The 12 Competencies of
Mindful Compassionate Dialogue


Appreciation: Competency 1

Appreciation is about noticing what’s working well, and saying that aloud more often than expressing what’s not working. Appreciation practice lays a foundation for a vibrant relationship, and the ability to meet challenges with skill and grace. It contributes to resilience by creating a sense of confidence that each person is seen for their good intentions. Appreciation is actually a form of positive feedback: it is about knowing what works in clear and specific terms. This level of clarity and sharing makes collaboration easy.

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, means a relaxing of defensiveness and the impulse to convince another of your point of view. Empathy contributes to healthy differentiation, as well a secure emotional bond. With empathy, you can truly be a companion and support for your partner without taking on your partner’s 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 your partner 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. It often feels vulnerable, as it requires awareness and direct expression of your needs and 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, that is useful in the context of intimate relationships, includes the following:

  • Expressing feelings and needs with full self-responsibility

  • 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

  • Making specific and doable requests of yourself and others


Self Empathy: Competency 4

Self empathy is an essential ingredient in a thriving relationship. To have a loving and conscious relationship with your partner, you also need to have a loving and conscious relationship with yourself.

In addition, self empathy gives you relief from internal conflict, criticism, and doubt. You can learn to greet each part of your experience with compassion and acceptance, which gives you access to wise discernment and effective action.

Self empathy means taking responsibility for your experience by gaining the skills to identify observations, thoughts, feelings, needs, and requests with compassion for yourself. Being able to identify your experience in this way opens the door to staying true to yourself and honest with your partner.

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 relationship. You find it is safe to be yourself in your relationship. Reactivity can come and go without causing major ruptures in connection. You see it as normal and trust that it can be met. Lastly, when you are not walking on eggshells because of reactivity, your relationship has space to grow and evolve in whole 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 strategies, interpersonal de-escalation strategies, self empathy, naming, recognizing blame, working with tender needs, and engaging 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 top priority. We trust that when there is a particular quality of connection, collaboration and creativity can be accessed.

Second, when the aliveness of needs 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 truly honored and respected.

Life serving Boundaries: Competency 8

Having clarity about life serving boundaries in relationship allows a greater sense of security and freedom. When you know what the boundaries are for you and others in relationship, 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. It means 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 what’s right for you, 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 boundaries in the past.

Learning to set life serving boundaries is a competency that helps you claim your authentic life and live respectfully with others.

Thriving & Resiliency: Competency 9

Maintaining thriving and resiliency in your life means you can meet life’s challenges without being swept up in the 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 resiliency 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 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 a confidence that your relationship can weather the most difficult of times.

Relationship repair means coming back together after an experience of disconnect and unmet needs with regard to something that was said or done. Relationship repair 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 begin the dialogue, you can maintain focus on connection, empathy, and honesty. Repair can then become an opportunity to build trust and 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 for your partner 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 the relationship.

Healthy Differentiation: Competency 12

When you have a strong sense of healthy differentiation, you can access a whole new sense of both autonomy and intimacy in your relationship. When you are not afraid of losing yourself in the other person or being controlled by them, you can allow yourself to feel deeply connected and affected, while standing strong in your own sense of self.

In addition, with healthy differentiation, your relationship transforms from something you are beholden to, to 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 know where your own aliveness is you can make effective decisions for yourself and engage in collaboration. Healthy differentiation also involves learning to tolerate disharmony, embrace differences, self-soothe, offer compassion without taking over others’ needs, and setting boundaries.