Nonviolent Communication™ and Gratitude

“Saying thank you in NVC language:This is what you did; this is what I feel; this is the need of mine that was met.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD.

People often think of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as something to be applied only in difficult or challenging situations — something we might use in a conflict.

But NVC is also a powerful way to celebrate life through appreciation and gratitude.

Two modes of consciousness and two very different intentions

NVC helps us distinguish between two modes of consciousness, each of which is a very different approach to life and relationships than the other.

One of those modes of consciousness we refer to as life-disconnected, life-alienated thinking and language. In workshops, many trainers use the word jackal as a linguistic shortcut and metaphor.

The other is called life-connected, life-serving thinking and language. This is another way of describing NVC, for which we use the linguistic shortcut and metaphor giraffe.

Jackal and giraffe are human-centered metaphors with little relation to the actual animals who live in nature. We use them for instructional purposes, and will be using them below to help us clarify NVC gratitude and appreciation.

To understand NVC gratitude and appreciation, it’ll help us to first clarify the purpose of NVC.

What is NVC for?

The purpose of NVC is to create a high quality of connection out of which people enjoy contributing to one another’s well-being. 

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, PhD., traveled the world mediating conflicts and training people for over 40 years. He said that in every culture people are playing one of two games. One of those games is called “Who’s right and who’s wrong?” And the other game is called “How can I make life more wonderful?”

Who’s right and who’s wrong is the game we’re playing when we’re in jackal consciousness.

How can I make life more wonderful is the game we play when we’re in giraffe consciousness.

Jackal frequently relies on expectations of other people to do what we want regardless of whether or not it works for them. 

Appreciation and gratitude — as expressed through jackal consciousness — come out as praise and compliments, in other words static judgments about what a person is.

The verb “to be” points out the static thinking. For example, “you are a good daughter,” “you are a great student,” “you are a fantastic musician.” These are static labels that don’t account for the fact that life is dynamic and constantly changing.

The intentions behind the life-disconnected expression of gratitude — praise and compliments — could be any of the following:
– I have some bad news to deliver and I’m trying to soften you up ahead of time,
– I’m about to ask you for something I want, so I’m complimenting you to try to get you to say yes,
– By praising and complimenting you I’m trying to get you to like me or get your love or acceptance, even if I am not consciously aware of those underlying needs.

The cost of life-alienated gratitude

Part of the issue with praise and compliments is that the deeper message from the speaker isn’t conveyed. This is because when someone praises and compliments another it focuses our attention on a static label of the other person, rather than on how the other person contributed to our life.

If we do have some of the intentions mentioned above (like getting you to like me), another one of the costs is that people become suspicious about our intentions, therefore eroding trust.

Furthermore, we miss the true gift of gratitude and appreciation.

What is the intention and purpose of NVC gratitude? 

There’s really one primary intention and that is celebration.

When somebody has said or done something that’s contributed to your needs, you celebrate that awesome power we have to make each other’s lives more wonderful.

A secondary purpose for gratitude is feedback. Whenever any one of us speaks or acts we want our words or our actions to contribute to life. Gratitude and appreciation gives me feedback letting me know that I succeeded in that intention.

NVC gratitude and appreciation simply has the intention to celebrate and the secondary purpose of offering feedback.

If I’m trying to get something back, or somebody to like me, or trying to soften them up for a difficult to hear message, it’s no longer NVC appreciation and gratitude.

What is the cost of not expressing gratitude?

Have you ever done something for somebody where you felt like you were stretching or really contributing, and never heard back whether or not it contributed to them? What happened?

What happens for most people is that they lose energy, motivation, and enthusiasm around contributing and continuing to contribute.

If we don’t get any feedback letting us know that our words and actions are contributing, it’s easy to lose energy around continuing.

When people don’t receive appreciation and gratitude, they tend to lose steam around whatever the thing is that they’re doing.

We need to be very careful that this doesn’t become a subtle attempt at manipulation by remembering the primary intention: celebration. 

Why does incentivizing people not work so well?

Giving people incentives works, but only in the short term.

Usually the intention behind incentives is to get somebody to continue to perform a particular behavior. This is different than celebrating with them how their efforts have contributed to our needs.

Whether it’s manager of the month, worker of the year, a plaque, or some kind of cash bonus — incentivizing people loses its efficacy in the long-term when they realize they’re being manipulated.

This is one of the shortcomings of trying to use praise and compliments as an incentive to get people to continue a particular action. As soon as they realize they’re being manipulated it’s automatically less fulfilling. 

Incentives, including verbal praise and compliments, focus people on extrinsic sources of fulfillment rather than intrinsic needs.

By using a language of Universal Human Needs we can let someone know how their actions have contributed to life — as a celebration rather than a manipulation.

Intentions vs Syntax

What if somebody simply doesn’t have the tools or the skills, and the old habit is to express jackal praise and compliments?

This is where we can differentiate between somebody’s actual intention and the mechanics of how they’re phrasing something.

NVC is about creating a high-quality connection out of which we will co-create a mutually satisfying outcome. If my intention is to get my way or manipulate a particular outcome, then I can use words that sound like NVC — for example, observation, feelings, needs, request — but because my intention is focused on a specific result, then it’s not NVC at all. (In NVC we focus on getting connected, first, before problem-solving.)

It’s similar with gratitude and appreciation.

Somebody might have a life-disconnected intention but use the syntax very well.

Similarly, somebody may have the pure intention just to celebrate, but they don’t quite have the words for how to phrase it in a way that we can connect with the deeper needs.

Using the words by themselves does not automatically make it NVC.

The intention to create a high-quality connection — separate from a specific strategy, outcome, or solution — needs to be there in order for it to be NVC. And with gratitude and appreciation, the intention is merely celebration. The intention is fundamental. 

How do you express gratitude and appreciation using NVC?

The NVC model has four components: observation, feeling, need, and request.

The fourth one, the request, is usually optional when we’re expressing gratitude because most often our desire is for the other person to simply receive it and take it in. And we can often tell by their body language or eyes whether or not they’ve taken it in.

Our request is often met before we even need to voice it.

However, in some circumstances the other person has a hard time taking in our appreciation and gratitude.

Our request at that moment might be something along the lines of, “Hey, could I say it again and would do your best to try to take it in.” But usually that fourth component is optional. 

The first three components: observation, feeling, and need work in the exact same way as in any other part of NVC, although, it might be helpful in gratitude to change the order slightly, to observation, need, feeling.

Go ahead and practice this right now. Think of somebody in your life who said or did something that contributed to your life. Now write it down, using these three components:

Observation, so what specifically did the person say or do that contributed to your life. Be as specific as possible. For example, “When you are kind to me” is less specific than, “This morning when you made me breakfast.”

Then express what need of yours was contributed to — fulfilled or satisfied — by this person’s action. For example, “When you made me breakfast this morning, it contributed to my need for support.”

Then following it up with how you feel about it. “When you made me breakfast this morning it met my need for support and I feel really grateful.” 

This is a deeper and richer way of expressing something that in the past we might have phrased as, “Thank you for breakfast,” or “You’re a great partner.” These last examples don’t convey the depth that we reach when we unpack the observation, the need, and the feeling. 

As you practice expressing gratitude and appreciation, remember that the intention is key. We’re just celebrating.

When you remember to tell the person specifically what they said or did, what need of yours was met as a result, and how you felt about it, it’ll probably be a much richer gratitude than it would have been otherwise.

Marshall Rosenberg on NVC Gratitude and Appreciation

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg saw what happens when we do things for each other and don’t receive the feedback that our actions are contributing, nor any celebration of that contribution.

Environments devoid of gratitude and appreciation are full of unmotivated, demoralized individuals who are not celebrated for their efforts.

Environments in which gratitude thrives are full of life. Even when things are hard, an environment of gratitude lends people a certain emotional buoyancy.

Because of the power NVC gratitude and appreciation have in energizing us, Dr. Rosenberg used to call it “giraffe juice” (the word juice here having the same meaning as energy or voltage).

True gratitude and appreciation can energize and motivate us.

And it is a beautiful way of celebrating this incredible power we have to contribute to one another’s lives.

PuddleDancer Press Books on NVC Gratitude and Appreciation

PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication and how to use it to celebrate life with gratitude and appreciation.

NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of contributing immensely to each other.

NVC has also shown us the role of manipulative praise and compliments in decreasing trust and enthusiasm — whether in our personal or professional lives.

With NVC to celebrate the ways you and yours contribute to each other, the good-will generated in the relational space contributes to making working out conflicts easier.

Our books on Nonviolent Communication can help you:

    • Create exceptional personal and professional relationships,
    • Offer compassionate understanding to others,
    • Know when and how to ask for that same understanding for yourself,
    • Prevent and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts,
    • Speak your truth in a clear, powerful way more likely to lead to harmony than conflict,
    • Create mutual understanding without coercion.

Whether you are a long-time student, or are brand new to NVC, PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.

Check out our catalog of books… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!

More information on Books about Empathy

NVC Gratitude Web Resources

Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Gratitude Articles
Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Gratitude Videos
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Gratitude Articles
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Gratitude Videos

There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web.