One of the key tools in Compassionate Communication is Observation. The tool of Observation is to be able to identify, describe, and focus on what a video camera would capture. This involves letting go of our thoughts, evaluations, judgments, and stories which we add to the observable facts.
This sounds much easier than it is. Imagine trying to describe a fight you had with your spouse to a friend without telling a story about what your spouse’s secret motives were, what they were thinking, and how wrong they were. Could you do it? Could you actually recall the exact words your partner used without adding your own interpretation to it?
We often think we have this skill down, but the reality is that we don’t practice it. You may be able to tell your friend what your spouse’s exact words were, but your mind is focused on what you interpret those words to mean. ”He’s rude.” ”She doesn’t care about me”. ”He’s inconsiderate and only thinks about himself”. ”She’s always saying the same thing”. ”He never listens to me”.
The point of the Observation tool is not to just be able to articulate what exactly happened, but also to keep your mind focused on simply what happened. This calls you to let go of those judgments, diagnosis, and evaluations you make of the other person. So your mind isn’t thinking “she’s so rude” instead it sees “she left the house without saying goodbye”. And when your mind can stay with just the observable fact, then there is space to process what feelings and unmet needs you have about that fact.
So may I offer you three exercises to help you improve your observational skills:
1) Keep your eyes focused on this page. In a moment I’m going to ask you to close your eyes. When you do try to recall in detail all the contents of the room you are in. Go ahead and close your eyes.
This is an excellent exercise to do often as a check-in to see how much detail from your present experience you are taking in.
2) Choose an ordinary activity. Something you do almost every day, or at least every week. Go do that activity, but this time try to give your whole and complete attention to doing that one thing. Whether it is brushing your teeth, washing dishes, or eating a meal. Give your whole attention to each and every step of the process. When your mind inevitably wanders, simply bring it back to the task at hand.
3) Go on a 15 minute walk in your neighborhood. Pay attention to all five of your senses. What surprises you? What is beautiful or noteworthy? What are the absolutely ordinary things that you normally filter out? Again, when your mind inevitably wanders, simply bring it back to your immediate surroundings, to your five senses.
These are all excellent exercises to practice your observational skills. And the last two in particular help you to practice not only noticing and remembering the observable facts, but they also help you practice letting go of your thoughts, stories, and evaluations and bring your attention back to your five senses.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.