Welcome back to the Peaceabl community. In my last email blog


 we talked about integrating the consciousness of Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication (NVC) using what is called Key Differentiation #1: “Being Giraffe” vs. “Doing Giraffe.” The differentiation between being and doing can apply to almost everything we do. 

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of NVC, chose the giraffe to symbolize NVC consciousness. NVC is a heart based language and way of thinking, with the long-neck perspective of prioritizing healthy human interdependence. 

“Doing Giraffe” means that I am a good student, using the 4 steps of Nonviolent Communication (NVC; The 4 steps are OFNR – Observation, Feeling, Need, Request), but unfortunately I am doing so without being in an internal state of true NVC consciousness. I am focusing on just the “bones” of NVC, or the structure, and forgetting the “soul,” or the spirit and intention – which is all about connecting in a heartfelt way that supports compassionate giving and receiving to meet needs.

The global NVC community has suffered from judgments that NVC can be robotic, repetitious, righteous and burdensome. I believe these accusations come from people who have experienced NVC folks “Doing Giraffe” instead of “Being Giraffe”. In my experience this is a common affliction of people using empowerment tools, especially beginners.

When I am “Doing Giraffe” my focus is on moving through the 4 steps of NVC – Observation, Feeling, Need, Request – and my primary intention is to get something I want, rather than to connect empathically and authentically.  Most likely I lack awareness about my own internal state as well as the internal state of the other person. I’m not very “tuned in”.

I am focusing on doing it “right” and I may fall into analyzing how others act and talk according to “NVC-Standards” and therefore correct them when they are “wrong”. For example, I may tell a person that their ‘observation’ was actually a judgment. This adds pressure to the other person to do it “right” and often drives people away from wanting to use NVC – a big cost! 

Perhaps I’m “doing giraffe” as a strategy, a means to an end. Getting agreement and compliance to my agenda is the most important thing to me right now, not heart to heart connection or collaboration. Or maybe I just want to get through a conversion quickly and take the “doing” shortcut, instead of taking the time and vulnerability to “being” giraffe.  Or perhaps I want to appear like I care about the other person and our relationship more than I really do at that moment.  

In Anne’s case, from Part 1 of this blog, https://www.peaceabl.com/being-or-doing-why-does-this-matter-so-much-part-1/

if she were someone who didn’t know anything about NVC’s giraffe, she might have had thoughts like, well I hope Mom finally gets it that I’m done with her guilt tripping and her projecting. It’s time she takes responsibility for her dysfunctional ways. I’m setting these boundaries and that is that.

Some violations of NVC Consciousness here: there is a lack of self empathy and self care, and lack of empathy for the other person. Her response includes judgments and demand-energy that will separate, not connect them.

If she went into “Doing Giraffe” mode, it might sound like,

Mom, when I heard you comparing me to brother (Observation), 

I felt angry (Feeling), 

because I need autonomy, acceptance and respect (Needs)

Would you be willing to talk about finding another way to communicate your needs with me? (Request)

Anne still has some possible connection opportunities here, but her approach lacks warmth, thoughtfulness and empathy, and therefore is not likely to inspire engagement or trust. It will likely be a long, dry path to connection.

The Difference That Makes the Difference

The difference between “Being Giraffe” and “Doing Giraffe” comes from the awareness and practice of basic NVC consciousness, including:

  • I converse to connect authentically and empathically, in a heart centered way.
  • This connection starts with my self connection – me being connected to my own intention, feelings, body, thoughts and judgments.
  • I take on that everyone’s needs matter equally; I value equality, mutuality and sharing power. 
  • I see that everything people do and think all day long is in service to their universal human needs. This understanding is foundational to my compassion capacity.
  • We see another person’s pain as “please”, a cry for help, a cry for empathy or love, a gift because I have an opportunity to contribute to them and to life.
  • Although I am responsible for meeting my own needs, I am best off collaborating to do so, in a way that is choice and inspiration based, not duty or manipulation based. I want to give from my heart, and receive from others only when they are heart-inspired to give to me. Otherwise it is too expensive with resentment, revenge, guilt, sabotage, etc.
  • Giving and receiving from the heart brings true joy and sustainable connection.

I hold these realizations in my mind and heart, and they inform my speech and actions, when I am “being giraffe”.  As a result, I am able to connect with people at the heart level, in a clear way about “the heart of the matter” – our universal human needs.

On the other hand, “doing giraffe” winds up disconnecting me from myself and the other person.  I can’t be very self connected since I’m going against my own reasons for learning NVC, which is to connect with people in a genuine way, not to pretend to connect with people or to hurriedly or dismissively connect.  When I’m “doing giraffe” people know they are not receiving true empathy or connection, though I may be trying to look like that is what I am delivering and even fooling myself about my own intentions. That is a real trust breaker and a turn off.

When I am “doing giraffe” while giving empathy, I sometimes find myself correcting my words to fit the proper NVC form. In my worry about ”getting it right”, I’m likely to lose the very connection I am wanting to have at the moment. 

On the other hand, when I am “being giraffe” I am listening whole-heartedly and trusting my intention to connect will support my word choice and will lead to understanding. 

Life Example

An adult client of mine was feeling frustrated about his “hover mother” who he has been living with again recently. He resents what he sees as her manipulative and controlling ways of being, including buying him things to get his cooperation and companionship.

Here’s an example of what “doing giraffe” might sound like, with all the 4 steps (Observation, Feeling, Need, Request) of NVC nicely in place, yet lacking real heart and therefore unlikely to foster meaningful mother/son connection:

Mom, when you bought me that jacket,

I felt irritated

Because I think you may have bought it to try to get me to want to stay here. I need honesty and transparency.

Would you please stop buying things for me? 

An example of “being giraffe” might sound like,

Mom, I imagine when you bought that jacket you really liked it a lot and figured that I would too, is that right?

Note – he is starting a conversation about the conflict NOT with what he wants, or how bad of a person his Mom is, but instead with an empathy guess for her. This is a rare but very powerful skill/tool.

After his empathy dialog with her has given him a clear understanding of her world and has her feel heard by him, 

Are you open to hearing what happened for me when you gave the jacket to me? 

Although I do like the jacket, unfortunately I actually felt more irritated than grateful.

I think it is because I had the thought, maybe Mom bought this because she wants to make my life as comfortable as possible here, so that I will keep living here with her. 

If that is true, it doesn’t work well for me because I’m longing for my independence right now – to have my own place. I also really value honesty and transparency, so if part of the reason you bought the jacket was to keep me here, I would like you to tell me so, so that we can have an open and honest conversation about what is happening between us.

Would you be willing to tell me how that is to hear? (his Connecting Request)

From here, mother and son have a good chance of coming to a shared understanding and will likely have some new ideas about how to navigate their dynamics of giving and receiving in a way that is more authentic for both of them.

What About You?

Thank you for your presence and for your interest in empathic relating. I invite you to start applying this by noticing the intentions behind your conversations this week. Is your primary intention to get something you want? Or is it to connect with what is alive and true for the person you are conversing with? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Please also 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,




Photograph by Motoki Tonn, unsplash.com

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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