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  • Writer's pictureKhawla Shehadeh

Observation or Judgement

Last weekend we went to Pinkpop festival and stayed over in a hotel. The sun was shining through the window early in the morning. Mark was still asleep, so I stuck my head out the window to enjoy the view of the green garden with tall trees in the sunlight.

A little boy about eight years old was playing with his sister, and they were calling out to each other from all corners of the garden. The father came out, saw me looking out the window and shouted at his son, "Don't scream like that!" to which the little boy replied in his defence, "I'm not screaming at all!".

One of the causes of conflict in relationships is exactly this. Not being able to distinguish observation from our judgement or interpretation of what we see the other person doing. Implicitly, we think we can know 100% what the other person's intention is. That's where it often backfires.

"You talk to me like I'm a small child"

"You've been ignoring me all morning"

"You leave everything behind because you don't care"

"You are pushy"

"You know everything better"

"You don't listen to what I say"

"You can tell me what you see me doing and you can tell me what you think, but don't confuse the two" ~ Marshall Rosenberg

The first step in Marshall Rosenberg's model of Connecting Communication is to name the observation. There should be no discussion about an observation. It is formulated in such a way that both parties can immediately agree on it. Only then do we have a conversation. Because if I hear even the slightest judgment or accusation about my intention, I will immediately get defensive or I will run away from you or I will put up a wall and shut myself off. In fact, this is nothing but the fight, flight or freeze reaction. There is no more room to hear you at such a moment. The connection is broken. There is also no intention to want to understand you. If we were to adapt the above examples to observations, they might sound something like this:

You are screaming:

"If I hear you calling out to your sister across the garden, then ..."

You ignored me all morning:

"You haven't opened my message all morning"

You talk to me like I'm a small child:

"If you tell me to put my phone on silent..."

You leave everything behind because you don't care:

"If you leave the dishes on the kitchen counter..."

You're pushy:

"You've now asked me three times if I want to go to the show with you"

You know everything better:

"If you tell me how to do things differently in my own field of work..."

You don't listen to what I say:

"When you forget to close the door so the cat doesn't go outside, while I did ask you as I was leaving.."

If you can name the observation as factually as possible, as a camera could record it, then we can both remain open for a dialogue about it. Then you can start expressing what this is like for you and why it matters to you: Your feelings and needs. Finally, you can make a request to what you do want and see if together you can come up with something that works for the both of you.

For example, "When I hear you calling like that to your sister on the other side of the garden, I worry that hotel guests are inconvenienced by the noise. That there are still people sleeping perhaps and being woken up by the sounds of your play. How would it be if you move closer together when you want to say something to each other or you play on the other side of the building?

This does not finish the conversation but at least no unnecessary resistance has been created. There is more connection with each other. There is respect and a greater chance of mutual understanding and the will to meet each others' needs.

Want to know more about how to work on better relationships? Then join us on this introductory training in Connecting Communication also known as Nonviolent Communication, in Dutch or in English.

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