I started a couple different essays challenging the philosophical assumptions of compassionate communication, but finally realized I needed to let them sit for a while.
I've only attended one workshop and read one tiny thin booklet, and run only a few experiments of my own. I don't have nearly enough data yet to start making sweeping pronouncements about the whole methodology. I'm going to read some more of the texts and check the online resources before popping off much more, at least in the abstract.
Compassionate communication is primarily a methodology, and like all methodologies it asks to be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness in practice, not its philosophic consistency or rigor. I need to try it on for size and live with it for a while before I can truly appreciate its value or lack thereof.
There are a few things that I've noticed already, in the actual practice of compassionate communication:
Acknowledging feelings and guessing underlying needs can defuse kids' tantrums with remarkable speed. Just saying, "You must be really upset right nowâ€¦" can elicit a heartfelt "YES!" from my boys. At that point I know they are listening to me. Hailing frequencies have been opened. Generalized need-words ("you need security") are almost meaningless to a four-year-old, but at that point they are open to you guessing, in concrete terms, the root of the matter: "It makes you upset that a bigger boy can swoop in and take something that's yours." If the guess lands, the tears evaporate almost immediately, and he launches into an explanation of what happened and why he thinks it was wrong: "Yeah! I was playing with the dump truck, and then I went to get some blocks to put in it, and Aidan came and drove off with the dump truck, and he shouldn't have done that." The tears may come up again if the emotions reassert themselves, but you've bought a little bit of separation from the immediate overwhelming emotion, and that's enough wiggle-room to suggest some solutions: "You know, this dump truck is even bigger, and might be better for the job," or "Let's ask Aidan if he would be willing to bring the truck back." At the very least, everything is much more civil than the alternative, which is yell at one or both boys: "Jesus Christ, it's just a (goddamm) truck, you've fifteen other trucks, what's the big deal?!?" or "GIVE THAT TRUCK BACK RIGHT NOW!"
Compassionate communication suggests that it's poor form to dump information on people without first checking in with them to see where they're at, and making sure they are ready to receive the information. The most common form is unsolicited advice: "You know, what you should do is . . ." can be replaced with "I have some ideas of what you could do . . . would you like to hear them?" I didn't think I did much of this until I started paying attention, and then I realized I'm trying to 'enlighten' people all the time without their permission, especially with my kids. I was genuinely surprised how often my kids declined to hear my advice: "No, no, let me try it first." And, when they did agree to hear my suggestions, they listened to me longer and followed my suggestions more frequently than when I just foisted my ideas upon them. (In retrospect I realized that my boss uses this formulation almost all the time: "Would you like to talk about the ABC account now?")
Overall, I've decided there's enough value in the compassionate communication model to invest in learning it and practicing it, even if it proves to be less than the Holy Grail of all human interaction.