Archive for the ‘NVC’ category

Empathic Listening, Symbolic Modeling and Non Violent Communication – Compared

August 22, 2017

img_2220On August 19th and 20th, 2017 I had the good luck and privilege to participate in a weekend of Empathic Listening training and practice, led by by Allan Rohlfs (NVC Trainer), a student of Eugene Gendlin.  Gendlin was a philosopher, who was heavily influenced by Carl Rogers – a pioneer in client-centered psychotherapy. Rogers noticed that Empathic Listening contributed greatly to the creation of a safe space and connection between the client and the therapist. Gendlin went on to create ‘Focussing’, a method Rohlfs uses to help teach his version of Empathic Listening.

Focussing uses the term ‘felt sense’ to describe a pre-verbal or unconscious but emerging awareness about something.  In Empathetic Listening, there is both a listener and a speaker.  The listener is to discern the emergent ‘felt sense’ of the speaker and to use those moments to reflect back to the speaker by repeating or slightly paraphrasing what they said.   The idea is that the listener might, by focussing on the listener, also ‘get’ this same ‘felt sense’, that it is shared.  Unlike what we might think of being empathetic in normal every day discourse, there is a LOT more focus in a one way direction here. In every day interactions, being empathetic comes and goes in between other interactions, but is not the ‘purpose’ of the interaction.

In Symbolic Modeling, there is a client and a coach or facilitator.  The client expresses subconscious thought via metaphors that the coach intentionally elicits. Those metaphors come from what I imagine is the same place of ‘knowing’ as the ‘felt sense’ – expressing something that might never have been verbalized, that is emerging and embodied.  It seems to me, that Symbolic Modeling might be faster in helping the client understand themselves than Empathic Listening.  Symbolic Modeling makes no attempt and has no goal for the facilitator to ‘understand’ or ‘get’ anything about the client.  The Symbolic Modeller is a facilitator for the client – helping them to create their own ‘metaphorical’ or internal landscape.  As he Symbolic Modeller observes the coachee, and reflects their words back, they are looking for embodied shifts or changes (i.e. changes in facial expression, sighs, body movements) to support the new awareness emerging.  This is similar to Empathic Listening – where the body holds the wisdom.

While the  purpose of Symbolic Modeling (coaching with a desired outcome) and Empathic Listening (rapport/connection) differs, the effect on the coachee/speaker could be similar.  

During the workshop, Allan caught me (when I was listener in a pair) trying to use a question, and he interrupted and asked me not to do that because any question would be ‘leading’.  While this gave me a LOT of anguish at first because I am so comfortable with clean questions and I do not experience them as leading, I came to accept the guidance for empathic listening.  This awareness will help me to pause longer and perhaps more frequently while coaching using Clean questions in a Symbolic Modeling session, rather than coming up with a question right away after the speaker stops.

During the training, we each got to sit in both the speaker chair and the listener chair in a pair, with Allan coaching the listener and everyone else observing.  Each speaker (in the speaker/listener pair) seems to have felt ‘gotten’/understood.  We seemed also to all agree that sitting in the Speaker’s chair was absolutely necessary to understanding Empathic Listening.  In other words, you have to be listened to well by someone experienced in Empathic Listening, to really understand the effect. In that way, you may become a more effective empathic listener.  This is true for Symbolic Modeling and Clean Language – best to experience it first.

On the relationship between Non Violent Communication (NVC) and Empathic Listening

The event participants were all familiar, if not expert, in the use of Non Violent Communication techniques for creating rapport and understanding. While NVC has the certain purpose of creating safety and connection between two people, within its construct, it includes places where one person asks questions of the other, in particular with relation to understanding the other person’s feelings and needs.  If you are not familiar, NVC uses OFNR (Observation, Feelings, Needs, Request) framework where the empathic bits are mostly centered in the exchange of feelings and needs.  The most significant difference between Non-Violent Communication and Empathic Listening as learned in the workshop is that in Empathic Listening, the Listener does not try to guess the feelings or needs of the person speaking. That element falls away in Empathic Listening in favor of a more natural verbal validation and very slight rewording of what was said. Observations and Requests are also not present in Empathic Listening.  Both are strongly geared toward creating safety, empathic listening being much more a one way flow, it seems.    As Listeners, participants in the Empathic Listening workshop fairly universally felt much relief NOT to have to guess at the other person’s feelings and needs. 

I know that the philosophy and practice of Empathic Listening will stay with me as a useful alternative in other situations. I really appreciated that Jane McMahon (certified NVC facilitator) organized this event. It gave me the opportunity to connect meaningfully to a variety of interesting people. 

If you want another fantastic article about the relationship of coach/facilitator to client from the Symbolic Modeling perspective, this article is worth a read.

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If you are interested in learning more or wanting to practice, please get in touch with me at andrea@connections-at-work.com.