It has been fun to sit down and write to you, my friends in the Peaceabl community. It has been a while and I’m glad to be back.

I am in my third and I think final year of a rigorous certification process for Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication (NVC), through the Center for Nonviolent Communication. It challenges certification candidates like myself to gain an ever deepening understanding of NVC’s: 

  • concepts and process, 
  • philosophical assumptions, 
  • spiritual, social and political implications, 
  • unique contributions to the fields of Emotional Intelligence, conflict resolution, and relationship repair, and
  • hopeful, simple and reliable strategies for transforming life-alienated communication into life-connected and life serving communication.
  •  Live these qualities, principles and tools in our own lives.

One of the tools for accomplishing this is what is called “Key Differentiations”, a list of 25 developmental shifts that accompany the integration of NVC into one’s consciousness. I’m inviting you today to check out Key Differentiation #1: “Being Giraffe” vs. “Doing Giraffe.” The differentiation between being and doing can apply to almost everything we do.

If you have done even a little NVC you probably know about giraffes. They have a long neck that gives them a broad perspective on life, and they have the biggest heart of any land mammal. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of NVC, chose the giraffe to symbolize NVC and NVC consciousness. NVC is a heart based language and way of thinking, with the long-neck perspective of prioritizing healthy human interdependence.

It supports people in collaborating at the heart level – peacefully, empathically and authentically, as we go about helping each other meet life’s needs. In the NVC community most of us aspire to be giraffes and aspire to minimize our “jackal” moments. “Jackal” mode refers to our more default, alienating way of connecting and communicating that has been conditioned in most of us – e.g. blaming, criticizing, demanding, and manipulating.

I hope the distinctions below will serve your own journey to peaceful, cooperative, enjoyable relationships at work, home and everywhere else.

“Being Giraffe” vs. “Doing Giraffe” 

“Being giraffe” means that when I am interacting with someone, including myself, I am acting from the consciousness of NVC, not just using the skills and 4 steps of NVC (Observation, Feeling, Need, Request).

“Being giraffe” focuses on connection, alternating between listening with empathy and expressing myself with compassionate honesty.  

What might “Being Giraffe” sound like? 

A client of mine, Anne, recently celebrated that she sent her mom an 8 page letter with two big requests for personal boundaries: 

#1. She asked her mom to put awareness on separating her own from her daughter’s feelings. She asked her to stop internalizing the daughter’s feelings, and instead make space for the daughter to have her own experience.

#2. She asked that her mom discontinue comparing her to her brother and father, which comes across as an attempt to use guilt to change her.  

She was in the very fortunate few with this parental request I think – she got back a validating, appreciative, responsibility-taking reply from her mom. 

Being giraffe starts with self connection first. Being a giraffe means being aware, honest and caring with myself moment by moment, recognizing what is going on inside, paying attention to my intention, emotions, body sensations, and judgments.

In the moments before sending her letter, Anne’s self connection may have sounded like,

Wow, this is hard to do! I’m so scared Mom is going to be hurt and angry and won’t understand at all. My heart is racing! Yet I trust this is too important for our connection to not share it.

Then it moves to connection with other. If I’m thorough with my self connection I will likely now have the emotional and mental bandwidth to listen empathically to what’s alive in the other person. By now, hopefully I actually care about them. If not, I go back to the self connection step. What is their world like right now? What is it like to be them? My guesses and my questions will support their own empathy process.

Quietly in her head Ann wonders – what will it be like for Mom to get this letter? 

She imagines feelings of surprise, fear, maybe resentment.  She imagines her Mom wants to know that Anne does not see her as a “bad” mom, that she has not caused Anne harm, that Anne understands her good intentions.

Afterwards, in conversation with her Mom, Anne might say,

Mom, I’m guessing that this letter was not easy for you to receive, and that you might want some reassurance from me that I’m okay and that I still love and respect you as my mom. Is that right?

This would continue as an empathy dialog until Anne feels she has a clear understanding of her mom’s world and can tell that Mom feels heard and understood. 

Honesty. After the empathy pieces, I am ready to share my “aliveness”, what my world feels like, in a respectful and self responsible way, expressing my needs honestly as we enter into mutual, caring, interdependent conversation.

In the example of Anne, she has already done a lot of self expressing in her letter. However, she can now share what it was like to have it received.

Mom, I am feeling so happy and relieved to not only have been fully heard, understood and accepted by you, but also appreciated for the great efforts I’m making in my self development. I also really appreciate the responsibility you are taking for your part of our communication.

(Honest expression of feelings and needs met.)

You might be thinking, this sounds too good to be true. Is this even possible for non-saints? I’m here to give you a confident YES!

Next time in Part 2 we will look at “the difference that makes the difference” between being and doing giraffe, and some of the entanglements we fall into when we are doing without minding our being.

What About You?

Thank you for your presence and your interest in empathic relating. I invite you to check out “being giraffe” for yourself in your next conversation and see what happens. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Please reach out if you are in conflict or have chronic stress in a work or personal relationship that matters to you. I invite you to set up a complimentary session with me to explore your options for transformation. 

You can find a time that works for you here Breakthrough Conversation.


Peace and blessings,



About the Author Catherine

Catherine Cooley is a mediator and a communication coach. She has worked in environments of extreme conflict including prisons, the court system and local communities teaching what she calls "Breakthrough Conversations." She specializes in helping people foster clear, respectful, warm, cooperative relationships at home and in the workplace.

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