Paul Tingen : Nonviolent Communication


Richard Moore

Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2005 10:16:34 -0700
Subject: note re: new posting policy
From: Jan Slakov <>
To: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>


The following comes from Paul Tingen's web site:

Welcome to the site of Paul Tingen, acclaimed 'Zen'
guitarist, author, and meditation teacher. You'll find
information on his acoustic guitar music, including MP3s,
on his book 'Miles Beyond' about the electric music of
Miles Davis, and some of his writings on music,
mindfulness, meditation, nonviolent communication, and
other life-serving topics. You can also find information
on this site about the healing and teaching activities of
Tingen's partner, Elena Marjanna Stevenson.


Imagine for a moment that you're on a peace mission in
Palestine and are holding a talk. Imagine that one of the
Palestinians in the audience suddenly jumps up, and starts
to yell at you, at the top of his voice: 'Murderer!'
'Assassin!' Before you know it, most of your 100-head
strong audience have joined in, and the situation becomes

How would you feel? What would you do? Some people may get
by on the strength of their presence, personality or
charisma, but most of us would be deeply grateful for a
strategy that offers a way to defuse the situation, and
more importantly, to connect with the hearts of the people
in the audience. After all, that's why you're there. The
news that I'd like to bring you in this article is that
such a strategy exists, can easily be learnt, and has been
proven to work. When it was applied in the above
situation, it was so effective that the person holding the
talk was invited for Ramadan supper by the very
Palestinian who first shouted "murderer!"

It happened to peace mediator Marshall Rosenberg a few
years ago. The strategy that he applied is called
'Nonviolent Communication,' or 'Compassionate
Communication.' It's also known as 'a language of the
heart', or 'giraffe,' because the giraffe has the largest
heart of any land-animal. Giraffes also have long necks
with which they can more easily see the future
consequences of their actions, and pea-sized brains that
make it impossible to take in all the heady analyses and
right/wrong judgements of their unfortunate counterpart,
called the 'jackal.' in Nonviolent Communication.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) was developed by Dr.
Rosenberg, an American psychologist who once studied with
Carl Rodgers. He was curious why certain people manage to
stay centered and loving in the face of even the most
challenging circumstances, and in a society that routinely
uses coercive and controlling thinking and language, ie
blame, criticism, shame and punishment, as a way of
expressing its needs. Examples of this 'jackal' form of
expression are adjectives like: unfair, uncaring,
inattentive, dumb, controlling, dishonest, defensive,
lazy, dumb, disrespectful, incompetent, or labels like
'bureaucrat,' 'asshole,' 'miser,' 'egotist,' 'nigger,'
'poof,' and so on. According to Rosenberg, 'jackal' is a
"life-alienating form of thinking and communication," and
the root of the immense suffering and violence that plague
our planet. Many great spiritual teachers, including Thich
Nhat Hanh, proclaim something similar, namely that the
roots for the suffering in our society are found in the
thinking of individuals. 'If you have a gun, you can kill
a dozen people, if you have an ideology and try to enforce
it, you can kill millions.' This is, because that is.

Meditation is one way of quieting the noisy judgements of
our rational mind. Thich Nhat Hanh has called meditation
our "appointment with ourselves." It is an opportunity to
listen to ourselves, to listen to our heart, to practice
compassion and deep understanding. Add his emphasis on
relationships, families, communities, and reconciliation,
and one could call his path 'a practice of the heart.' My
contention is that this 'practice of the heart' and NVC's
'language of the heart' are delightfully complementary and
mutually reinforcing. Like mindfulness practice,
Rosenberg's 'giraffe' language is simple and very
powerful. He has looked deeply into the nature of the way
we habitually think and communicate, and offers the most
radical and hopeful alternative that I have come across.
And like Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings, his alternative
strongly emphasizes non-duality and reconciliation.
Incidentally, it cannot be stressed enough that the
'giraffe'-'jackal' duality that NVC seems to create, is
illusory, and only intended to meet needs for learning and
clarity. In the end, there are no 'jackals,' only
'giraffes with a language problem.' ***

The quintessences of NVC and Thich Nhat Hanh's practice
are so similar as to be almost identical. Like me,
Rosenberg loves the poem by Rumi quoted on the
Inspirations page, and he often uses it to describe the
essence of NVC. For me this poem expresses exactly the
same sentiment as Thich Nhat Hanh's most-quoted poem
Please Call Me By My True Names, which is non-judgement,
interbeing, and compassion.

NVC takes a big leap into this new paradigm by doing away
with all coercive and controlling thinking and language,
expressed in words like 'right,' 'wrong,' 'too' this or
that, 'should,' 'ought,' and so on. When I encountered NVC
I realized that all I'd done during my years of spiritual
practice was to extend the limits of the 'wrong' behavior
that I was willing to look deeply at with compassion and
understanding. But I still felt that there were such
things as 'right' and 'wrong' behavior, and I still
sometimes labeled people and their behavior in ways that
dehumanized them, using words like incompetent, slow,
boring, cruel, inconsiderate, self-centered, selfish,
thrifty, and so on.

However, and this is a concept that's initially hard to
accept, NVC recommends eradicating every sense of
rightdoing and wrongdoing; to go all the way and not even
judge murder or the destruction of our environment as
'wrong.' We can immediately sense the enormous
ramifications. For most people, myself included when I
first heard about it, this feels like a terrifying leap
into the unknown. How can we protect our freedom and our
safety and peace and the beauty and richness of our planet
if we cannot say that cutting down all the rainforests,
murdering people, or selling weapons, is wrong? It is
important to state that by not judging these actions, NVC
does not condone them either. Instead it offers a powerful
language with which we can express our likes and dislikes,
our values and our needs, in a non-coercive, non-blaming,
nonviolent way, that is likely to be much more effective
in creating what we want.

NVC does this by employing three masterstrokes:

a.    it relates our feelings to our needs, and not to the
       events that happen around us
b.    it defines needs as universal, divine qualities that
       all human beings share
c.    it distinguishes our needs from "specific, do-able,
       here and now requests."

.From these premises a common language of the heart
springs that all human beings share and understand.
Another way of putting it is that 'giraffe' is a way of
connecting with, and communicating with, our own and the
other person's Divine nature.

In order to explain how it works, I need to get a little
bit technical and outlay the fundamentals of the 'giraffe'
language. It may seem a little bit complicated at first,
and like any new language needs repeated practice to be
applied fluently. But once we 'get it,' it will feel much
more natural than our habitual 'jackal' language of blame,
shame and punishment. As Gandhi once observed: 'don't
confuse what's habitual with what's natural.' (By the way,
Gandhi's term "nonviolence" was the inspiration for the
titling of NVC.)

"Classic giraffe" employs the following four steps:

1) Observation. Identify what we see in purely descriptive
language. This means no evaluations or interpretations.
Krishnamurti called this the most difficult thing a human
being can do. Thich Nhat Hanh also often emphasizes the
importance of double-checking our perceptions.

2) Feelings. Get in touch with how we feel in the present
moment, and name pure feelings. 'I feel rejected,' or 'I
feel misunderstood' are feelings mixed with evaluations,
and unhelpful. Instead communicate heart feelings such as:
sad, hurt, frustrated, happy, sceptical, resistant,
touched, serene, mindful, intrigued, relaxed, open,
scared, optimistic, etc etc. Naming our feelings without
evaluation is an aspect of the 'stopping' aspect of
mindfulness practice, and very complementary with NVC.

3) Needs. Identify the here and now need that is causing
our feeling. For example, "I feel scared because I don't
get any safety," or "I feel joyful because of the
appreciation I'm getting," or "I feel frustrated because
I'm not getting respect."

4) Request. Ask for a specific action that is do-able
right here and right now. This offers a practical
opportunity for creating heart-connection and making each
other's life more wonderful. This is the bridge that
connects people.

To summarize, the four "classic giraffe" steps are:
Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Do-able requests. In a
real-life situation, this may sound something like:

"When I hear you screaming, I feel scared, because I'm not
getting the safety I want. Please would you lower your

Note that the speaker does not use any judgmental
language, such as that the person screaming is "wrong," or
"too loud." The speaker simply expresses his or her own
feelings and needs, and follows it with a specific,
do-able request. Another "classic giraffe" phrase may
sound like:

"When you smile at me, I feel warm and touched, because it
meets my need for being seen and appreciated. Could you
tell me how you feel when you hear me say that?"

Note that 'giraffe' grammar always puts "I" with "I", and
"you with "you." I always feel something because I want
something, and you always feel things because you want
something. A 'giraffe' never believes that her feelings
are caused by someone else's actions, nor does he believe
that he can cause someone else's feelings.

A 'giraffe' always has two choices of expression: honesty,
ie expressing her own feelings and needs; or empathy, ie
hearing the other person's feelings and needs, regardless
of how they are expressed. This is the whole NVC paradigm
in a nutshell. By contrast, the jackal always puts "I" in
relation to "you," ie "I'm feeling scared because you're
shouting," or "I'm feeling warm because you're smiling at
me." ***

When Marshall Rosenberg was addressing the above mentioned
group of Palestinians in a Palestinian refugee camp and
was called "Murderer!", "Assassin!" and so on, he
practiced empathy in response. He realized that the
speaker's exhortations might have had something to do with
the fact that tear gas canisters had been shot into the
camp the night before, with the words "Made in the USA"
printed on them. So Rosenberg guessed the speaker's
feelings and needs: "Are you angry because you would like
my government to use its resources differently?" The man
shouted more angry words in response. Rosenberg noted:
"Our dialogue continued, with him expressing his pain for
nearly twenty more minutes, and I listening for the
feeling and need behind each statement. I didn't disagree
or agree. I received the man's words not as attacks, but
as gifts from a fellow human, willing to share his soul
and deep vulnerabilities with me. Once the gentleman felt
understood, he was able to hear me as I explained my
purpose for being at the camp. An hour later, he invited
me to his home for Ramadan dinner."

Rosenberg was able to "practice compassionate listening
and loving speech" with the Palestinian because he was
able to hear the man's needs underneath his words, and
because he did not immediately try to 'fix' things by
suggesting practical solutions. In other words, he didn't
immediately go to specific request level at this stage.
The importance of this separation of needs and requests is
that makes it possible for us to connect on the common
ground of our universal, human needs.

Examples of what NVC calls needs (and some call 'wants' or
'values') are: air, food, shelter, sleep, empathy, love,
compassion, understanding, connection, community, touch,
closeness, acceptance, peace, mindfulness, support,
adventure, safety, appreciation, contribution, growth,
justice, equality, fairness, reassurance, independence,
authenticity, aliveness, respect, trust, sharing, giving,
serving, learning, and so on, and on. Is there anyone
reading this who does not share these needs? I don't think
so. Sadly, needs have a bad press in our society, which is
the reason why we tend to express them tragically in ways
that are least likely to get them met, in judgements and

The confusion of needs and requests has also led many
Buddhist practitioners to misapply the concept of
non-attachment to needs, and to deny their needs, usually
with disastrous results. By contrast, non-attachment is a
helpful practice when we use it to become free from
certain here and now actions by which we try to fulfil our
needs. For example, we all, in varying degrees, want
comfort, safety, stability and predictability. These are
universal needs. In our society, many think that the best
way to fulfill them is through having lots of money. But
when we look more deeply, we may see that there are other
ways to fulfill these needs, and that our attachment to
money may be alienating us from other needs that we have,
like connection or contribution. We may discover that we
can get our needs met better through mindfulness practice,
through choosing a different life-style, through living in
community, and that these actions will also improve our
connection with our family, and contribute to the
well-being of the planet. Conversely, we may have a need
to contribute to stamping out the hunger on our planet, in
which case raising lots of money will be a request-level
way to fulfill this need.

Arguments or wars between people do not happen because
there is disagreement about needs, but rather because of
the way people go about getting their needs met. In other
words, arguments and wars happen on the specific-request
level. If we can translate these actions into feelings and
needs, we can begin to recognize common ground we have
with the other person, community or country. Rosenberg has
many examples of how, once conflicting parties started to
connect on the level of feelings and needs, they then
managed to find practical solutions to even the most
seemingly impossible situations. This has been
demonstrated in various conflict-ridden areas around the
world where NVC has been applied, such as the Middle-East,
the Balkan, Rwanda, between rival gangs in Los Angeles,
and so on.

It is deeply sad that we are taught in our society to
communicate our needs through the pointing finger, rather
than the outstretched hand. Once again, it is crucial to
emphasize that NVC does not call this 'jackal' behavior
"wrong," because that would simply express the same
'right-wrong' paradigm. Instead, NVC suggests that "blame
and judgement are tragic ways of expressing our unmet
needs." Anybody who expresses 'jackal' is in pain and in
need, and this makes compassion and connection with the
poor 'jackal,' whether our own or someone else's possible.
Everything we ever say is either "thank you" or "please."
'Jackal' is simply an unskillful way of expressing this.

There are many techniques that can be learnt to further
'giraffe' communication, and there are many more areas of
compatibility between NVC and Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings,
but there is not enough space here to explain them all, so
I'll just mention two. The emphasis in NVC is always very
much on present moment feelings and needs. Rosenberg says:
"Spend more than five words on the past and the chances
that you'll get your present moment needs met diminish
with every word." What is alive in you or me right this
very moment, is always the crucial question for a
'giraffe,' and this naturally fits in very well with the
focus on the present moment in mindfulness practice.

Finally, the topic of anger shows up another impressive
area of compatibility between NVC and Thich Nhat Hanh's
practice. Rosenberg argues that there are four feelings
that do not arise from our needs not being met, but rather
from what we tell ourselves about our needs not being met.
These 'secondary' emotions are anger, guilt, shame and
depression. In their case the 'giraffe' grammar would be:
"I feel angry/guilty/ashamed/depressed, because of what I
think about..."

NVC recommends that we stop when we notice anger arising
in us, and wait until we are sure that we can respond from
a point of our choosing, and not with a knee-jerk 'jackal'
reaction. It recommends that we use this stopping to watch
"the jackal-show" in our head (ie our angry tapes of
judgement and blame), and to identify the feelings and
needs that underlie our anger. When we are ready, we
communicate our feelings and needs. The parallels with
Thich Nhat Hanh's practice are remarkable. Thich Nhat Hanh
gives many examples of how our anger melts like snow in
the sun the moment we have true understanding of a
situation or a person. This makes the same point: we're
not angry because of a particular situation, we're angry
because of what we tell ourselves about that situation.
When we are able to look more deeply, and can connect with
the human suffering that underlies another person's
actions, our anger often vanishes.

However, my experience is that sometimes my anger does not
disappear when I understand the other person, and this is
now a sign for me that I need to express my feelings and
needs. This is where the practices recommended by Thich
Nhat Hanh and NVC in how to deal with anger are
beautifully complementary. Stopping is the core of
mindfulness practice, and conscious breathing is its
wonderful vehicle. We can use this practice to "watch the
jackal show," look deeply, and identify our feelings and
needs. This is the same as meditating on the seeds of our
anger. Once we have transformed our anger enough, once we
are in touch with our Buddha-nature again, we can use
'giraffe' to express what we see, feel and want.

These 'giraffe' techniques can help us express ourselves
more effectively and truthfully, improving our chances of
creating a heart-connection with the other person, and
from that place it will be much easier to find do-able
solutions that meet everybody's needs. Mindfulness
practice is the best way I know of to put me in touch with
my heart, or my Buddha or Christ nature. And once I'm in
this "field out beyond ideas of rightdoing and
wrongdoing," 'giraffe' is the best way of expressing this.
Meditation and mediation go hand in hand.

'Giraffe' is an empowering language that allows us to
speak up about how we feel and what we want, in relation
to anything we like or don't like. This may be a beautiful
smile, help with the washing up, peace in Northern
Ireland, a stifled silence in our family, pollution of the
environment, mass murder, or people shouting at us during
a meeting. Combining 'NVC's 'language of the heart' with
Thich Nhat Hanh's 'practice of the heart' gives us
powerful instruments for the transformation of ourselves,
our relationships, our communities, and the world. I hope
that this article has made you curious enough to look more
deeply into the 'giraffe' language, and discover whether
learning more about it may help you meet more of your needs. 

© 2000 Paul Tingen. You are welcome to copy and distribute
this article, unchanged and in its entirety, as long as
you inform me when you do so. If you want to adapt it, or
use sections of it, please liaise with me.


"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

Posting archives:

Subscribe to low-traffic list:
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving the included information for
research and educational purposes.