Non-violent communication at work: are you more a giraffe or a jackal?

Article written by Léa Ferré from Pôle employ Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Communication is the base of every human relationship. Being able to communicate is being able to live with the others and work with them. As human, we are able to communicate but it is not always natural to express our needs in a good way. Communication is not always easy and can become more or less violent depending who you talk to. In the work environment, it is essential to establish a peaceful and open dialogue between collaborators. The company depends on the relationship of the manager and his team or between the collaborators themselves. Therefore, non-violent communication is an important tool that can benefit company on the labour market.

Created in the 1970s, Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is an approach created by Marshall Rosenberg, an American psychologist, mediator, author and teacher that believes non-violent communication is a tool to create a high connection with people and to resolve conflicts. In the work environment, NVC encourages stable and serene relationships founded on self-consciousness, empathy, and compassion. Rosenberg’s methods are based on a reflexion on our own needs and how to express them while taking into account the other person feelings.

Rosenberg uses the metaphor of the giraffe and the jackal to show the difference of language and attitude in a conversation: the giraffe is the illustration of a non-violent communicative person whereas the jackal is more defensive, aggressive. The jackal represents the traditional way of communication we may have learned: the domination, the punishment or congratulation that results from a situation. Indeed, we often believe that communication or relationship are about who is right and who is wrong, whose fault is it, who is guilty or judged. NVC is about communicating to the others and help to overcome a difficult and stressful situation. For instance, if a collaborator feels hurt by a comment of his colleague, NVC will give him the key to open the dialogue in a supporting environment to find a solution that suits both parties. NVC is based on four main principles that will facilitate honest expression and empathically listening:

  1. Observation

The first step in NVC is observing the situation without making any judgment. In order to express what has gone wrong, it is important to take a step back and observe the facts without evaluating, judging and talk about our own perception. For this first step, the person using NVC has to keep it factual that the interlocutor understands the message without feeling attacked or judged. The use of: “When I see…”; “When I listen” can be efficient to introduce the situation where the need of a communication comes from.

  1. Feelings and attitudes:

According to Marshall Rosenberg, needs are universal. All human being have the same needs, we just have different strategies to satisfy them depending on our culture, language and environment. This second step is about questioning, self-reflexion regarding how you feel about this situation. It is anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration, impatience, worries? Rosenberg explains that language is a tool to express is need meaning that identifying, analysing and clarifying our feelings in order to express ourselves is a crucial step.

  1. Express an unsatisfied need

Rosenberg explains that behind every feeling is an unsatisfied need. This dissatisfaction is translated into a feeling, weather it is anger, sadness or silence. Indeed, it is important to question ourselves, to understand where this feeling really comes from. You can question yourself: “Why this comment makes me mad? Why does it affects me so much?” Trying to understand better how you feel and the reasons will help you express your need in a clear and positive way. For instance, “When I heard this comment on my work, I felt unworthy, incompetent. I am sad to feel that I don’t have the reconnaissance I think I deserve”. Thus, the need behind this feeling would be to have more reconnaissance: “My need would be to have more recognition on my work…”

Once the feeling and needs are identified, it is time to do the request by communicating in a clear and non-violent manner.

  1. The request

The last step of non-violent communication is to express a clear and concrete request. This request will help to contribute to mutual well-being in the relationship. It is the ultimate step to reinforce the “NVC pact” to solve the conflict and satisfied the need in a supportive environment. What is crucial here, is to express the request as a simple demand and not a requirement that the person doesn’t feel attacked or guilty. Formulate your request in a positive, clear, understandable, precise way that your interlocutor understand your need. Remember that we are all human with the same needs and if your interlocutor responds negatively to your need, it is maybe to answer positively to one of his own need or another collaborator needs. A “no” isn’t direct to you personally. If the answer doesn’t suit you, you can ask for more details, more information to build a connection and a mutual understanding.

Empathy and compassion are the bases of non-violent communication methods. Indeed, what is obvious to you may not be imaginable for someone else. NVC is about encouraging cooperation and solving problems but not changing or save the other. NVC develops empathy, compassion and open-mindedness. Being empathic, is about being available, present, open to discussion, it doesn’t mean to change who you are or your perception to please someone’s needs. How the person reacts to a request is independent of our willingness. Of course, the language and words used are important, as well as the moment and place chosen to have this conversation. NVC works if the person in front is receptive and open to discussion and if the situation is appropriate to deliver the message.

NVC includes practicing auto-empathy which means question our own feelings, our own needs to be able to make a request as well as the compassion and open-mindedness. It is a fact that a request asked in a positive and kindly well has more chance to work than a demand made with authority or aggressively. It is also true that NVC is not always natural and may needs a bit of practice and self-development. But, studies and years of experiences have shown that NCV is an efficient tool to consolidate healthy and strong relationship while being in tune with oneself, so don’t hesitate to adopt NVC and be a giraffe at work!

For more information, you can click on NVC’s official website:


MasterTheACT Staff

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