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What's the weather like today? I wonder...

"When someone expresses a negative emotion, we can either guess at the sun or the cloud", said the lecturer who was also a good friend of mine. The topic was Nonviolent Communication (NVC) or "the giraffe language" as it is also called. In NVC, the giraffe is used as a symbol of a way to listen and communicate. With its long neck and big heart, it illustrates someone who can see further and who tries to listen behind people's words to hear the needs that are there. The intention of NVC is to help us hear and connect with each other more easily.

When we guess at the sun, we listen for which need the person we are talking to longs to be met, and when we guess at the cloud, we listen for which need he or she lacks is met. If the feeling we receive is respectfully expressed ("I got angry when he...", "I feel a little overwhelmed when you..."), this is often easier to do than when it is delivered in a somewhat less loving package ("You're only thinking about yourself!", "He keeps coming on like a bulldozer!")

I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it's easy to get stuck at the words that are expressed, especially if they come across as criticism, judgment or blame, or if they evoke the impulse to defend or retaliate. I remember an argument I once had with a person close to me. Anger was steaming in both of us and the volume was getting louder and louder. Everything he said was absurd and mean and I was passionate about making him see that. He seemed to feel the same way about what I was saying and after a while we couldn't hear each other at all.

At that moment I did not have access to any giraffe ears. I neither could, had the energy, nor even wanted to listen behind his words or guess at some ridiculous sun. Not at any clouds either, for that matter. But what I could do was walk away, sit down and guess at my own. I don't remember what the argument was about. But I do remember feeling dejected and lost.

After a little while it came to me. I needed to feel heard and I needed gentleness when we talked to each other. I lowered my shoulders and my body calmed down. I sat like that for a couple of minutes and felt something in me relax and then went back. The storm had passed for him as well and the anger had been replaced by confusion and sadness. I asked if I could guess his needs and saw how surprised and relieved he was when I guessed correctly. The conversation that followed from there was far more productive and friendly.

One of the things that life seems to want to teach me, but that I have resisted the most over the years, is that things are not always what they seem. But it's often when I've let the part of me that thinks I know it all rest, that the best encounters took place. But I (like many others, I would think) need to be reminded every once in a while. Today it was my phone that reminded me. I have dropped it a few too many times and the camera lens has cracked.

But when I remember to look past the cracks - and when I'm able to hear behind words and look beyond behaviors with the intention to understand - there's often a gift emerging. Sometimes it's a greater sense of connection with the person I'm talking to, sometimes relief or healing. And really... if I'm being totally honest, it's probably mostly about me guessing at the sun rather than pretending to be a meteorologist!



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