Nonviolent communication: are you a Jackal or a Giraffe? | Stillman Translations
Nonviolent communication: are you a Jackal or a Giraffe?

Clinical Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg has a theory that may change your daily work. Are you a Jackal or a Giraffe?

Clinical Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg has a theory that may change your daily work 

Undergrad from the University of Michigan, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Wisconsin, civil rights activist, and mediator, Marshall Rosenberg’s career has led him to ask a very simple yet game-changing question: are you a Jackall or a Giraffe? 

But first, you’d need to know about his theory in more detail. A theory is known today as Nonviolent Communication (NVC). 

What is NVC? 

Nonviolent Communication is based on the principles of, spoiler alert, nonviolence. For this, it asks the person in question to conceive and assume that all who surround him are compassionate. This means assuming that people in general “come in peace”, and that the default state of human nature is that of peaceful intentions. Therefore, if we need to communicate, violent strategies are not necessary for getting my message through.  

This is somewhat related to the four agreements, a best-selling book that preaches we make no assumptions speak impeccably, do our best and not take anything personally. The end game of both theories is to create a less heavily charged environment where living and sharing in society becomes a more breezy task. In the same way, NVC sets a common ground. It assumes we all share the same basic human needs, and that all actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. If we understand our needs and take responsibility for where we stand, then greater understanding, deep connections, and more assertive conversations are bound to happen. Not to mention that conflict resolution becomes a goal achievable to most. 

This is a practice and a community present in over 65 countries around the globe. 

Why do we talk about Jackalls and Giraffes 

In the early days of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), two animals arose to exemplify why the atmosphere at work is not always good. Marshall Rosenberg notices competition, attitudes and tiny gestures can spark a bonfire. A flaky hello wave can be interpreted as much more. And in the end, who gets something out of this situation? The only result is suffering and an air you can cut through with a knife.  

But he also noticed some relationships strengthen instead of shredding the social fabric. Those that contemplate the needs of others and oneself. The communication of the Giraffe.  

The giraffe has the largest heart of any land animal. At the same time, it’s very strong and can fend for itself and others in a kick. It has a vision that can see beyond the immediate surroundings. And, maybe the most powerful symbol, on its palate that can dissolve thorns. 

In turn, the jackals represent our habitual way of speaking. One where there is judging, criticizing, analyzing, moralizing, and accusing. When communication is oriented to revenge, to demands, to offenses, with no space for reparation but only to make my point above others, then we are being Jackalls. Jackals seek to blame. Giraffes seek solutions that reunite.


Photo by MARIOLA GROBELSKA on Unsplash

What are the steps to NVC? 

That being said, there are ways to become Giraffes. Simple, step-by-step ways that we can integrate into our routines. The NVC Method Has Four Steps: 

  1. Observations 
  2. Feelings 
  3. Needs 
  4. Requests  

Each is linked to the next, and when they are all taken into account and executed, then you are communicating like an effective, big-hearted giraffe.  

1. Observation  

Communication starts with something you noticed and you’d like to point out to some others. The thing is, Jackals don’t make objective observations, they start out with a clear judgment. The observation step of NVC invites a mindfulness exercise observation. An invitation to express what we see previous to an evaluation. 

For example – 

“There are missing blanks in the form you turned in. Why did you do it in a rush?”  


“There are missing blanks in the form you turned in. What happened?”  

In one, I’m assuming the other person acted in a hurry, with an intention. Meanwhile, in the second, I am pointing out a fact and inviting, with no scorn, for an explanation. This way, the person has the freedom to shed light on the matter and not feel judged by the opening statement.  

2. Feelings 

When we presented NVC, we highlighted the common needs component. All actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. Feelings are the symptoms that give us an overview of our needs. They help us understand which of our needs are unmet. If I feel angry, there is something to dive into and understand. Why am I angry? Taking my observations into account, can I find the source of anger? Is it really anger?  

Once I can identify my feelings, I can take responsibility for them and work with them. 

3. Needs 

Once I have taken responsibility for my emotions, I can identify the underlying need. And because it is now a clear-cut thing, with observations to stand by it and feel I can explain, it becomes easier to communicate effectively without criticism or judgments. 

4. Requests 

Once we’ve completed this dance, we are ready to make a request in a positive, nonviolent language. What would you like from the other person?  

The complete formula would be: 

1. Observe:  

I see … / I hear … / the situation is …   

2. Feelings: 

This makes me feel … 

3. Need: 

Because I would like … / I need to… 

4. Request: 

Do you mind if … / Are you willing to do this …?   

That’s it. Now you can communicate smoothly like a Giraffe and phrase requests for all kinds of situations. If you need to take those situations into new languages, just make your request to us at Stillman. We’d love to help.