Reactive vs Responsive Communication  Heart Talk Communication Series

Welcome back to my blog series on responsive communication. I call it CPR: Conscious Purposeful Responding, and it helps in any conflict situation

Reactive communication involves blaming, judging, bullying or controlling, manipulating, coercing, making assumptions, name calling, criticizing, discriminating, using “right and wrong” language, and using defensiveness.

Responsive communication on the other hand involves, speaking for self- using “I” language, respectful tone and manner, listening for the intent to understand rather than change someone’s mind, making specific requests rather than demands, stating facts and observations in a neutral and honest manner, respecting differences, sharing authentically.

The manner in which we speak to one another matters a great deal. We communicate daily with everyone we come into contact with—our values and beliefs—our influence on others, our children, our partners, our loved ones, and our communities are all affected by how we speak to one another.

From being self aware to practicing nonviolent and responsive communication, let’s all make a better effort to do so from the heart: with honesty, clarity and positive intentions. If we do, the world will certainly become a better place to live. It is one small act that will have a profound influence on you and those you love. And care for.

I’ll be listening for you!

Nonviolent Communication Heart Talk Communication Series

“When your internal dialogue is centered in a language of life, you will be able to focus your attention on the actions you could take to manifest a situation that meets your needs along with those of others. – Center for Nonviolent Communication (NVC)  founder, Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD.

We all share the same, basic human needs, and that all actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. In my first communication 101 blog, I introduce the concept of self awareness that allows us to connect to our needs and desires so we can better communicate them. Today we’ll explore nonviolent communication. 

Nonviolent Communication 

Nonviolent Communication contains nothing new. It is based on historical principles of nonviolence– the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart. NVC reminds us what we already instinctively know about how good it feels to authentically connect to another human being.

People who practice NVC have found greater authenticity in their communication, Increased understanding, deepening connection and conflict resolution.

With Nonviolent Communication (NVC) we learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC helps us discover the depth of our own compassion. This language reveals the awareness that all human beings are only trying to honor universal values and needs, every minute, every day.

NVC can be seen as both a spiritual practice that helps us see our common humanity, using our power in a way that honors everyone’s needs, and a concrete set of skills which help us create life-serving families and communities.

The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

Through the practice of NVC, we can learn to clarify what we are observing, what emotions we are feeling, what values we want to live by, and what we want to ask of ourselves and others. We will no longer need to use the language of blame, judgment or domination. We can experience the deep pleasure of contributing to each others’ well being.

NVC creates a path for healing and reconciliation in its many applications, ranging from intimate relationships, work settings, health care, social services, police, prison staff and inmates, to governments, schools and social change organizations.

“All that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries about consciousness, language, communication skills, and use of power that enable us to maintain a perspective of empathy for ourselves and others, even under trying conditions.”- Marshall B. Rosenberg, Phd

Empathically Listening  with the intent to understand, and honestly expressing our needs and wants to each other.

That’s the goal of effective communication-
Our observations—sensory data and intuitive “knowing”
Our thoughts—the stories and interpretations we make up
Our feelings
Our needs or wants
Our actions or requests—what we would like to happen

NVC is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. It contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know—about how we humans were meant to relate to one another—and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.

NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and  those of others. NVC trains us to  observe carefully, and  to  be  able to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in any given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

As NVC replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimized. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as to others— NVC fosters respect, attentiveness, and empathy and engenders a mutual desire to give from the  heart.

Although I refer to  it  as “a  process  of  communication” or “a language of compassion,” NVC is more than a process or a language. On a deeper level, it is an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking.

The Nonviolent Communication Process

To arrive at a mutual desire to give from the heart, we focus the light of consciousness on four areas—referred to as the four components of  the NVC model.

First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying  or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like. Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated? And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified. An awareness of these three components is present when we use NVC to clearly and honestly express how we  are.

For example, a mother might express these three pieces to her teenage son by saying, “Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the rooms that we share in common.”

She would follow immediately with the fourth component—a very specific request: “Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine?” This fourth component addresses what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives or make life more wonderful for  us.

Thus, part of NVC is to express these four pieces of information very clearly, whether verbally or by other means. The other part of this communication consists of receiving the same four pieces of information from others. We connect with them by first sensing what they are observing, feeling, and needing; then we discover what would enrich their lives by receiving the fourth piece—their request.

As we keep our attention focused on the areas mentioned, and help others do likewise, we establish a flow of communication, back and forth, until compassion manifests naturally: what I am observing, feeling, and needing; what I am requesting to enrich my life; what you are observing, feeling, and needing; what you are requesting to enrich your life?

When we use this process, we may begin either by expressing ourselves or by empathically receiving these four pieces of information from others. Although we will learn to listen for and verbally express each of these components in Chapters 3–6, it is important to keep in mind that NVC is not a set formula, but something that adapts to various situations as well as personal and cultural styles. While I conveniently refer to NVC as a “process” or “language,” it is possible to experience all four pieces of the process without uttering a single word.

NVC helps us connect with each other and ourselves in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish. It guides us to reframe the way we express ourselves and listen to others by focusing our consciousness on four areas: what we are observing, feeling, and needing, and what we are requesting  to  enrich our lives. NVC fosters deep listening, respect, and empathy and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. Some people use NVC to respond compassionately to themselves, some to create greater depth in their personal relationships, and still others to build effective relationships at work or in the political arena. Worldwide, NVC is used to mediate disputes and conflicts at all levels.

Good Communication Starts with Self Awareness Healthy Communication

Welcome back to my blog series on responsive, healthy communication.

Healthy communication actually begins before you utter a word…isn’t that funny? But If you are going to speak purposefully from the heart; you have to start by thinking about what you want to say first. It might sound simple but that’s not where many of us start.

We blurt out all kinds of things before we have time to think about them….and that can lead to misunderstandings and confusion as well as hurt and broken relationships.

So if we can slow down a bit, take a beat and begin to self reflect before we speak,  I promise that things will go much better.

How many of us take the time to look inside and ask ourselves and see what is actually going on here?
What assumptions am I making?  What values and beliefs are associated with this situation? What do I want and need here?

It’s not selfish to ask yourself what you need and want in life. It’s essential  to creating a life worth living. As the old song says, “We can’t always get what we want but if we try sometime we just might find, we get what we need.”

The tool I use is called the Awareness Wheel.

awareness wheel

We start with observations, by asking yourself, “what am I experiencing in this moment right now?” We do this a lot in therapy; we ask clients to tune into their experience in the here and now.

  • What are you sensing and observing? Start by going inward. Using your five senses to ask yourself,
    “What do I hear? What do I see? What do I feel? What is my intuition telling me?

”  It’s a perfect grounding exercise when you are feeling anxious or hyped up or in a flurry of mixed up thoughts. Just stop and stay in the moment.

The next step is the “meaning-making” portion of our experience or the story we tell ourselves.

  • What meaning am I making from what i just observed? Those meaning making moments are essential to making sure we are reading the situation accurately.  
Ask yourself, ”Am I making up a story here? Did I check out my assumptions?”

Then we can tune into our feelings.

Feelings are just our bodies way of telling us what’s going on under the hood so to speak. Feelings are not good or bad, right or wrong; they just are. And the way to tell the difference between a thought and a feeling is: that a feeling is just one word, ie: happy or sad or mad or frustrated or confused. So for example, “I feel like you’re not listening to me” is NOT a feeling…it’s an assumption based on an observation.

More accurately, the observations along with the interpretation makes the feeling happen, so it’s really “When you don’t look at me when I talk to you, I make up a story that you aren’t listening and I feel hurt.” This is an example of Heart Talk.

Simply stated: We have positive feelings when things we want happen and  uncomfortable feelings when they don’t.

Feelings give us important information about whether our needs are being met or not. And when we use them in that manner, they can help us find a way forward.

Next it’s time to access our needs and wants in the situation.

  • Just ask yourself, “What do I want in this situation? What’s important to me here and why?”

This taps into our values and beliefs, ie: the things that mean something to us.

I always use a relationship lens when asking myself this question because for me, relationships are my highest value and priority. When I look from that perspective, I can usually figure out what I want for me as well as “us.” Whether that is my partner, my sons, friends, or colleagues and communicate that in an attachment framework.

For example, in a work situation I might say, “Because our relationship is important to me,  and because I value transparency, I want us both to have a clear understanding of our working agreement and expectations so I’ve written them down here.”

And finally we can move to our actions.

This is where boundaries come in: what’s OK and what’s not OK; what we will and will not do.

It’s also the time to think about our “request for change” or what we want to ask for from our partners/children/employee (the others) in our world.

When we add a request for change along with our complaint, things can move forward without defensiveness.

So it  might sound like this, “When I walk into the kitchen and see dirty dishes on the counter, I get frustrated because I like a clean kitchen. Would you be willing to put them in the dishwasher when you are done with them?”

“Would you be willing” along with any request is sure to diminish defensiveness and provide a much greater chance for your needs to be met.

Read on for the next heart talk blog on non-violent communication: how to talk so people will listen and listen so people can understand.

I’ll be talking to you soon!

Communication 101 from the Heart Heart Talk Communication Series

Have you noticed….we’re having trouble talking to each other lately? There are countless reasons—not the least of which is that we can’t HEAR each other through the layers of our masks. There are the big barriers like the deepening divide and polarization in our nation’s politics and the continued debate about what to do with the huge disparity and injustice in our social service networks.

And then there are the smaller, but no less persistent difficulties that include things like how to tell your mom that you’re just not ready to attend the family reunion yet; or your kid that a big birthday party is not in the cards this summer; or how to tell your friends you’re just not ready to meet them for dinner at the “hottest new restaurant”.

But I am also keenly aware, it’s a fact of human nature, that it’s always been hard to “hear things” from someone else’s perspective, and to “see things” from another’s angle.

It’s called “confirmation bias.” Our brains are actually “hard wired” to take in data and filter it toward what we already believe. It turns out we are genetically not very open to adapting to new perspectives. And when we are in fear or distress, it gets even harder.

That’s why the art of healthy communication is so important. 

Speaking your truth from the heart and listening with the intent to understand  are the basic but  necessary skills to connect deeply to one another and to solve life’s problems big and small.

And often when we are under stress, any communication skills we might have fly right out the window. I see it daily in my practice: parents and children who can’t agree on family rules or values, couples who can’t agree about how to manage their time or their finances, or employees who don’t feel their opinions or feedback are valued.

“The number one reason most people describe when they come to me for therapy  is that they want to communicate better with the people most important to them.

“She just doesn’t understand me”, or “I just can’t get through to him” are common refrains in my work with either individuals or couples.

Healthy communication is at the heart of healthy relationships.

We all share the same, basic human needs, and most behaviors are strategies to meet one or more of those needs. To be seen and heard and understood is essential to our well being.

The ability to ask for what we want and to hear and respect each other even when we disagree, is essential to living well together.

A big part of my job is to help people first figure out what’s important to them and then to be able to communicate that effectively to their partners or children or bosses or family and friends. To be able to ask for what they need and want and to tell their partners/children/boss or friend about it.

And I’m actually pretty good at it. My clients have said things to me like “You can tell me what I need when I don’t even know what it is,” and “You always know just what to say and how to say it.”

It’s kind of a super power that I’ve honed over my 30 years as a therapist, but also because I can’t help but see from the heart. I can look underneath the “presenting behavior” and ask myself, what is really going on here, what is the core need and longing? I look for the attachment needs, and help to form the question from that angle.

People say the way to find your purpose is to figure out where your gifts meet the world’s needs. And I guess I’ve been trying to figure out a way to contribute lately—a way to make a difference in this “mess of a world” we find ourselves in.

As Mother Theresa says, “We can’t all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

And my small thing is to be a “heart whisperer.” To help people figure out what they are longing for truly and deeply in their hearts and to tell the people around them what that is and figure out a way for it to happen.

Toward that end, I’m launching a digital series on communicating authentically from the heart—with honesty, compassion and empathy—and to learn to listen with the intent to understand rather than to change someone.

New HEART TALK Social Media Series 

I’ll be writing about it here in my blog, posting about it on my Facebook feed and sharing some live videos on my Instagram account….sharing all my tips and tools with helpful examples and stories to teach and model.

So be sure to tune in and watch for the next in a series of missives about what I call “Heart Talk.” It’s  communication-based on self-compassion, empathy and heart-felt authentic connection.

I’ll be talking to you soon and listening for your responses…

Take the best of care,

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Living Brave the Daring Way for Men — April 4-5th in Seattle

I love men—they are my people. I have a husband/partner and loving companion who has stuck by me through good times and bad for over 30 years. Two adult sons who are the light of my life, a brother who I adore, and male clients by the dozen who inspire me and teach me and touch my heart on a daily basis.

I KNOW we live in a culture that is dominated by toxic masculinity – a president who emulates it- an economic system that supports it- a culture that teaches it.

What I have learned from the men I care about and for is that the “Man Box” requires a strict set of rules they are forced to adhere to In order for them to “fit-in” or belong:

  • Suffer pain in silence
  • Have no needs
  • Never lose
  • Show no emotions other than bravado or rage
  • Don’t depend on anyone
  • Don’t do anything that could be construed as weakness

And this narrow set of rules is killing our men’s ability to connect authentically to the people they love. It inhibits their ability to find joy and satisfaction in life, and it threatens the very fiber of our culture which depends on compassion and empathy.

The men I know are longing to be seen and heard and appreciated by their partners. They long to feel connected to their children. They long for a safe place to bring their feelings and fears and questions and concerns. They are tired of feeling alone in their struggle to “get it right”. And they want to be able to risk enough to make a mistake or go after that big dream without the fear of failure that inhibits it.


How do we teach healthy masculinity? The kind where men don’t have to fit in a box labeled “masculine” that limits their choices and emotional expression?

That is what my new program LIVING BRAVE THE DARING WAY™ FOR MEN is all about. 

Based on the ground-breaking work of Dr. Brené Brown on authenticity, resilience and whole-hearted living this program will teach you how to:

  • Communicate your deepest desires, feelings & needs to the people most important to you without shame or guilt or fear
  • Find ways to manage strong emotions and feelings so you can use them as information about your needs, rather than getting hijacked by them or stuffing them down
  • Bring your authentic self into your relationships, so you can lobby for your needs and desires in direct and clear ways
  • Let go of the “struggle for perfection” and feeling “just not good enough” so you can translate those stories into stories of striving for excellence and feelings of worthiness
  • Gather with other men just like you who long for authentic connection and offer a supportive group to begin the process of change
  • Rise strong after struggle, disappointment or loss and use the knowledge you gained to help you find a resilient new beginning.

That’s my dream—to build a world where we ALL have the skills to share our hopes and dreams and desires with each other where we operate from mutual respect with boundaries, integrity and honesty. And where we can begin to live, love, and lead from a place of worthiness.


Find out how here »

Grateful for the Transformative Journey and Invite You to Join Me

As we close out this holiday focused on gratitude I am keenly aware that one of the things I am most grateful for in my life is the incredible gift I have through my work to witness amazing transformation in the lives of real people day after day.

It is possible to live freely and whole-heartedly ~  with joy, a sense of deep connection, and meaningful purpose. I know that from my own lived experience. And those who decide to walk this path with me are forever changed.

Here’s what some of those who have walked the path of transformation with me have to say:

What a thrill to finally arrive at that place of knowing that deep down inside I am enough- I can ask for what I need and people will be there for me. I can soothe myself when I get triggered and find my way home

Every step along the way taught me something about myself and my capabilities- about how to stand in my vulnerabilities and learn from them. About how to trust my inner mentor and speak my truth and live authentically from what my core values and beliefs are. I wouldn’t trade those lessons for anything in the world.

As women we work so hard to tend to others and rarely take the time to consider our needs, or desires or our dreams. This workshop gave me the time to explore my core issues, the beliefs that are holding me back, and to connect with my inner wise mentor the one who knows how to help me move forward on a more positive path.

I came away with a plan for self -care that will encompass my physical, emotional and spiritual health.

I invite you to take this Journey to Wholeness with me……… I have two opportunities for you to explore the best of what I have learned about finding your truest path into an abundant, rich and meaningful life. 


LIVING BRAVE Weekend Retreat
Whidbey Island February 1st-3rd

I’m so excited about this new workshop I have created which combines the” best of the best” of what I have learned from my incredible mentors and teachers.

From Dr. Brene Brown, we will learn how to access our core values to counter the negative shame based paradigms and fears that hold us back

From Tara Mohr– author of  Playing Big – we will learn to quiet the inner critic and access our wise inner mentor to guide us in finding our true path

From Tara Brach we will experience the peace and contentment that comes from developing a deep meditative practice and a mindful approach to life

From Kristen Neff we will learn self- care practices that will nourish and heal

And last but not least from Sherrod and Phyllis Miller– we will learn a tool called the Awareness Wheel that will transform those difficult conversations into meaningful connections.

Join me and an intimate group of like minded soul mates on beautiful Whidbey Island to begin your journey. Your ticket includes dorm style lodging, healthy organic meals, and our own private yoga instructor! Don’t miss this brand new island retreat!

Learn More About Living Brave

Register Now


RISING STRONG Weekend Retreat
Whidbey Island – March 29th-31st

It not always an easy path- this journey within. To get to your deepest truth sometimes means walking through your pain. But what you find on the other side is your power – your inspiration – your truest potential.

Rising Strong is based on the work of Dr. Brené Brown in how to develop resiliency after a loss or disappointment, a failure or a trauma, or just the old paradigms you are ready to let go of. Sometimes we need to make sense of our past before we can move forward into our future.

This research based process shows us step by step how to rumble with our past and transform it into nuggets of golden opportunity and growth. How to write a new ending to our stories of loss or grief or disappointment.

How to let go of our fears and to LIVE BIG – with Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity – so we can live a Whole-Hearted life full of joy and adventure, realizing our true potential.

Each time I experience the transformative work in Rising Strong- I learn something new about myself and how to move forward in my life, and I’m excited to share this life changing process with you. In the beauty of the island, participants find restoration, healing and a new path forward. Your ticket includes dorm style lodging, healthy organic meals, and our own private yoga instruction!

Learn More About Rising Strong

Register Now

Meet Cynthia Benge

A therapist for over 20 years, I guide people from their own “stuck” places to a life full of adventure, meaning and satisfying relationships.

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