Communications continued

So what happens is we begin to think in terms of other than ourselves and begin to get curious about why people do what they do. So let me give you a classic example. This is a little interaction between me and a best friend, who I’ll call Steve.

I called Steve up and said “Let’s go to the movies tonight.  I really want to see this movie.”   And Steve Says “No!” and hangs up on me.   What might you do?  Get angry and call Steve back?  Get hurt and think that you’ve offended him?”

OK. So I’m going to call Steve back. 

Steve’s behavior triggered my upset, so my reaction I call a “behavioral storm” because I’m reacting emotionally to something Steve did. 

That line in the graphic is lightning coming out of my storm. Now, how does Steve respond to my loving phone call? When I tell him off? Not well, right. He has a behavior storm and he lashes out at me. And that is the essence of every argument you’ve ever been in. Every war, every argument. I don’t like what you’re doing. And I tell you about it. You don’t like what I’m doing and you tell me about it. And we’re at war. 

And interestingly, nobody is talking about feelings and needs; which is the core of every behavior.  That is up until now. Once you get this, you realize Steve’s behavior is not about me. What’s it about?

 “His Needs.” Exactly. So what happens for me is I become really curious. Now, this model that I’m talking about is coming from the work of a man named Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who wrote a book called Nonviolent Communication. He made up a communication model often referred to as OFNR.  Observations; Feelings; Needs, and Requests.

Observations, Feelings; Needs, and Requests.

So I’m going to use this model to figure out what the heck’s going on with Steve. And I start by observing “What just happened?” 

So I call Steve up and I say, “Dude, I called you up. I asked you to go to the movie. You said “no.” And then there was a click and you weren’t there anymore.”

Now, that sounds fairly reasonable, fairly normal, but interestingly, it’s not how we typically do it.  How we typically do it looks more like this. “I called you up in a good mood and you got in my face and yelled at me, and hung up on me.” 

The problem is we don’t know some of that data. The definition of an Observation is to state  “What did I actually see, or hear?”  The Observation is more of what might be called an evaluation or interpretation.  

For example; I don’t know that Steve was yelling. It sounded like yelling to me, but he might not think of it that he was yelling and he’ll argue.  All I know for a fact, what the Observation is, is that He said “No.”  

I don’t even know if he actually hung up on me.  That is an interpretation of the silence that followed his “No.”

He might have been on a cell phone and gone through a dead zone and just lost a signal. And if I tell him he hung up on me he gets mad at me again. So I avoid evaluations and just relay the facts, unarguable facts because I want to connect with Steve, not fight. So I state a clean, behavioral Observation.  just what I heard or what I saw. “I asked you to go to a movie. You said “no”. And then there was silence.” 

Those are facts. Nothing he can argue with. Next I name my Feelings. I say “Ouch! When that happened I felt hurt, disappointed, frustrated, even angry.” Feelings are inside of me, emotions that I’m having.

But we are not trained to do that.

Here’s an interesting thing. I recognize that I have a need and I do a behavior. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work. There’s a chance that I do a behavior and it meets my needs. There’s also the possibility that that particular behavior didn’t work. My need wasn’t met. How do I know if my need is being met?

Turns out we have an internal mechanism. A built-in loop called feelings. It lets you know if your needs are being met. 

But sometimes naming a Need under the Feeling is too complicated. There’s a little test you can give yourself called the “Y” test. Anytime you’re doing a behavior, to check and see if your needs are being met, you give yourself the “Y Test”. It looks like this,  



If your needs are being met, you feel yummy.  If your needs are not being met, you feel yucky. Pretty simple. If you’re having a yucky feeling, what’s going on? ” There’s a need not being met, right! Whose job is that feeling? Yours! Exactly. 

Stop blaming other people for your feelings. It’s not their job.

Stop blaming other people for your feelings. It’s not their job. They’re busy taking care of their feelings and needs. Your feelings are your job. Now, if someone in your life wants to help you. Beautiful. 

But the minute you insist on someone else meeting your Needs, you run the risk of damaging, of making the relationship toxic. 

What’s the basis of everything Steve is doing?  “His Needs!”. He’s got the same feedback loop, called feelings.  And what triggered Steve’s emotions? Steve’s Needs, right?

His behavior is not about me!  Freedom!  

First we Observed.  Next we move to Feelings.  And in this particular case, we want to go inside and say, “Ouch!” How does this feel to me?  

“So I asked you to go to the movies and you said, “No!  When that happened I felt a lot of pain; a lot of frustration, a little bit of irritation, even anger.” Notice; I’m not blaming Steve; I’m just talking about my experience, my feelings.  

Stop blaming others for your feelings! Your feelings are not their job!

And the fourth step, Request.  What would I like to ask for from Steve in this moment?  “Would you be willing to tell me what just happened?” 

That is the Request. 

This is the new and improved means of communication.  The old way would have been, instead Observing, naming my Feelings, Sharing my current Need, and making a clear Request, what we’ve learned to do is tell the person how they should have acted, what their behavior should have been, and it would look something like, “Hey, I called you up in a good mood and you got in my face and yelled at me.  Nobody talks to me like that; especially not a friend.”

The problem with the old way of communicating is that it increases the distance between people.  Steve’s behavior storm triggers my behavior storm and we are at war.

This is clear communication, without blame or judgment. 

More to follow….

P.S. if you want to see a video version of this talk check out my Youtube site.

Published by Jim Hussey

I am a licensed professional counselor, working in a hospital setting. I have been a meditator and teacher for 47 years, a therapist for 28 years and married for 29 years. My secret vice is golf.

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