Dr Marshall Rosenberg on Managing Conflict Through Non-violent Communication

Thursday 24th April 1997

Belgrave Square, London



Non-violent communication is a compassionate and empowering process of communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg, a professor of clinical psychology in the USA. It is based on the premise that we can communicate more effectively when we express what is going on within ourselves without criticising, judging or attacking others, that to assert ourselves with power does not need to involve coercing others, and that people enjoy contributing to the well-being of others if they do so willingly.


Dr Marshall Rosenberg grew up in Detroit in the 1940s amidst corruption and violence. He studied patterns of behaviour of people who dealt with others constructively to create his own model of compassionate communication.


Applications of this approach could include

·         Enlisting co-operation when introducing change and mediating conflict

·         Identifying more accurately with the needs of clients or colleagues

·         Communicating in ways that can increase morale in a company

·         Creating mutual understanding among people form diverse backgrounds

·         Understanding messages even when they are communicated with hostility.


The emphasis during this event was on exploring practical group work based on this approach. Examples were drawn from Marshall's work with business people, parents, teachers, politicians, police, students, prisoners and urban gangs world-wide, most recently in Israel, Ireland and the former Yugoslavia.



Notes from Tony Page's diary on Friday 25th April 1997

A very inspiring and memorable session yesterday with Marshall Rosenberg. He is a clinical psychology Dr from US but currently working all over the world on conflict resolution in hot spots promoting Non Violent Communication (NVC). He worked in 24 countries last year including Rwanda, Israel, Ireland and Russia. He made a big impression on Garth Spiers at the UN back in 1992/3 because I remember Garth telling us about Jackals and Giraffes.


I found myself standing next to Marshall in the coffee area before the session. I asked if he remembered Garth but he did not. The small talk was a little awkward, there was a deep, dark sadness about Marshall, not much sign of sparkle or lightness. Does he pick this up from the tough and violent places he works or perhaps he has always been like that?


Conversation pitter pattered around. He asked me about what I did. He said I could have helped him make his book more interesting as the publishers kept saying they were falling asleep and hadn’t finished reading it! I said hang on, I’m here today to learn rather than do work. He said you charge for that kind of thing right? I felt we were missing each other in this interchange. With hindsight perhaps he was reacting to me as a jackal when I was trying to be a giraffe?


Anyway the session was brilliant. It was a one man multimedia show including hand puppets, role plays, real issues worked on live in the large group, guitar music and songs. Marshall is not the greatst singer or guitar player, but that is part of the point. This was sincere, vulnerable, heart to heart communication.


I do not know where to begin describing the day but I will try to provide a succinct yet full description because I want to share it with others. What stands out?


The natural condition of humans....

     is giving to each other, and compassion (migrant farm worker giving orange to child, kissed it first, he said “I’ve learned never to give unless you give from the heart”)

     Human beings are happiest when they are in their natural condition of giving.

     Young children have this but we lose it quickly as we grow up.

     Young children communicate their feelings and needs clearly but as we grow up we lose this ability and we lose our generosity. Around 10% of population seem not to lose it. Why?


A metaphor of Giraffes and Jackals

     Giraffes are giving...

     they have the biggest heart, they work from the heart but Jackals have small hearts and work from the head

     Jackals snipe at you defensively, saying you’re wrong, you’re not normal, classifying you all the time, bureaucratic talk, I had to, superior orders, company policy, shoulds/have tos, normal/abnormal, right/wrong

     Jackal is excellent for running a class/caste system or a company in which a few people want to dominate many, if that is what we want...

     Giraffe language is Non Violent Communication, very honest, from the heart, very assertive, direct, invitation not demand, not necessarily nice because nice can actually be violence creating in disguise.


A critical question for us

     in each moment, do we want to be right or happy?

     Or as Sufi poet says: “there's a place beyond rightness and wrongness....I’ll meet you there!”.


Principles of heart to heart communication

     it’s simple in concept but difficult to sustain

     relies on seeing the beauty in the other person

     it’s about communicating at the level of FEELINGS and NEEDS, heart to heart, respecting that I have feelings and needs and so do you, communicating mine honestly and giving good attention to yours without trying to control, persuade or manipulate you

     keeping attention to 4 things and getting other person to also

1. Observation

2. Feeling (without judgement mixed in)

3. Need (without blaming other)

4. Request ( a chance to make the other person's life more wonderful)


Example of someone behaving in conflict with your needs and values

     We each found an example from our own experience and worked up a succinct communication which was specific and focused on feelings and need, in other words a heart to heart, giraffe communication.

1. Observation: Wil saying "Nancy, you're an idiot"

2. Express Feeling: “Wil, I feel angry when you say that.”

3. Express Need: “Because I need fairness”

4. Specific Request: “Would you be willing to speak to Nancy nicely from now on?”.

     It was not easy to get clean observations, feelings and needs without mixing in judgement of the other person.

     Feelings that are tinged with judgement include let down, foolish, manipulated, used, ignored. There are not feelings but what you think others are doing to you. There is an implied criticism of self or other person in each of these.

     Spanish is a language that is full of great subtlety of feelings words, a symphony compared with tin-whistle of English/American. More feeling you have the more alive you feel.


Marshal commented on emotions people expressed:

     When you feel ANGER it is a sign of becoming disconnected from your heart.

     When you feel FEAR, you display signs that increase the chance of feared event happening to you.


What feelings we experience are determined by a CRITICAL CHOICE between 2 kinds of ears we can have: jackal or giraffe....

     Jackal ears facing outwards, seek evidence of wrongness in the other person, “you shouldn’t talk to me in this way”, driven by anger, make other person feel inadequate, provide other person with anger....

     Jackal ears facing inward, look for evidence of wrongness in yourself, stir up in you feelings of shame, self hate, guilt, depression

     Giraffe ears inward help you connect with your own needs

     Giraffe ears outward help others connect with their needs and your needs


Central question for Giraffes: what can I do to make life more wonderful for you?

     There is pleasure in giving and therefore pleasure in being given to

     The alternatives to being a giraffe include becoming a nice dead person or a nasty one.

     Giraffe consciousness means taking responsibility for your own intent and actions then enjoy other person freaking out!


The morning had been about being a Giraffe. The afternoon was about how to handle Jackals freaking out at your Giraffe behaviour.


Story of a child playing outside flats under eye of older lady neighbour.

     Mother comes out to call the child in to dinner. Calls gently. No response from the child still absorbed in play. A few moments later mother calls again, still calmly. But still no response.

     Old lady asks the child “did you hear your mother calling?” Child answers “yes”. Old lady: “why don’t you answer then?” Child: “She’s not screaming yet!”

     Jackals occupy a win/lose world, which is self-fulfilling as in the story of the mother and child. Blame, punishment and guilt are all around them.

     Giraffes are open, making themselves vulnerable, honest without duress, assertive without demanding. When you have your Giraffe ears outward you realise there really are no Jackals! You see the truth and beauty in other people. Jackals are Giraffes with a language problem.


Moscow policeman...

     ..said to Marshall, “what is this Giraffe and Jackal stuff. You’re telling us that when a guy spits at us we have to say it’s raining!”


Practising empathy

     Seeing the beauty in the other person regardless of how they are communicating is called EMPATHY

     this does not mean agreeing, or liking but giving the other person our PRESENCE

     when you are in empathy you cannot hear blame or criticism because if you can, you are not PRESENT

     Giraffe ears take our presence to other person's feelings and needs

     the more ugly the Jackal the more beautiful the Giraffe behind it

     Video “How to love Hitler”


Jackals could be expected to respond to some of our Giraffe statements ..

     by hearing a demand

     by providing an uninvited diagnosis/criticism eg you’re so sensitive, you’re paranoid

     by babbling on and on...Marshall calls this "Babylonian, onanonymous"!

     “you don’t care about me”

     “why are you attacking me”

     no answer

     “I can’t....”


There is a piece of advice: never put your BUT in the face of an angry Jackal..

     A previous course participant ran a centre for the homeless in Chicago. Junkie came in asking for a bed for the night. She said “sorry we’re full”.

     He pulled out a knife, put it to her throat and dragged her to the floor saying “I want a bed and I want some respect, if I can’t get someone to show me some respect then I just have to get some my own way”.

     She said she was tempted to say "I would like to but..." and stopped herself remembering she should never put her but in the face of an angry Jackal, so instead…and here Marshall’s advice is to guess the other persons feelings and needs as closely as you can then to ask them like this...

     she said, with the knife to her throat: “are you feeling angry because you need someone to tell you the truth?”

     he responded: “you’re right I’m angry, and I’m going to get some respect.” and then the conversation continued for 20 minutes each time with her reflecting back the feelings and needs as a question to which he responded.


Exercise working on the world’s most ugly Jackal response

     Jackal message - giraffe response. The challenge is to hear Jackal’s message as an expression of other person's feelings and needs, to hear a hurting Jackal where the hurt was not caused by us.

     Tendency for giraffe to become Fixit Jackal, giving advice when other person just wanted to be heard and understood.

     Mostly people just need empathy, our presence not our advice. Once they have got in touch with what they want, most of their questions go away.


Example1: Mother just confronted by daughter about her need for closeness

Mother: “Are you FEELING disturbed/frightened about what I’ve just said..

..because you’re NEEDING the familiarity of our usual mode of conversation”


Example 2: Girlfriend complaining about her problem boyfriend who has lost his job

Girlfriend: “Are you FEELING frustrated and worried..

.. because you are NEEDING more stability in your life?”


Surfing down the iceberg!

     Idea is to connect with "tip of the iceberg feeling" and to ride the surf board. You don’t tell the wave where to go!. Hook in to the energy of the other person and they take you down through the iceberg of feelings.

     This is a process, not a static analysis. Sometimes there are just 2 levels and it’s over, complete.

     Sometimes you have to go through 32 or 52 levels.

     When it’s over its clear. The other person feels finished, a sense of relief. “OK, is there anything more?” “No”. “OK, lets close then”.


Role pay with Simon.

     Most feared response: “Oh Simon you’re so sensitive”

     Simon: “Are you feeling exasperated with me?” = Jackal, ears inward

     vs “Are you feeling exasperated because this is not a good time ..or you need attention in some other area right now?” = Giraffe, ears outward


When to say feelings out loud and when not to?

     Remember intent is to connect with the beauty in the other person

     If you’re not sure of their feelings and needs, then inquire out loud

     if you’re sure, then no need to say it, just communicate your presence with your eyes

     if other person has made themselves vulnerable, reflect back to say I’m with you

     eg. old lady in home repeating I want to die, over and over until someone reflected back feeling and need

     NEVER ASK how the other person is feeling, always guess and if you are wrong they usually volunteer more. If they just say no, then tell your feelings and make a request.


What to do when the Giraffe ears won’t go on

     Sometimes we’re in pain ourselves and need empathy

     you can’t keep giving understanding if you're not getting it yourself

1. Take a deep breath, becoming in an instant aware of your anger, of what is behind your anger. This is self-empathy, it is emergency first aid

2. Take time out, phone call to your help line person

3. Scream in giraffe, pure feelings and needs: "I’m so frustrated because I need my feelings to be understood!"


Example dialogue 1

J: that hurt me

G: are you feeling hurt because you are needing to be close?

J: Yes


Example dialogue 2

J: You’re so bloody arrogant

G: Are you feeling angry because you need recognition?

J: You’re the most narcissistic...

G: You’re so angry, I’m scared now...


G: Are you needing recognition and feeling hopeless about whether you’re ever going to get it

     In this example, anger is moving down the iceberg into hopelessness.



     You can tolerate almost any pain provided empathy is there. It’s a whole different experience if others are there for you.

     The more violent the message, the more pain behind it, and the more need to listen for longer

     Gift of space is the most precious gift (Martin Buber?)

     When you get to the bottom of your iceberg you feel totally understood in that moment and there is relief of the need for connection

     Key question: What is the other person feeling and needing in this moment?

     Key way of helping: Connect with the life that is going on right now!


Depressed jackal

     not getting your needs met

     depression is the reward for being good

     vague language that is putting others into paradoxical binds


Pulling a jackal by the ears, getting empathy from a jackal

will you tell me what you heard me say?”


Example dialogue 3: hurting jackal, dog died. Fixit jackal:

     "you can always get another, it's only a stupid dog"

     "yes I understand how you feel. I used to have a dog called Spot" ( babbling on for 20 mins...)

     "I’m sure he’s with God now"

     "better off without him"


Example dialogue 4: Fixit jackal. To lady bereaved

     "You’re such an attractive person, you could always get someone else"

     Giraffe response: “So you’re really hurting and want greater sensitivity to your needs”. Wait for response. “So I suppose I’ve just got to get on with it.”


Mourning in Giraffe

     I’m sad because

     I’ve been in a lot of pain myself

     Giraffe never says sorry or blames themselves

     I feel very sad because I would like to have been more aware of your needs

     = honestly face their suffering and fact of not behaving in line with their values



     I’m sorry comes out of Jackal ideology. Wretched sinners, confessing, repeating, forgiving. Ugly rotten creatures. Implies that only growth comes from shame and guilt not from compassion.

     Giraffe says:  “I regret...I would have liked...” This retains responsibility for self. Hurts more.


Buddha: "Don’t just do something, stand there"

     especially appropriate when other person says "what should I do"

     when someone asks Marshall what should I do, Marshall tries to reframe question to choices, finding out what they really want. When they connect with their own needs. no longer want advice = GOOD CONSULTANCY


Giraffes are not nice but honest, emotionally honest


The test of whether it was a Demand or a Request is....

     how you are treated if you say no

     if you are given the opportunity to express your feelings and needs, that is a Giraffe response

     more usually the requestor hears no as a rejection, that is through Jackal ears


Patterns of REBELLION AND SUBMISSION in a Jackal world of coercion

     Teenagers often say "I don't care" which is rebellion. When you say you're angry with a teenager saying “I don’t care”, they hear your expression of anger as a guilt trip, ie. you’re trying to make them feel guilty for giving you this anger = manipulation


Marshall worked in a school for “socially and emotionally maladjusted” kids.

     He commented that this label was ridiculous and gives permission to the kids to have fun.

     First day kids at window shouting out to other kids in playground. Marshall says "I’d like you to come over and sit at your desks". Some sit down. 2 don’t. He repeats request. They still ignore. Then Marshall says: “Did you hear what I said?” “Yes”. “Will you repeat what I said". "You said we HAD to come over and sit down.”

     Marshall’s point was that they heard his request as a demand. He then continued and resolved the situation with the following statement, addressing the child: “Sir, can I let you know what I want? I want you to sit down at your desk and start the class. If you needs differ from mine let me know.”


Most feared responses to Giraffe statements:

     other person says no


     you don’t care about me

     you’re sick

     you’re over sensitive

     you’re wrong


Win/lose or win/win

     Jackals adopt win/lose stance which become self-fulfilling producing anger, blame, punishment, guilt

     Giraffe stance is open, vulnerable, honest without duress, assertive without demands. You see BEAUTY in others. There really are no jackals, just Giraffes with a language problem.



How Giraffe can help us CELEBRATE being human

     celebrate consists of saying and receiving thank you

     there are only 2 messages from all living creatures (whether plants, dogs, babies or grown ups): PLEASE and THANK YOU

     so far today has been about Please. About saying Please powerfully to generate compassion. We knew how to do this until we were 1 year old then we forgot. Instead we learned the complex and suicidal language of the Jackal. Today we have been getting back to our natural language centred on feelings and need.

     now lets look at Thank you


Thank you in Jackal is

     “You are a very kind person”

     “Good report”

     “You are very attractive”

     These remarks are judgmental and dehumanising, turning people into things because they imply an opposite exists and the thanker takes the aura of judge

     Studies of management show that praise works, but only for a very short time until people sense manipulation

     all judgements are tragic expressions of needs


Thank you in Giraffe is

     An intent to celebrate life. One life has been made more wonderful and we want to celebrate this fact.

     All Giraffe thank yous are variations of Observation/Feeling/Need

1. Observation: specifically what we do value

2. Feeling: what pleasure or other pleasant feeling we gained

3. Needs: what needs of ours were fulfilled

     Just plain “thank you” is a lazy giraffe comment!


Receiving appreciation

     tendency to do this also in Jackal ways like “It was nothing”, “De nada”.

     Why? I didn't know I deserved it. This is humility. But what's wrong with humility? Golda Meir, former Israeli premier said “Don’t be so humble - you're not that great!”. Mandela said “It’s our light not our darkness that scares us.”

     shrinking does not really help anyone!


Session closed with spontaneous expressions of appreciation to Marshall.