1. Reframe the Content

2. Validate their experience

3. Reflect the Emotion

4. Guess their Feeling

5. Guess their Need

An Exercise on Reading Minds…

This page is an exercise on understanding a persons feelings and needs, the core of Compassionate Communication.
It is closely related to the tool Reflect, Reframe, Validate, which is a separate page. If you haven’t already, please read it first.
You will need a partner to run this exercise. It is recommended that you find someone you trust and who generally trusts you.
You may find it valuable to have a list of feelings and needs handy, especially if it’s your first time doing something like this. You can visit THIS PAGE for a list of needs and feelings, or scroll to the bottom of this page for a handy emotions wheel.

The listener uses the feelings and needs list, while the speaker tells their story. The speaker thinks of some issue/conflict/problematic situation that is alive in them, but neither over the top, nor minor. It needs to be something specific – a chapter or a scene, not a novel. Too minor and the exercise ends without much learning.

Give the speaker time – let them speak as much as possible. See common interruption tactics, and avoid them. At the same time, do actively listen (next point) and not just by way of non-verbal nods and expressions. Speaking can be listening too.

Reframe statements, validate, and reflect the emotion as it seems appropriate.
Ask clarifying questions as necessary to follow the story. You can break in and interrupt the speaker if clarity is really important right then for you, or you want to insert a guess (next point). Be clear about the story in your head, without inserting judgments. Look into their eyes specifically, not just their face. Keep that contact as much as possible.

Guess feelings and needs, and keep track of which ones are correct. Always ask a specific question; never use statements.

  • If after three guesses you are still wrong, ask “can you tell me what you’re feeling/needing?
  • Keep guesses framed positively – are you wanting/needing/wishing/longing for ________?
  • Guess one feeling or need at a time and find out if you’re right. Two can work, but harder to process for the teller.
  • Stay away from right or wrong thinking directed inwards or outwards. Guess feelings and needs. Not foe feelings.
  • Each feeling is connected to an unmet need. You want to get all the unmet needs out there.

While Listening…

  • If the speaker seems to be saying the same thing over and over, listen carefully for ANYTHING different that you could reflect. Otherwise, just listen and repeat with them: “You really wanted it to be different.”
  • Match the energy of the speaker. Your guesses can be intense as well “Sounds like you’re REALLY wanting ____, yes?”
  • Keep guesses safe, and as you feel more comfortable, make guesses more and more bold. If you’re wrong a few times, stay with the speaker and keep the guesses safer again.

When the speaker is done, and the feelings and needs seem complete, allow 30-60 seconds of silence. Do NOT ask, “Are you done yet?” Perhaps ask, “Is there more you want me to hear?” Keep the silence first.

Recite the feelings and needs, and ask the speaker to identify the top three in each list.

Refrain from problem-solving or strategy making before, during, or after, unless invited, and then only afterwards. “I have a solution!” is deeply ingrained in us. We believe we have medicine for their pain, and we’re dying to give it to them! That may be possible, but fully empathize first.

You can use the emotion wheel below to help you.

The following page of additional tools, related to Compassionate Communication, has a lot to offer. There, you’ll learn about how to begin a difficult conversation, positive requests, moving to curiosity, helpful phrases for during conflict, and a lot more.