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What is Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and Why It’s Useful to Learn?

Updated: May 1

friends talking

Tired of arguing with loved ones? Do you sometimes feel unsure how to express what’s bothering you to a friend? Ever feel frustrated about how a conversation went in the wrong direction? Well, you have come to the right place. Learning what Non Violent Communication (NVC) is can be a handy tool to have in your toolbox. NVC is a theory that was created by a clinical psychologist and human rights activist Marshal Rosenburg. He believed that there are two ways to communicate and process information: to listen with Jackal Ears or Giraffe Ears. He invites people to learn how to tune their ears and become fluent in Giraffe by learning four steps. The four steps are: (1) Observation, (2) Identifying Feelings, (3) Identifying Needs, and (4) Making a Request. By the end of this blog, you will be able to better distinguish between Jackal Ears and Giraffe Ears, and be able to begin practicing the four steps in Giraffe Language. 

What are Jackal and Giraffe Ears?

Jackal Ears according to Dr. Rosenburg is when human beings are speaking and listening to one another through the lens of “violence.” It can be described as black-and-white thinking such as “my way or the high way” or “you are either with me or you are against me.” If we are using Jackal ears we may not be realizing that we are in a position of being defensive. When one is in a position of defensiveness the person speaking to us may be seen as a “threat” and are the “enemy.” Dr. Rosenburg used the Jackal as a metaphor because it is a way of listening and responding to others who may come from a place of judgment, blaming, competition, and revenge-seeking.

Scenario: A clerk at a bank informs the customer that they need proof of identification before sharing with them information about their account. The customer forgot their wallet at home. 

Blank Clerk: “I’m sorry sir, I won’t be able to share details of your account without an ID. It is part of the bank policy and is meant to protect customers’ information. The bank is open till 5 pm if you have the opportunity to come back later?”

Jackal Ears: “This bank is so unprofessional. I had to drive here because you guys made an error, and now you are telling me there is nothing you can do for me. I’m going to close out all my accounts and take my business elsewhere.” 

Giraffe Ears according to Dr. Rosenburg is when human beings are speaking and listening to one another through the lens of “love.” He used a Giraffe as a metaphor because it has the largest heart out of any land animal. He invited people to learn the language of Giraffe because it is rooted in a place of compassion, gratitude, peace, and unconditional positive regard. He encouraged people to learn how to listen with their hearts when responding to others. 

Scenario: A person is grateful for their friend helping console them after breaking up with their partner. 

Friend: “Hey if you need to talk feel free to call me or text me. I may be busy with work, but I will get back to you as soon as I can. 

Giraffe Ears: Thank you (gratitude) for letting me know that you will be available (observation) to let me share about my break up. I feel comforted (feeling), knowing that I have friends who support (need) me during a vulnerable moment. 


friends talking at the lake

How to Practice the Four Steps in Giraffe Language?

Step 1: Observation: When you can make an observation of something factual and concrete without making assumptions. 

Example: Non-observation: “You must be starving?” vs. Observation: “I noticed that you didn’t eat dinner last night.”

Step 2: Identifying Feelings: Take ownership of your feelings by using “I” statements. The “I” statements go after what you observed. 

Example: Not Identifying Feeling: “You never help me with the cooking!” vs. Identifying Feeling: “I felt confused when I didn’t see you in the kitchen, because you shared you were going to help cook dinner.”

Step 3: Identifying Needs: Going deeper and identifying what is truly important to you at that moment. 

Example: Not Identifying Needs: “How come I have to always be the one cooking?” vs. Identifying the Need: “It’s important to me to spend quality time together, and I enjoy bonding with you over cooking recipes together.”

Step 4: Making a Request: Stating a positive, specific, and achievable action that you are inviting (not demanding) the other person to do.

Example: Making a Demand: “I expect you to make dinner every night with me.” vs. Making a Request: Can we work together in planning what nights work with both of our schedules to cook together?”

In the spirit of Giraffe language, we hope we can all be better at recognizing when our Jackal ears are coming out, and do our best to replace it with our Giraffe ears. Thank you for taking the time to learn about NVC, and we hope listening and responding with our hearts can become contagious. 

For more tips, please check out our other tips here You can always find us at 954-903-1676 for counseling services. 


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