and how to get there

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die”.       E.M.Forster, Howard’s End (1910)

Connection is such a powerful and beautiful human need, one of the most fundamental of all!  There can be few souls on Earth who do not long for more and deeper connection, surely. And yet connection between two people is not just a matter of interest, caring or even love, whether one-way or mutual. I don’t always experience connection with someone I care about, even if I know we both love each other. In fact, the sense of disconnection can be especially strong (and painful) at times with those we are emotionally close to! Moreover, one partner in an exchange can experience what they describe as ‘connection’ when the other doesn’t. However, with the basic tools of NVC, there is no mystery as to how connection may be achieved.

The two halves of communication identified by Marshall Rosenberg are honest self-expression (in essence, stating our own feelings and needs) and empathic listening (hearing the other person’s feelings and needs). Put the two together and make it 2-way and you have connection.

Breaking it down into its constituent parts, we have a simple four step process (again!). Assuming a heartfelt wish to connect is already there, deep and meaningful connection is most likely to be experienced by both parties when all four of these conditions* are met:

(1) I know and can articulate my feelings and needs.
(2) The other person hears and can articulate my feelings and needs.
(3) The other person knows and can articulate her / his own feelings and needs.
(4) I hear and can articulate the feelings and needs of the other person.

An indispensable tool for satisfying these connection conditions within a dialogue is the ‘connection request‘.
Obviously it takes two to create connection in this sense. On your own, you can only give empathy: in its verbal form, by hearing and most likely reflecting the other person’s feelings and needs. If your partner is not willing or able to do this, or to hear your self-expression, which is the other half of complete connection, and you want to be able to move from a ‘disconnected’ to a ‘connected’ state, you still have the option of creating connection between your own internal voices. In fact, without self-connection we cannot really start to connect with someone else.

With the best will in the world, we may still be defeated in applying this process if one of us gets triggered. In a sense, what ultimately stands in the way of our connecting, whether with an estranged partner or a murderer in the dock, is not what they do or say, but our own reactive judgments; and what those judgments are often doing is protecting us from the pain of connecting with suppressed aspects of our self.

A willingness to simply notice and be with our own pain, and the other person’s, without necessarily trying to change or fix it or ‘make it better’, is the essence of empathy and the first step in healing this situation. The ’empathy exchange’, where two people take turns to be present with whatever is alive in the other person,  is a wonderfully healing and nourishing process and a mainstay of NVC practitioners world-wide.

* I borrowed the phrase ‘connection conditions‘ from Thom Bond,