Compassionate Communication, Thought today

Separating observation from interpretation.

Now this was tricky to learn.

This is one of the very first steps to tackle in Marshall Rosenberg’s Compassionate Communication model (Non-Violent Communication where one speaks from the heart) which I have mentioned in previous blogs.

It took time and lots of patience to acquire the ability to observe first and then interpret, my mind was wired up to interpret pretty much automatically and initially, when I was much younger than I am now, I couldn’t see there was another way of looking at things I was drenched in black and white thinking so heavily. However, I have found the benefits of developing this ability worthy of the time spent and effort taken.

So, what does separating observation and interpretation entail?

Literally we do as it says. Observe. We pay attention to what we see. Rather than what we think or feel about what we see. There is no interpretation, we do not take time to wonder, assume or infer. Obviously these things will happen, we are human beings, we are designed to do these things. However, by focusing on what is observed first, I feel I have more space in my mind to be with my experience more fully at the time. I am also able to see options and I experience more of what is going on around me, which does not increase my stress levels. If anything I feel calmer.

Essentially I have been learning to slow my mind down.

Why did I try to learn this?

Being able to see there is a difference between what I observe and what I think and interpret is freeing.

You may have read the above sentence and thought this ability is natural and perhaps you’ve been able to do this all your life. Great. If this is true for you, I am sincerely pleased for you.

However, not all of us have had this ability developed in us and we need to cultivate it for ourselves. If we want to obviously, it’s not for me to tell anyone what to do!

I learnt, from a very earlier age, how to treat myself with contempt and loathing. I was filled with a toxic level of shame and fear amongst other things. I held myself responsible for everything, including things that had absolutely nothing to do with me. As an adult, I saw I needed to change my relationship with myself. I needed to change my life so I could survive it. I started seeing a therapist. I started looking at different ways in which to live in this world. I looked at Buddhism, Mindfulness, meditation and cultivating compassion for myself.

I feel the observe first approach provides a mental pause before any interpretation arises. It provides a window of opportunity to see something new and to let the current moment into my conscious awareness at the time.

I have more capacity in my mind to hold information then if I were to go into immediate interpretation. In interpretation mode, I am with myself to the exclusion of the physical world, including the people in it. However, initially, I didn’t see it this way.

So how did I learn?

Patience and acceptance are important here.

Getting upset with myself because my mind automatically interpreted rather than simply observed, did not aid my learning to observe without interpretation or indeed do anything supportive to my self-esteem! What did help and still does, is acknowledging that I have interpreted rather than observed, accepting this for the simple fact it is and refocusing myself to what physically took place and to what I actually saw.

It is important to take our time learning new concepts, techniques and ways of being. The latter is what I have come to feel this technique is. A way of being.

In time and with gentle reminders of ‘observe only…then interpret‘ – which in the initial stages of learning I needed to do quite frequently – the way my mind responded, changed.

Through taking the time to say to myself ‘Now, what did I actually see…’ and boiling it down to the precise actions I had witnessed – acknowledging any emotions and thoughts I had were mine and not necessarily what was there for the other person – my mind began to slow down. I became able to acknowledge what I saw and accept it as such, without reading into a situation, or any form of interpretation coming up, straight away.

My thinking is sharper and clearer and my mind is calmer, when I am in observation mode.

When do I use this?

I use this observe mode, as I call it, in various situations. When I am with people I do not know or I am in a group of people, when I’m with people who are emotionally turbulent or if I am feeling strong emotions.

I find this observe first approach enables me to stay grounded and safeguards me from falling into a ‘reactive state’, where I may not be actively thinking but be more weighted in my emotional experience, which could lead me to misunderstand someone or a situation.

Emotions and thoughts are equally important. Balance is needed with both.

The benefits I have found…

Observing without interpretation or evaluation attached to it, provides scope for greater understanding and connection with ourselves, as well as others and for a more healthy and honest connection to occur.

When in observe mode, my mind is less cluttered, as I am not being distracted by interpretation and thoughts leading me to look at particular things, which may not have anything to do with what I am observing. I am more present in the moment and when I am focusing my attention on the shared physical world, I am able to be more responsive and spontaneous.

I have found the benefits of developing this observe mode has impacted my life in many areas in a positive way, that enhances my experience of myself, my life and my communications with others. I find it particularly useful in aiding my ability to stay in a dialogue with emotionally turbulent people, as well as aiding me to see my own needs more clearly.

I invite you, if I may, to try this (if you are not already) and see what happens. Feel free to share your experience if you do. I am open to constructive dialogues.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I hope you found it interesting.

If you want to find out more about Non-Violent Communication, check out the Centre for Non-Violent Communication which you should be able to reach via web address: or search for Marshall Rosenberg on Utube (


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