64 Days – Week 7

Practice Group Curriculum

Week Seven - Empathy, Empathy, Empathy

Thoughts and Intentions for the Week

If NVC were a house, empathy is the nails, glue and mortar that holds it together. Over the past weeks we have learned to "empathically receive" someone and to express ourselves in feelings and needs. This week we are going to focus on the simple yet challenging process of "being" with someone and just listening. Listening without judgment or distraction by our own thoughts and feelings. Empathy as a process takes the idea of "empathically receiving" and takes it to a pure "empathic journey."

All Night Exercise #1 - This week we are going to think, breath, feel and be "empathy." As a challenge for the evening, try speaking in empathic forms whenever possible and at least 50% of the time. Hold this as an intention and evening-long exercise to test , stretch and build your empathy muscles.

Reading and Discussion

Milly's Story

One of my favorite stories about empathy comes from the principal of an innovative school. She had returned after lunch one day to find Milly, and elementary school student, sitting dejectedly in her office waiting to see her. She sat down next to Milly, who began, “Mrs. Anderson, have you ever had a week when everything you did hurt somebody else, and you never intended to hurt anyone at all?”

“Yes,” the principal replied, “I think I understand,” whereupon Milly proceeded to describe her week. “By now,” the principal related, “I was quite late for a very important meeting-still had my coat on-and anxious not to keep a room full of people waiting, and so I asked, ‘Milly, what can I do for you?’ Milly reached over, took both my shoulders in her hands, looked me straight in the eyes, and said very firmly, ‘Mrs. Anderson, I don’t want you to do anything; I just want you to listen.’
This was one of the most significant moments of learning in my life-taught to me by a child-so I thought, ‘Never mind the roomful of adults waiting for me!’ Milly and I moved over to a bench that afforded us more privacy and sat, my arm around her shoulders, her head on my chest, and her arm around my waist, while she talked until she was done. And you know, it didn’t take that long.”
-Marshall B. Rosenberg

Discussion Questions

1) Feedback about homework #2 - Explain "what empathy is and why you would like to be more empathic" to someone who is important to you." What happened out there?

2) Why does empathy have such a positive effect on one's feelings?

3) What is the difference between "seeing the world empathically" and "giving and recieving empathy"?

4) Can I give someone empathy about something in the past or does it need to be a present time situation?

5) What do I do if I don't feel like giving empathy?

Exercise #2 - Being

This exercise is done in pairs. It is designed to help us practice being. Often, our ability to be present is influenced or degraded because we feel compelled to do something or say something, instead of simply "being" there for the other person. In this exercise sit knee to knee with a partner. Then, at the signal, simply look into the eyes of your partner and "be." HINT: It can be distracting if you can confused as to what eye (left or right to focus on. If this happens simply choose one eye and stay with it. The left eye is rumored to be more powerful for connecting to right-handed people.
Repeat three times... in one, two and three minute intervals (or as desired for the group).


Exercise #3 - Silent Empathy

This exercise is a modified version of the previous exercise. In this exercise we work with a partner as follows. Person A speaks to person B and tells them about something that is "alive" or "bugging" them. They do not need to speak in "feelings and needs." Simply listen for "feelings and needs" and be aware of them. In this exercise we simply listen. Go for five minutes and switch.


Exercise #4 - Coached Empathy 


a. NVC empathy is a process of guessing another person’s feelings. “Accuracy” is not necessary for empathy to take place. If the person does not connect with our guess, he or she will let us know and we can then make another guess based on this new information.

b. Keep yourself out of the empathy guess, making sure to connect the person’s feelings to his or her own needs, not to you, even when their feelings seem very much about you. Example: Instead of saying: “Are you frustrated at me because you want me to understand you?” you could say: “Are you frustrated because you’re needing understanding?” Keeping yourself out of the empathy guess will help both of you to remain clear about the source of feelings and give you more room to hear those feelings without either “defending” yourself or “attacking” the other person.

This exercise is designed for Triads. In this exercise, Person A will tell Person B about an interaction or situation that is alive for them. Something incomplete or stimulating. Person B responds empathically by guessing a feeling and a need. Do this for 9 minutes. Meanwhile, Person C will listen to Person B, the one making empathy guesses. Person C looks for quality of connection and discerns between empathy and non-empathy. After 9 minutes, Person C gives coaching to Person B for about 1 minute. Switch roles and repeat until everyone has a turn being the coach.

EXAMPLE of Empathy:

1. “I hate the way my mother speaks to me.”

Are you feeling: Sad?

Because you’re needing: Understanding?

2. "I just wish she would see things in a more realistic way."

Are you feeling: Frustrated?

Because you value: a shared reality?

3. "This has been going on for years"

Are you feeling: frustrated?

Because you’re needing: some movement?





1) Find an "empathy buddy" and exchange 20 minutes each of empathy sometime this coming week.

2) Renew - Explain "what empathy is and why you would like to be more empathic" to someone who is important to you.

3) Write down three or four situations where you got angry (fodder for next week.)

For more information call (646) 201-9226 or email to practicegroups@nycnvc.org.