NVC and Power

Dear Friends,

Greetings on a sunny autumn day. I hope you are well.

My supervisor left the company two weeks ago. At times, we had strong
disagreements. When this happened, I tried to capture and express her feelings and needs in an attempt to empathize with her. Despite these attempts, I often came away feeling powerless.

All along, I knew I was practicing only half of NVC. I didn’t dare to make
myself vulnerable as NVC would suggest. I deemed it “unwise” in this case. Truth be told, I was afraid and wanted to protect my heart.

Until one good day, after a 5-day retreat that yielded increased self-awareness, I decided to start a new chapter in our relationship. I took the Honesty plunge. I told my supervisor that the tension between us was painful to me because I needed mutual trust. Would she tell me what I could I do to earn her trust? Although the exchange didn’t lead to connection at that moment, over time, our relationship improved greatly. I remained committed to trying to understand and meet her needs, while honoring mine. Gradually, I experienced increased support from her. Following is my understanding of NVC in this context:

*Why was it challenging for me to practice NVC with my supervisor? NVC teaches us that it is difficult to be empathic with those who have structural power in a system. It is easy to see them as our opponents, at best, and our enemies, at worst. Yet, by receiving empathy for ourselves first, and then empathizing with the other, we can transform “enemy images,” see the other’s humanity and connect with his or her heart.

*Why were my attempts to empathize not leading to connection? NVC makes a distinction between “doing empathy” and beingempathically present. For some time I was trying to capture and express my supervisor’s feelings and needs — I was doing empathy. Then, I began to CONNECT with her feelings and needs without even saying a word. In this silent empathic connection, it was easy for me to WANT to meet her needs!

*How was honesty important in this outcome? NVC assumes that human beings are compassionate by nature (the reasons why we deviate from our compassionate nature would be the subject of another message). And it teaches us that that VULNERABILITY IS POWER. In making ourselves vulnerable, we have the power to access compassion in the other. And the likelihood that he or she will care about our needs increases vastly. When I was able to transform my fear I
revealed my feelings and needs vulnerably – and I made a request.

The rest is history.

Warm regards to all,



About Institute for Empowering Communication

Co-founder of the Institute for Empowering Communication
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