Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator


“The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything.” Chögyam Trungpa, ‘Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior’

I always thought that difficult conversations are those where I want to express scary honesty or expect to hear a message of wrongness.

I never realized that difficult conversations include those where someone expresses a view of the world, themselves or others that seems very different from what I hold to be true.

Last week I saw a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. I knew she was going through a rough time, and imagined she would like to be greeted with some kindness. I give her a hug and express my care for her well-being. She starts talking about all the suffering and fear in her life.

I feel overwhelmed. I didn’t intend to talk about how you have to protect yourself against others. That’s not my experience. I have found most people friendly, willing to help, and open for connection.

I struggle how to handle her truth and honor my experience at the same time.

Then I remember something I learned in the Mediate Your Life retreat. When you mediate conflict, make sure your needs are heard and included too. Empathize with the other, reflect back what she says, and share how that lands for you. Express what you want and ask what she heard you say. Alternate this cycle of expression, reflection, expression, reflection till you both feel you are heard. That’s the moment when you can brainstorm how to support everyone’s needs.

So I practice mediating my own conflict. I listen, and reflect back her despair that her situation and suffering won’t change. I ask if this is what she tries to tell me. It is. Then I tell her that I feel confused and want clarity what she is asking of me by telling this: maybe she wants understanding, support, to be heard? She reflects me back, and tells me that she wants acceptance. She is afraid I will reject her, because she shared her vulnerability and her uncensored enemy images. I hear her need for acceptance. I want acceptance too, for my limited capacity to listen to her suffering and ability to help her. I want support and time to process what I heard.

Now that we both have a sense we are understood, we brainstorm together what we can do or say in this moment that would nurture all our needs.

That is actually pretty simple. She wants to hear me say that I see and accept her pain and despair, and that I am open to future connection. That is piece of cake. I’m happy to say that, because it is true.

And you know what? Because I included my needs, I look forward to our next connection as a beautiful opportunity to practice human bravery.


You want to learn to include your needs in difficult conversations? Contact me 512-589-0482.

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