How to Take In Delicate Things Others Have to Say to Us

I really hate sending students to the office for misbehaviour*. I feel defeated and I know the student feels even worse, yet sometimes it seems like the only way to rein things in. Gulp. One day, I painted myself into a corner where I thought the only option was to send a particularly disruptive boy to the office. As he stormed out of the room I had a better idea; I instructed him to go to Rm 24, a quiet room where he could continue with his work and not disrupt the class I was teaching. (It would also prevent the Vice Principal from knowing of our mutual failings!) Harmony descended on the sunlit room.

Five minutes later I looked up to see the boy walking back to class and the Vice Principal watching him from his post at the end of the hall.

“He told me to come back,” the boy said.

“Did you not hear me tell you to go to Rm 24?”

“You told me to go to the office!”

Ahhhhh. At this point things could have easily descended into an arguement about who said what, but I had just learned Non-Violent Communication and I stopped myself short. This boy was angry! I was too, but not as much as he was so I knew it was time for me to take that step back and to really try to understand what was going on with him.

“When you hear me now say you were to go to Rm 24 you feel angry because I first told you to go to the office. You would like me to be more clear about what I say?”

“YES!” he said definitively, and in a flash we were like two horses pulling a load in the same direction, not like two rams slamming our heads into one another.

I didn’t know this boy well enough to know if he had trouble with auditory processing, but I do know that he was amped up long before I said anything to him.  Despite that he followed my first instruction. Then when anger and shame welled up in him his brain switched to survival mode. His stress-hormone levels, heart rate and blood pressure would have risen, perhaps enough so that the muscles of his middle ear had turned off and he hadn’t heard my second instruction.

The follow-up steps I used came from the “Non-Violent Communication” method. You can find great instruction on it on the Cup of Empathy website but I’ll give you an overview here:

Say what the other person may be observing in me: “When you (see, hear)…” I had to ask myself, “What is actually going on with him in this moment?” It was apparent that he hadn’t heard me give the second instruction and he was mad that I was making it extra confusing.  (Sometimes you don’t have to make this statement out loud – your actions say it for you.)

Say how the other person may feel (a feeling or sensation): “You feel…” Angry (that was an easy one!)

Say what the other person may need or value that has caused this feeling: “Because you need/value…” I was able to just blend this sentence together with the next one.

Ask for what you think they might want and what you can offer: “Would you like…” Asking him if he needed me to be more clear was taking the pressure off him. (Sometimes the empathy you offer is enough and you don’t have to make this statement either.)

Because I genuinely could see his frustration I suddenly wanted to be of assistance to him. I asked him if he would go to Rm 24 where he could work more easily. He agreed.

I encourage you the next time someone is upset with you to take a step back and try this process. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time. I have often messed up and have gone back to the person saying, “I wished I had said that better. Would you hear me as I try again?” Almost every single time the door was thrown wide open for me! I hope it is for you too!

I strongly encourage you to go to the Cup of Empathy website for much, much more information and guidance on how to use this way of talking with one another!

The next couple of posts I’ll make will be about getting your needs met and how-the-heck to identify what’s going on with the emotions inside you!

*With a lot more experience in Non-Violent Communication my need to do this has almost evaporated.  Thank heavens. In my early days of teaching it happened far too often!

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