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Living effective + compassionate communication vs performing the skills of NVC

Embodying NVC philosophy + Intentions

If you have been exploring the work of Nonviolent Communication (OR Compassionate and Authentic Relating as I like to call it) for a while now, and you notice that there are some really clunky parts to this method that are not working smoothly for you. Then welcome to being human! It is very likely that as you try to integrate your learning and the skills that you value from this “method”, that you can fall into a performative way of listening or expressing.

This performance or cognitive, brain based way of moving through the 4 steps, is inevitable in almost all people who learn this way of life. Because you are being asked to re-frame your thinking patterns and undo the conditioning towards reactive judgments in order to keep you safe and a part of the modern tribe.

However, this step in the learning curve can put many people off from diving deeper and actually embodying the essence of NVC. The reactions of other people as you try on this new way of communicating, can be uncomfortable to be with. Their dislike or annoyance with your efforts to connect from the heart, can tip us into despair or even lead you to disregarding NVC all together.

So what can you do to support a more natural way of engaging in communication?

I love to recognise the 2 polarities in how I show up when I am intending to embody NVC:

Being vs Doing.

In recognising the attitudes and energetics that I bring into either of these ways of interacting, I can be more aware of my intention, focus and energy when I approach communication with the wish to embody the essence of authentic and compassionate communication that is at the core of NVC philosophy. I hope that in sharing my examples with you, you might check your own inner signals that show you if you are closer to a state of being or doing NVC.

A short example of “Doing vs Being” Giraffe / NVC: It is important to me that these are seen as examples and that neither option is correct or right. That the way that I choose to be connected to NVC in these examples are not my preferred ways or even better options. So please read these examples as only offering 1 perspective, reaction or option on either side of the Doing / Being spectrum.

A very short piece on NVC terms for those of you who are new to it:

Giraffe = the animal that represents a language of hearing and expressing feelings and needs in NVC

Jackal = is the animal that represents a language / perspective of judgment and blame in NVC

These way's of being are inter connected, the Jackal voice is always attempting to care for feelings and needs, it simply doesn't know how to do so effectively. The giraffe is expressing the feelings and needs that drive the Jackle, therefore supporting us to stay connected to the beautiful messages that the Jackal is desperately trying to express.


A friend expresses their opinion about cheating in relationships. I notice that their opinion is quite the opposite from my own.


Hearing their opinion, I feel curious to understand them and hear why they think the way that they do, whilst also wanting to share my perspective. I totally trust that we can stay connected even if we have opposing views and I am not in a hurry to express my opposing view. My natural movement is to listen and connect with their heart and what drives them first (because I have the skill and space to do so - I may equally choose to express first) I also want to care for the part of me that wants to express my view and so I tell them that I also have a point of view I would like to express, but first I am curious to understand them more. I support us to find a way where both of us will be heard and it feels joyful for me to explore this with them. I notice that trust and curiosity is what inspires me to stay connected to my inner giraffe and focus on listening to their heart and caring for mine simultaneously.


When I hear my friends' opinions I am frustrated and anxious to have my voice heard too and defend the opposite point of view. Yet I remember reading somewhere that if I just go on the defense without connecting first then I am likely to lose connection.. So I try to remember the 4 steps of NVC and I listen to them speaking whilst making an effort to reflect back their feelings and needs, being really careful to NOT agree with any of their opinions so that they do not think they are right. I also notice that a part of me wants to move them towards their needs with my empathy, so that they realise that their opinion is an enactment of their needs (therefore secretly proving them to be wrong - just a little bit..). I find this “listening” to be unsustainable for me and so I decide to move into self expression because it feels urgent for me to protect my point of view. I try to follow the 4 steps again and use nonjudgmental language and focus on my needs. There is a pressure behind my words that makes it hard for them to flow.. I am trying to get this right but I so want to feel free to express myself naturally.

A few of the key differences that show up for me are: (there are many more)

Doing Giraffe

  • I am acting rather than flowing / performance

  • I believe / speak / act from a place of “should” internally / “I should be more NVC / Giraffe now”, whilst I do not feel connected to Giraffe ( an animal that represents needs based thinking / expression in NVC) energy from within.

  • I secretly hate / am Jackaling the other person whilst I attempt to speak Giraffe to them, often through clenched teeth! .

  • I am a lot more conscious of the 4 step model and I am trying to USE it rather than embody it.

  • Sometimes I am using Giraffe in order to get what I want - “If I speak Giraffe they will be nicer to me / I can change their perspective..”

Being Giraffe:

  • Empathy: flows, when someone is using language that I deem to be judgmental. I want to understand them and I feel a real curiosity to connect.

  • Self Expression: I am not so much thinking about the correct words / steps to use in order to communicate my needs, I am connected to my needs and my requests seem to flow from possibility and creativity rather than attachment to outcome.

  • Hearinga NO: I am really not attached to my favorite ways to meet my needs, there may be sadness, mourning, disappointment present when someone says no to my request, and yet again I respect their NO and trust that there certainly will be other ways for us / me to meet our needs together or individually.

  • Feedback: I am truly interested in the impact of my behavior / choices on others - I want to know / learn and I am able to connect with any guilt / shame that I may feel and find ways to empathise with myself and create space for their experience whilst caring for the part of me that wants compassion too.

I am very curious if when reading these examples you feel a sense of right or wrong / good or bad ? Or perhaps some shame and guilt arises in you as you look at your own reactions in similar situations? Maybe you feel frustrated and annoyed with the examples as they do not reflect your needs?

I would love to hear what comes up for you as you read this blog post and how you experience yourself differently when you are in the states of Being and Doing NVC consciousness?

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