Labels: Tragic Expressions Of Feelings And Needs

ASK DR. DONNA

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By labels, I am referring to stereotypes, generalizations and judgments about others' behaviors or belief systems. What happens when we lump one behavior into a category? There is a subtle shift in our thinking. We become detached to an extent from the stimulus and no longer put our attention on details. We often expect the same pattern in the future, so our expectations become rigid, and our interactions become guarded.

Let's say that a new friend has arrived late for two meetings in a row. If you categorize their behavior, you might decide they are "always late" and hence "they have no respect for others' time."

When we think in these ways, we tend to feel irritated, anxious and tense. Even if you never voice these critical thoughts, there is a good chance your friend will see your perceptions in your eyes.

I suggest that labels do not serve us well in our interpersonal interactions. Relationship is dynamic and changing, whereas labels are static. The book, "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life," speaks to this changing, living reality in which we move and have our being.

Nonviolent Communication is a process of language that utilizes the expression of observations, feelings, needs and requests in negotiation, instead of labels, judgments, demands, generalizations or stereotypes. How might we use the four parts of Nonviolent Communication to express our feelings to our friend?

Observation: Friend, when I recall that you arrived late for our last two meetings, Feeling: I feel some concern. Need: Because I would like us to be able to spend some quality time together. Request: I would like to know if you feel the same way, and if so, if there is a time that would work better for you in the future?

I invite you to use self-empathy to consider your feelings and needs when you find yourself labeling, analyzing or judging others' behaviors.

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