Shangri La Biotope - “Where Nature Nutures Personal Growth”

Kelly Bryson, M.A., M.F.T., is a licensed psychotherapist and trainer for the international Center for Nonviolent Commu-nicationSM, a nonprofit organization founded by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg [see Heart of Business, Jan/Feb 2006 issue]. He is the author of Don’t Be Nice, Be Real (reviewed in Nov/Dec 2006 issue). His poems and articles have been featured in Elle and Shape magazine and he co-authored the anthology The Marriage of Sex and Spirit with Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, John Gray, Wayne Dyer, Barbara Marx Hubbard, et al. I recently caught up with Kelly just after he moved into his newly acquired seminar center in Santa Cruz, California. Walking around in his garden, he spoke about his lifelong passion for compassionate communication, a process that brings out our natural ability to connect with ourselves and others. His goal is to form groups and organizations locally and internationally based on a model of transparency and trust, and create a world where everyone naturally gives and receives from a consciousness of abundance.

What brought you to study and teach a “language of compassion”?

First of all, I’m a VFW, which means a Veteran of Family Wars. In my own process of healing myself and my dysfunctional family, I went into psychology. I was pursuing an M.A. in humanistic psychology at the University of West Georgia and working as a marriage counselor when I at-tended a conference for humanistic educators in Philadelphia, which is where I met Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. I watched Marshall work with a couple for about fifteen minutes and witnessed a breakthrough that would have taken me six months of therapy to bring about. I started to use his Nonviolent Communication techniques in my own practice as a counselor working with teena-gers and their families and had amazing results.

I then studied with Virginia Satir, who’s considered to be the mother of family systems theory. One of her most well-known sayings is, “Communication is to relationships what breathing is to life.” She showed how in any system, if you can change the way people speak, you can change the dynamic of the whole system.

In your book, you show how that’s true in intimate relationships. How does it work in organizations?

We create a culture by the way we communicate, how we resolve conflict, how we connect with people. All of that goes into designing an organizational culture or a systems culture. It’s very important what consciousness we bring to our interactions, what language we speak in that culture.

You could say there are two basic and opposite approaches to communication or to culture: a domination systems culture and a partnership culture.

Here’s an example of domination-speak: “It really hurts my feelings when you don’t refill the copier after you’ve finished using it.” That’s an example of “power under,” a guilt trip. It works—that’s the sad part. But of course you pay the price. Violence gets results, but then again it never works because of the price you pay. Whereas nonviolence may get the desired result, but it always works, because it contributes to safety, connection and partnership in the system you’re part of.

In a domination system, people comply out of obligation, fear or guilt. They should refill the copier and they are bad if they don’t. They’re not doing it from joy or contribution. This creates resentment, which comes out in all kinds of ways. One of the primary ways is gossip. “Did you hear what she said to me?” Gossip—along with the pain it creates—is not a productive use of time and it tears at the fabric of the relationships between all the people in that culture.

The other form of domination is “power over.” “If you don’t refill the copier, I will report you to the boss.” That gets it done, too, but from a place of fear. It gets us away from our natural ability to give to each other in a joyful, symbiotic relationship instead of a fear-based relationship based on have-to’s and should’s. This natural giving climate is much more conducive to creativity and cooperation.

How does it work when talking to customers?

This is the exciting part. One thing we learn in Nonviolent Communication is deep empathic un-derstanding and connection. My mentor, Virginia Satir, was one of the groundbreaking therapists whose work formed the basis of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). People watched her and copied her because she had an uncanny ability to create rapport with people. By watching her, we figured out how to do this thing called NLP, which is a science and technology for creating empathic connection.

In Nonviolent Communication, we learn how to be present and listen without judging. What are the needs that are being expressed? What is the energy that’s present and alive in that person right in this moment? Connect with the person right where they are, whether they’re in irritation or they’re in fear, whatever it is. The other part is to be honest and transparent ourselves in a way that helps the other person see us as congruent, that what’s on our face is what’s in our heart. That creates trust, which is essential to any business transaction.

After creating rapport, you want to find out what the other person needs and whether you might be able to fill that need. Next, I would ask them what information they need from me to decide whether they want to buy my product—instead of giving them all kinds of information they don’t need, which usually just turns people off. I try to find out what they need to make their decision, not get them to buy my product. I’m not interested in just getting my need met. I’m interested in both of us getting our needs met. As soon as people feel the mutuality of the situation, trust happens.

We buy from people because we trust them.

That’s an essential element for sustainable busi-ness. And it’s not just a technique, it’s a whole consciousness and lifestyle.

Let’s use an example. I’m negotiating a price for doing a seminar, and the organization says, “Okay, how about $1,200? Would that work for you?” If I can hear in their voice that there’s fear or shame, that they’re afraid of insulting me, then about 90 percent of the time I’ll talk them down from what they’ve offered. I’ll say, “No, I think it’s more like $1,000.” And they’ll say, “Oh, that would be so much better to present to the board. I’m sure they would be much happier with that.” And I’ll say, “Good, let’s make it $1,000.”

That way, we get both our needs met and it’s a real win-win. You can always tell whether the person is giving in or whether they’re joyfully giving to. And I don’t let people give in to me, because it never works long-term. They don’t refer me to others, they don’t show up on time, nobody is happy.

One of your mottos in your book is “me first and only.” Are you advocating selfishness?

I’m selfish to the extent that I clearly ask for what I want and I trust other people to be mature enough to tell me yes or no. I’m holding my needs as precious opportunities for others to give to me, as long as it’s not at their expense, as long as it doesn’t damage the relationship. I’m not pressing my needs in a way that gets people to give in, because that would damage my most precious resource, which is the relationship itself. I don’t want to cut the head off the goose that laid the golden egg. I’m holistically selfish: preserving my relationships while making sure that I’m asking for 100 percent of what I want, 100 percent of the time.

In your book you present the belief that when we authentically communicate a need, the other person is happy to fill it.

When we present our needs authentically—with-out demanding or manipulating—we are more likely to touch other people’s hearts, inspire their generosity and increase the possibility that they will want to meet our needs happily. It’s important to reveal the needs behind your requests so people can know what they are giving to. The other day a young man knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to contribute to a charity. I told him I had no way of knowing until he told me what need the charity is trying to meet in the world.

We need to make a distinction between needs and requests. If I can talk about needs on the need level, it’s much easier to find win-win situations. If I just talk about my strategies or make specific requests, it can be difficult to find a win-win or a mutually satisfying solution.

For example, I just bought a property here in Santa Cruz where I’m starting an intentional community and seminar center. People from a social service agency, working with the homeless came to me and said, “Hey, we’d like to come do a presentation at your establishment.” I said, “Okay, that’s wonderful. And I could use some help making the seminar center work.” What I need is some kind of resource or energy exchange. If I had said, “I need money,” that organization may not have money available. Next week, a group of homeless people from that agency with whom I’ve worked are coming to do my yard, trim my hedges, help me replant some bamboo. They have this other resource that they want to make available to me, although they don’t have any money.

It’s much easier to solve problems by sharing needs than by presenting specific solutions.

You also say that our needs are universal, and as such they are never in conflict.

That’s right. Needs can’t be in conflict. Only the strategies differ. That’s why if we don’t learn to speak a language of needs, we’re always in conflict, because we’re focused on a specific way we want things to happen.

In his book The Magic of Conflict, Thomas Crum uses the example of two sisters who reach for the same orange. To resolve the conflict, they decide, “Let’s not fight over the orange. Let’s compromise.” I say, compromise? That’s where you share the resentment fifty-fifty. It’s not a win-win; it’s a lose-lose. People believe they have to give in and sacrifice, because that is a myth our culture promotes. They don’t really believe they can have it all, because they’ve been taught we live in a scarce universe. If we live in an abundant universe, we never compromise. There’s no need to.

Let’s say the two sisters compromise and cut the orange in half. The next day they come back and ask, “How was it for you, having half an orange?” One sister says, “Well, it was so-so, because I had half as much orange juice as I needed to drink.” The other sister says, “Yeah, it was kind of miserable for me too, because I only had half as much orange peel as I needed for my cake icing recipe.”

That’s the tragedy described in O. Henry’s immortal story “The Gift of the Magi,” where the wife secretly cuts and sells her beautiful long hair to buy a chain for her husband’s heirloom watch for Christmas, and the husband secretly sells the heirloom watch to buy her combs for her hair. It is a tragedy that can be avoided. If both sisters had expressed their true needs, they would have seen the solution that would have been mutually satisfying.

When people are able to hear each other’s needs, something changes.

Yes. And one of two things always happens. Either they see a synergistic solution, such as, “You take the orange peel, I take the juice,” or a shift occurs. A shift is where our generosity is touched by hearing the other person’s need and we want to give to the other, not from a place of compromise but because our needs have truly shifted.

I was in Israel once doing Nonviolent Communication training and I was dying to play some basketball. I went to the city of Haifa, found a gym and started playing around on the court. One of the players said, “You have to leave. You can’t play with us.” I said, “I’m confused. What makes you say that?” He said, “You’re not allowed, go away.”

I felt badly. I didn’t want to leave feeling badly, so I kept negotiating with him and asked what was preventing him from wanting to let me play basketball.

He eventually referred me to his boss who explained to me, “If you get hurt playing basketball here with us, you could sue us and I could lose my job for letting you. Jobs are very hard to get right now in Israel, and I have two children to feed. And I’m afraid that I would lose my job and they’d be in some kind of danger financially.”

As soon as he said that, I didn’t want to play basketball anymore, because my needs had shifted. I said, “Thank you, I don’t want to play now because I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble.” The amazing thing was that as soon as I said that and sat down, he came back and said, “I’m no longer playing. I’m leaving and I didn’t see anything, okay?” So, he left and I took his place. He felt my generosity of spirit and he wanted to give to me. That’s how we can get a precious cycle going, instead of the vicious cycles.

Do you see our world, our economy, our communities changing towards more of this authentic model of communicating?

On a global level, if I watch CNN, it sure doesn’t look that way. But if I look at the communities that are springing up, the organizations and the businesses that are arising based on models of authenticity and trust, I see exciting things happening. We are learning how to communicate not from “power over” but from “power with” each other. This creates what Rupert Sheldrake called “morphogenetic fields” in these organizations that are very creative and uplifting. You can feel it when you step into the building of an organization that has this kind of energy going.

I’ve just started my own intentional community here in California. We bring in groups of people to learn technologies for creating supportive, connected, tolerant and transparent tribes of people, whether they be in a business or a church or a living arrangement.

People learn how to deeply connect with each other and create this morphogenetic field together. They experience love for each other in a very sweet way. Some of the technologies we use we call GEL, Group Energy Learning. How do you create trust in a group? How do you get good communication going? How do you heal the miscommunications and conflicts that come up and help people deal with their deep core issues around work, creativity, love and trust, so that they can form a tight, creative, productive unit living life fully?

Can you give some tips on how to develop trust within a group and build partnerships?

There are a lot of technologies for building a sense of community and connectedness on the ground level of our being. We may do some group projects and not even study consensus building. Perhaps we’ll make dinner together and we might even do it silently, just to start to feel a sense of trust and connection with each other. And then, later on, learn how to start using words to try to create consensus and build projects.

Another little technique is something called WPA—Withhold, Paranoia and Assumptions. In a group of ten or twelve, you have people talk to each other; then you have them think about what they are withholding. “What is it that you are not saying?” When they express that withhold, the other person simply says, “Thank you for sharing,” without going into it or processing it, making it safe to reveal these withholds.

Or someone might say, “Hey, I have this paranoia that you think I’m a lousy dresser. I just want to check it out and see if it’s true.” And the other person will say yes or no, whatever the truth is. It’s a way of getting honesty on the table, because it’s in transparency that we create trust, especially around money or sexuality. Those are the areas it’s most important to be transparent about, because they are where people have most fear and shame. Transparency means being proactive in revealing that which is scary or shameful to reveal.

What kind of impact would that have on our global economy and the growing gap between haves and have-nots?

The best thing we can do is to get into an empowered place within ourselves, a place of knowing that we can have everything we want. That’s when we tap into the morphogenetic field or sacred matrix of abundance, the abundance of the universe. From that place, we can inspire others to find their own infinite potential and allow them to shift to a give-and-receive economy instead of a buy-and-sell economy.

I’ve done this for myself for the past twenty-five years. I don’t charge for anything I do. Instead, I give my time and energy out to people and allow them to give to me. I make clear what I need and stay with the negotiation until we both feel wonderful about what we’ve agreed upon. I don’t tell somebody whose daughter is dying from anorexia, “Sorry, it’s $150 to see me and if you don’t have it, that’s too bad.”

I happen to counsel one Hispanic couple for $7 per session. I have another lady who gives me $600 for a private session because that’s what she is happy to give. When working with that couple, I feel like a wealthy king who has these riches to give to people. It puts me in a state of abundance and from that place I attract even more because I’m aligned with abundance. That’s where we want our consciousness to dwell.

My goal is to bring together groups of people who want to step up into that deliberate creation space and learn technologies for getting in touch with their passion to give and receive. Because in that passion, there’s no resistance and things manifest very quickly. The possibilities are endless and the most fun is just learning how to do it.