Alexandra Dobbs
Sophrologist and Hypnotherapist
Alexandra Dobbs
Sophrologist and Hypnotherapist

How to better communicate

two sheep facing each other

Non-violent communication, or the story of the jackal and the giraffe

Who has never been hurt by words, never been caught in misunderstandings, never sought to have the last word, never regretted their words?
I propose here some historical elements and principles concerning Non Violent Communication (NVC) not as a miracle recipe but rather as a starting point to reflect on and to improve and develope more constructive relationship with ourselves and with others.

Communicating without judging or accusing

Marshall Rosenberg, doctor of clinical psychology is the founder of the theory of non-violent communication. His starting assumption is : "all criticism, all aggression is the expression of an unmet need."

In his courses and conferences, Marshall Rosenberg used a jackal and giraffe puppet to illustrate his points. Jackal language is made up of criticism, manipulation and judgment. Giraffe language represents the language of the heart (because it is the land animal that has, proportionally, the biggest heart). Its long neck also allows it to gain height and see far off. The giraffe listens and expresses its feelings, makes requests and gives empathy. It knows how to assert itself. It does it with honesty. On the contrary, the jackal which is emblem of violence, is in the game of power. It labels, judges, classifies, makes diagnoses and demands. It controls others by playing on their feelings of guilt. But at the end of the day, jackals are just giraffes with a language problem.
While studying the factors that affect our ability to stay compassionate, Marshall Rosenberg was struck by the crucial role of language and our use of words. He then identified a specific approach to communicating—both speaking and listening—that leads us to give from the heart, connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish. He called this approach Nonviolent Communication, using the term nonviolence as Gandhi used it. While we may not  consider the way we talk to be "violent," words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or ourselves.

A way to focus attention

NVC is based on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. It contains nothing new; everything that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. NVC guides us to improve the way we express ourselves and listen to others. The intention is to replaceour old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, and have our responses based on awareness of what is being observed, felt, and needed. We are encouraged to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while giving respectful and empathetic attention to others.

The 4 steps of non-violent communication

1. Observe without judging
The first step is not easy. It consists in observing the situation from a little distance, without involving feelings or judgment, as if using a camera to record the sound and image of the conflict.

2. Express feelings in "I"
Secondly, being able to put into words what we felt during the conflict is essential. This often helps to explain why we got here. Generally, during an argument, several emotions overwhelm us. It is therefore very important to be able to target them to untangle the knots that exist in the relationship at that time.

3. Express your needs without talking about action
When we are in conflict with someone, it is sometimes because a need has not been heard or respected by the other person. It may be that we need to be alone or, conversely, need contact with others for example. If this need has not been clearly stated to the other person, it may trigger a conflict.

4. Ask without demanding
The last step is to ask each other something so that everyone comes out a "winner" from the discussion. In the case of a positive response, the relationship resumes serenely. If not, you need to be ready to review your request and come up with new ideas. The solution is co-constructed and negotiated.
For example, a mother might say to her teenage son:

1. Felix, when I see two balls of  soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV
2. I feel irritated
3. Because I  am needing more order  in the rooms  that we share in common.
4. Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine?

In the example above, it is the mother's expression that is based on the principles of NVC. But the whole process is also to listen to the other party in that same frameof mind and heart. As in all communication process, it is a two-way street. It is therefore about being ready to receive the same four pieces of information from the other person: we connect to him/her by first feeling what he observes, feels and what he needs; then we find out what would enrich his/her life by receiving his request.

Who is Marshall Rosenberg?

Marshall B. Rosenberg, (1934-2015), created and developed the process of non-violent communication in the 1960s. He was raised in Detroit, USA, where he witnessed racial tensions in his home town and where he was molested at school for anti-semitic reasons.
He never ceased after that to seek an answer to two fundamental questions: "If we human beings love so much to contribute to the well-being of each other, why do some of us generate so much violence and suffering in our interactions, even in their bonds with those they love? And conversely, what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature and cosntructive even under the most trying circumstances?"

It was from the answers he found to these two questions that Marshall Rosenberg developed non-violent communication. He traveled extensively, both in the United States and to many countries around the world, publicizing the NVC process wherever he was invited and contributing to reconciliation efforts and peace building in war-torn regions.

More information

  • The Center for Nonviolent Communication
  • A video of a non violent communication workshop led by Marshall Rosenberg 
  • Needs Inventory and Feelings Inventory : these lists are neither exhaustive nor definitive. It is meant as a starting place to support anyone who wishes to engage in a process of deepening self-discovery and to facilitate greater understanding and connection between people (


Sources :  The Center for Nonviolent Communicationwww.;www.

Photo credit: susanne_jutzeler__schweiz__de_pixabay_

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