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Your Ranting Boss

Last weekend in our NVC retreat, a participant, let's call her Carol, described a meeting at work in which her boss offered feedback. The words, tone, and volume of the feedback didn't meet Carol's needs for kindness and respect. Carol asked how she could approach this situation.

When I suggested empathy, Carol's eyes got wide and a wrinkle of worry appeared on her forehead.

Remembering your boss might be feeling overwhelmed and needing empathy isn't about giving them a "get out of jail free" with regards to behaving in a way that meets your needs.

It's helpful in a number of ways. One, it helps release you from the slavery of roles. Your "boss" suddenly becomes a human being – Sally. Facing Sally is easier than facing "a boss". You also get to be another human being rather than an employee.

You can replace "My ranting boss" with "Sally is stressed out." Responding to stressed out Sally opens up a wider range of options and it's easier to find compassion.

It's not so easy to trust that creating connection will help you and others meet needs. And sometimes it's hard to imagine that the other wants to connect. Your mind might be quick to judge Sally . . . "overbearing control freak", "heartless perfectionist", "she shouldn't . . .!"

To the extent that you can see the situation for what it is – Sally is stressed out – is the extent to which you can intervene and create connection. Though we are all trained not to interrupt, my experience is that most of the time people are relieved to be interrupted when it helps them to be heard.

How would empathy for Sally look in the context of a work meeting?

In the dialogue below you can see the four elements of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), observation, feeling, need, and request. Each time you interrupt, you translate what Sally says into one of the four elements.

Let's look at how a dialogue might sound.

You: (interrupting) Sally, I want to make sure I am on the same page with you. The two events you are referring to are the auction and the banquet, is that right? (OBSERVATION)

Sally: Right

You: (before Sally can continue) "Which one are you wanting us to focus on first?" (REQUEST)

Sally: Well, all of it was a disaster

You: (You jump in quickly). Yea, both didn't go like you wanted and you want to make sure we learn from our mistakes here (using street NVC here to point to her FEELING and NEED).

Sally: That's right. Like you didn't hire enough staff for the banquet.

You: (using your jedi powers you dodge this possible hook by remembering that Sally is stressed and probably fearful regarding the success of the company. When people are stressed and fearful they often use blame to try to meet their needs for acceptance.)

Yea, so you would like to start by talking about staffing? (REQUEST)

This same conversation coud be done in reverse with you bringing up these topics and naming your observation, feeling, need, and request.  The difference between communicating this directly at work versus with a friend is that with a friend you are attempting to create mutual understanding and intimacy.  At work, you are simply hoping to create enough mutual understanding and respect to do the job effectively (meet needs).  Thus, at work, it is sometimes more useful to leave out vulnerable feelings and put more focus on observations, needs, and requests.  Also, learning to speak "street giraffe", that is, a colloquial form of NVC, is especially helpful at work.  Your direct and clear communication can then put people at ease rather than being perceived as confrontational or too warm and fuzzy.


This week at work begin your practice with choosing a few key meetings or relationships in which you will track the observation, feeling, need, and request.  This might be easiest if you take a few notes just after these interactions and then review them at home naming the four elements for each.

Next Gem
Empathy When Things are Fine
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Self-Worth, Forgiveness, & Repair

3 Responses

  1. Feb 24, 2009

    I feel encouraged that you included work. There's a lot of Me involved in work, and your perspectives help me to ground my nvc. Hooray!

  2. Jan 02, 2014

    Bingo! Not only with a boss but also within my intimate partnership. The reminder was timely. I forget that others are stressed and overwhelmed sometimes. I am mustering up my courage to step back into a dialogue with empathy for the other. Thank you.

  3. Jan 06, 2014

    Thank you both for your feedback. I am supported in hearing it!

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