Creating fulfilling relationships

Key Differentiations


  1. “Being Giraffe” vs. “doing Giraffe”
    Being Giraffe is about choosing or intending to direct my consciousness towards feelings and needs, my feelings and needs and the feelings and needs of whomever I am relating to. Directing or intending my consciousness in this way helps me connect in the heart and to the oneness with all humans, with life. Being Giraffe is a questioning of what feelings and needs are alive in any moment, allowing ourselves to explore, to not know. This exploration takes us on a journey of opening to what is most true. When we are in the consciousness of needs, the words we choose will more naturally support the consciousness, even if they are not quite within the definition of each part.

Doing Giraffe means using the NVC process as a technique. It happens in the head as a thinking process with steps to follow. Doing Giraffe is more about knowing, or wanting to know, or trying to “figure it out”. It is about using the NVC as a model and trying to get it “right”. Being Giraffe happens when we listen to our body and our heart. When we are in this consciousness we see that NVC is process, not a model; a process which supports us to shift from our thinking to heart connection within ourselves and with others.

Being giraffe means that I am authentic with what is going on for me moment to moment. I am honest about my state of being. I am not expressing my feelings and needs because it is the “best” or “right” thing to do. I express my feelings and needs because I am connected to my need to be authentic in connecting. Likewise, doing giraffe would mean that I am empathizing with someone because I should, it is the NVC thing to do; I have to, they are in pain and need my help. Being giraffe means that I am empathizing because it meets my need to contribute to life and to connect with another in the heart. If I have other needs that are alive for me, being giraffe would mean that I am honest about those needs, taking care to get them met while still holding the other’s needs as precious.

Doing giraffe comes from the head and is about trying to fit into some idea of what is the right way to use Nonviolent Communication, the right words, the right order. Being giraffe comes from the heart and is about opening authentically to what is alive for you, what your feelings and needs are: Being with what is coming up and with what is beneath what is coming up.

It is natural that the learning of NVC starts as a mental doing practice of a technique. As the concepts become familiar and with a consistent practice, the doing Giraffe will shift into a being Giraffe much like playing scales on an instrument leads us to melodies and improvisation. Real-life practice of NVC will take us to being Giraffe as we discover that people in our life do not enjoy us doing a technique for connection.

  1. Giraffe honesty vs. Jackal honesty

Giraffe honesty is an expression of an observation, our feelings and needs without judgments, and a request for we would like our needs met. The intention with Giraffe honesty is to share what is going on for us in way that supports connection. Giraffe honesty lets someone know what needs are not being met and how we might like our needs to be met. Or, we let someone know what needs they helped us meet and how we feel about their contribution. Someone may still interpret our Giraffe honesty as judgment because we are all so familiar with judgments and right/wrong thinking. So, to support connection, it can be helpful to be prepared to empathize when we after expressing Giraffe honesty.

Jackal honesty is an expression of our evaluation of someone. When we express judgments to another, it can be very difficult to create connection because the other is hearing that they are wrong or bad. When we express Jackal honesty, the intention is to tell someone what we think of them, and maybe what they can do to become a “better person”. Even if we are expressing positive judgments to someone, they are not getting an understanding of how they contributed to our life – what needs were met and how we feel about it. Jackal honesty tends to create alienation or conflict


  1. Giraffe honesty vs. Jackal honesty

What happens to you when someone says to you, “Be honest with me.” Do you tighten in your gut? Do you hold your breath? Are you at once nervous about the impact of your honesty and tempted to let free a host of judgments, criticisms and opinions that you have been keeping to yourself? “Here is my chance,” you think to yourself, “they are asking me to be honest.”   Still, there is something tugging at your mind, perhaps a memory of the last time you were “Brutally Honest.” Who matched brutal with honesty? Has someone ever asked you, “Can I be brutally Honest with you”?

Did you gleefully respond, “Oh sure. Please, go right ahead; I am always deeply grateful for an opportunity to stay grounded in compassion in the face of brutality.”

So and so said that Honesty without love alienates us. So how can we match love with our honesty? Let’s look first at the honesty that alienates us. This honesty is based on moralistic judgments. My intention is to tell you what I think of you: what is right or wrong with you, how you are better than this person or worse than that person, why you are to blame, why it is your fault. What about positive judgments? Surely they aren’t brutal. Praise and rewards are brutal because they kill our intrinsic motivation; they encourage us to look outside ourselves for our sense of worth and inspiration. We become focused on the praise and rewards instead of why it is or isn’t meaningful to be doing what we are doing. Children who grow up with lots of praise turn into adults who need to do some hard work to be able to hear negative feedback.

An example of brutal truth would be: “You are a lousy writer Eric. Your column is the worst column in this paper. The classifieds are more entertaining. Writing is not the right vocation for you. It will be your fault if the readership of this paper deteriorates.

Conversely, “You are the best writer ever. Your writing is brilliant, fabulous. You are a creative tour de force. A genius. Why aren’t you on the front page!?

Neither of these expressions of honesty tell me anything about why my writing works or doesn’t work for someone. How does the person feel when they read the writing? What needs are met or not met by my writing? How could my writing better meet these needs?

How would it feel if someone asked you, “Can I be compassionately honest with you”? I’m guessing there would still be some anxiety because we are so familiar with judgmental honesty. What does compassionate honesty sound like? Compassionate honesty is not about moralistic judgments, it is about our needs and whether or not they are being met. We can tell if we have needs that are met or unmet by how we are feeling. If we are feeling unpleasant feelings – frustrated, annoyed, confused, sad, it is because we have some needs that aren’t met. If we are feeling enjoyable feelings – inspired, relaxed, happy, grateful, it is because we have needs that are met. So, an example of compassionate honesty would be: “Eric, about your article… That part about feelings and needs; I feel confused because I have a need for clarity, to understand how this works.


Giraffe honesty involves expressing my feelings and needs in relation to an observation. I’m speaking from my heart. The intention is to be authentic about what is alive for me and be heard in a way that invites connection.

Jackal honesty involves expressing moralistic judgments about another person: Here is what I think of you. The intention is to tell a person what is wrong with them and what they can do to be a “good” or “better” person.

Giraffe honesty means looking closely to see if the need you may be expressing is actually tied to another person and what you are wanting them to see or do. For example: If someone is blaming me for something that involved both of us, I may express a need for { another example here }

  1. Empathy vs. Sympathy and other forms of response (fixing, reassuring, storytelling, etc.)

Empathy is comprised of four main elements

  1. An intention to connect to what is alive, the feelings and needs.
  2. Staying present, being with what is alive now.
  3. A soft focus of questioning and allowing what feelings and needs may be alive moment to moment.
  4. Verbal reflection: either asking for clarity on information if clarity is needed in order to stay present. Or reflecting back the feelings and needs you are guessing are alive, if you sense that verbal reflection will support another to connect more deeply to themselves and the root of their experience.

Empathy is an intention to connect with what is alive in another, his or her feelings and needs. Empathy involves staying present to what is alive now, not thinking back to what may have happened earlier, or ahead to what may come in the future. The focus is on following what the other’s feelings and needs are from moment to moment. For me, the intention, the presence, and the soft focus on following and allowing, are the essence of empathy. Verbal reflection of feelings and needs is only offered when I sense that it may help another to connect deeper to his or her experience. I may also reflect if I need clarity on information I’m receiving, especially if this clarity will help me stay present. When thoughts, feelings, or needs come up in me that are about me, I notice them set them aside, if I am able, in order to come back to what is alive for the other.

Sympathy is about what is going on for me. What another shares may stimulate some feelings and needs for me. Or it may bring up a memory of a similar experience I had. When we share what is going on for us we are sympathizing; perhaps because we have a need to reassure the other that we understand what they are going through; perhaps we are expressing because we need empathy for what is stimulated in us. Sympathy is not “wrong”. It may be that something another shares stimulates a lot of pain for us and we are not able to stay with what is alive for them. Empathy means that you are putting aside what is coming up for you in order to hold space for another to connect to their feelings and needs. Once we start expressing what is coming up for us, whether it’s feelings, needs, stories, advice, the other person will have less space and attention for what is coming up for them. They may not be able or wanting to take in what we are sharing because they still need empathy. Once a person is connected to their feelings and needs, they are more likely to be willing and able to connect to what is being offered from another. Then they may indeed have other needs that get met by sympathy, stories, suggestions and even advice.

  1. Protective use of force vs Punitive use of force

With Protective force I am protecting my needs without right/wrong thinking. My first need with protective force is often for safety. Once that need is met I can focus on other needs and feelings. So if I see a child run into the street, I stop him or her with physical force to meet my need for his or her safety. Once we are both safe I can bring my attention to other needs that are alive. I may need self-empathy first, noticing my panic from my need for safety, then, maybe getting in touch with my need to contribute to this child’s learning of safety in a way that he or she can hear without judgment. Then I might choose to empathize first with the child’s needs in running out into the street – perhaps a need for play or connection, or I may choose to express my needs for safety and assurance that the child can stay safe. If the child can connect to my needs, I am more confident that behaviour change will be lasting and enjoyable.

Punitive force is force that is used to try to control behaviour. Someone in a position of power or authority is using this force to punish someone in a less powerful position for doing something “wrong”. Punitive force is a desperate strategy to serve life because it comes from moralistic judgments, should thinking, and ideas of what someone deserves, not from an awareness of needs. If the person being punished does change his or her behaviour, it will likely be from resentful obedience, fear, or from guilt and shame. And so it is not likely to be a lasting change, and there will likely be a loss in the connection between punisher and punishee.

  1. Power With vs Power-Over

Power-With is a consciousness where all needs are valued equally and decisions on how to meet all needs are inclusive of all involved. This can take more time than simply letting one person make the decision for the group; however, when all needs are considered, and decision making is inclusive, then all involved are more likely to agree to strategies. In a Power-With paradigm, it is safe to express honestly, and participation in decision making is encouraged. The intention is to find win-win strategies, because the belief being held is that life is abundant and the world is a safe place. Choices are made from a self-empowered connection to needs. There is cooperation, interdependence and leaders are resources for the whole. People are supported to grow and find connection to a sense of wholeness and oneness. Power-With is heart based and leads to peace.

A Power-Over consciousness comes from me-first thinking: I’m going to do what I have to do to get my needs met, because they matter most. Power-over is hierarchical: those with more power and status make the decisions and the needs of those with less power don’t matter equally or at all. The belief being held is that there is not enough for everyone, so someone has to win and someone else has to lose. The world is not safe, you can’t trust anyone. There is no connection to needs in Power over, choices are made from fear and moralistic judgments. Power-Over leads to violence in our thinking, words, and actions.

  1. Feelings vs. Feelings mixed with thoughts

A feeling is an energy that is present in our body, an emotion – energy in motion. This energy creates sensations in the body. So when we are expressing how we are feeling we can describe these sensations: tightness in my chest, heat in my face, tingling, a zap of current, expansive opening. Or we can put a name on the feeling: fear, embarrassment, excitement, panic, happiness. Either way, the idea is to give an expression of what is going on in our body, without mixing in our mind’s evaluations.

An example of a feeling that is mixed with an evaluation would be “blamed”, as in, “I feel blamed.” Blamed is your mind’s evaluation of how another is relating to you, “I think you are blaming me,” is what you are indirectly expressing, and in expressing this, you are more likely to think that the other person is responsible for your feelings. The feeling energy that is present in your body when you think you are being blamed might be tightness in your jaw or stomach, and you may call this emotion fear or anger, whatever is true for you in that moment.

A feeling mixed with an evaluation is going to be more difficult for another to hear and connect to, because there is an implied judgment of their behaviour

When you are connected to the feeling energy in your body, without evaluations, and you express what that is to another, they are more likely to hear you and connect to your experience.

Feelings without evaluation are valuable information: they point us to the needs that are alive for us in the moment. Feelings that are mixed with evaluation tend to take us away from our needs and look to another to find the cause of these feelings.

  1. Need vs Request

A need is life-serving energy wanting to be expressed and fulfilled. A need is the quality we want to meet in any given moment to make our life more wonderful. All humans share the same needs, so we are connecting to this oneness when we are connecting to our needs and we are connecting to this oneness when we connect to another’s needs. Needs are intrinsic, they are qualities within each of us that are important for an enjoyable life. They contain no reference to a specific person taking a specific action; they are simply the quality that is alive in us. In expressing my need I would not say, “I need you to understand me.” I would say, “I need understanding.” I can get a sense of the state of my needs by paying attention to my feelings. If I have enjoyable feelings, I have needs that are met. If I have uncomfortable feelings, I have a need that is not met.

To make life more wonderful, we can make a present, doable, positive action request of someone, to help meet this need.   Doable means that there is a concrete thing that can be done. A positive action is something that you do want, not something you don’t want. And even if we are requesting something we want in the future, we are requesting that it be agreed to now, in the present. So I might request, “I have a need for understanding, would you be willing to tell me what you are hearing me say?” Or, “I am feeling overwhelmed with all the household chores. I have a need for support and cooperation. Would you be willing to agree to take the garbage out each week, and take the compost out when the bucket is full?” The need and the request are two different and separate things. If I can keep them separate, I can stay open to other ways to meet my needs that work for everyone. It is when we can’t separate our needs and requests that we get into conflict, because we aren’t open to other possibilities, and we won’t likely be open to hearing another’s needs behind their “no”. We shrink life to a narrow focus if we are only seeing one way to meet a need. We open to abundance when we can hold our needs separate from our requests.

  1. Request vs Demand 

What defines a request for me is the intention to get my need met while staying in connection with myself and another. This means that I want another to hear my need and help meet it because they have joy in doing so; it meets their needs to help meet mine. And, if they say no, I am willing to connect to what needs are alive for them that they are saying yes to. I know I have made a request if my appreciation for the other has not diminished in hearing their “no”. I am making a request if I am open to exploring other ways to meet my need that will work for both of us. So it is helpful to be connected to your need in making a request.

When we are making a demand, we are not willing to hear a “no” and connect to the needs behind the “no”. We are coming from some thinking that another should do what we’re asking, because it is the right thing to do. Then we might label this person, when they say no, as “difficult” or “spoiled” or “selfish”. If someone does do what we demand, they are most likely going to do it from fear, resentful obedience, or from their own should thinking. And we will both pay for it because it won’t be coming from a joy of giving.

12. Stimulus vs Cause

Stimulus and cause are what bring our feelings to life. Our life energy flows between stimulus and cause. The stimulus is the observation of something in the present: something that is coming through our senses or imagined in our mind or remembered in our mind. The observation is external to the core of our experience; the cause comes from the core of our experience, in our hearts. The flow of energy, the type of feeling moving from our core, through our body, and then towards the stimulus will depend on what is going on in our core, in our heart.

At the core, in our hearts, are our needs. So a stimulus happens – we have some kind of interaction, and the feelings we feel in relation to this interaction will depend on the state of our needs. So the stimulus may be a toddler who is expressing tears and sounds are coming out of her mouth that we might describe as screaming. The toddler’s mother may feel frustration and exhaustion one day, because she has needs for cooperation and rest. The next day the stimulus may be exactly the same, toddler screaming, and the mother is feeling warm and loving, because she has a need to contribute to her child, love her and nurture her.

  1. Value Judgment vs Moralistic Judgment

Value judgments are judgments I make based on whether or not something is in line with my needs. I may decide to do a certain activity or spend time with certain people because my needs are met by doing so. I may have certain preferences for ways I like to meet my needs. These are things or people that I really value, because they really help me meet my needs. Going to an NVC training is something I really value because it meets many needs: community, learning, fun, connection, growth, inspiration, and others.

I make moralistic judgments when I’m judging something based on what is good bad, right or wrong. When I’m making a value judgment, I’m simply deciding whether or not something will meet my needs. If something is not meeting my needs, I don’t then go and judge it as wrong or bad, I’m just aware that it is not meeting my needs and find other ways to meet my needs. Conversely, if something is meeting my needs, I’m not judging it as good or right. I’m aware that my needs are getting met and I may choose to express some appreciation for to someone for how they are helping me meet my needs. Moralistic judgments are part of a domination consciousness, value judgments are part of a partnership consciousness.