Pause for Thought: Compassionate Communication
World Letís Stop Shouting Day is on 6 November
by Claire Law
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the benefits of calm, clear and compassionate communication.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Pause for thought - Compassionate Communication) and the means to display them.
- Have available the YouTube video ‘Nonviolent communication’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 2.12 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4srHE9R7H9w
- Show Slide 1.
Welcome the students to the assembly.
- Explain that you would like to begin with an unusual experiment. You are going to count to three. After the count of three, you would like everyone to whisper ‘hello’ as quietly as possible. One, two, three . . .
Point out what a gentle and quiet ‘hello’ was produced. Thank the students.
- Explain that it would be interesting to carry out a similar experiment where the students shout ‘hello’ as loud as possible. Explain that you are not going to do that, but you would like them to consider how different the shouting and whispering might feel.
- Ask if any of the students can explain why you are not asking them to carry out the second experiment.
Listen to a range of responses.
Suggestions might include the following.
- Shouting might leave us with a sore throat, having strained our vocal cords.
- Such a loud noise might damage our hearing.
- The shock of the noise could cause a state of mild panic and leave us feeling on edge.
- Shouting in a big group could help to spread Covid.
- The noise could make people feel anxious and far from calm and relaxed.
- Point out that you have another reason for not carrying out the second experiment: World Let’s Stop Shouting Day is on 6 November. You might think that it’s a rather odd thing to have an awareness day for. However, there is a lot of evidence that shouting is bad for our own mental and physical health and that of others. Let’s find out more.
- Show Slide 2.
This image is a useful, but sad, place to start. It shows how unkind words, sometimes shouted at children, are a form of abuse. Shouting can be used as a form of verbal abuse to scare and intimidate others.
- Let’s look at these two images of parents communicating with their children.
Show Slide 3.
Which do you prefer? Which feels easier to look at?
In the image on the left, we see Mum shouting at her child. In turn, the child shouts back. Both look angry and stressed. It is likely that their blood contains higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. If we have elevated levels of cortisol for a long time, it is damaging to our health.
In the image on the right, we see Dad speaking to his child about some mistake or behaviour that was unacceptable. However, there is no indication of shouting. Both Dad and his child look calm. When our brains are calmer, we are more able to take in information, reflect on where we went wrong and think about how we can put right any mistake.
- So, shouting to try to get children to behave can be counterproductive. Of course, tempers fray sometimes, but if we feel that a child we know or we ourselves are being shouted at regularly, it is important to seek help. We can do this by speaking to a trusted adult or contacting Childline.
Show Slide 4.
- It’s not just in parent-and-child relationships that shouting can have a negative impact on health and well-being.
Show Slide 5.
Shouting at our peers can damage friendships. People who shout at others at work are likely to be accused of unprofessionalism or workplace bullying. Shouting can escalate day-to-day situations and frustrations into angry outbursts and violence.
- Show Slide 6.
Even ‘shouting’ on social media by using capital letters is frowned on as aggressive and unnecessary.
So, what is the alternative? How can we communicate our needs and feelings without shouting? How can we make our point clear without needing to raise our voices?
These questions were answered by clinical psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s when he began to develop a framework for communication called nonviolent communication, or NVC.
Let’s learn more by watching a short video.
Show the YouTube video ‘Nonviolent communication’ up to 1.42 minutes.
- Show Slide 7.
So, there are four basic steps of nonviolent communication, although they are not necessarily easy to implement.
- Observe. Focus on what is actually happening as you communicate with others, rather than on your own interpretation of things.
- Feelings. Pay attention to your own feelings as you communicate so that you become aware of them rather than acting on autopilot.
- Needs. Recognize that we all have needs – for support, for friendship, to be appreciated, to be understood and so on. As you communicate, consider your own needs and those of the other person.
- Request rather than demand. Use clear, positive action language to request what you need and want without demanding.
On the slide, we can see some helpful phrases that make shouting less likely and nonviolent communication more likely.
- What I hear you say is . . .
- I feel . . .
- I have a need to . . .
- Are you willing to . . . ?
- Although the nonviolent communication process was developed back in the 1960s, the ideas behind it were known for a long time beforehand. Each major world religion contains a teaching about treating others with compassion and respect – just as we would want to be treated. This central idea is sometimes known as the Golden Rule.
- Show Slide 8.
In the New Testament part of the Bible, the Book of James reminds us, ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’ (James 1.19)
- Show Slide 9.
The Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi was someone who demonstrated to the world what non-violent communication meant and how it could achieve results. Gandhi was born in 1869, and spent much of his life using peaceful means to campaign for India to achieve independence from Britain. This eventually came to pass in 1947.
Famously, Gandhi said, ‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world.’ In other words, you can change a situation for the better without shouting and using aggressive words or actions.
Time for reflection
Let’s take a moment to recall why I didn’t ask you to shout ‘hello’ in today’s assembly. We recognized that shouting at others – particularly shouting when angry – can affect us physically and emotionally.
We’ve also considered an alternative model for communicating what we are feeling and what we want: nonviolent communication.
In addition, we’ve learnt that acting with kindness and being compassionate in our communication are no obstacles to achieving positive results.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on how we feel about these points. As we sit here quietly and respectfully, let’s consider three questions.
- How do we feel when we shout at others or when people shout at us?
Pause to allow time for thought.
- What helps us to be more compassionate in our communication with others? How can we express what we want and need while also respecting another person’s wants and needs?
Pause to allow time for thought.
What one change do we wish to make today as a result of our assembly?
Pause to allow time for thought.
Repeat the verse from the Book of James: ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’
Invite the students to reflect upon these words.
When we feel anger and resentment,
It’s tempting to want to express our anger by shouting.
Please help us to choose another way to express how we feel.
Help us to find ways to communicate with kindness and compassion as we express what we want and need.
Please help us always to listen to others.
‘Getting on with life’ by Philippa Hanna, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOv5yhxJ1I0 (4.14 minutes long)