rachel was expressing.”

“I’m new to this,” he said. “Could you help me?”

“OK,” I said. “What I heard was this: She finds it difficult to remember a situation with you when she was satisfied that she was fully heard and understood.”

“Oh,” said Paul, looking down at the floor.

I asked, “Could you tell me what you heard me say?”

“She doesn’t feel heard and understood.”

“Yes, that’s what I heard.” I noticed Rachel sitting back in her chair and appearing to relax.

I turned back to Paul: “Now, I’m guessing that some pain comes up for you too, because you’d like acknowledgement of the energy you put into this relationship. Is that accurate?”

“Yes,” he said, looking up with what I would describe as surprise and relief in his eyes.

I turned to Rachel: “Could you tell me what you just heard me say?”

“He’s trying to get out of it,” she replied. “He always turns it back on me”.

“I’m sad I didn’t express myself clearly,” I said. “I was asking you to repeat back to me what I guessed as his feelings and needs.”

“Oh, you mean he’s sad because he wants some recognition of the energy he puts in.”

“Yes, that’s what I heard,” I said. I saw Paul sit back a little in his chair and appear to relax.

“So, Paul,” I said, “to give you this acknowledgement, would you like Rachel to tell you three things you do that she enjoys?”

“Three things?” said Rachel, laughing.

“Yes,” said Paul, “that would be nice”

Rachel was silent for a moment, and then started to tell him about the times she had enjoyed being with him and what she loved about him.

I left them to it, but I hope you’ll join me in our next article, Beyond right and wrong

© Shantigarbha 2005. This article first appeared in Funky Raw magazine. It has been lightly edited for context.