“I want you to let me be me,” the woman declared to her husband. “I do!” he retorted. “No, you don’t!” she insisted. Asked to express herself in positive action language, the woman replied, “I want you to give me the freedom to grow and be myself.” Such a statement, however, is just as vague and likely to provoke a defensive response.
She struggled to formulate her request clearly, and then admitted, “It’s kind of awkward, but if I were to be precise, I guess what I want is for you to smile and say that anything I do is okay.” Often, the use of vague and abstract language can mask such oppressive interpersonal games.
Not a book about ASD, but a book that has come up multiple times on booklists for people with ASD. It’s a handbook on how to communicate effectively while being respectful and sensitive to the needs of others.
The example at the end of chapter one almost made me stop reading (to be clear this is not the excerpt but something much more cringey), but I’m very glad that I pressed on because it was only good from there on. Do any of you guys remember being taught “I-messages” in grade school? This is like, a 250-page expansion of the incredibly useful script, and it comes with all sorts of neat examples.
A few lines do come off kind of awkward (“I am needing more respect in our dialogue,” for ex), but overall it outlines a good way to ensure that conversations are more empathetic and productive – the central theme of the book is that those two things are intertwined.
There are incredibly well-crafted quizzes at the end of each chapter which are very useful for checking and re-enforcing your understanding. Like, I will do them, get 30% of them wrong, check the solutions for an explanation, realize that I didn’t get concept x, and then work to actually get concept x before I move on.
Personally Useful Concepts
- The NVC message form: Observation, Feeling, Need, Request.
- For expression: “When I see/hear O, I feel F, because I need N. Would you be willing to R?”
- For empathy: “When you see/hear O, are you feeling F because you need N? Would you like R?” (It’s alright to guess for F, N, and R, because you’ll be corrected if you’re wrong and it’s overall the most effective way to start a dialogue)
- Distinguishing what we feel and what we think.
- “I feel ignored” expresses how we interpret the behaviours of others
- “I feel hurt (because I thought I was being ignored when I wanted to be involved)” expresses a feeling.
- Clearly express your needs and thoughts underlying them.
- “I feel disappointed because you said you would do it and then you didn’t” does not demonstrate responsibility because it implies that the other person’s behaviour is responsible for the feelings.
- “When you said you’d do it and then didn’t, I feel disappointed because I want to be able to rely upon your words” does a better job of expressing underlying needs and thoughts.
- Take responsibility for your own feelings.
- “For example, if someone arrives late for an appointment and we need reassurance that she cares about us, we may feel hurt. If, instead, our need is to spend time purposefully and constructively, we may feel frustrated. If, on the other hand, our need is for thirty minutes of quiet solitude, we may be grateful for her tardiness and feel pleased. Thus, it is not the behavior of the other person, but our own need that causes our feeling. When we are connected to our need, whether it is for reassurance, purposefulness, or solitude, we are in touch with our life energy. We may have strong feelings, but we are never angry. Anger is a result of life-alienating thinking that is disconnected from needs. It indicates that we have moved up to our head to analyze and judge somebody, rather than focus on which of our needs are not getting met.” (p.143)
- There are a number of common speech patterns that tend to mask accountability for our own feelings:
1) Use of impersonal pronouns such as “it” and “that”: “It really infuriates me when spelling mistakes appear in our public brochures.” “That bugs me a lot.”
2) Statements that mention only the actions of others: “When you don’t call me on my birthday, I feel hurt.” “Mommy is disappointed when you don’t finish your food.”
3) The use of the expression “I feel (an emotion) because … ” followed by a person or personal pronoun other than “I”: “I feel hurt because you said you don’t love me.” “I feel angry because the supervisor broke her promise.”
In each of these instances, we can deepen our awareness of our own responsibility by substituting the phrase, “I feel … because I … ” For example:
1) “I feel really infuriated when spelling mistakes like that appear in our public brochures, because I want our company to project a professional image.”
2) “Mommy feels disappointed when you don’t finish your food, because I want you to grow up strong and healthy.”
3) “I feel angry that the supervisor broke her promise, because I was counting on getting that long weekend to visit my brother.” (p.52)
- Be specific.
- Be specific when giving complements: “I’m happy you won that award because I was hoping that you would get recognition for all the hard work you put into the project”, “You’re a great teacher because you explained x really well and now I’m less anxious about the final exam”
- Ask for specific actions, in general asking for specific actions is more productive than telling someone what you don’t want them to do. This is hard, because we are often unaware of what we are requesting (see excerpt).
- Specify what thoughts you would like when asking for input to avoid wasting time:
- “I’d like you to tell me if you predict that my proposal would be successful, and if not, what you believe would prevent its success,” rather than simply saying, “I’d like you to tell me what you think about what I’ve said.” (p.57)
- Requests unaccompanied by the speaker’s feelings and needs may sound like a demand.
- Paraphrasing saves time – “Studies in labor-management negotiations demonstrate that the time required to reach conflict resolution is cut in half when each negotiator agrees, before responding, to accurately repeat what the previous speaker had said.” (p.100) Whenever possible, paraphrase everything that is requested of you first.
- Empathizing with someone’s “no” protects us from taking it personally.
- Be kind to yourself. When you regret an action, ask yourself this: “When I behaved in the way which I now regret, what need of mine was I trying to meet?”