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Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication

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How to speak and listen more effectively--to communicate mindfully and improve all relationships--based on the author's unique synthesis of mindfulness practice combined with the principles of nonviolent communication.

Communication is hard. Here's a proven method that makes it not only considerably easier, but also much more effective for people on both sides of the conversation. Oren Sofer's method for effective communication is a unique combination of mindfulness with the modality called nonviolent communication (NVC), a method popular since the 1960s that is based on the belief that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and resort to violence or behavior that harms others only when they don't recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs. NVC provides those peaceful strategies. Oren's unique method for fostering peaceful--and effective--communication has three "steps" or components: (1) presence: bringing mindful awareness to the interaction, (2) intention: clarifying and setting a goal for the interaction, and (3) attention: learning to really hear and understand in a way that enables you to navigate the difficulties, express yourself clearly, and listen like it really matters--which it most certainly does. The steps are accompanied by many practical exercises, and in the course of this three-part training, readers will learn how to apply these skills to personal and social relationships with romantic partners, friends, colleagues, and family.

304 pages, Paperback

First published December 11, 2018

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Oren Jay Sofer

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Profile Image for Hamish.
403 reviews23 followers
September 14, 2022
A couple of years ago I was at a retreat which included a workshop on nonviolent communication (NVC). It started with a video in which a crazy man called Marshall Rosenberg got people to wear giraffe ears and talk to each other using hand puppets. The guy running the workshop then handed everyone a list of feelings, and got us to think about how we could've resolved a past conflict by talking about our unmet needs. This was such an insane experience that I couldn't help but suspect the guy was having us on. He was, after all, a physics teacher, and should undoubtedly have known better.

Fast forward to a few months ago, and I find myself dating an incredible woman. She's the warmest person I've ever met and absolutely stunning to boot. But there's a problem: she too is really into NVC. At first I try to calmly explain that her belief system is stupid and try to gently mock her into being reasonable. But incredibly, despite my Outstanding Logic, she not only failed to reform, but somehow this backfired into our relationship falling apart! She suggests I actually read a book on NVC. "Who knows?" she say "It might actually help you."

And so, I find myself reading "The Art of Nonviolent Communication". It's basically a recipe book, where what you're baking is language which helps resolve conflict and build genuine human connection. The recipe is: "When you do x, I feel y, because my need for z isn't being met. Could you do w in the future?" "Ah." I say. "I can see where you're going wrong. You think that this way of talking makes you sound wise and emotionally intelligent, when in fact it makes you sound weird and robotic. Do you see the mistake now?"

And so, I'm sent back to the bookshelf with my tail between my legs. Next up on the curriculum is "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life" by Marshall Rosenberg, the man who invented NVC and who I saw in the video with the giraffe puppets. This one was quite a bit longer, and considerably better than the previous book. It's full of warm fuzzy phrases like "expressing what's alive inside of you", "acting out a desire to make life wonderful for yourself and others", "requests from others are opportunities to enrich both of your experiences and should be treated as gifts", and "never walk when you can dance". But it also uses this weird vocabulary in which negative emotions come from unmet "needs", compromise doesn't seem to exist, and it's illegal to blame other people for making you feel a certain way. I came out of this book thinking "Rosenberg seems like a something of a beacon of warmth, and I can see why he has attracted a following. Maybe that's why NVC is popular despite being totally vacuous. Because Rosenberg can say any old nonsense and make it seem emotionally wise."

I raised my objections with my lady friend and she suggested that Say What You Mean might be more to my taste. Indeed it is! One of the big problems I'd had with the previous books was that they made heavy use of terms like "needs", but used them in an usual way and never defined what exactly they meant. Oren Jay Sofer takes the radical step of actually defining his terms. What's more, he acknowledges that the awkward NVC formulations are in fact awkward, and suggests using your own words to communicate what you feel and need from other people. When I emerged from the end of Say What You Mean, I felt like I finally understood the NVC model of human communication, and was even compelled by it. Having said that, there was something strangely hypnotic and hazy about the book. Whenever I got to the end of a chapter I would have a hard time remembering what that chapter had been about. I seemed to pick up the insights from this book through some kind of unconscious osmosis.

What follows is my attempt to explain the main tenents of NVC. All the NVC books have been pretty light on explicit theory and definitions, so there are a few points where I'm making educated guesses about definitions.

Violent communication is language which makes an implicit or explicit moralistic judgement about someone, or tries to control another person through threats or demands. Examples are "you are a bad husband" and "if you don't do this then I'm never talking to you again". Moralistic judgements turn conversations into a zero-sum points scoring competitions. Both parties will try to capture the moral high ground in a vicious cycle of accusations, denials, and counter-accusations. Threats or demands are also zero-sum and lead to resentment, bitterness, shame, etc. Violent communication can also be self-directed. As in "I am bad and deserve to be unhappy." The goal of NVC is to understand how violent communication arises, and turn these negative- or zero-sum exchanges into positive-sum ones.

Needs For humans to stay healthy, there are certain "needs" which need to be fulfulled. Failure to meet these needs will typically result in discomfort, followed by decay, followed by death. This drama can play out over a range of timespans: seconds for physical safety, minutes for air, days for water, months for food, and years for love and companionship. There are also some like self actualisation which take so long that I'm not sure you can die from them within a natural lifespan. Abraham Maslow famously arranged human needs into a hierarchy.

Feelings As mentioned above, the first consequence of a need not being met is discomfort. What happens is that some regulatory mechanism in the body notices that the need isn't being met, sends a signal to the brain, and this signal is consciously experienced as an uncomfortable feeling like pain, thirst, hunger, loneliness, or depression. Converesly, when a need is satisfied, one experiences a pleasant feeling, such as relief, pleasure, or happiness. The vocabulary is not so rich for pleasant feelings as unpleasant ones; all met needs are alike, each unmet need is uncomfortable in its own way.

Something that NVC books don't do a very good job of is mapping out just what the human needs are and which feelings they are related to. Instead they throw a list of feelings and needs at you and let you figure it out for yourself. But understanding what kinds human needs and how they relate to emotions seems like a really hard problem. You can't peer inside ourselves and see that your security-o-meter is low and you need a top up of reassurances. All you can really access are the feelings, which makes me wonder if you really need to have needs in the picture at all. Perhaps all this talk of needs is simply distracting detail. But moving on...

Thoughts We are prone to over-extrapolating from specific events to tell general stories about other people or ourselves. For example, your partner doesn't call, so you start thinking about how they don't really care about you. In fact they might not have called for any number of reasons. These stories tend to carry moralistic judgement and lead to violent communication. Challenging thoughts seems to be a big part of cognitive behavioural therapy, and similarly with NVC. In NVC we want to avoid communicating judgemental thoughts (events -> feelings -> thoughts -> communication), and instead communicate the underlying feelings directly (events -> feelings -> communication).

The NVC books I've read never attempted to explain why we have and communicate judgemental thoughts when this so frequently leads to bad outcomes. Here are some half-baked theories based on other books I've read:
- The essentialism fallacy (not it's standard name, but can't find what the standard name is). This is a heuristic or mental shortcut in which we see someone behaving in a certain way and attribute it to essential characteristics. For example, you see someone being angry and think "they must be an angry person". Similarly, if your partner does something that makes you feel overlooked, it's easy to mistake the feeling for an intrinsic characteristic of them, such as "they don't care about me".
- Or perhaps we should think of arguments as tit for tat exchanges with a "moralisation gap" (as discussed in The Better Angels of Our Nature). The idea is that in your brain's judicial book keeping, your own moral failings are systematically undercounted compared to those of others. Thus if you and your partner exchange emotional blows then you'll both feel like you're being reasonable and your partner is escelating.
- Jonathan Haidt claims in The Righteous Mind that most of the time politics is about having an immediate emotional reaction, followed by a post-hoc justification of why our reaction is objectively correct. The same thing could happen in relationship disputes. There's some kind of negative emotional reaction. A good objective explanation of that emotion is that your partner is objectively bad. Etc.
- I expect Robin Hanson would say that arguments aren't really about establishing who's right but about who has higher status. I guess we could flesh this out by saying that we have a political module in our brain which habitually comes on in some situations and will fight to the death about status. The trick is to not turn it on. Maybe Peter Singer would add something à la The Expanding Circle.
So we can think of violent communication as brain glitches, errors from cognitive shortcuts, coordination problems, or brain modules being used in the wrong place.

Requests Ok, so you've got some needs and feelings. How do you make this into a positive sum game? As Robin Hanson has argued (although I can't find the link), moving away from your optimum towards someone else's will have a first derivative of zero. Which means (if your reasoning is a bit fast and loose) that it is typical for you to be able to help others significantly at little cost to yourself. Throw in some warm glow utils, and suddenly helping someone else, as long as it doesn't take too much work, is a profitable enterprise! So when you make a request to someone you are really giving them a gift, and you should treat it as such.

Nonviolent communication NVC is simply a clear expression of what you're feeling, what needs are behind these feelings, and what you would like from the other person to meet those needs. For example, "My need for intimacy isn't being met and I'm feeling lonely. Would you mind reconnecting?" If your feelings were triggered by something the other person did or did not do, then you should also include an observation of what happened which led to your current feelings. E.g., "I've done the dishes the last five nights. This makes me feel angry because I need fairness. Could you please do the dishes now?" Essentially, you are deconstructing the mental apparatus that normally produces a criticism of another person, and instead simply describing the apparatus.

So what do I think about NVC now? It rings true to some degree. I like the vocabulary and find it helpful for thinking about conflict. Especially the notion of "violent communication". The difference between language which is and isn't judging people seems obvious and important now that I've got a word for it. But when I, or my partner, have tried to actually use nonviolent communication, it has mostly fallen flat. There are times when it has worked. It is probably a useful tool to have in the toolbox. But I think ultimately it's too simple a system to do more than scratch the surface of undersanding and improving human communication.

[Update 2 years later:]

Plot twist: my then-partner was kinda abusive and was using non-violent communication as a tool to control me. Like "I know that you think I'm being unreasonable, but if you just read some more books about my weird belief system then maybe you'll finally understand why I'm right. Why, no. I won't read any books about what you believe. That would be silly; it's you who's wrong."

My current stance on NVC is: it's stupid and cult-y and I want to burn it to the ground. I've heard smart people say they find it genuinely helpful, so I can believe it is sometimes a useful tool for some people. But there is no way that it's the solution to human conflict. From now on, people formulaically talking about their feelings and needs is a huge red flag.

The fact that I felt like I had to invest several hours into writing an extremely generous review for a book in which I could find no actual content... A review in which I paint myself as an asshole and my partner as a princess... God damn. What a waste of two years.
Profile Image for Lori.
266 reviews26 followers
February 12, 2019
This brilliant book opens with a perfect analogy: “Communicating is a bit like learning an instrument. Playing scales is essential, but the aim is to make music.” I smiled and entered the book with an eagerness that’s often lacking when I read other books that prescribe a rigid list of rules and “shall nots.” Sofer encourages readers to use this book as a field guide, to try the suggestions and see how they work, and to start small, in low-stakes situations. Fluent, open communication develops with practice, he notes, and this book provides useful approaches to help you learn how to put your own nonviolent communication into practice, and into the world.

At the highest level, the book is organized in four parts:

• The first step: Lead with presence
• The second step: Come from curiosity and care
• The third step: Focus on what matters
• Bringing it all together

If you pause to let those concepts settle, the basic framework is clear: be present, be curious, and stick with the part that really matters. As I think about my own instances of difficult and ultimately unsuccessful communication, it’s easy to spot the places I went wrong. I got lost in my own stuff and was busy fighting old battles instead of talking to my conversation partner in the moment; I was defensive (or he was defensive and I reacted); or we got off track and I went down one rabbit hole after another, until neither of us even remembered where we started. I imagine any one of those experiences is familiar to you, too. Were these “violent” communications? Perhaps not as we may think about it: I didn’t hurl the dishes against the wall or threaten my conversation partner, but neither did we come out of the conversation feeling better, or closer, or ahead of where we started. As Oren notes, intimacy is born in conflict, and if conflict cannot be navigated, intimacy withers and dies.

Except for the final chapter, “Conclusion,” each chapter provides a clear and thorough introduction to the topic at hand, gives the reader lots of opportunities to pause and reflect, and presents practices to help the reader put the material into action. Each also ends with a set of relevant principles, key points, and a few Q&As that came from actual workshops and seminars. For example, Chapter 6 (Don’t Let the Call Drop) focuses on listening – a critical part of communication, even if it’s not the one you think of first. Lessons in this chapter focus on listening wholeheartedly, staying connected, reflecting before you respond (I wanted to italicize the word before), identifying your own roadblocks to empathy, and conclude with three ways to practice empathy. The key principle noted at the end of the chapter recognizes that “People are more likely to be willing to listen when they feel heard. To build understanding, reflect before you respond.” The Q&A section for this chapter deals with the question of a conversation partner wanting advice, and dealing with others who expect you to communicate in a certain way. From beginning to end, Chapter 6 teachers the interested reader everything she needs to know about how to listen effectively – which means learning ways to allow the other person to feel heard and understood, and ways the listener can understand what is really going on.

Every reader is likely to read one chapter that is their own long-term sore spot. For me, it was Chapter 11: If You Want Something, Ask For It. Oh, the many ways we have of “communicating” what we want, and oh, those many ways that fail to communicate what we want. The opening example in this chapter involved a young woman with chronic pain. Her family was moving, and she needed to pack her boxes, but her pain was so great that she could only lie down. Why hadn’t she asked her parents or friends for help? It had never occurred to her. People sometimes just hope that others will see and understand what they need without their having to ask, or they ask in a passive way, or in an “I don’t want to bother you” way. The other person might figure out what we’re hoping they’ll do for us, but there is a much easier way, and that’s simply to ask – a revolutionary idea! Sometimes we’ll be asking for help (“Can you help me with this box?”) and other times we’ll be asking about understanding (“What are you getting from what I just said?”). At times we will need to say no to a request for help, and undoubtedly there will be times when someone else says no to our request. This helpful chapter covers the range of situations in which we ask for help, or someone asks for our help, with clarity and compassion, and with the clear goal of understanding and connection.

The short concluding chapter integrates the basic principles outlined in the book, provides possible next steps, and leaves the reader with the understanding that communication is not about the words you say. It’s not about memorizing a set of rigid rules – say this and don’t say that whatever you do – but is instead about looking inside yourself; listening to others with openness and a heartfelt intention to understand; and saying what you mean, clearly and in the moment, and with a focus on what matters. I was left with a feeling of optimism, and an eagerness to practice these methods.

The book ends with a useful set of back matter: A summary of principles, a set of useful communication phrases, notes, a glossary, a list of further resources, and an index of the practices collected in the book, many of which link to a companion guided audio exercise on the author’s website.

This book is a great addition to anyone’s reference shelf alongside books about living mindfully, approaches to healthy communication, and finding one’s own voice. I have an extensive collection of books on these topics, and this one is already flagged and tagged with notes and comments – and a great many exclamation points.
Profile Image for Genevieve Trono.
594 reviews98 followers
November 17, 2018
What we say matters. This book came at a great time for me and was a powerful read of helpful advice based on the mindfulness practice, to have more positive communication. Words can heal, sooth or uplift us and they can also cause great harm.

Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening in the present moment in a balanced and non-reactive way. In order to connect mindfulness to your daily communication Sofer recommendations following these three basic guidelines...

1. Lead with presence.
2. Come from curiosity and care.
3. Focus on what matters.

I love the advice in this book and so many of the points have really stuck with me. I love the chapter that talked about self-awareness and how this can affect the communication we have with others. We need to show up for ourselves and others and sometimes taking a pause before speaking can really help with this. The more aware we are the more choices that we have. We also must have trust and confidence in our own voices.

I highly recommend this book and found so much of it helpful and relatable to my life. Thanks to NetGalley and Shambala Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Scott Constantine.
55 reviews8 followers
November 1, 2020
Hmm. This is another book I really wanted to like but didn't. I am a big fan of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication ("NVC") Framework. I honestly think it can change the practice of law, and that's why I am a devotee of it - I think it can make cross-examinations more humane, client meetings more empathetic, and defuse some of the tension of certain contentious areas of the field (which lawyers often have an unnerving tendency to amplify when they are uniquely positioned as potential peacemakers).

But practicing Rosenburg's NVC is quite a technical discipline with nuances that I think Sofer fails to capture, despite being obviously well-intentioned. I was expecting more practical advice re how to implement Rosenberg's NVC through the lens of mindfulness - not the same tired new-agey accretions to mindfulness rehashed and labelled as "NVC". It felt more like a long Buzzfeed listicle of mindfulness tips, and less like a way of mindfully applying the NVC framework (though, to be fair, he did make allusions to it from time to time, but it felt more like a parallel framework than a method of implementing NVC).

Don't get me wrong - I think mindfulness will change the world and I have a daily mindfulness practice. I'm just a little tired of the mindfulness circlejerk of 5-star reviews that has emerged of late - mindfulness is a discipline, and a challenging one at that, that isn't easily captured in a "listicle" type format.

I think if you're brand new to mindfulness, then you might get something out of this book. Sofer does offer the very basics of mindfulness and delivers them in a kind and compassionate way. But if you're looking for how to implement NVC in challenging situations, I think you're better off reading Dr. Rosenberg's books or listening to any number of his great lectures that have been posted all around the internet.
Profile Image for Pamela.
16 reviews6 followers
January 6, 2019

"Say What You Mean" is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning how to authentically connect and communicate with ease and clarity.

I loved it! I have dog-eared many pages and underlined numerous sections. There are also 12 free guided audio meditations that I use to support my daily practice. It is a book that I will go back to again and again.

Profile Image for Anne.
Author 11 books261 followers
August 12, 2018
This is a powerful, yet practical book that combines the practice of mindfulness with the methodologies of nonviolent communication as taught by Marshall Rosenberg, along with Somatic Experiencing as taught by Peter Levine. Each of these is effective and powerful and it’s own right, but this author weaves them together to for. Something new and transformative. He breaks the process down into three steps:
1. Lead with presence.
2. Come from curiosity and care.
3. Focus on what matters.

Each section focuses on one of these three steps in great detail because well each that might sound simple, it is definitely not always easy to communicate this way! The author compares learning new communication skills to learning a new language and urges us to take our time and follow the practical suggestions throughout the book.

I can honestly say that following the suggestions and “learning this new language“ is having a positive effect on my life and on my relationships.

With gratitude to NetGalley, the author and the author for an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Literary Redhead.
1,621 reviews492 followers
July 17, 2019
“Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication” by Oren Jay Sofer is a book I’ve long needed to read, as my hubby says I can “never land the plane” when I’m speaking to him! I’m so glad I found this incredibly helpful guide for improved connection through better communications with others!

I learned to speak and listen more effectively based on the author's unique approach that mixes mindfulness practices with the principles of nonviolent communication, a popular modality since the 1960s that posits that all human beings have the capacity for compassion when peaceful strategies are at the ready.

Oren's method teaches three steps: presence, intention and attention. The steps are accompanied by practical exercises that direct readers on how to apply them to personal and social relationships with romantic partners, friends, colleagues, and family. Highly recommended!

Pub Date 11 Dec 2018

Thanks to Shambhala Publications, Inc. and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are fully mine.

#SayWhatYouMean #NetGalley
13 reviews
September 2, 2022
I generally liked Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication, and wanted to like this one, but I hated it.

Oren pays a lot of lip service to social justice movements without internalizing it. He had examples in there like why it's important not to be sad/discouraged when a woman you met at the bus stop gives you her number and then doesn't respond, you should keep calling her repeatedly for months, even though she's never picked up, because it might pay off eventually. I literally gasped when I heard that he was encouraging that behavior, and gave a takeaway of dismissing signs that a woman isn't interested and you're making her uncomfortable. He had advice for why you should use minimizing language like "I'm a little confused..." instead of saying "I'm feeling really frustrated," or saying "did that make sense?" instead of "do you understand?" That just doesn't work for disadvantaged groups. And he included the classic example of a woman in serious danger, who shows compassion to the man who's broken in, and then it all works out. I find it disgusting that men like those stories so much.

As others mentioned, the chapters all blur together and somehow I can't remember almost any of the contents of this book.

As for the mindfulness tips, you'd be better off with just a mediation book like The Mindful Way through Depression.
Profile Image for Dr. Tobias Christian Fischer.
648 reviews33 followers
June 16, 2020
Communication can be hard, but luckily it’s a skill that anyone can learn. It comes down to cultivating presence, consciously choosing when to speak, learning how to listen deeply, and paying attention to our needs and emotions. When we have the sincere intention to connect, we can practice the steps that lead to truly fulfilling and productive conversations.
Profile Image for yenni m.
322 reviews21 followers
October 9, 2021
I thought this was just a casual audio read but actually it might be pivotal to future communications and relationships pow!

I'll get it in print one day for the huge reference of non violent prompts and responses to promote empathy and connection. This is what my alien toolbox needs
Profile Image for Stefanie.
94 reviews
November 3, 2019
A book filled with useful strategies to help reframe your communication with others and the dialogue you create within.
Profile Image for Melanie.
252 reviews2 followers
January 18, 2022
I liked this one so much I bought it. I found this to be a wonderfully well written book focused on mindful non violent communication strategies. I loved the integration of mindfulness, which is an area I've lightly been exploring and improved communication strategy which is an area I'm interested in.

I think everyone can take something away from these approaches. Each chapter focuses on a key theme and principles with excercises you can utilize to put them in place and real world examples. The author emphasizes throughout that this is really a life long practice and there is no perfect.

I decided to buy a copy after starting to make notes and leveraging the highlighter function in Libby. While I did read it straight through, I anticipate leveraging the paperback as a reference that I'd like to periodically revisit.

Highly recommend if this is an area of interest for you or a focus for growth. Unlike many "self help" or non fiction books, it did not feel easily boiled down to 20 pages - all felt useful and worthwhile to read.
Profile Image for Erin Martin.
402 reviews7 followers
June 13, 2021
There is some solid advice in this book, but the title is a bit misleading and the book is often slow and boring. I’m pretty sure the author is an axe murderer. That being said, there IS some good stuff in it.
Profile Image for Margo Kelly.
Author 2 books145 followers
January 31, 2019
The topic of communication fascinates me. Whether between two people in an intimate one-on-one conversation or between a professional speaker and her audience, effective communication is both a skill that can be learned and an art that can be mastered. So when I was asked to review the new book, Say What You Mean, by Oren Jay Sofer, I jumped at the opportunity.

And. Wow.

Say What You Mean, by Oren Jay Sofer, captured my attention on the first page and kept hold until the final page.

Before digging into any nonfiction book, I read and research the author's credentials. I need to know why I should trust and believe anything the author has to offer. And I must admit, not knowing anything about Oren Jay Sofer other than what was offered in his bio, I was a bit skeptical. In today's world, just about anyone can call himself a coach or expert and spout psychobabble to earn a buck. So when I read that Sofer is a "certified trainer" and a "practitioner" but saw no mention of higher-educational degrees, I wondered what I was getting myself into with his book. But I'll be the first to admit, my surface judgment was wrong!

Sofer explains in the introduction that the material in the book "is a synthesis of three distinct streams of practice. . . . mindfulness [Theravada Buddhist tradition] . . . Nonviolent Communication developed by Dr. Marshall B.Rosenberg . . . Somatic Experiencing [nervous system regulation to resolve trauma developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine]" (page 4). So while Sofer may not have a PhD behind his name, he draws his material from recognized and respected leaders in their fields. Additionally, early praise for the book comes from many of his expert colleagues in the fields of psychology, communication, and Buddhism.

Oren Jay Sofer's talent as a writer demonstrates his ability to communicate effectively. He has an ability to humbly engage the reader while combining "classical Buddhist training with the accessible language of secular mindfulness" (page 286).

In a word, I was IMPRESSED with this book.

The simple format of the book, as outlined in the table of contents, allows the reader to follow along clearly:

1: Lead with Presence
2: Come from Curiosity and Care
3: Focus on What Matters
4: Bring it All Together

For example on the topic of presence, Sofer suggests: "Initially, much of the work is simply remembering to be present. One way to support this is to take a few moments each morning to set an intention and then to reflect on how things went at the end of the day" (page 35).

Regarding curiosity and care: "When someone trusts that we're actually interested in understanding them--that we're not manipulating things to get our way, that we're not trying to win or prove them wrong--they can stop defending themselves and just hear what we're saying" (page 75).

Focus on what matters: "In some respect, we can boil the essence of any communication down to one of these two messages: 'Please, meet my need' or 'Thank you, you've met my need.' . . . When we hear one another in this way, our heart responds with two profound emotions. . . . [compassion and gratitude]" (page 132).

Bringing it all together: "Humanizing the other person requires the humility and empathy to step outside of your own story and consider other perspectives. If you can put yourself in their shoes and imagine, even for a moment, what might be going on for them, it can have a profound effect on the conversation" (page 231).

The design of a nonfiction book is essential to readers trying to absorb as much information as possible. Say What You Mean, by Oren Jay Sofer, features subtitles, charts, practice items, principles defined, Q&A, and key points throughout the book, reminding and reinforcing the ideas taught within its pages.

Plus, in the printed version of the book, a sound icon is included next to certain practices indicating that there is a companion guided-audio practice on Sofer's website. This is a great additional feature.

As a huge fan of inspirational and thought-provoking quotes, I loved how Sofer opened each chapter with a quote on the art and power of communication.

Truly, the only point in this book that I disagreed with was the concept of saying no to someone. I'm a true believer that I have a right to say no to anyone for any reason without needing to give an explanation. Sofer advises, "If you say no without affirming their needs in some way, the other person may interpret your response as not caring about them" (page 204). I recognize that I will always have room to grow into a better person, and this may be one of those areas, but for now, I reserve my right to say no without justification.

Some of my favorite lines from the book:

"Our words are carried on a wave of breath, the same breath that feeds the cells of our body with oxygen from the moment we are born until the moment we die. Pause to take this is for a moment: we use the same physiological process to speak as we do to sustain our life energy" (pages 18-19).

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place" (page 94).

"When one speaks authentically, vulnerability carries tremendous power" (page 123).

In conclusion, I highly recommend Say What You Mean, by Oren Jay Sofer, to everyone--especially to parents, partners, public speakers, salespeople, teachers, leaders, and learners.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.]
Profile Image for Courtney Stevens.
131 reviews
December 31, 2020
This was a book also recommended to me by a therapist and it’s the single most helpful thing I’ve read this year. While I read it for personal relationships, it also helped me strengthen my communication at work.
272 reviews1 follower
November 14, 2019
The mindfulness pieces of this book were spot on, and a good explanation of mindfulness, with some meditation practices that I found helpful. Since I've already read mindfulness books before though, this wasn't new or exciting information. What I really wanted out of this book was more about Nonviolent Communication. Unfortunately, most of the NVC advice contained here boils down to "Think more before you talk, and talk less." Which is good advice if you, like the author, are a cis het white man, but isn't actually good advice for everyone. First I followed the advice for a bit, then I realized that it was silencing of my voice in a way that was detrimental to the clear communication that this book claims to teach. The point is to make room for the voices of others, but there seems to be no awareness on the part of the author that for equality to be reached, those being too loud stepping back is only one part of the equation. Those being too quiet (because they had previously been silenced) also need to speak up.

tl;dr Read this if you're a straight cis white man. If not, read some other mindfulness book.
Profile Image for Athirah.
143 reviews5 followers
July 19, 2019
I had expected a more informational guide on the art of conversing, yet this book gives the same tips that I hear from YouTube; listen deeply, be present and 'mindful'. Perhaps the most useful tip it gave was that communicating is like swimming; you need to practise for it to come smoothly.
To summarise, I guess I shall just go out into the world and talk to a lot of people.
Profile Image for Tami.
19 reviews
January 17, 2020
I read this for a book group at work focusing on wellbeing. I could tell right away it just wasn’t my thing but gave it a chance. It lost me with no hope of redemption with the woman waking up to an intruder in her home and her offering him her guest room and linens! This was presented as an example of empathy. Beyond ridiculous! I would rate this book negative if that was possible.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Alli.
19 reviews
November 21, 2019
A lot of rich information. I will definitely reference this book for years to come.
177 reviews
October 4, 2021
This book has given me a lot of ideas I can't wait to try (if the mess of notes below didn't already give it away). I appreciated the slightly intersectionalist approach Oren Jay Sofer takes acknowledging that some of these things intersect with race/class/sexuality/gender/etc. It is the bare minimum I expect from any book written in the last 5 years. Only time will tell if these tools are as helpful as my 5-star rating suggests, but worst-case scenario I have a fun new ice-breaker involving identifying times where we've really felt a random emotion from the list. In the meantime I recommend you give this book a go. Shout-out to my bestie Rachel for convincing me to read this with her glowing reviews.

Random but Interesting
"Don't ask what you want to say, ask what you want the other person to understand."
Our bodies age, but our voice is something that changes the least over our life and our identity is tied to it.
"Money hides our ever growing interconnectedness and interdependence"
"Regardless of our skill in communicating much of life is beyond our control."

Entering Conversations
Don't focus on the self, focus on the feeling of interconnectedness.
Approach conversations with: Presence, Intention, Attention
Begin conversations with mindfulness (ground yourself by feeling gravity, breathing, touch points)
Try slowing down a conversation, take pauses between sentences. We are so scared people will lose interest if we aren't talking. Consider when we choose to speak and when we choose not to.
Enter with the intention to understand and come with curiosity and care
curiosity: interested in learning and recognizing that we don't know
care: goodwill, willing to pay attention and see the other person's humanity
Ask yourself
What matters to this person?
What do they long for or need?
What can I learn or understand?
Listening: is more than quietly waiting until they stop so we can talk "To listen is to lean in softly with a willingness to be changed by what we hear" - Mark Nepo

Instead of "I Love You", or "Thank you", share the fullness of your appreciation and gratitude for your met needs.
Send a compliment to someone everyday.
Practice contemplating something that you appreciate in life, like a meal you ate, a friend you saw, etc
Commit to a day of mindfulness each morning, and check in at the end of the day to see how it went.
Practice Processing Feelings
Bring mind to a situation that brought up feelings
Name the emotions
Where do you feel it?
What does it feel like?
What is the tone of the feelings? Pleasant, unpleasant, bring attention to it
Any thoughts, stories, or meanings associated
What needs is this emotion connected to? What matters to me here?
Mindfulness practice: Sort through our emotions throughout the day at the end of each day!

Pausing a conversation
Assurance: I would like to continue, love to hear, committed to figuring it out
Reason: not in the best frame of mind, feeling overwhelmed, don't have space to think clearly, don't have anything useful to say
Reschedule: take a break and come back to, hold until, pause and come back
Intention to connect, take responsibility for our limits, request to finish later

Conflict is good, and it can be safe, no matter what we were taught as children
Conflict is not win/lose.
Intimacy is born in conflict
Unhealthy conflict styles
Conflict avoidance
competitive confrontation
passive aggression

Observation -> feelings -> needs -> requests

understand experience rather than judge or control it
Use "OH!" to return to mindfulness.
Be mindful during conversations so that you can use these tools
Practice so that these are natural during a high stress / intense conversation

if we decrease blame and criticism, it is easier for someone to hear us

"What if we figured this out and became closer?"
"Regardless of the outcome, how do I want to handle myself here?"

What do I want the other person to do?
What do I want their reasons to be for doing it?

Reflecting is a restatement or inquiry about what has been said to confirm understanding
Phrase it as a question, don't tell them what they said
try this with successes and difficult news, practice on the good and bad
Reflecting can help the other person feel understood, and asking for reflection can help US feel understood.

Ways to respond (but we want to respond with empathy)
lecturing / teaching
giving advice
analyzing / diagnosing
distracting / sarcasm / humor
praising / agreeing
sympathizing / reassuring
How these differ from empathy
Sympathy contains a quality of pity, marked by separation and reluctance to encounter another's pain
validating may ignore another's emotions
Reassurances can fail to offer adequate space to feel what's true and are often motivated by our own discomfort
Types of Empathy (true empathy is all three)
somatic: sense in an embodied way
affective (emotional): feeling along with
Cognitive: taking other's perspective

Learn to be at peace with unmet needs.

How to say our needs
instead of "need", soften it with want, love, value, enjoy
Positive statement, not negative. State the need
Ask for the need to be met, don't tell them?

Reactive emotions can hurt, but suppressing emotions does too
1. identify the emotion (affect labeling)
2. find a balance with our internal experience of them, aka emotional regulation
3. Express them openly without blame or judgement

Thoughts reinforce feelings which reinforce thoughts. It's a vicious cycle

Event -> Needs -> Emotions, don't skip from event to emotions
I feel ___ because I need/want/value ___

Don't disguise thoughts as feelings: I feel like you don't love me. I feel as if you're not listening.
False feeling word
ex: I feel attacked -> I think you are attacking me

"If they had that, then what would they have?"
a way to get to our needs

Different ways of showing Empathy
Silent empathic response: listen with your whole being
empathic reflection: cycle of reflection, empathic guess at needs (as a question)
empathic expression: respond authentically from you heart
empathic action: hug, touch, check if there are any ways to support them

empathy guess: are you feeling ___?
Use empathy for "positive" emotions as well
Empathy is always referencing our subjective experience, so ask questions and be open to being wrong!!
"I can't know exactly how you feel, but I care about what's happening for you and I will try to understand"

Observe without Evaluating
state clearly what happened without judgement or evaluation
Ask yourself, "could this be caught on film"
don't use words like "always", "never", "rarely"

Observation -> Feeling -> Need

Just ask for what you want!
requests are questions about one's willingness to perform a specific action to meet needs
1. Positive: What we do want, not what we don't
2. Specific: concrete, doable, not vague
3. Flexible: does not equal demands, they are suggestions for how to move forward and they are open to ideas

Providing context
Are you going to eat this for lunch?
Could have different answers depending on context
I'd really like to take this for lunch, were you planning on eating it?
I'm afraid this will spoil. Will you eat it or shall I?

Hearing "NO"
meet with curiosity, never guilt trip or get angry
"For beneath any request, however small, is a hidden question: 'Do I matter?'"
If someone only ever gives us "yes", we can't be sure they are genuinely agreeing vs agreeing from fear/shame/obligation
"No" is a sign of a healthy relationship
"No" is information. There are probably more important needs they are meeting by saying no.
When you say "No", acknowledge their needs, and say no to the strategy, not the needs

"There's something I'd like to say. Can you give me a moment to gather my thoughts"

Framing a conversation (Preparing to enter a conversation)
"I wanted to talk about the conversation we had yesterday to see if we could understand where we each were coming from a little better. Would you be up for that?"
Step into the conversation together, don't randomly jump in
Broad View: neutral, let them decide if they are ready to enter into the conversation, don't bait them into it and force them to start talking about it
Shared Needs:
Appreciation: start with appreciation / shared bonds / etc

Conversational Pitfalls
Conversation splintering
issues not resolved because many new pieces are introduced
redirect conversation back so each point can be addressed fully
Flooding: repeat self, everything at once, share more info than they can process
Chunking: Speak one piece of content at a time. Small, manageable part. succinct.

Prepping yourself for a difficult conversation
nourishing yourself: get empathy from someone for any pain / anger / etc. Can also get feedback, analyze, and brainstorm together
Investigate what's at stake. Is it your self image or avoiding feedback? What is holding you back.
Separate the relational and logistical parts of the conversation
What do you want? Understanding? Resolution?
Do you have any requests?
Change Judgement to observation/feeling
Change blame to needs
Humanize the other person.
It isn't about winning the argument. What need does being right meet for you?
Stretch your empathy to include the other person

Imagine having the conversation with a third person present who you really respect (elder, teacher, mentor).
Role-play with a friend. Repeat the conversation to integrate new feedback.

Useful communication phrases
Connection Requests That Ask for a Reflection / Empathy
Can you tell me what you’re getting (from what I said)?
I’m not sure I was totally clear. What are you understanding?
Could you tell me your understanding of what matters to me? Knowing that would really help me to feel understood.
I’d like to make sure we’re on the same page. What are you taking away from this?
Connection Requests That Ask for a Response / Information
How is it for you to hear all of this?
What do you think? How do you feel about that?
What can I say or do that would help you to feel more understood?
Requests That Move toward a Solution
Is there more? Anything else you’d like me to understand?
Would this be an okay time to shift to talking about where we go from here?
Do you have any ideas about what might work for both of us?
More Requests That Move toward a Solution
Do you have a sense that I understand what matters to you here? That I get your side of things?
Is there anything else you think would be important for us to consider?
I’d like to find something that works for both of us. Can you sense that?
Requests for Dialogue
Would you be willing to take some time to have a conversation with me about [topic]?
Could we sit down together and look at what we both need to see if we can find a way to work this out?
Offering Empathy
Let me see if I’m understanding. What I’m getting is…?
I want to make sure I’m getting it. It sounds like…?
Here’s what I’m hearing…Is that right?
Eliciting Information
Tell me more.
Anything else you’d like me to understand about this?
Requests for Empathy
What would be most helpful for me is just to be heard. Would you be willing to listen for a bit and tell me what you’re hearing?
I just said a lot and I’m not sure it all came out the way I was intending. Could you tell me what you got from all that?
What I just said is really important to me. Would you be willing to tell me what you’re getting?
Inserting a Pause
I’d like a moment to gather my thoughts.
I’m not sure. Let me think about that.
This sounds important. I’d like to give it some time.
I’d like some time to take that in. Can we pause here for a moment?
Taking a Break: To Pause a Conversation
I’d really like to continue our conversation, and I’m not in the best frame of mind to do that right now. Can we take a break and come back to this…?
I’d really like to hear what you have to say, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, so I don’t think I’ll be able to listen well. Could we take a break and continue tomorrow?
I’m committed to figuring this out together and don’t quite have the space to think clearly now. Can we put this on hold until…?
I want to finish our conversation, and I don’t think anything else I say right now will be useful. Could we take a break until…
I’d really like to hear what you have to say, but the way you’re saying it is making that very difficult. I wonder if you’d be willing to
…try explaining what’s happening for you in a different way?
…take a break until we’ve both had a chance to reflect on this?
…let me have a moment to tell you what’s going on for me?
Let me make sure I’m still with you…
I want to make sure I’m getting everything you said. Can we pause for a moment so I can make sure I’m following it all?
I want to hear the rest of what you’re saying, and I’m starting to lose track. Can I summarize what I’m hearing so far?
I want you to continue, but I’m a bit confused. May I ask a question?
I want to keep listening, and there’s something I want to clarify. May I respond for a moment?
I’m glad you mention that. Before we go there, I’d like to say one or two more things about…
I appreciate you bringing that up. I want to discuss that in a minute, but first I’d like to touch on…
Yes, that’s important. Can we finish talking about this first, and come back to that in a moment?
Hearing No
I’m curious to know, why not? Could you share more?
What’s leading you to say no? Do you have other ideas?
Can we take some time to brainstorm ideas that could work for both of us?
What would you need to know, or what could I do, to make it possible for you to say yes?
Saying No
I’d like to say yes, and here’s what’s getting in the way of that right now.
I’m hearing how important this is to you, and I’m not seeing how I can make it work given that I also have a need for…Could we explore some other options that might work for you?
I can’t agree to that without a significant cost to myself in terms of…[other needs]. Would it work for you if we tried…instead?
Requests for Do-Overs
That didn’t come out quite right. Can I try that again?
I feel like we got off to the wrong start. Could we start over?
I’m concerned some of the things I said aren’t helping. Would you be willing to let me try again?
Things didn’t really go the way I was hoping when we talked. Could we try having the conversation again
Profile Image for Rebecca.
271 reviews
December 28, 2022
This is one of those books that I listened to as an audiobook but will probably get in print as it is full of useful and practical advice that I'll need to revisit (no doubt). Oren Jay Sofer grounds his work in the principles of Nonviolent Communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg. What I really appreciate about this book is how cleanly it intertwines philosophy and practice and maintains a realistic tone.

I found Chapter 4, in particular, really useful in terms of how he frames and discusses underlying beliefs and how those translate into exhibited behaviors. In Chapter 6, the discussion of empathy vs. sympathy was really eye-opening in the clear way that Sofer explains that empathy asks something of us, whereas sympathy is disconnecting from someone's pain, or could even be pity. I think a lot of people (myself included) can easily confuse the two, and empathy, frankly, requires some work. It is "three-dimensional": cognitive, affective, and somatic. He touches upon a similar topic in Chapter 13 where he focuses on sympathetic activation and what that looks (and feels like).

Sofer does understand that these techniques need to be paired with some sort of intuition. He pulls out anecdotes from his own life -- in this case a story about his grandfather and how his methodical application of questions to his grandfather got a bit lost in translation and his grandfather actually felt patronized. Sofer seems realistic that these things take practice and the ultimate goal is for organic communication. He offers exercises that can be practiced in a variety of situations, and a ton of added resources are available on his website.

There are a few extreme examples that didn't resonate as much. The story of the woman who "disarmed" an intruder using nonviolent communication principles irritated the cynic in me. Yes, certainly, I think it is always the right choice to try to communicate, if possible. But that's not always possible, and the intruder's response had a VERY high chance of being different, so I just don't find it that useful to use extreme examples as "evidence" for anything, ultimately.

Personally, the book helped me realize how often I have been a passive-aggressive communicator, and this is through the stories of everyday communication that Sofer shares. For Sofer, speaking, listening, and being in presence -- principles that Sofer outlines in the first chapter and then returns to in Chapter 12--are the key elements of the dance that is communication. I found it a helpful analogy to think of communication as a dance, and Sofer is fairly nuanced in considering contexts for those dances. Reaching mutual understanding first before heading into the problem solving phase of a conversation is one of the most potent aspects of what Sofer espouses. Sometimes we don't have the luxury of doing that, it is true, but to really let it inform a core understanding of communication might be a game-changer for some.
1 review7 followers
December 13, 2018
What a joy it has been to explore and read this book. I'm a therapist who works with families and am constantly thinking about and working on my own ability to communicate. No other book I've read has helped me with this as much as this book has. He breaks down the basics and supports you with concrete practices you can easily do as well as guided meditations that help you deepen into understanding your own habits around communication. I plan on keeping this book on my shelf so the next time someone asks for a recommendation on communication I can give it to them.
Profile Image for KJ Grow.
154 reviews19 followers
February 1, 2021
Best book on communication I’ve ever read. Oren’s holistic and mindfulness-based approach not only provides guiding principles, but practical examples and concrete tools. Lead with presence, come from curiosity and care, focus on what matters. Really valuable advice for anybody, but especially useful for leaders and managers.
Profile Image for Joy Gracia.
50 reviews2 followers
July 25, 2022
some good stuff but book feels hazy. too much going on that i forget about it once i finish the chapter. probably the reason why i took so long to finish. my problem with nvc is the person may come off sounding impersonal/robotic instead of empathetic? that being said, book is great to help you figure out how you see the world and consequently how you behave and communicate.
Profile Image for Elisabeth.
948 reviews2 followers
August 19, 2020
Practical advice on how to improve communication based on the author's Buddhist teachings. Good everyday examples and Q&As throughout the book.
Profile Image for Levi Pierpont.
Author 2 books8 followers
October 22, 2021
Wow! This book really just had a way of calming me through a pretty crazy few weeks, always offering advice helpful to the current situation. Give it a listen!
Profile Image for April.
523 reviews9 followers
May 7, 2019
Continuation of NVC education. I still need to read Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's main book. This book was suggested by an expert NVC trainer and practitioner. A refresher on the main concepts of NVC that I would like to incorporate more into my life and my coaching practice. I found the nervous system attending helpful in tense conversations. I wish some of the concepts were explained more in depth--the why and how of it. Some of the info was too superficial and I wanted a deeper dive.

"Words are a kind of magic. To be alive and self-aware on this remarkable planet with its forests and lakes, its oceans and mountains, in this vast universe with billions of galaxies, is mysterious enough. What a marvel to be able to look into each other's eyes for an instant and form words that tell something of our lives." pg. 1

"I explained how mindfulness practice developed inner awareness, a prerequisite for being able to identify and stay conscious of feelings and needs--the core of Nonviolent Communication--and therefore a key missing piece in the NVC model." pg. 3

"The overarching framework for this book is taking three steps to create effective conversation. The steps themselves are simple enough:
1. Lead with presence.
2. Come from curiosity and care.
3. Focus on what matters." pg. 5

"Changes to communication don't happen overnight. It took time to learn the habits we have. It will take time to unlearn them and become proficient at something new. But every minute you spend learning is worth it. It will pay off in the quality of your relationships, the amount of well-being in your life, and your ability to engage effectively in the world." pg. 9

"Effective communication depends on our ability to be present. Speaking openly and honestly, listening deeply, and navigating the inevitable twists and turns of a conversation all require a high degree of self-awareness. To say what we mean, we must first know what we mean. To know what we mean, we must listen inwardly and discern what's true for us." pg. 11

"Bringing presence to relationship is a powerful practice. It means that we really show up for ourselves, the other person, and whatever happens between us. Yet there are several reasons why it's hard to have presence while speaking and listening:
- It's vulnerable to be face-to-face with another human being.
- Social engagement can activate the nervous system, putting us on edge.
- We tend to focus our attention outward, on the other person, or inward, on our thoughts--thus losing the sense of relatedness and connection.
- We haven't practiced it." pg. 17

"Mindfulness gives us back our lives. It's what allows us to enjoy the beauty of a sunset, the wonder of an old tree, or the mystery and delight of human intimacy. In such experiences, we are wholeheartedly present. The force of their intensity induces a state of natural awareness in which we are deeply here, connected with ourselves and the world around us." pg. 25

"Instead of berating ourselves for forgetting, the key to success is to appreciate remembering. Every moment of mindfulness strengthens awareness. This is cause for celebration rather than judgment. We learn more through warmhearted encouragement than bitter criticism." pg. 37

"The pause is pregnant with possibility. In one breath, we can notice thoughts, feelings, and impulses, and choose which ones to follow. It's like a mini-meditation, an infusion of presence to help stay clear and balanced. What happens during the space of that pause is quite open. We may ground our attention in the body or relax some inner tension, return to a specific intention, handle our emotions so they don't spill out unskillfully, or gather our thoughts about how to proceed." pg. 45

"To be truly alive is to enter this experience of mutuality, of sensing one another and the mystery of being here. Relational presence is a true encounter in which I see you for who you are rather than what I want or need you to be. This mutuality is the foundation of real dialogue." pg. 50

"All human actions are attempts to meet fundamental needs. Beneath our behaviors, preferences, beliefs, and desires are certain longings for physical, relational, or spiritual needs. We all have needs for safety, belonging, connection, and empathy. We have needs for meaning, contribution, creativity, or peace." pg. 77

"Principle: Everything we do, we do to meet a need.
Remembering this perspective is one key to being able to come from curiosity and care. The view calls forth the intention. Whatever is happening, we can get curious about the deeper human needs and values beneath our words or actions. When we understand each other at the level of our needs, our similarities outweigh our differences. This, in turn, creates a generative, positive cycle of views, intentions, and experiences." pg. 77

"If we're only interested in getting our way, then we're not really open to dialogue. We have to be willing to shift, to discover creative possibilities." pg. 89

"Every conversation requires silence. Without it we can't listen, and no real communication happens. The silence of listening isn't forced or strained. It's a natural quiet that arises from interest. When you want to smell a flower, what do you do? You close your eyes, get close, and inhale slowly. Your mind grows still as you find the aroma. This is perhaps the most powerful way to listen: with full presence. As the poet and teacher Mark Nepo writes, 'To listen is to lean in softly with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.'" pg. 92

"Reclaiming our capacity for empathy is essential for well-being, for healthy relationships, and for effective dialogue. Many of the same things that disconnect us from presence will reduce access to empathy: being tired, stressed, or hungry; feeling emotionally activated, angry, or helpless; wanting something intensely or being attached to a specific outcome. Empathy can be blocked by strong views, fear, anticipation of pain, or burnout. There is even new research that suggests the more time we spend on electronic devices, the less empathy we feel." pg. 100-101

"In Nonviolent Communication and the work of many psychologists and social theorists, the term need refers to something very specific, different from ordinary usages. Colloquially we might say 'I need you to listen to me' or 'I need you to be on time.' These are strategies--ideas about how to meet our needs. Needs are what matter beneath our strategies. They are fundamental values that drive our actions. If I want you to listen to me, I may need understanding. A desire for more punctuality may be about valuing respect, teamwork, or efficiency." pg. 112

"Needs are the core values that motivate our actions. They're what matter most, the root reasons for why we want what we want." pg. 112

"Training our attention to identify needs (our own and others') involves developing several different capacities. First, as we've already begun to explore, we expand our vocabulary for needs. The more familiar we are with these succinct words for needs, the more we notice them in our lives. Second, we train our attention to see life through the 'lens of needs,' from the point of view that all actions are attempts to meet needs. We practice shifting our perspective from strategies to needs again and again, until it becomes as easy as moving our attention from our hands to our feet." pg. 120

"Identifying our own needs and developing a balanced relationship with them form the groundwork for being able to express ourselves and engage effectively in dialogue. When we understand what matters most, we can de-escalate tension, nurture empathy, and support collaboration. The more we know our own needs and trust our ability to meet them, the more space we have to hear others. At the same time, identifying others' needs allows us to make heartfelt connections across differences. We gain the ability to sense the deeper values behind positions quite different from our own. Views that may seem incomprehensible on the surface become expressions of our shared humanity." pg. 126

"A key to this shift is valuing all of the needs present and letting the other person know that we are interested in finding a solution that works for both of us. When the other person trusts that we are genuinely interested in understanding what they want (not just getting our own way), we can begin to collaborate. The dynamic transforms from opposing forces to curiously examining a puzzle together, side by side." pg. 128

Principle: Conflict generally occurs at the level of our strategies--what we want. The more deeply we are able to identify our needs--why we want what we want--the less conflict there is." pg. 128

"Practice: Listening for Needs
This practice contains three parts that develop our capacity to identify others' needs. Try this out in low-stakes conversations with friends.
1. Ground yourself in presence and the intention to understand. Find some genuine curiosity and care.
2. As you listen, focus your attention on what they might need. You might ask yourself silently, 'What matters here? What's most important to them about this?'
3. At times, practice completing a cycle of communication by reflecting before you respond. Inquire in a natural way, 'Is this what matters to you?' Remember, the intention of this question is to check that you understand rather than to analyze or tell them what they feel.
Notice how it feels to listen in this way. What does it feel like to check if you understand? Does it lead to more connection? What happens if your guess isn't totally accurate?" pg. 129

"When we become aware of another's needs, our heart opens; something softens inside as we understand intuitively what matters to someone else. This is a very important point. If we can't support what we've identified in the other party, then we aren't connecting at the level of needs. If you can't get behind it and say 'Yes, I want that for them,' it's not a need. Needs are universal; they connect us. They are by definition something that we want for everyone, something to which we can internally say yes." pg. 130

"'Letting go' of needs doesn't mean denying, rejecting, or getting rid of them in some way. It means transforming our relationship to needs from one of contraction and demand to one of receptivity and openness.
The first step is simply to know what your needs are. Then begin to examine your relationship with specific needs, one at a time. Are you grasping inside, needing a need to be met in a certain way? Are you pushing it away or rejecting it? Or do you have a sense of space around that need? Letting go of needs means that we accept our needs and aren't damaged if they aren't satisfied. We may feel sad or disappointed, but we have enough resilience to handle that. There's space inside to feel those emotions and mourn the absence of the object of our longing.
The shift happens slowly and comes from finding the balance and compassion inside to be with the tension and discomfort of grasping. If we're fixated and attached, start there. It feels awful to be gripped with desperation. If we can breathe gently with that experience, finding ways to calm and soothe the ache, it will begin to release and soften on its own. Again, with a lot of these areas, it's helpful (and sometimes necessary) to receive support from others. Get empathy for the pain of the loning. Brainstorm together other ways to begin to meet those needs and ease out of the narrow, tight space of clinging." pg. 134-135

"Our emotions are immutable expressions of our biology. They're as natural and essential to our life as our body's own immune system. Far from being irrational, we feel things for a reason. If there's emotion, something matters. Emotions are primary ways the body-mind sends signals about our needs. When our needs are met, we feel pleasant emotions. When our needs are not met, we feel unpleasant emotions." pg. 140

"Our feelings are never caused directly by other people or their actions. There is a relationship, but it is an indirect one. The outward event is the stimulus for our feelings; it is a necessary but insufficient condition for our emotional response. The most direct root cause is how we relate to the event: our needs and values. . . This includes the context--our day, cultural conditioning, personal and social history, and expectations, as well as the stories we tell ourselves and meanings we fashion from the situation. All these factors are tied to our needs." pg. 147

"We are each responsible for our actions and our reactions. Remember that our feelings are a function of our needs. To take responsibility for my reactions means training my mind to trace emotions back to the needs from which they arise. Every time my attention goes outward to blame someone, I can pause and investigate: Is this person solely responsible for my reaction? What meaning am I making about this event? What do I need? How is the broader context of my life, or my social location, structuring my experience?" pg. 148

"If you find yourself placing the cause of your feelings outside, thinking or saying, 'I feel _____ because you (they) . . .,' turn it around and connect to your needs. As Rosenberg taught, use the following structure to located the source of your feelings internally:
I feel _____ because I need / want / value _____.
You feel _____ because you need / want / value ____.
Notice the parallel consistency of subjects: my feelings linked to my needs, your feelings linked to yours. Practice repeating this over and over again, until it becomes the default view of emotions in your mind. This will undercut the foundation of the blame game, making it easier to express yourself and to hear others." pg. 149

"As you move through your day, pay attention to how you think and speak about your emotions. Be on the lookout for signs of the blame game: 'because you,' feeling 'like or that,' and false-feeling words. (Also watch out for the tendency to blame yourself for blaming!)
When you notice any of these, pause and ask yourself, 'When I tell myself this, how do I feel on the inside?' Keep asking that question until you discern the actual emotions you are experiencing. Then try to connect your feelings to what matters. What do you value or need?
Listen to others in this way. Try to identify what they're feeling and, with a genuine intention to understand, consider what matters to them. What do they need that connects to these feelings? Try this silently at first, training your attention to identify feelings and needs." pg. 151

" Principle: The more we take responsibility for our feelings, connecting them to our needs rather than to others' actions, the easier it is for others to hear us.
Principle: The more we hear others' feelings as a reflection of their needs, the easier it is to understand them without hearing blame, needing to agree, or feeling responsible for their emotions." pg. 152

"Sometimes, receiving empathy is the balm we need to heal. Through the care of others we learn to develop tenderness toward ourselves. Self-empathy enhances resilience, transforming our relationship with ourselves from harshness and judgment to kindness and self-compassion. It includes handling stress and emotional pain, finding peace with unmet needs, and healing our inner critic." pg. 160

"Whenever I teach mindful communication, I generally introduce tools for listening before speaking for a few reasons. First, it's often the bottleneck in conversation. When neither person can listen, understanding ceases and conversation can break down. Second, it's how we learn to speak. Every infant learns to speak by hearing the sounds, rhythm, and syntax of their native language. When we train to listen, we begin intuitively to learn how to articulate ourselves." pg. 170

"It's natural to interpret and draw conclusions from our experience; it's part of how we navigate life. Our brains continually evaluate, discerning safety from danger, friend from foe. Clear discernment is useful. Reactive, automatic, or habitual judgment is not. The problem is when we evaluate without awareness, mistaking our interpretations for reality. Conflating observations and evaluations creates stress internally and can wreak havoc in our relationships. We can interpret a single facial expression to mean anything, spinning an entire narrative of antagonism without even checking if we understood in the first place. The mind jumps so quickly from an event to an interpretation that we easily miss the fact that these are two separate things." pg. 173

"Here are a few pointers on making observations:
- Use mindfulness to discern the raw data of what happened.
- Separate what you actually know from assumptions or interpretations.
- To check, ask yourself, 'Could this be caught on film?'
- Avoid words that exaggerate or interpret: always, never, ever, whenever, rarely.
- State your experience in the first person, 'When I see/hear/notice . . .' rather than 'When you said/did . . .'
- Determine if you are confident the other person would recognize this without growing defensive. If not, refine it further." pg. 174

"Once we've made an observation, we link that to our own internal experience--our feelings and needs--to share where we're at inside. These three components--an observation, a feeling, and a need--provide a simple map to say what we mean, discerning inwardly and sharing outwardly how we're doing. What happened? How do you feel about it? Why? Training our attention to identify these specific components gives us clear and powerful information to state our experience." pg. 175

"Making a request is about finding a way to meet needs. To ask is to acknowledge our interdependence, which opens us up to disappointment or rejection. We may have had experiences that have taught us it can be dangerous, shameful, or futile to ask for what we need--so why bother? Alternatively, we may have learned that giving is the only way to get our needs met or that help from another can only come laced with hidden agendas and strings attached." pg. 191

"Contributing to one another is one of our most fundamental drives; doing so brings joy. Consider the ease or uplift you feel when engaging in simple acts of kindness such as holding the door, smiling, or greeting someone. Recollect the last time you helped a friend in need--not because you had to but simply because you could. Felt pretty good, right?
Rather than being a burden, needs can be gifts. When we are able to negotiate the dance of choice and willingness, respecting the limits of one another's time and energy, all needs become invitations to experience the joy of giving and receiving." pg. 192

"Requests gauge another's willingness to help or agree to our strategy. To make this as clear as possible, it's best to formulate requests with three qualities:
1. Positive: Requests state what we do want rather than what we don't want.
2. Specific: Requests are concrete and doable rather than vague or abstract.
3. Flexible: Requests are distinct from demands; they offer a suggestion for how to move forward, with openness to other ideas." pg. 193-194

"Connection Requests That Ask for a Response/Information
- 'How is it for you to hear all of this?'
- 'What do you think? How do you feel about that?'
- 'What can I say or do that would help you to feel more understood?'" pg. 196

Book: borrowed from SSF Main Library and Richmond Branch.
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