What resolving a conflict using NVC really sounds like – on a bad day

 In Address Problems, Blog, Effective Dialogue, Examples In Action

(Time to read: ~4 minutes)

It would be lovely if I were always perfectly calm, compassionate and self-aware.

And then there’s reality.

I appreciate that even in my “off” moments, NVC helps me connect and learn how to make life better in future for myself and the people around me.

A Recent Example

One morning, John and I were dropping my computer off at the office on our way to walk on the boardwalk.

During the drop-off process I had a painful coughing fit triggered by springtime allergies.

As we got back to the car someone walked by smoking an e-cigarette. I inadvertently inhaled a lungful of smoke.

My throat and lungs were burning as I got into the car.  “Vile smell!”

“Those e-cigarettes are quite interesting.” John mused. “They have a smell that’s quite distinct from cigarette smoke…” and he continued to share his knowledge about the technology and sale of e-cigarette supplies.


I was fuming! There I was, in pain and feeling anxious about the impact of that lungful of smoke on future allergy-related coughing fits, and John was giving me a lecture on the technology and implications of E cigarettes!?!

How insensitive! I couldn’t care less!

Fortunately, NVC has helped me develop the capacity not to blurt out all that out in the moment, but to stay silent while John continued to talk.

After John had completed his comments on E cigarettes and there had been a bit of silence between us, I opened the topic.

“I found that a really painful exchange and I’d like to figure out how we could avoid that in future.”

Not My Finest Hour

Then I fell off the wagon by telling him first about my experience – instead of asking about his.

“There I was in agony” (note the exaggeration) “with a lungful of that awful smoke and you’re giving me a lecture on e-cigarettes!”

Note also the non-compassionate way in which I was understanding what he had done. I clearly was not all the way out of the “hole” of negative emotions.

John responded. “I was just talking about something that was interesting to me. You’re so self absorbed! You’re never interested in anything unless it’s about you!”

Note that by speaking out of a “hole” of negative emotion, I got a response from John that came out of a similar hole.

I dug the hole of disconnection deeper. “I’m so sick of this! You always do this! Every time I try to talk about a difficult moment, you start hurling all these accusations about what a horrible person I am all the time!”

We continued in this painful way for a couple of exchanges.

Then John gave me a hand. “Empathize with me!” he yelled.

Starting to Climb Out of the Hole?

I pondered for a minute. “So I’m hearing that even when I’m in a hole of pain and negative emotion you want me to drag myself out and be totally there for you?”

Note my very NON-empathic response.

But just by starting my sentence in a connecting way, even if I blew it later, I seemed to have contributed one tiny stone to helping us climb out of the hole of disconnection.

John added another stone to help us out. “No, I’m just wanting mutuality!”

I struggled to connect with that. “I don’t get it. I don’t understand how mutuality fits here…”

I thought some more and tried to see the connection. “So are you wanting care and consideration and empathy yourself?”

“Yes.” We walked in silence for a while, enjoying the relief of feeling reconnected.

The Natural Transition to Learning & Strategies for the Future

John clearly had been pondering my “drag myself out of the hole” comment.

“Sometimes I’m clear that you’re needing empathy, but then there are these times when it seems like you’re just introducing a topic of conversation, and so I want to share my thoughts on it. It doesn’t even occur to me that you’re needing empathy.”

I considered John’s comment. “I don’t think I really needed empathy. I just needed time to get over my reaction to the lungful of smoke.

So I’m wondering what we can do when it’s not clear to you that I’m needing space or that I need empathy, and so you start to share your thoughts on the topic but I just don’t have the capacity to hear them right then?”

John thought for a moment. “How about if you said ‘I’m not ready yet. I’m still suffering.’?”

I repeated it back. “That would work for me. Will it work for you?”

“I think so,” John replied.


We have restored compassionate connection between us. And we have developed a plan to help us avoid this particular pattern of painful conflict in the future.

We also have a greater awareness of and connection to one another’s needs, which can help us avoid other patterns of painful conflict – without having to first fall into the “hole” of negative emotions and disconnection.

And the process can be even smoother and faster. I deliberately chose an example where we were both “off our game” to show that NVC can work to restore connection even if you don’t do it very well.

What came to mind in reading this example?

Click on this link and let me know. I look forward to hearing your experience!

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