Questions and Answers

If you have any questions about Nonviolent Communication you would like answered, contact me at

Question: In our session together, you stated that it is more important to “be with” NVC than to “do” it. Would you explain the difference between “being with” and “doing” NVC?

Answer: When we first learn Nonviolent Communication, we sometimes think of it as a four-step technique (observations, feelings, needs and requests) playing out through two parts (honest expression and empathic receiving). While I would like you to have a thorough understanding of the components of NVC, if it is thought of as a technique you do to somebody in order to get something, it is unlikely to serve you in life. Language then becomes wooden and lacks authenticity. So I invite you to have a mindfulness of the components and the parts of NVC, but to think of them only as training wheels on a bicycle….something you let go of as you become more familiar with the process. So, for me, it is far more important to be with a mindfulness of intention in each moment than doing some technique. So ask yourself, “what is my purpose in opening my mouth now?” If you recognise any thoughts incorporating blame, perhaps it would be better to process a little more (look at the needs underlying your blaming thoughts) before trying to communicate. If you’re fully connected to your needs just relax… the words will flow naturally… you won’t have to “do” anything.

Question: Why do you say it is dangerous to suppress “jackal” thoughts (ideas incorporating blame, labels, criticism, moralistic judgements etc.)? Aren’t we supposed to be developing a consciousness based on compassion?

Answer: I think it is dangerous to suppress jackal thoughts because, sooner or later, such suppressed thoughts fester and come to a head, rather like a nasty boil. Most of us who are drawn to NVC have a genuine need to develop compassionate awareness. So, when we recognise that we are thinking “jackal” thoughts, we often think we should be thinking in a more compassionate manner. Then we tend admonish ourselves for thinking that way. When we do this, we’re “jackaling” ourselves for recognizing our jackal and more salt is placed on an already tender wound.

Instead, I think it far more useful to congratulate ourselves for noticing our jackal thoughts or language. I believe there is a gold mine of information in such language if we are able to be sufficiently compassionate with ourselves as we notice it.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose I’m in a government office, trying to get some support for an older relative. I’m trying to communicate my needs to a woman behind the counter and I’m thinking, “That woman is absolutely up in her head. She’s spouting mechanical thoughts like a darned robot. She doesn’t have a clue about reality.” Ooops… lots of judgement there, so what do I do? If I speak from this energy, I’m not likely to get my needs met….I’m feeling so frustrated I want to howl!

So what are my needs anyway? … I’d like understanding for sure and when I think “mechanical thoughts” and that she “doesn’t have a clue about reality”, maybe I’m needing authenticity and connection… and bottom line is that I’d like clear information that would let me know what support might be available for my relative. Now, I’m getting somewhere. I’m connected to my needs and more able to work out a strategy to support them….. So, lady behind the counter, “Thanks for taking this time with me… I’d like more complete information about the options here. Could I speak to your supervisor, please?” So instead of dumping on myself because I’m not thinking “nice” language, I congratulate myself for noticing, look at underlying needs, and see if I can think of a solution or strategy to help me meet those needs…. and life flows a little more smoothly.

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Copyright © 2005 Penny Wassman