Red Green Repeat Adventures of a Spec Driven Junkie

Nonviolent Communication - Chapter 8

Importance of Empathy

I am discovering it is hard to teach empathy, This chapter contains a lot of stories where the author shares examples of empathy between individuals under different circumstances.

Gift of Empathy

As mentioned in the last chapter: the greatest gift one can give another human: true empathy. Allow them to express themselves without judgment. Fully accept the other person as a human being.

Receiving empathy allows one to perceive the world in a new way and to move forward.

One way I use to give empathy: see other person as equal to you in every way: age, gender, intelligence, class, etc. This way, I am essentially interacting with myself.

Holding back

One situation where I don’t always receive emphatically: I want to keep my tough guy image, especially when I want to maintain authority and control.

Hierarchical structures make empathizing with others tricky with authority. I noticed I will emphasize more with my peers or subordinates more than my superiors in a conflict.

With superiors, I tend to blame myself instead of sensing their needs and feelings. While with peers or subordinates, I tend to sense their needs and feelings.

Emphasizing to no

It is hard to take rejection, but in reality, when emphasizing with a no answer, this protects us from taking their rejection personally.

This helps understand their needs and feelings and become cognizant of their true desires that prevents them from responding as we would like.

So, lean into a no with empathy.

Avoiding but

Using but with an angry person is dangerous as it is easy to perceive as another form of: no, further agitating the individual.

In general, I avoid using but in my speech, doesn’t this feel like a trap:

"Yes, I agree with you but you are wrong."

Every time I encounter a ‘but’ in my language, I find a way to express myself without it, even just using a no instead:

"No, I don't see how that can work."

Interrupting with Empathy

One of the most interesting points from the chapter: not just about showing empathy by listening, but also interrupting a person with empathy.

Conversations can just drag on with a bored speaker and they are filling the silence with something. They can be unconsciously doing this and the conversation is not engaging the listener(s).

The author suggests interrupting either by:

  • appealing to a speaker’s needs and feelings
    • “I understand you are <emotion>. is this right?”
  • expressing own needs and feelings from the conversation
    • “I want to connect with you in a deeper way than we are now, would you like the same?”

Both approaches work, even in a group setting. I am not there yet personally, but I can see it will be useful in the future.

When is the best time to interrupt with empathy? The author says: “When you cannot stand one more word.” Allowing any more words makes interrupting harder as it demonstrates compliance.

The author conducted an informal survey: “Would you rather be interrupted or have listeners be bored by you?” His conclusion was that speakers preferred to be interrupted.

Empathy for Silence

The author mentions one have empathy for silence. Silence may be deafening as one is eager for feedback from the listener, especially after being open and revealing own needs and feelings, which can be vulnerabilities for the listener to use against another.

In this silence, it is also too easy to project one’s worst fears into the silence.

The important thing to remember: listen for needs & feelings in silence, in between the lines.

Kindness for Strangers; Emotional with Family

The author’s story of detox center employee connected, where the employee can show so much empathy for a stranger even with knife at her throat. Even under such stress, the individual can show another so much empathy but next day show no empathy to a family member.

This really makes me think: why does this happen? I thought it was only me, but after reading this story, I see it happens to others.

Is it because I give the benefit of doubt to strangers, but I have a strong mental model of my family? At the same time, those close to me know how to push my buttons?

I now know, I need to demonstrate empathy not just to strangers, but especially to those close to me.


As I wrote this article, I was giving myself a hard time for not meeting my usual article length requirement of at least 1000 words. I have found this to be a good minimum to strive for as I feel there is a good understanding whenever I reach this.

For this article, I have not reached the minimum at all. In a way, this topic is not well understood by me, not that I don’t understand the material, but the material requires some internalization which takes time and practice.

To do this, I will show myself some empathy and relax this 1000 word requirement. It’s tempting to write something to reach 1000 words, but I understand sometimes important to push and not to push. This time I will not push.

A good way to practice self-empathy is to transform life-alienating thoughts (like the one I just had) into self-emphatizing thoughts:

Life alienating thought Self-empathy
I can’t believe I am only writing so little for this article! Since I wrote so little for this article, it demonstrates to me I need to internalize the concepts to understand them better. Maybe I will go back to the workbook and see if I am missing something.
How come these articles are not done sooner? Just follow the book and work ahead! Taking a weekly approach to each chapter has been refreshing. The book does provide a lot of guidance, at the same time, rushing through the material did not help me understand before. So I will take a slower approach to see if that works better.
The site still looks so plain. Why isn’t it better looking?? The site is a continuous work in progress and adding better styling will come with understanding Jekyll and Poole better. That’s the price of using frameworks.

Amazingly, just writing the paragraph helped me easily reach my goal of 1000 words for this article. Self-empathy is powerful.


This chapter has valuable lessons in the importance of empathy. Reading through others stories helped in understanding, but going through the workbook provided additional insight over the book material. Self-empathy is amazingly powerful.

The most important part of empathy:

What is essential is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within - to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.