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Surviving Another Ho-Hum Day at the Office
By Melanie Sears, RN, MBA
I knew I was heading into a challenging situation when I arrived to an assignment on my favorite psychiatric unit only to be told that I was being re-directed to work in the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (Psych ICU). I gave myself some empathy for my disappointment, reminding myself that I had choice, and could always say “NO.” However, I also knew that my boss’s direction to float to Psych ICU was a demand, not a request, so any NO from me would likely have negative repercussions; I might even be fired. Keep reading this article below >>  
Transforming Enemy Images in the Workplace
By Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles

In our encounters with people in the workplace, we will inevitably find judgments arising of ourselves or others. I call these enemy images -- a term I have borrowed from Marshall Rosenberg. I have an enemy image whenever I have a judgment, diagnosis, or analysis of someone else or myself.
Keep reading this article below >>


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"It's critical for me to be able to slow down, take my time,to come from an energy I choose, the one I believe that we were meant to come from, not the one I was programmed into."

- Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

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Surviving Another Ho-Hum Day at the Office, continued

I decided that until I had a different strategy for meeting my financial and retirement needs, I would comply.

When I got to the Psych ICU, I was assigned a patient, Fred, who had a brain injury. When I walked into Fred’s room, he screamed, “Get out of here! Don’t touch me or I’ll cut off your nose!”

Since Fred was too weak to get out of bed, I felt my nose was probably safe. However, Fred’s arms were bent at the elbow and his hands fisted, and whenever I got near him, Fred let fly a punch. I needed the help of a couple staff people to hold down those fists so I could perform routine nursing care (diaper change, linens change, and repositioning).

During dinner, as I fed Fred, I wondered if it was possible to connect with him. I had an inspiration to sing, and launched into, “I’ve been Working on the Railroad...” Much to my delight, Fred began to sing along with me. I could tell he remembered some of the words, and I felt my heart open toward him.

When it was next time to care for Fred’s physical needs, I again asked a staff person to help me. But, when my face got too close to his unsupervised right hand, he slugged me hard in the mouth. I noticed that my first thoughts were murderous.

Trying to be kind, the nurse who helped me said “I’m sorry that happened to you,” but since I was holding onto some old resentment toward her I felt defended around her. Plus, I needed empathy at that moment, not sympathy.

As I continued to observe my internal state, I noticed that I no longer wanted to kill Fred; now I was mad at the system for keeping him alive so long after his brain injury. I knew that system “experts” had treated him for pneumonia numerous times and had even removed a lung to treat his lung cancer. I felt sorry for Fred, trapped in a damaged mind and voiceless in a system determined to keep him alive, no matter what.

Then I noticed that I felt emotionally hurt. My heart had opened to Fred just a wee bit, which set me up for emotional pain. I wanted to go someplace and cry, but the unit was short staffed and I could not leave.

All animals have a built in mechanism to release trauma. Animals in the wild will often shake and shiver after a traumatic event happens, and humans, too, need to be able to let their feelings out. One way humans release trauma, of course, is to cry and “get emotional.” Yet, Psychiatric nurses do our work in a ‘culture of toughness’ in which we are expected to be calm and stoic in all situations.

As nurses, we learn to view as “heroic” the silent, tearless, suffering of injury and we learn the habit of minimizing and ridiculing the soft human needs for connection, recognition, empathy, and care. Even while we are expected to be kind and empathetic toward our patients, we nurses condemn each other for expressing the need for kindness ourselves. This cruel double standard places us in an impossible situation. How can we be kind and empathic toward others when we ourselves don’t receive the empathy we need?

Back in the Psychiatric ICU the next evening, my lip still swollen from the assault, I was assigned to work with a patient who, earlier that day, had threatened to kill his doctor and Occupational Therapist. My first interaction with him happened right before dinner, when I found him on the floor in the TV room. He said he had fallen when he tried to transfer to his wheel chair. When I told him I could not lift him by myself and would need to call the lift team to get him off the floor, he cussed me out. I noticed that I felt scared, and that my fear was deepened by the recent assault. I concluded that I was storing trauma inside and needed to find some healing.

The next day, I made an appointment with a Nonviolent Communication Trainer to get some empathy. After expressing the full range of my feelings and being heard, the fear I felt dissipated. I reflected on how grateful I am to have found the tools of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and trainers who know how to make space for my feelings. Because of my exposure to NVC, I understand that my feelings are an alive and fluid part of who I am, and that when I deny my feelings, I deny my aliveness.

With some time for healing, I was also able to think about how I might better meet my needs for financial stability and meaning. I remembered to look forward with optimism to the September, 2010 release of my book Humanizing Health Care: Creating Cultures of Compassion with Nonviolent Communication. The publication of my book will help me to grow my business training health care businesses to create true cultures of care using the principles of Nonviolent Communication. I invite you to buy the book and schedule a training session for your organization so that you, too, can use the tools of Nonviolent Communication to stay healthy, human and whole – even on your most challenging of days.

Melanie Sears is the author of Humanizing Health Care: Creating Cultures of Compassion With Nonviolent Communication, scheduled for publication in September by PuddleDancer Press. A Registered Nurse, she has 27 years experience working within the health care industry. She is a CNVC certified Nonviolent Communication trainer, and active member of Northwest Nonviolent Communication in Seattle, Washington.

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"I understand that my feelings are an alive
and fluid part of who I am, and that when I deny
my feelings, I deny my aliveness. "

- Melanie Sears





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Transforming Enemy Images in the Workplace, continued

I like to work with enemy images because I do not like how I feel going about my daily life when I have them, or how I act when I’m thinking in enemy images and experiencing the feelings that are consistent with those thoughts.

These are examples of enemy images:

  • She does not care.
  • He is aggressive.
  • They are out to get me.
  • She is really smart.
  • He is better than me.
  • I screwed up.
  • I am great.
  • He is crazy.

All of these statements have a commonality -- they put yourself or others into a static box labeled with who or what they are.

The two main problems with enemy images are that they dehumanize and they tend to create exactly what I don’t want.

By dehumanize, I mean that any time we label someone in a static way, we limit their full humanity and then tend to interact with them out of this diminished idea of who they are. In doing so, we often find our expectations are borne out. For instance, if you go into a meeting with the expectation of a hostile reception, you will likely act and speak in ways that increase the likelihood that you will be received in the way you fear.

Now, you might be thinking, “So what if I think my boss is a jerk? As long as I don’t say or do anything to act on the thought, it doesn’t matter.”

In my experience, however, it matters a lot. In the mediation work that I do, when I have a judgment in my head, I can see disconnection beginning to happen in the room within moments. Whenever a person has a thought that they do not consciously disbelieve, their neurological system will release neurotransmitters that are consistent with that thought. Thus, our thoughts affect our feeling state, which in turn affects our micromovements, the rhythm of our speech, the words we choose, and the energy with which we deliver them. All of that together communicates on an unconscious level.

The Enemy Image Process
Once we are clear that we want to work with enemy images, the process is similar to other NVC processes. The first step is awareness: to realize that I have such judgments.

The idea behind the enemy image process is that if I’m having a judgment, it is an expression of unmet needs. In doing this process, I shift to evaluating whether my needs are met or not. If I can translate the judgment into the needs not met, I will have tapped into the power of the mind, once directed to what is desired, to diligently search for strategies that will meet my needs.

Self-empathy and silent empathy are the central components to the enemy image process. I get my need for empathy met by identifying the need or needs that I’m seeking to meet by making a judgment.

This is not an analytical process; instead, ask the question gently, perhaps with a list of needs in front of you. In a musing frame of mind, query yourself as to whether it might be this need or that need. This is typically an iterative process in which the self-inquiry is repeated over and over again; with each response, you use changes in your felt sense to guide you in further guesses as to what the need might be.

If I’m having a judgment of somebody else, then I practice silent empathy, which shifts the focus of my attention onto the needs of the other person by guessing what needs they might be seeking to meet by the conduct that I am judging. I do not have to be “right” about my guesses; the important thing is that I focus my attention on their needs as the motivation for their conduct. I am satisfied with this part of the process when I feel a certain resonance with my guess.

Enemy Images at Work
In the workplace, the opportunity to use the enemy image process comes up frequently.

For example, you might have an interaction with a co-worker that results in hurt feelings on both sides. In thinking about reengaging with that person, you become aware of having judgmental thoughts. You might want to use the enemy image process so that when you do attempt to reengage, you will not be leaking your judgments through your body language, words, and tone of voice. Since your need for empathy will have been met, you will be more likely to be able to listen to the other person before needing to be heard yourself.

Marshall Rosenberg refers to this as “empathy before education.” We are more likely to get our needs met when we are sufficiently open to hearing and connecting with the needs of others, when we help them get their need for empathy met before we try to express ourselves.

Another prime situation for using the enemy image process is in relation to a boss. When someone has authority over us—when their conduct can affect our well-being and our needs for sustainability through continuing employment—we often hold certain beliefs and judgments about them. These judgments can affect how we interact, and using the enemy image process helps keep our communication from becoming muddied with our fears and beliefs.

The enemy image process can be applied in many other workplace situations as well, and in this book we cover more specifics on such topics as humor, prejudice, power differentials, gossip, feedback and evaluations, workplace cleanliness, broken agreements, and termination of employment.

Ike Lasater, J.D., MCP, is the author of Words That Work In Business, a former attorney and cofounder of Words That Work, a consulting and training firm helping organizations achieve results through better communication and collaboration (www.wordsthatwork.us). He has worked with individuals and organizations in the US, Australia, Hungary, New Zealand, Pakistan, Poland and Sri Lanka. He is a former board member for the Center for Nonviolent Communication, and the Association for Dispute Resolution of Northern California, and the co-founder of the Yoga Journal magazine.

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"Our thoughts affect
our feeling state,
which in turn affects our micromovements,
the rhythm of our speech,
the words we choose,
and the energy with
which we deliver them."

- Ike Lasater









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Practice Pause:
Think of three specific instances
from your workplace when
the enemy image process
would have come in handy.