Thomas D’Ansembourg, Puddle Dancer Press, 2007
(review originally published Feb. 2009)
Being Genuine is simply stated, one of the best books I have read all year. It very clearly and effectively conveys a process for communicating with others in a genuine and non-judgmental way. Thomas D’Ansembourg is a student of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication Process but rather than simply restating Rosenberg’s principles, he enhances and adds a new dimension to non-violent communication based on his experience as a psychotherapist and youth counselor. Anyone who learns and practices his four simple steps will quickly discover that their everyday communication becomes clearer, less judgmental and less conflictual because they are taking responsibility for their feelings and actions and creating a space to connect. I have never come across an easier way to show people how they can get their needs met without fear of conflict.
Originally published in France in 2001, the English translation has only recently been published in North America. As D’Ansembourg cares deeply about the language he uses, the book is beautifully and elegantly written, a joy to read with a terrific translation. He wears several hats at appropriate times in the book. As a psychotherapist he delves into the psychology of why and how we become disassociated from ourselves. Being nice is a function of neglecting our needs, of not listening to ourselves so we can fulfill the needs of others. As a philosopher, D’Ansembourg examine larger theoretical issues of the individual in society and the meaning and value we place on language. As a coach, he is gentle and thoughtful but persistent as he guides us through our confusion and anxiety with practical, easy to follow steps and appropriate actions.
As one who reads a lot of self help books (and contributed to the genre) I am happy to say that this book is a cut above the rest. The principles he outlines are so basic and so crucial to good communication, every child should be taught them at an early age. He makes the point that if a fraction of military budgets were devoted to teaching communication skills, there would be fewer conflicts and less crimes of aggression. So go our priorities. The basic problem is more of us are taught to ‘be nice’ rather than to be genuine. The result is that we grow up servicing the needs of others and even when we know something is wrong, we lack the language and the skills to be our authentic selves. As a coach I see this “servicing” behavior all too often. Having a resource like Being Genuine makes my task of transforming clients easier.
I can best describe Being Genuine as a highly readable manual of authentic communication, full of examples, theory and genuine warmth. D’Ansembourg describes the four steps:
- Observation: We are reacting to something we observe, we hear, or we’re saying to ourselves
- Feeling: The above observation generates within us one or more feelings.
- Need: The feelings guide us to our needs.
- Request: Aware now of our needs, we can make a request or implement concrete action.
That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. The trick for the learner of being genuine is to break free of old beliefs and patterns but this can be done with a bit of awareness and some practice. D’Ansembourg believes that what passes today for communication is aggressive and violent. For instance when judgments and blame come up, it’s like slamming a door in the conversation. The receiver of this treatment usually responds defensively and often returns the blame and aggression. His method of communication is like opening a door and inviting your partner through it to come in and have a chat by the fire. But rather than waiting on them hand and foot, it’s about articulating your needs and feelings to help ensure that you get seen by the other. If their needs are not the same as yours then a compromise can be negotiated, but this is only possible when each side is aware of each other’s needs.
Although his respectful techniques may be a bit too touchy-feely for the office bully, the spirit of his teaching can easily be adapted and integrated into a clearer awareness of how humans communicate or more likely, fail to communicate. I have integrated D’Ansembourg’s simple and effective techniques into my coaching with great success, especially for clients who have spent too much of their lives being nice at their own expense. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to communicate authentically or to any professional who is in the business of working with clients who can use a boost in the communication area, which in my experience is just about everyone.
Bradley Foster is an experienced Toronto-based life and executive coach with clients on three continents. He is the author of Deep Coaching: A Guide to Self Directed Living and regularly contributes articles and reviews to magazines and journals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can visit his website at: www.giantstepscoaching.com.