The One Thing That Always Works

There's an old saying, that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The lesson underneath that saying has come to be known as "the law of the instrument"--for us to be careful about the tools we use lest we wind up using them inappropriately, substituting our attachment to the tool for appropriate attunement and discernment.

However, the one tool I have found that always works to reconnect two people, no matter how disconnected they are, is to compassionately attune to the feelings and needs beneath their stories, also known as empathy. This also works with myself, when I remember to do it. This practice is a great example of internal reference in action.

Yarn brain and heart


No matter how wrong someone thinks another matter how long ago the conflict began, or how entrenched it may feel now, the one thing I have never seen fail to get significant movement away from stalemate, as long as two people are willing to come to the table, is empathy.

Empathy is the application of internal reference between two people. Empathic mediation, or Nonviolent Communication mediation helps mediants connect with the feelings and needs beneath each other's stories and opinions. When two people do this, for real, they step out of their postures of opposition, and come more into connection. This doesn't necessarily mean they become best friends, or that one will agree with whatever the other wants--it means the two mediants become better able to understand each other's point of view, and find solutions that will work for both of them.

For example, I worked with two longtime friends who also had a business together.* Max, was unhappy with how Brett, handled a certain deal. Max felt certain that Brett was responsible for Max losing thousands of dollars to which Max was entitled, having begun the deal, and believed Brett owed them this lost money. Brett, on the other hand, saw just as clearly that,this particular client would never have come up with the money Max expected. The two tried and tried but could not resolve this particular conflict, and it threatened to end both their friendship, and their business partnership.

After hearing both their stories, I saw that Brett was the more activated of the two, and so tried guessing empathically what Brett's feelings and needs might be. We landed on that Brett was feeling sad and shocked because they were wanting trust. Hearing Brett's feelings, Max softened and was able to empathize with Brett's need for trust. Max was feeling angry, and wanting consideration. At first Brett thought that meant Max was saying Brett "had been" inconsiderate.

I gently redirected Brett to the reality that Max simply had a need for consideration. When Brett was able to tune into the single note of Max's need for consideration, without any story attached of blame or ought or should, Brett became more relaxed and receptive, and Max softened even further. These two humans with decades of love and trust and history between then looked into each other's eyes for the first time in weeks.

I had no doubt some kind of movement along these lines would happen. When two people are both willing to come to the table, and receive the help of someone skilled in Nonviolent Communication mediation (or any other method of empathic attunement to feelings and needs), movement happens,--in 100% of the cases I've seen. It may not move in the particular direction or at the speed one or both parties want, but movement will happen.

What are some examples of this you've seen? Come learn more, and see examples, at one of our upcoming events.

Got issues? Book a complimentary introductory session with me. Or, learn more about how these insights apply in the workplace.

Big love to all,


*Names and details changed

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