The 12 Competencies of
Mindful Compassionate Dialogue
APPRECIATION: COMPETENCY 1
Appreciation is a form of honest expression. It’s about noticing what’s working well and saying that aloud more often than expressing what’s not working. It is actually a form of positive feedback: Appreciation is about expressing what works in clear and specific terms. It’s not about building someone’s self-esteem or giving praise. Appreciation practice lays a foundation for collaborative and vibrant relationships. It supports the ability to meet challenges with skill and grace and contributes to resilience by creating a sense of confidence that each person’s good intentions and effective contributions are known.
EMPATHY: COMPETENCY 2
There are so many benefits of cultivating empathy in your relationships. When you can give and receive empathy, each person has a deep sense of being heard. Knowing you can be heard allows defensiveness to relax and connection to become possible. Empathy contributes to healthy differentiation, as well as emotional security. With empathy, you can truly be a companion and provide support for another without taking on their struggles as your own.
Empathy is a heart-based response to a heart-based expression of another. Empathy means giving your compassionate curiosity to another’s experience without having an agenda. It often involves verbally guessing another’s feelings and needs. For example, when someone shares about a difficulty at work, instead of trying to problem-solve you can make an empathy guess like, “Are you feeling discouraged because you need support?” In this way, empathy makes space for being present with feelings and needs so that the door to wisdom and compassion opens naturally.
HONEST EXPRESSION: COMPETENCY 3
Honest expression is a rich and subtle practice that empowers you to live in alignment with your deepest values. Doing so often feels vulnerable, as it requires awareness and direct expression of your needs, explicit acknowledgment of interdependence through specific and doable requests, and negotiation with others. It helps you to truly collaborate with others while fully maintaining autonomy and self-responsibility.
Honest expression includes the following:
Awareness of your intention when you speak
Awareness of the quality of connection in a given moment, both with yourself and another
Taking responsibility for reactivity by learning to recognize it and then name it aloud or taking time to get grounded before continuing to engage in dialogue
Expressing feelings and needs with full self-responsibility by making specific and doable requests of yourself or another
Taking responsibility for thoughts, speech, and reactivity by discerning the difference between what you actually observed and the interpretations you made
Knowing the difference between universal needs and related preferences and strategies for how needs are met
Communicating specific and doable requests as the starting point of collaboration
SELF-EMPATHY: COMPETENCY 4
Self-empathy is an essential ingredient in a thriving relationship. To have a loving and conscious relationship with another, you also need to have a loving and conscious relationship with yourself.
Self-empathy gives you relief from internal conflict, criticism, and doubt. You learn to greet each part of your experience with compassion and acceptance, which gives you access to wise discernment and effective action.
Self-empathy is a skillful means for taking responsibility for your experience. When you can sort experience into categories, such as observations, thoughts, feelings, needs, and requests, it is easier to meet it with equanimity and compassion. In addition, it enables you to stay true to values and be honest with another.
Recognizing reactivity: Competency 5
Recognizing reactivity means freedom. The moment you can recognize reactivity arising, you can be free from its grip on you. In addition, when you learn to track reactivity in yourself, you can more easily recognize it in others. This means you can take effective action to prevent escalating arguments.
Reactivity is defined as the misperception of threat to one or more needs. It can be recognized by at least three main characteristics:
1) A change in physiology, such as heart rate or breathing
2) A stuckness or narrowing of view
3) A loss of access to creativity, skills, broad perspective, wisdom, and compassion
Recognizing reactivity means becoming familiar with the many signs and symptoms that it is arising. When you fully know reactivity, it can’t take over. You get to choose speech and actions that truly serve you and others.
MANAGING REACTIVITY: COMPETENCY 6
When you learn to manage reactivity effectively, a whole world of possibility opens up for you and your relationships. You find it is safe to be yourself in your relationships. Reactivity can come and go without causing major ruptures in connection. You see it as normal and trust that it won’t take over. When you are not walking on eggshells because of reactivity, your relationships have space to grow and evolve in new ways.
Once you learn to recognize reactivity, it becomes your cue to engage the skills you have for managing it. Managing reactivity includes skills such as regulation, interpersonal de-escalation, self-empathy, naming, recognizing blame, working with tender needs, and engaging in healing work.
NEEDS-BASED NEGOTIATION: COMPETENCY 7
Learning needs-based negotiation will give you a sense of ease and creativity as you face the most difficult situations in life. You will be able to enter into challenging dialogues with a confidence that all needs can be honored.
There are three key distinctions that make needs-based negotiation different from other forms of negotiation. First, in needs-based negotiation, the quality of connection is the top priority. We trust that when there is a particular quality of connection, collaboration and creativity become accessible.
Second, when the aliveness of needs/values in the present moment inform the process, we find truly effective strategies, solutions, and agreements.
Lastly, needs-based negotiation is inclusive. It rests on a confidence that each person can be equally honored and respected.
Life-serving Boundaries: Competency 8
Having clarity about life-serving boundaries in relationships allows a greater sense of security and freedom. When you know what the boundaries are for you and others, you also know where you are free to play and grow together.
Setting life-serving boundaries means having clarity about what really serves life or meets needs and making a conscious decision about how you will relate to another or behave in a particular situation. To set life-serving boundaries, you need to be able to recognize and honor your own needs, speak clearly about them, understand the verbal and behavioral language of boundary setting, honor the needs of others without taking responsibility for them, and engage in healing work with regard to your experiences of boundary violations in the past.
Learning to set life-serving boundaries is a competency that helps you embody an authentic life and live respectfully with others.
THRIVING & RESILIENCe: COMPETENCY 9
Maintaining thriving and resiliency in your life means you can meet life’s challenges without being swept up in a roller coaster of reactivity.
Thriving means consistently engaging in that which truly supports your life, taking care of your needs day-by-day. When you’re thriving, you not only enjoy your life, you are also a gift to others.
Cultivating thriving and resilience means knowing the difference between what’s actually happening and your interpretations of it. It means learning to maintain equanimity through the ups and downs of life. It is the ability to process intense experiences with confidence. It includes effective self-care, gratitude practice, finding meaning, building community, and more.
RELATIONSHIP REPAIR: COMPETENCY 10
When you learn the skills of relationship repair, you can remain equanimous in times of disconnect. You trust that you can find your way back to connection in the face of hurt and anger. Relationship repair builds confidence that your relationships can weather the most difficult of times.
Relationship repair means coming back together after an experience of disconnect and unmet needs. It requires the intention to connect and take responsibility for your behavior by naming what didn’t work, offering empathy, and making a plan to do something differently next time.
Relationship repair is most effective when you take care of reactivity before you begin the dialogue. Repair dialogue is a likely place for blame, shame, and defensiveness. By working with reactivity in specific ways before you initiate repair, you can maintain focus on connection, empathy, and honesty. Repair can then become an opportunity to build trust and to learn how to move forward in new ways.
EMOTIONAL SECURITY: COMPETENCY 11
When you are grounded in emotional security, your relationships change dramatically. Instead of being potential sources of hurt, threat, or confusion they become sources of caring, joy, and support.
Emotional security is a relational confidence in which you are experiencing a felt sense of trust that you can be received and held with care by others and that all aspects of your experience are acceptable and can be met with care and comfort. Emotional security is often confused with enmeshment, which is a push for closeness or merging that is driven by insecurity.
Understanding what contributes to emotional security for you and others allows you to build this important resource. While there are some universal behaviors that can contribute to security, such as eye gazing, receiving care and comfort, and consistent responsiveness,it’s essential to know what is most easily received for you. When you know what you can receive easily, you can consciously strengthen your sense of emotional security both within yourself and within a relationship.
HEALTHY DIFFERENTIATION: COMPETENCY 12
When you have a strong sense of healthy differentiation, you can access a new sense of both autonomy and intimacy in your relationship. When you are not afraid of losing yourself in or being controlled by another, you can allow yourself to feel deeply connected and affected, while standing strong in your own sense of self.
With healthy differentiation, your relationships transform from something you are beholden to into something that supports you in new adventures of discovery and learning in the world.
There are many ways to cultivate a sense of healthy differentiation. One important way is being able to stand clearly in the values that guide your life. When you are grounded in your values, you can make effective decisions for yourself and engage in effective collaboration with others. Healthy differentiation also involves learning to tolerate disharmony, embrace differences, self-soothe, offer compassion, and set boundaries.