After many years of being a principal and working with principals, I’ve discovered that schools where the adults model and teach children the core values of compassionate communication are schools that are kind and peaceful, with engaged children and adults who are excited about learning.

Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, clinical psychologist and author of Compassionate Communication: A language of life (2003) is generally credited with creating and promoting this approach to communicating. He teaches that when we’re motivated to act out of compassion rather than out of guilt, fear or shame, we connect with one another on a personal level. When we’re motivated by compassion, we don’t rely on defensive or blaming language, which can stall communication. Instead, we approach others with more focused attention, kindness, and understanding, and speak to others without blaming, which allows us to hear personal criticisms without becoming defensive.

“When you give other people the gift of your attention and empathy, it makes them feel understood and they become more open to hearing what’s on your mind,” says Dr. Michael Nichols (1994), author of The Lost Art of Listening.

This is the guiding philosophy of compassionate communication, an approach to speaking and listening that helps us to respond to others more effectively in even the most difficult situations.

Rosenberg’s Four Steps to Communicating Compassionately:

  1.  Observe a situation without judgment.  
  2.  Discern which emotions are being triggered in the situation.  
  3.  Connect those emotions to the underlying needs that aren’t being addressed.
  4.  Make a reasonable request of the other person.

When we’re able to pause before we react and identify what’s going on beneath all the confrontational language, we can approach the situation with more compassion and understanding.

The benefits of this approach include:

  • Helping us get more of our own needs met
  • Helping us better understand and meet others’ needs
  • Allowing us to more fully appreciate and enjoy our relationships

If you and the members of your school community learn and practice compassionate communication, there will be a pause between a stimulus and a response that will allow everyone involved time to choose a response and use words that are compassionate, not reactive.

Furthermore, the most effective way to frame your compassionate response, according to Rosenberg’s model, is to make a clear, reasonable and positive request. The idea here is to both limit confusion and prevent reactive resistance.

It’s from this place of greater empathy and receptivity that you can use the same questioning techniques and begin to recognize the very human needs driving behavior. If your school adopts compassionate communication, you will have students and staff  who are joyful, relaxed, confident, peaceful and engaged in the highest levels of learning! This takes some practice, but the shift in dynamics eventually can alter the culture of the school — for everyone’s benefit.

Want to learn how you can implement compassionate communication in your school? Contact Budd Dingwall, consultant with Leaders Building Leaders at budd.dingwall@gmail.com to find out how one of our consultants can work with your school.



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