Wouldn’t it be lovely to sit down at the table for a holiday meal, and know that the ensuing conversation would actually meet our need to connect, and communicate openly? How different would it feel to truly engage each other with fewer frustrations, fears, or failures from the past constantly getting in your way? Communication is basic and necessary. Compassionate communication is not basic at all.

Renowned psychologist Dr. Marshall Rosenberg recognized that most of us just never learned how to communicate well or without doing harm. His exploration of communication led to the development of what he called Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as compassionate communication.

Your holiday dinners, and relationships can be more engaging year round if you follow a few of the tenets of NVC.

Here are five basic guidelines to compassionate communication, rooted in Rosenberg’s findings:

  1. Observe without judging

This is tougher than you may think. The object is to simply observe. No evaluation. No assessment. No judgment. This is often hard to do, when we are spending time with someone who shares a history or family with us. Someone who thinks they know us and why we do the things we do.

Judgments are hasty and imprecise. They use words that compare, criticize, blame, insult or label. Words like always, never, and often are signs of judgment. Observation is devoid of evaluation or comparison; it is what a camera sees. A wealth of misunderstanding and hurt feelings can be alleviated by simply pausing to watch and listen. It takes time and considers the big picture — not just the parts we deem to be valuable or important.

  1. Identify a feeling within yourself

According to the NVC model, feelings are connected to the body and unrelated to other people. Does that come as a surprise? How many times do we describe feeling as “used, bothered, disappointed, insulted, abused, or cheated”? When you use this language to describe how you feel, you actually end up accusing and evaluating another person’s actions. Defenses go up and effective communication is lost.

The goal is to take responsibility for your feelings. Recognize that while other people and situations may set the scene for a variety of emotions and these people and situations may stimulate you, you always get to choose how to feel.

  1. Determine the need behind your feeling

What are some examples of needs? Love, protection, nurturing, autonomy, understanding and consideration are just a few examples. We are constantly attempting to get our needs met. We get into trouble when we are unable to express our needs clearly. Along the way, many of us learned to stuff them and ignore them, until we weren’t even able to identify them and so had no idea what was really going on for us. And then we got upset at the people in our lives who simply couldn’t read our minds.

By understanding your own needs, and valuing honest expression, your needs are more apt to be recognized consistently and met.

  1. Formulate a request (not a demand)

Learning to make requests rather than demands is vital for compassionate, nonviolent communication. Here’s how to start:

  1. Positively phrase requests.
  2. Make requests as specific as possible.
  3. Speak kindly and firmly with more clarity, and less emotion.

Communication stops when a person feels forced to respond in a particular manner. Too often, our attempts to request something of each other are really subtle demands that blame, judge, or lay a guilt trip.

  1. Ask for feedback.

Communication doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To know how well you’re doing is extremely valuable. To ask a connection request like “How do you feel hearing this?” is likely one of the kindest, most respectful things you can do. Your willingness to ensure optimal communication honors your partner, ensures you are in a dialogue and is compassionate and engaging indeed.