Do you know about the ten keys to wellbeing? Our wellbeing consultant, Jen Wood, shares her thoughts on bridging difference and how we can take practical steps to build bridges.

All religions, all this singing, one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity. The sun’s light looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall, and a lot different on this other one, but it’s still one light. -Rumi

"The third Pillar of Wellbeing, according to the University of Berkley, is Bridging Difference. I hesitate as I start to write this, as I realise it is an emotive subject. However, I understand the need to belong, and the suffering of exclusion and isolation, from my work at The Yard as well as my private practice. Being able to accept difference and foster connection is one of the most important keys of wellbeing for our culture.

I’m not going to write about the danger of tribalism and prejudice here, as there has been so much written about this already, by more eloquent writers who have more personal experience. Instead, I’m going to focus on practical steps we can take to build bridges. More specifically, I’m going to focus on one approach I find extremely helpful.

When I work with clients, I use Marshall Rosenberg’s inspired system of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), sometimes described as a language of compassion. NVC is based on the fundamental principle that underpinning all human actions are needs we are all seeking to have met.

Understanding and acknowledging these human needs can build a shared basis for connection, cooperation and more harmonious relationships. When we bridge difference and understand each other at this deeper level of our needs, we realise that we have far more similarities than differences. We generally want to feel safe, to be accepted for who we are, to belong and to be loved, and this connection and common humanity creates compassion.

When we focus on needs (Giraffe language) – without interpreting, criticising, blaming, condemning or demanding (Jackal language) – we become more creative and solution focused. Conflicts, confusion and misunderstanding can be resolved.

The Giraffe language of NVC includes two parts: authentic honest expression, and empathy and hearing what others need.

One example of NVC Giraffe language in action might be, ‘When you come home and don’t speak to me or look at me, I feel invisible and rejected, and I have a need for connection’. The Jackal version of this statement might be ‘When you ignore me, you make me feel invisible'.  The first statement is more likely to encourage reconciliation, while the second may trigger defensiveness and contradiction.

Summary of Principles of Nonviolent Communication 

  1. State specific actions you observe in yourself or the other person.
  2. State the feeling that the observation is triggering in you. Or, guess what the other person is feeling, and ask. 
  3. State the need that is the cause of that feeling. Or, guess the need that caused the feeling in the other person, and ask. 
  4. Make a concrete request for action to meet the need just identified.


If we can use NVC to foster connection in society, rather than become more polarised, we will give ourselves the best hopes of thriving. How could you use compassionate communication to help to bridge difference today?"

(Source: Greater Good Science Centre, UC Berkeley)

Jen Wood is an emotional wellbeing coach, therapist and mindfulness teacher with 20 years’ experience. She is also our wellbeing consultant at The Yard. Jen is offering weekly bite-sized videos sharing mindfulness techniques and wellbeing tools for our members. For more information about Jen, visit