Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

“Actually, this one”

Eddie, my 2-year old neighbor kid, is fascinated by anything garbage. Garbage trucks, garbage men, garbage bins.

Every Friday he puts on his “I love garbage” t-shirt, his “garbage fan” baseball cap, and follows the garbage truck with his dad.

Sadly my neighbors are moving out today. I am hanging out with Eddie, while they pack.

Since it is garbage pick-up day, we walk around the block, looking for the garbage trucks. They haven’t come yet.

Eddie doesn’t care, garbage bins are just as exciting. He stops at every bin, points at them, and says “Actually, this one”. Maybe a bit more like “Ashually, cis one.”

“You want to see what’s inside it?”

He looks at me stunned, clearly not expecting his dream to come true.

“Yeah.”

“Step back a little, so your face doesn’t touch the bin. I think it’s dirty.”

He happily obliges, knowing that he won’t get to see the treasures inside unless he does. With his hands behind his back, he looks at it for more than 10 seconds. Mesmerized with the white trash bag that’s in it.

“Actually, this one.”

He runs off and points at a compost bin. Same instructions, same mesmerized look. He carefully examines the leaves, grass, orange peels, and rotting kale. It is clearly the most interesting thing he has ever seen.

“Actually, this one.”

He runs over to each bin on the street and looks at its contents with the same delight as if he is looking at the cutest puppy on planet earth.

Even when bin number 19 is topped with fermenting pizza and wriggling maggots, he doesn’t back away with the slightest glimmer of disgust on his face. He looks at it like a professor studying his favorite topic, hands on his back, enthralled with magical bins.

Gosh, if I could have the same earnest wonderment when hearing criticisms, blame, demands, anger.

Just like trash, these are experiences that people dump on the street, maybe in your ears. My instinctual reaction is to back away with disgust. Or annoyance or frustration. Maybe even some righteous indignation that I deserve better than this “verbal abuse”.

But Eddie inspires me to have more openhearted curiosity and listen a little better. Perhaps not take these tragic expressions of unmet needs personally. To understand that they contain a precious request, “Hey, I want to process these painful feelings and unhelpful thoughts. Can you help me to figure out a better way to meet my needs?

In my free webinar “Tragic Expressions of Unmet Needs”, I offer insights and practices to help you be an empathetic listener to anger, blame, demands, and criticisms.

Hopefully, you walk away with:

  • Understanding what a check-engine light has to do with needs
  • A simple trick to translate blame and accusation into requests, without manipulation
  • A neat cheat sheet to put up on your fridge for when you get stuck, so you avoid using words that will make things worse
  • The one thing you need to do whenever you hear criticisms, blame, demands, and anger and have more closeness
  • The fun of failure applause so you feel excited to keep practicing empathy for hard-to-hear messages, even when you fail

Friday, May 21, 2021, from 9:00-10:00 am CST.

Sign-up here.

Listen on Spotify

by Elly van Laar

Don’t worry, your unpleasant feelings are here to stay

Fun fact one, at least for me, since I love gardening: St. Augustine grass grows well in the shade.

Fun fact two: St. Augustine spreads by stolons, also known as runners: “mother” clones that form “daughter” sprouts which spread and weave soft, thick mats of greenness.

Fun fact three: these stolons put out thin, almost invisible roots that grow at least 10 inches into the ground.

St. Augustine grass is here to stay. That would be great if I want to see my water consumption triple in July and August. And not so great since I want to be eco-conscious and want to make my yard drought-tolerant.

Since I am crazy about attracting butterflies, birds, and bees, I decide to replace part of our lawn with a bed for native plants that attract them. After the heavy rainfall this weekend, the soil is soft enough to dig up the grass in a spot more or less 6 by 12 feet.

I start super enthusiastically. Halfway through and covered in mud, I am totally discouraged, At 6:30 pm and 3 hours into the project, I only removed half of the grass.

Since my goal is to end up with flowers and wildlife and not perfection, I change strategies to “good enough”.  I remove enough grass to help the native plants establish themselves but not more. I will defer to pulling out grass if it comes back.

This change in strategy reminds me of facilitated dialogues.

In this work, the goal is to create enough compassion and understanding to help you find solutions for your issues.

You don’t have to dig up every trauma when you want to tell your teammate that you have gotten triggered when he talks more than 80% of the time in a meeting with 13 other team members. Instead, you can focus on how to meet his need for respect for his expertise and the need for respect for other team members.

When you want to tell your colleague that you rather work on a grant application than chat about what she did over the weekend, you don’t have to go into the details of how your pregnancy is impacting your attention. You can just agree to start your meetings with 2 minutes of appreciation to build trust and understanding.

You don’t have to share how your ex-partner’s angry outbursts got you to file for a divorce. It is already a win if you can talk constructively about how much time your daughter can be on social media when she is with him.

This is what a few happy clients wrote me:

“For me, the biggest thing is that we’re both trying so hard, and I think that is making the biggest difference. We’re both really committed to making it work. I have way more trust in A. than I did before. I’m hopeful, and I feel good about where this is going.”, S.B., Team leader, Foundation Communities

“I agree 100 percent. Last month was extremely hard to where I was taking it home, and I was replaying conversations, and it was stressful and almost to the point of me not wanting to work here anymore. So I feel like now we both can come in and do our jobs successfully since we both have huge responsibilities. We’re going through so much right now that for us to come in and be the best that we could be, something had to give with the tension that was in the air. I’m really grateful for our time with Elly, and I feel like we both can be more productive in our jobs through this process.”, A.O., Team leader, Foundation Communities

“The facilitated dialogues are very, very helpful and give me the promise of and the felt experience of an alternate way of interacting. One thing I have really appreciated about Elly is her neutral stance. Because I had very, very little sympathy for my ex-husband. In her neutral stance and giving equal time to paraphrasing him and me, she has helped me develop compassion for him. There have been times when I said: “You need to do this with him, You need not do this with him, You need to speak up.” I think I’ve tried to be directive with her because I know him well. I appreciate that she has resisted any temptation. She has not shown me or him a preference for one of us over the other. That’s a very new experience for me, which benefits me.”, C.M., Organization Development Consultant, Austin

Do you want to see if a facilitated dialogue can help you with your issue? Comment on this post.

Do you keep pushing things to the backburner?

Our landlord is coming over to walk through the house and yard to see what needs repair after the winter storm.

We haven’t had visitors for a year. The house has experienced a “Covid effect”. Items are scattered within easy reach, the living spaces are clean enough for our standards, and the off-camera parts are less presentable.

Just like Zoom-calls: our hair is combed, teeth are flossed, and our shirt looks clean, but we might be a little long between showers, our favorite sweatpants have holes, and the back of our hair isn’t trimmed.

In the few days before his visit, everything comes to a halt and we begin a decluttering and cleaning frenzy. By the time the landlord arrives, it’s as shiny as if Obama himself is coming over for a photoshoot.

We feel utterly satisfied with the result.

But not so much with the process.

If only we had listened to KonMari and gave everything away that didn’t spark joy. If only we had kept a regular schedule for cleaning and tidying. If only we had kept our backlog of chores in check.

If only, if only, if only.

In the busyness of everyday events and without the impetus of visitors, we were absorbed with what was right in front of us. The urgent distracted us from the less urgent, although equally important: order, harmony, and peace of mind.

I wonder if I am the only one who postpones the less urgent in favor of the urgent because we don’t see the price we pay for the postponement?

If you want to make sure that the important things get done with less stress, a coaching package might be your thing.

Some clients tell me a weekly review of their circumstances and choices is the best thing they have done for themselves in a long time.

Like having a visitor come over, the scheduled sessions of a package help you become clear about your intention, values, and priorities. As a result, you know what to ask for, of yourself or someone else, to accomplish your goals, and when to relax and celebrate you moving toward them.

This is what Maureen van den Akker, Senior Copywriter at Food Cabinet, said about working with me:

“What I really liked was that you just listen very well. And even though I sometimes found your questions difficult, I could somehow find out more about myself. And maybe start to appreciate myself more in the sense that I am a nicer person than I think I am. I got more out of it than I thought before we started. Those few conversations really took me a step further.

“The main result of working with you is seeing that I am not looking for something that is somewhere far on the horizon, the woman I want to be: confident and comfortable to be herself, who has the courage to be vulnerable. That she is not somewhere far away, but that it is somewhere in me and that it depends more on the circumstances whether she comes out.

“And that I can influence those circumstances. And maybe I can train it too, by taking a step every now and then. Looking for a situation where I feel vulnerable and then noticing that nothing bad happens after all. Maybe that’s how the self-confident me can come up more often.”

Do you want to talk about how this might work?

  • Email me
  • Or call me at 512-589-0482
  • No strings attached, I always like talking to you even if you end up not working with me.

P.S. Current packages have 6 sessions to be scheduled within 8 weeks for $840. Only sign up for it, if you believe the value you will get is worth 5 times your money.

P.S. The idea of the urgent and important comes from general Eisenhower.

Get moving!

My 90-year old uncle is the first to arrive at my Zoom-birthday party. Then my team leader from my work in mental health facilities. Third, my former buddy from my Dutch improv theatre group and her family.

And my beloved dorm friend, childhood friend, business buddy, brothers, sister+boyfriend, the American exchange student who lived with us when I was 16. The aunt and uncle I was a bridesmaid of at age five. Of course my hubby.

And halfway through the introductions, my parents join with party hats and plastic flower strings wrapped around their necks and sing a birthday song. 16 Screens throw their arms in the air and holler “Hieperdepiep, hoera! Hieperdepiep, hoera! Hieperdepiep, hoera!”

Three times because Dutch people like to party, even if only on Zoom.

And as much as I love all of it, I do miss in-person parties. Nothing can replace a hug, moving around from one group to another, looking into real eyes.

And the normalcy of silent moments, of quiet reflection before speaking.

This last year I have done all my coaching and mediation on Zoom.

It works, surprisingly, very well.

And I am ready for coaching in person.

More specifically, coaching while walking, so we can take our masks off and be safe. (But you can leave yours on, of course)

You might be ready for in-person coaching too and let the natural pauses in the conversation help you reflect on your goals and aspirations.

You might want some outdoor time after being stuck at home behind a computer while trying to homeschool your first grader for a year. Or sixth-grader. Or highschooler.

And even though you are proficient at participating in meetings on Zoom, even running them yourself, you might like to move your feet instead of navigating the software.

Enjoy the fresh air and the beauty of Texas spring after wearing a mask at work all day.

And let the environment inspire you to look at your situation from a fresh perspective.

You choose how long we meet, as long as it is more than 1 hour. You simply pay $175 per hour, prorated.

Since this is a new offer, I will pay for the time I spent biking or driving to our meeting place, as long as it is within 11.2 miles of my home (which will get us to McKinney Falls State Park, yeah!).

This is what Maureen van den Akker, Senior Copywriter at Food Cabinet, said about working with me:

“What I really liked was that you just listen very well. And even though I sometimes found your questions difficult, I could somehow find out more about myself. And maybe start to appreciate myself more in the sense that I am a nicer person than I think I am. I got more out of it than I thought before we started. Those few conversations really took me a step further.

“The main result of working with you is seeing that I am not looking for something that is somewhere far on the horizon, the woman I want to be: confident and comfortable to be herself, who has the courage to be vulnerable. That she is not somewhere far away, but that it is somewhere in me and that it depends more on the circumstances whether she comes out.

“And that I can influence those circumstances. And maybe I can train it too, by taking a step every now and then. Looking for a situation where I feel vulnerable and then noticing that nothing bad happens after all. Maybe that’s how the self-confident me can come up more often.”

Since many of my clients are early morning people, I will meet you as early as 7:00 am.

Do you want to talk about how this might work?

  • Email me
  • Or call me at 512-589-0482
  • No strings attached, pinky promise: I always like talking to you even if you don’t want to take me up on this offer

Broken Bucket

Reusing resources is a good thing. I am convinced of that. It’s good for our planet, for our people, and my profit.

So throwing water out on the lawn seems a good idea to me.

Even if it is dirty water with some Dr. Bronner lavender soap in it. 

Thus, when I finish cleaning the kitchen floor, I pick up the bucket to throw the water onto the lawn. Happy peppy water saving.

Only, the bucket slips out of my hands.

It smashes on the ground and breaks. A crack appears from the top to the bottom. My only cleaning bucket is rendered useless. My intention to save resources results in having to spend time and money to buy a new one.

What a bummer.

Looking at the cracked bucket, I decide to:
1.    Accept the result of my action and the blame and frustration that come up from my failure.

2.    Ask my husband for help. Fortunately, he is happy peppy to repair it with his soldering gun.

Because of these 2 actions, I have a perfectly usable bucket.

Why did this work so well?

Because it includes two crucial elements of repair:
1.    Acknowledging that the impact of our behavior can be very different from our intentions.

2.    Focusing on repairing the impact, instead of dismissing, defending, or explaining our intention.

Psychology research shows that these elements work in human relations as well. It doesn’t matter in which culture you grew up, in which faith, or in which millennium.

Almost everyone responds positively to a sincere effort to repair ruptures in relationships.

By expressing our regret about something we said or did, we convey that the other person matters to us and that they are worthy of support and understanding.

I imagine everyone likes such confirmation.

Without repair, others will trust you less. If you don’t reach out, they don’t get the reassurance that you are conscious of your incompetence, that you want to learn from your ignorance, and that your focus is the relationship, not your ego.

The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge for yourself that you made a mistake and practice self-compassion, so the acknowledgment doesn’t turn into shame.

The second thing is to share your mistakes with a confidant and ask for help. Someone who can listen with empathy and compassion and help you figure out how to repair the rupture.

For people who want support in learning how to have and give empathy and repair ruptures in relationships, I offer a group coaching program: The Authentic Joy Journey, also known as the Pledj-group.

We meet bi-weekly for 12 weeks and we explore and practice these topics:

1. Learning
Failure applause, creative tension, and tiny habits

2. Needs
Self-acceptance, the three levels of needs, and the bougainvillea and purple heart

3. Feelings
Pseudo-feelings, check-engine lights, anger

4. Emotional Liberation
Codependency, quality of the relationship, honesty & empathy    

5. Self-Worth
Shame, self-compassion, and limiting beliefs

6. Autonomy
Interdependence, requests, mourning & celebration, next steps

This is for you if you can joyfully pay $438 and commit the time and energy to this program.

This is not for you if the challenges in your life seem overwhelming. You might benefit more from working one-on-one with me or talking with a therapist or counselor.

In this program, we work on transforming core beliefs that we don’t matter, stop living as if life will start later, and start feeling present, content, and grateful in our day-to-day life.

We will meet bi-weekly on Zoom for six sessions, 90 minutes each. We start in February with a max of eight participants.

Contact me with any questions.

Read more about the program.

Who is your rescue angel?

When I arrived in Austin in 2009, I signed up for an improv class. I had been part of an amateur theatre group In the Netherlands. I played Konstanze in Mozart, Ophelia in Hamlet, and roles in many commedia dell’arte plays. Now I thought it would be fun to be on stage without a script.

After a few classes, I sign up for a student show called the Fancy Pants Mashup. Some 12 students put their name in a hat and are randomly matched to play a scene. As I write my name on a piece of paper and put it in the hat, Eric, one of the other players, comes over to say ‘hi’. We laugh, chit chat for a bit, and go into the theater.

The show begins and the MC pulls out two slips of paper from the hat and invites the actors to play a scene.

With a combination of excitement and anticipation, I listen for my name. My anxiety builds when others are called on stage and I am not. This show was a fun idea, but the more I think about it, the worse the idea seems. All the previous scenes were hilarious, funny, or moving. I fear that mine won’t be nearly as entertaining.

In the last round, the show master pulls out ‘Eric’.

Hum? Two Erics and no Elly?

“I haven’t played yet”, I whisper.

“No, your name is not in the hat. I have ‘Eric’.” He shows me the paper. Clearly, it is my handwriting.

?

I try to explain that I must have been distracted writing my name as I was talking to Eric. The show master’s eyes light up and he tells me to play a solo about this guy Eric.

Oh no!

Not by myself! My saboteur yells at me: “You’re not good enough to create a scene worth watching!” Etc, etc.

I am worried that on my own, my longing to be funny will get in the way of my spontaneity. But I can’t think of an escape, so I step into the spotlight. I am hoping that I won’t see the 49 pairs of audience eyes when I am blinded by the light.

It helps.

I don’t even notice that Eric jumps up on stage and pantomimes what I say till I turn around. His wordless support boosts my confidence and our scene gets laughs, quiet, and applause.

He is an example of someone willing to help others shine and succeed in their goals.

Maybe you are a bit like me and make one of these mistakes around achieving your goals:

  1. Thinking you have to do it on your own
  1. Shaming yourself for not showing up the way you want
  1. Setting your standards too high

But what good does it do if you don’t ask for help when you need it?

When I realized that it was totally normal to get help to achieve my goals and values, I started to ask for help proactively. Self-worth issues became less relevant, my choices included more perspectives, and I felt more content with what I accomplished.

This happened to the participants of my first coaching group too. The emotional safety of the group helped them accept their shame, fear, and anger. They talked about what is truly important to them. And they found their authentic joy by working through inner obstacles and limiting beliefs.

In January I start a second group: the Authentic Joy Journey.

In 12 weeks you get six sessions with a group of people who are able to create a brave space, listen with empathy, and have enough resources to support you.

In each session, we work on a different theme:

1. Learning: failure applause, creative tension, and tiny habits

2. Needs: the three levels of needs and self-acceptance

3. Feelings: pseudo-feelings, anger, the messenger of needs

4. Emotional liberation: codependency, quality of the relationship, honesty & empathy

5. Self-worth: shame, self-compassion, and limiting beliefs

6. Autonomy: interdependence, requests, mourning & celebration, next steps

This is for you if you are willing to reflect on yourself, go beyond your comfort zone, and are excited to practice radical love.

If you are currently cutting corners, this helps you to trust that it is all there for you and that life is inviting you to go get it.

This is also for you if you can joyfully contribute $438 for the program.

This is not for you if you rather complain and expect others to take care of you.

It’s also not for you if you have too much stress in your life and won’t be able to listen with empathy to others.

I accept eight participants at most and have only five spots left.

Email me if you want to join and we’ll talk about whether this is a good fit for you.

P.S. Watch the video with Eric and me here.

P.P.S. I am appalled by what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6. I am intensifying my efforts to be an anti-racist, engage in difficult conversations, and stand up for my values of empathy, compassion, and mindfulness.

P.P.S. You can also visit this page to first get a feel for the group.

Cockroach in a bookcase

I am on a book binge. I borrow one book after another from the Austin Public Library. Books about bias, behavioral economics, positive psychology, decision making, and coaching.

I like them so much that I order them from my favorite local bookstore so I can reread them whenever I want.

When I pick them up, I can’t help skimming through my new treasures. It takes minutes before I am ready to bike home. I spend the 4.3 miles thinking about the puzzle of how to fit them in my limited shelf space.

As soon as I open the glass doors of my bookcase, I see a cockroach scurry behind Fast Thinking, Slow Thinking. I quickly get my cockroach-catch-cup, slowly peel the books away, trap the cockroach, and take it outside. I trust it will thrive there as well as in here.

When I come back, I see some brown granules on the shelf. I wipe them off. Then I see some brown smears against the back of the bookcase. No problem, my soapy water does the trick.

Now I spot more droppings on the shelf below. Getting concerned I take the books off that shelf too. Then the books on the shelf above. Within minutes, all my books are sprawled around my room, on my bed, the table, the bench, stacked on a stool.

I stare at a bookcase fully contaminated by cockroach excrements.

It takes me the rest of my Saturday to clean up the mess. Not exactly my idea of resting and rejuvenating after a week of hard work. And certainly pretty far from the delight I had when I biked home from the bookshop.

But the worst part is the barrage of shame and self-criticism that comes along with the experience.

I had seen some of the evidence months before. I just didn’t want to spend the time cleaning the brown spot inside the glass door. I had seen a cockroach hide behind the bookcase in the previous weeks and didn’t think much of it. I could have explored these signals but I didn’t want to give up my other plans. I had more important commitments and the task of emptying the bookcase seemed overwhelming.

Instead, I ignore the small consistent clues and they turn into this big mess.

Maybe this is a metaphor for team dynamics?

Your colleague makes a remark that doesn’t land well. Since it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, you shrug your shoulders. Yet, you take it home and fret about it.

Or maybe your CEO offers criticism or raises her voice. You feel startled but don’t know how to share it without hurting the relationship. Instead, you start looking at job listings.

Or a team member comes to you with complaints about another member and you spend hours trying to get them to work together, taking time away from your core responsibilities. You take a deep breath, work harder, and hope for the best.

In Dutch we call those responses ‘little clothes for the bleeding’.

They work only to a certain extent.

Meanwhile, the incidents pile up. And over time the whole team gets bogged down with unresolved issues.

Maybe I can help you with that.

Like cleaning, it might be better to have small, regular sweep-ups that keep a fresh workplace, rather than a big yuck that brings everything to a halt. Maybe you need a mediator. Or someone who facilitates a dialogue. You might benefit from a webinar on self-care. Or perhaps coaching for a key manager who could use a boost of support so she is energized again to inspire her team.

Schedule a free discovery session to explore how working with me can help you keep communication open and clean.

Conflict can feel like balancing on a tight rope

One front foot. Pause, maybe 1-2 seconds. A second foot. Pause, 1-2 seconds. Maybe even three. A third foot, an even longer pause.

The tiny squirrel is now nine feet out on a narrow utility line, some 18 feet above the ground. He has to cross another 35 feet to get to the other side of the line into the tree that he wants to get to.

At that moment a mockingbird swoops in and squawks at him. God knows why. Twice he flies in at full-speed right at the baby squirrel. And the squirrel freezes at his feeble spot on the line.

My heart goes boom, boom, boom.

How I wish I could climb up and bring it back into safety. Instead, I am left on the ground 18 feet below hoping and preparing to catch it if it fell.

A few seconds into the freeze, the squirrel manages to turn around and get back into the tree where he came from. When he jumps into it, I think he’s safe and I continue my morning walk.

The event reminds me of what can happen with people in conflict when they don’t feel safe enough to move to the perspective of the other person.

Some freeze when they imagine what the other person might say about them. Scared that they will only hear how fundamentally flawed they are.

Others swoop in with a list of blame, evaluations, and ‘shoulds’ rather than share their more vulnerable feelings and needs, not trusting that they will be heard with compassion and empathy.

Neither one sees their conflict as an opportunity to improve collaboration. It is more a boxing match on a utility line than a chance to explore the values and norms, assumptions, and preferred strategies underlying their respective positions.

I hear many of my clients struggle with conflict these days, as their challenges increase with economic shocks, social changes, isolation, presidential elections, funding stress, and higher demands for their services.

That’s when a neutral facilitator can help. They create a brave space for each participant to share honestly. They model how to listen with empathy. They accept and work with the triggers that come up. And they support each participant to make requests.

As a result, the participants don’t only solve their problems, they actively find solutions to improve their collaboration.

I just finished a facilitated dialogue between two nonprofit team leaders. This is what they say after our third session:

“Last month was extremely hard to where I was taking it home and I was replaying conversations and it was stressful and almost to the point of me not wanting to work here anymore. So I feel like now we both can come in and do our jobs successfully since we both have huge responsibilities. We’re going through so much right now that in order for us to come in and be the best that we could be here, something had to give with the tension that was in the air. I’m really grateful for our time with Elly and I feel like we both can be more productive in our jobs through this process.”

“We’re both trying so hard and I think that is making the biggest difference. We’re both really committed to making it work. I have way more trust in him than I did before. I’m really hopeful and I feel good about where this is going.”

Contact me if you want to see how hiring me as a facilitator can help you.

Tragic Expressions of Unmet Needs

Okay, let’s face it. There is no amount of sitting on our cushion, Nonviolent Communication training, books, and whatever else we are doing around personal development that makes us immune against ‘tragic expressions of unmet needs’.

Even Thich Nhat Hanh, my favorite Buddhist teacher, sometimes feels overwhelmed with feelings of anger. He too suffers when he sees the results of social injustice, fear, discrimination, fanaticism.

The difference between him and me is that he has a solid habit of mindful walking or sitting on his cushion to transform his anger and understand the needs behind those tragic expressions of unmet needs. So when he expresses how those tragic expressions landed for him, he speaks with love and a longing to support the needs of the other person.

And this is exactly my challenge:

  • Accept that the point of my life is not to be peaceful and happy, peppy all the time, but to take a breath, pause, and connect to my values and vision for this world.
  • To transform any enemy image I have of the other person into a deeper understanding and seeing their basic goodness.
  • To take a risk and express myself authentically.
  • To come from a place of nondiscrimination and wanting to support all needs: theirs, mine, and those of the environment.

Maybe you are at Thich Nhat Hanh’s level of mindfulness. Then, please, stop reading and share your magic ingredient for being at his level of integrity.

And maybe you are more at my level and that of many of my clients. Maybe you recognize one of these situations:

  • You are in mid-level management and you are ready to quit your job because the work environment has become too toxic. Instead of building trust and collaboration, the CEO and the directors turn against each other, focusing more on promoting their own careers rather than carrying the organization and your clients through this pandemic and economic downturn.
  • You have a wonderful relationship with your supervisor but you struggle to schedule time with him to discuss long-term strategy. Your supervisor is so overwhelmed with running around putting out fires, both at work and at home, that he has no mental availability to even consider a vision for the next two, three years.
  • Or you see a substantial drop in enrollment for your school. The Board panics that your school won’t survive this academic year and pushes for radical changes in operations. They criticize your focus and decisions. It almost seems that they are actively undermining your reputation with faculty and staff.
  • Your team members knock on your door and complain about each other. Instead of them resolving their conflict themselves, you are spending your time constantly mediating between them. How can you support them in finding their own solutions, so that you can concentrate on the big picture questions?

Situations where your needs aren’t met. And maybe not even the other person’s needs. One set of needs is prioritized over another one, it is either/or. Emotional safety or honesty. Harmony over authenticity. Contribution or rest.

But there is another way. We can engage others to meet all needs, even if they growl at you.

In my free webinar ‘Tragic Expressions of Unmet Needs’, you will learn:

  • Why tragic expressions are requests for help disguised in jackal form;
  • The psychology of empathy that helps transform anger, blame, accusations, defensiveness into emotional intimacy and love;
  • Exactly what to do and not to do when you empathize with tragic expressions of unmet needs;
  • The one phrase that will diffuse any tension, build trust, and help you get to the heart of the matter in a few minutes;
  • A simple, although not easy, exercise to calm down when you feel triggered;
  • The importance of a community that is committed to working on non-judgmental acceptance, self-love, finding peace and equanimity, and using those superpowers to serve others;
  • The four essential ingredients to receive tragic expressions without lashing out or running away.

Sign-up here. For free. Wednesday, September 23, 11:30 am-12:30 pm CST. On Zoom.

P.S. Here is an article about Thich Nhat Hanh’s insight on responding to terrorism with mindfulness.

P.P.S. Do you want to see how we can work together? Visit my website to read some testimonials.

Click-Whirr

Did you know that mother turkeys only mother to those chicks that make a cheep-cheep noise? And that she ignores, mistreats, and even kills her chicks if they don’t make that noise?

Well, maybe you don’t care, but I find it fascinating.

To make things even more interesting, she even mothers stuffed polecats if they have a small recorder with that cheep-cheep sound inside them.

Those same stuffed polecats that receive immediate and furious attacks if they don’t make that sound.

And it is not only mother turkeys who have automated responses. Other animals have it too. Male robins attack nothing more than a clump of robin-redbreast feathers, while virtually ignoring a stuffed replica of a male robin without red breast feathers.

In “Influence”, Robert Cialdini calls it fixed-action patterns, “They can involve intricate sequences of behavior, such as entire courtship or mating rituals. A fundamental characteristic of these patterns is that the behaviors that compose them occur in virtually the same fashion and in the same order every time. Click and the appropriate tape is activated; whirr and out rolls the standard sequence of behavior. The most interesting thing about all this is the way the tapes are activated.”

It is not the whole animal, situation, or person that activates those fixed-action patterns, it is only one specific feature of the situation.

Humans form no exception to the rule. I know that I only need to see a LinkedIn notification on my phone and I open the app. My sister visits me and I go on a cleaning frenzy. I hear criticism and I feel ashamed and judge myself.

I wonder if I am the only one with such fixed-action patterns. Or if there are others who have some too.

People who automatically get defensive and start explaining themselves, when their supervisor blames them.

Who get pushy and raise their voice when conflicts don’t get addressed, let alone resolved.

Who work an hour longer, as soon as someone asks them to take on another task, even if they had planned to spend time with their kids.

People who don’t ask for help because they know their co-worker is having trouble at home.

And I wonder if you would rather have more choice on how to respond to those triggers. Instead of being dictated by your feelings, limiting beliefs, and conditions, respond from a place of care and inclusion of all needs. Including your own.

What if you could build a new fixed-action response when those triggers arise?

A habit that gets so automatic that whenever you hear blaming, shaming, complaining, demanding, you pause and practice self-care first.

And then use that pause to consciously choose how to respond. One that meets your needs as well.

If you want that new self-care habit, join my free webinar “Self-care as your new habit”.

In this webinar, you will:

  • Walk away with a simple four-step model to build a new habit that doesn’t take more than a minute or two to apply
  • WOOP every day to strengthen your self-care muscle and understand why this is such a powerful process (especially interesting if you like the science behind methods)
  • Work with all the obstacles to self-care without resisting them, and instead use those obstacles to learn more about yourself and thus be more effective in building your habit
  • Transform paradigms that self-care takes away from caring for others, into seeing how it contributes to them
  • Find a community that is committed to work on non-judgmental acceptance, self-love, finding peace and equanimity, and using those superpowers to serve others

After participating in the last webinar, Hanneke, my beloved sister, liked that she “got hope and practical tools for an easier daily way of living. It was very useful that Elly gives practical tools for everyday life. Like: set very small goals so there is a big opportunity you will succeed and that gives confidence for taking the next steps.” Of course, I know Hanneke is biased. But I did like this sentence a lot: “Elly is a very inspiring lady and fun to hang around with because she is also vulnerable about her own struggles.”

And Jess, a former participant in our Nonviolent Communication group, enjoyed that he received tools to work with the anger/intense emotions within his inner world and the outer world.

What do you want to walk away with after participating in this webinar? 

Find out by signing-up here. For free.

P.S. I am gonna start free, monthly office hours to help you with issues around conflict resolution, communication, and compassion. I haven’t chosen a day/time yet for the first one. Let me know if you have a preference and I’ll try to accommodate you. Just email me at elly@ellyvanlaar.com

P.P.S. You feel happy giving some happy money to my endeavors? You can Venmo me at @Elly-VanLaar, use PayPal with elly@ellyvanlaar.com, and/or send a check/cash (oh yeah, I love our USPS-delivery lady!). You find the email at the bottom.

P.P.S I know that I use my happy money in service of God’s world.

Who needs conflict resolution skills? I do! [especially with squirrels]

This one is big. And red. And almost ripe.

I have nurtured this tomato for weeks now. Carefully watering its roots. Trimming off shriveled leaves. Propping up the stalk with a pole.

Its 3 predecessor tomatoes disappeared mysteriously. They were also big, but green. I didn’t see a trace of them, not even a sliver of skin on the bottom of the plant bed. I wonder what happened to them.

Now I know.

As I am happily brushing my teeth, I walk around in my kitchen and stop in my tracks to spot a miniature pumpkin face grinning at me from the yard. It is carefully placed on top of the fence.

Halloween is months away, the neighbor moved out. So who wants to spook me with little devilish tokens of: “I see you, I know where you live, I am coming after you”?

It takes another breath and a closer look to see it is not a carved pumpkin.

It is the big tomato. Not carefully placed, more randomly munched at. And at least 95% guaranteed left behind by a squirrel. Those same squirrels that take a few nibbles out of my figs, and rummage my pecan tree to leave chunks of pecans on my front path.

The same squirrels that I am clueless about how to collaborate with.

If we would speak the same language, I might make a request:

“Hey, when I see you eat the tomato and leave most of it uneaten, I feel sad and disappointed. I want more respect for the preciousness of our resources, and some celebration for my hard work. What about I cut you half the tomato when it’s ripe and you leave it alone till then? And if that doesn’t work, what would work better for you that would also work for me?”

As it is, we don’t share the same language.

I have no clue how to talk to the squirrel and find a solution that works for both of us.

Interactions with people can sometimes seem like working with a squirrel. Even though you and the other person share the same universal needs, the strategies you choose to meet those beautiful needs are probably different. You might not even want to find a solution that works for both of you. You rather walk away with disappointment and frustration or turn against with force and anger.

And that’s when conflicts start.

Conflict never starts at the level of human, universal, needs. It starts at the level of strategies.

If we understand the needs underneath the strategy, it is much easier to brainstorm strategies that meet all needs involved.

My mini-training “The 5 secrets to resolve conflict that hardly anyone uses” gives you the basic tools to transform conflict into collaboration.

This is what Titia van Rootselaar, Mindfulness and Compassion Trainer, Netherlands emails me after reading them:

“In these secrets, Elly beautifully shows how you can change the atmosphere of a conflict, possibly a painful and stressful situation, 180 degrees through a compassionate attitude. By opening yourself to the needs of the other and yourself, more space and openness is created. Your heart is also more involved. It is a really good tool, and not only suitable for the work environment. I’ve already applied it privately.”

And my sister Hanneke van Laar, a Personal Care Counselor for People with Mental Disabilities, writes:

“Thanks for your secrets. I should have called you much earlier about the tensions I felt at work. Then I might have made another choice. I should have become very quiet in myself first. Perhaps I saw too many unjustified ‘jackals’.”

 And Jen Collins, Associate Professor School of Nursing shares with me:

“Hi, Elly. This is great wording: ‘You no longer just problem-solve, you solution-find’.”

Curious how it can help you? Sign-up here. For free.

In the next 10 days, you get 5 emails with simple steps to resolve conflicts that you can apply immediately. With humans.

And maybe with squirrels.

1 Communication lesson from a kitty

He is skin and bones. He comes up to me meowing as only unhappy cats can do.

When I pet him, I can feel every rib. My heart breaks for his starvation and I feel almost nauseated with grief and upset.

When I look at the porch where I’ve seen him before, I see that the cat bed is gone. Two new cars are parked on the driveway.

I imagine that the people who took care of the kitty moved out and didn’t take the cat with them. The new owners don’t care or haven’t noticed the kitty yet.

I run home, jump on my bike, and buy cat food. In my head, I make a list of everyone who might want to adopt the kitty. My neighbors with their 4- and 2-year old girls. My best friend who already has two cats. Us as a block. The shelter. Post it on the neighborhood app.

When I come back, the kitty is gone. I do see a neighbor unpacking her car with groceries.

“Have you seen the red kitty?”

“Yes. He is ours.”

“Oh… I thought he was abandoned. He came up to me meowing and looked so thin.”

“He likes to wander around and loves being petted. He showed up at our doorstep eight years ago, when he was probably five years old. We feed him every day, but no matter how much we give him, he loses weight. We took him to the vet and had all kinds of tests run on him. We think he is moving to the end of his life.”

“Ah, I feel relieved he’s taken care of. I guess I can return the cat food then.”

“You’re so kind. Yes, you can. We’re watching him day and night.”

I feel relieved to see my understanding was incomplete. The meowing that I took as a request for help was just a bid for connection. A good old-fashioned cat strategy to be petted.


With people, we might miss bids for emotional connection. Especially if we are triggered by how they express their “tragic expression of unmet needs”. 
Rather than seeing the beautiful, precious, universal needs in those bids, we hear blaming, shaming, and complaining. We lose our excitement to connect to them and don’t want to do anything like the human equivalent of petting a kitty.

Instead, we turn away or turn against. We react with stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, or contempt. What John Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It is the fastest route to conflict crashing beyond repair.

Trust me, I’ve been there. I learned my lesson the hard way. After my share of failed attempts to repair challenging interactions, I got up to speed with books and videos of inspiring teachers. I experimented with new behavior and gained insights about conflict resolution.

So I developed an online mini-training, “The 5 Secrets to Resolving Conflict that Hardly Anyone Uses”, in which you can learn to respond more constructively to tragic expressions of unmet needs.

You will learn how to prevent turning away or against angry bids for connection. Without being overrun by those horsemen.

Is that something for you?

Then
 sign-up here.

In 10 days you get 5 emails with simple steps to resolve conflicts that hardly anyone uses. For free.

Enjoy more purring kitties around you!

The toilet is constipated

I just cleaned the bathroom, when my toilet gets constipated. Before I know it, the bowl with all of its contents is overflowing. I am too late to grab the plunger. I can only stand there and see the spotless floor turn into a yukky mess.

I have no choice but to grab a bucket and old racks and start cleaning.

It is the last thing I want to do. I have a long list of tasks I want to complete. Spending 45 minutes cleaning up this mess is not on it.

A few minutes into it, I realize that I could have prevented it. The plumbing has had trouble for a while now and I could have hired someone to fix it.

I hadn’t. It wasn’t on my to-do list you know… 

It reminds me of how often I let small negative interactions slip by. I don’t want to spend the time to address them with the other person, I am too busy. The issue is not so big, it can be addressed later. The interaction is usually fine, so what am I making such a big deal about?

And before I know it, one small issue gets dumped on top of another small one. And another. And another. Till the plumbing of our communication is so constipated that the next small thing turns into a big mess.

Maybe you recognize this.

I hear from many clients that communication doesn’t take priority during this pandemic. They need all their resources to get enough funding, coordinate team members and services, and manage press releases. They need to stay on top of things, so their organization, clients, and causes survive this COVID-crisis and looming economic depression.

As a result, small misunderstandings and irritations become bigger disconnects, till they are ready to quit their job. Or they push themselves to chunk through urgency after urgency, 60 hours a week, hoping they can deal with the team issues later.

I completely get it. It is probably the best you can do right now.

So how do you resolve simmering or exploding conflicts in a simple way?

I developed an online mini-training for that.

You will discover 5 simple steps to resolve conflict (even if you are overwhelmed and don’t have much time or energy). For free.

Is that something for you?

If yes, sign-up here for that mini-training: 5 Secrets to Resolve Conflict that Hardly Anyone Uses.

You will get 5 emails with one secret each: an insight to help you resolve conflict more easily.

Enjoy more harmony, understanding, and teamwork!

The man with the hat

My neighbor is a journalist. He covered the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and “You Can’t Close America” protest.

He tells me how he has learned to move through high-intensity events with an acute sense of how to dodge bullets, cans, pushbacks, arrests.

He also shares one of his tricks: he wears a cowboy hat.

He doesn’t really know what that does, but I have a guess. I think it stands for being a cowboy, a native Texan, being on the side of the Lone Star State. I associate it with being a conservative, probably Republican. And also being an individual, somewhat friendly, who likes beer and barbecue.

I imagine that the hat is ambiguous enough to make him a neutral observer. People open up to him, they feel comfortable enough to share what’s on their minds.

And hearing their perspective, values and wants, thoughts and feelings, his hat helps him to be a better empathizer.

You might wear a hat too.

Only yours is invisible. It might be the hat of the team leader, the Director, the CEO. Your hat might signal authority, job reviews, evaluations, or power.

And as a result, people might change how they interact with you. They guard bad news. They put things in a positive light, so you will support them in their individual goals. 

When people are less honest it is harder for you to empathize. With less information to understand their experience, you make your own guesses about who they are and what they want. Guesses that might be more grounded in your own history than their present. With less empathy, there is less honesty. The cycle escalates.

Empathy and honesty go together like two wheels on a bicycle.

Sure you can move forward on a unicycle. It is just way harder. It takes much more practice, a willingness to learn by falling, and a mentor.

In my free webinar: “Align your actions with your values” we explore what you can do to be more empathetic, even if the other person isn’t completely honest.

  • Get one super-simple step to start your empathy workout, which you can use in each and every situation

  • How to empathize with someone you dislike, keep your balance, and hold onto to your truth

  • Why bathroom breaks are probably the best back-up plan to restore your calm when everything else fails

  • A better understanding of your biggest obstacle in empathizing with those who trigger you the most

  • How a three-word question will help resolve the tension in a few seconds

  • Why accepting your current reality is helpful, even if you struggle to empathize with challenging people

  • The fun of failing over and over again, taking your efforts lightly, and build your empathy habit over time

Saturday, July 11 at 1:00-2:00 pm CST. 

Join me.

Thank you hubbie, David Nayer, for your quick and awesome edits and teaching about empathy and honesty.

Frequently Asked Questions:

“Will you be supercritical of my work or leadership skills, telling me how I should improve myself?”

Sofia, Director Services for a Housing Nonprofit in Austin, had that same fear. She was nervous that she was going to feel like everything she was doing was wrong or that she just could be so much better than she was.

But as soon as we started working she loved it. She told me that it ended up being so much more than she would have ever thought that it could be.

The coaching relationship really gave her some benefits that she would not have imagined. It allowed her to look at the work that she was doing and look at the direction that she was going professionally through a little bit of a clearer lens.

It helped her to discern some things in a better way and then really think about how to move ahead. What kinds of things she wanted to change on her team and in her department, what kind of things she wanted to change as far as relationships go with other co-workers or her supervisor or people that she supervises, and then be able to make changes to get them to be what I wanted them to be.

She and I worked on structuring team meetings or team training and developing a little bit of a framework for how her team sees case management and what they’re doing on that side. How they would describe it to themselves, how they would describe it to funders. As a result, she got two grants that she applied for, even though she was honest about the limits of the contribution they could make.

Empathy with Confederalists

Of course, he reacts to my Facebook post about restitution for descendants of slaves with:

“You are free to give all of your money to the descendants of slaves if you wish. But ordering me to do it at the point of a gun is morally wrong. That’s no different than slavery itself! Just curious how much of your own money have you taken out of your own pocket and given to the descendants of slaves? I’ll bet you it is zero! So when you have given everything you have ever earned through the Unfair advantage of your white privilege maybe then you can start lecturing others. Until that point maybe not.”

Even though I knew he would be the first to comment, I still am thrown off balance. I have all kinds of thoughts about him that are not flattering, and would not reflect well on me.

I start pounding my keyboard with arguments about why I am right, restating my viewpoint to prove him wrong. I toggle between my FB post and Google to fact-check my reply. 

Fortunately, this drafting of the perfect response slows me down enough to see how triggered I am and remember my friend’s advice: “The send-button is your enemy.”

When I reread my post, I see it doesn’t reflect my mantra “Empathy works. It always does.” I decide to not respond — yet. I delete everything I wrote, close the FB-tab on my computer, and start empathizing with myself. 

Eleven years into this mantra I know I can easily empathize with my family and friends. With the sick, the poor, the lonely. The people who have different opinions than me on minor issues.

And after this post, I realize that I am not so good at empathizing with someone whose words trigger strong unpleasant feelings and unmet needs around the one thing that I probably value the most: social justice. 

It takes me more than nine hours to feel calm enough to reflect him what I think he is trying to convey. Even then, it takes me several drafts before I think that my reflection is respectful of both our needs and I feel comfortable pushing the send button.

When I receive his private response I have a second trigger. I feel relieved to notice that I learned what I needed reminding of:

  • Instead of reacting and offering counter-arguments, facts, explanations, focus on self-empathy first

  • Enemy images are stumbling blocks for connection, so transform them before interacting with them

  • Openhearted curiosity is the best way to deepen understanding. “I’d like to think they are not 100% wrong”

  • Slow down, if you are in a hurry: you have enough time to process the interaction and guess their thoughts, feelings, and needs

  • Let your deepest values inform your response so that whatever you are doing creates a better world for everyone (I took the free Values In Action-test by Peterson and Seligman to know which ones were mine)

  • Black Lives Matter is strongly tied to more issues I care about than I thought. 

You too might struggle with listening to family members, colleagues, or neighbors who seem to be on the other side of whatever spectrum is important to you. But you might not always have the resources to delay your response. You might be caught in a situation without an exit.

Then join my free webinar: Align your actions with your values, when overwhelmed with triggers”

  • Get one idiotically simple step to start your empathy workout, which you can use in each and every situation

  • How to empathize with Alt-rights, keep your balance, and hold onto to your truth

  • Why bathroom breaks are probably the best back-up plan to restore your calm when everything else fails

  • A better understanding of your biggest obstacle in empathizing with those who trigger you the most

  • How one three-word sentence will help resolve the tension in a few seconds

  • What creative tension has to with your vision and why accepting your current reality is helpful

  • The fun of failing over and over again, taking your efforts lightly, and build your empathy habit over time

Saturday, July 11 at 1:00-2:00 pm CST. 

Join me.

Your coworker is yelling at you. Now what?

“Elly, Elly!” Layla jumps up and down when she sees me. Then she starts running around her mom in circles. Her older sister Lily tells me with a serious look on her face: “We had a good talk yesterday.”

I agree.

I had never realized the importance of streamers on your bike, or training wheels or a bell, till Lily proudly showed them to me. I never knew how much I wished my bike was painted in pink and purple till I saw those colors on her bike. And I didn’t understand my own ignorance till I failed to explain how the pedals and the chain work together. I hope she didn’t notice. She gets on her bike and bikes as fast as she can. I think to impress me.

Layla is done running around her mom and back to jumping up and down. “Elly, Elly!” I jump up and down and shout “Elly, Elly!” with her. I feel embarrassed to shout out my name, but who cares if it brings a two-year-old so much delight?

The interaction won’t make the evening news. Not even our neighborhood chronicle. But it is a gem stored away in the treasure trove of my memories.

When we turn toward each other’s bids for connection, we strengthen our closeness.

According to John Gottman, my favorite relationship expert, these bids don’t have to be of major importance, like: “When can we talk about my performance as a Director?” or “How are we going to support the employees we have to lay off?” It can be as small as showing your bike or asking someone to pass the salt.

Whatever the content is, the intent is the same: someone wants to connect with you. When you respond either with a “yes” to the specific content or offer something even better, you express that you appreciate the sender’s outreach.

According to Gottman, this is also true for angry bids for connection. Bids that might contain blaming, shaming, criticizing, judging, evaluating. It certainly is harder to see the intention to connect in them, but somewhere under those ‘tragic expressions of unmet needs’ there is someone trying to get attention for their suffering. 

The next time you get an angry bid for connection, see if you can separate the bid from the method of bidding. It helps to breathe into your own trigger, check if you have the resources to empathize or need a time-out, and then listen with a curiosity to understand the precious, beautiful, human, universal needs behind the communication.

As a result, you will feel more compassion and have a greater willingness to figure out how to meet all needs.

If you want to learn to train your mind to accept angry bids for emotional connection, you might enjoy my free webinar this Wednesday, June 24, 8:00 am:

In “Puppy training for your mind” we will:

  • Share the different ways we can train our minds to be present with our body, especially when we feel overwhelmed with anxiety, worry, anger
  • Increase trust that no matter our circumstances or conditions, we can always find a place of peace within ourselves, even if only for a few seconds
  • Discuss the benefits of mindfulness, even if you are not a Buddhist and have no intention to ever go to a Sangha
  • Design the simplest tool to nurture your mindfulness every day, no matter what you are thinking, feeling, or doing
  • Figure out how sitting on a cushion and focusing on yourself can contribute to a society with fairness, safety, appreciation, and support for all

Join me next Wednesday, June 24 at 8:00 am CST at a free Zoom-call about mindfulness, empathy, and community.

Join me.

Empathy without compassion

George Floyd

Breonna Taylor

Ahmaud Arbery

Mike Ramos

Justin Howell

Brad Levi Ayala

Empathy without compassion can be cruel. It would be like sitting next to a choking man, listening to his pain, reflecting back his words “I can’t breathe”, and then not helping, or worse, not pulling the knee off. To stop at understanding is not to address suffering.

True empathy inspires compassion. When we put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, attempting to see the world through their eyes, we can take “Right Action” as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it. Action that addresses the immediate issues. And action to improve the underlying systemic structure of those issues.

Marching to create mass attention. Signing petitions to build momentum. Sitting on a cushion to look deeply within to uncover unconscious bias.

And actions that focus on transforming our society into one where Black Lives matter in words and deeds. A society where everyone’s needs for safety, dignity, fairness, and support to fulfill our potential are met. For far too long we lived with horrible racial injustice.

I have not figured out where to begin, although I know it must be grounded in loving-kindness.

Thich Nhat Hanh and many other traditions offer loving-kindness prayers. First, fill yourself up with loving-kindness. Second, wish loving-kindness to a loved one. Then to someone neutral. And end with someone you struggle with.

This Friday, June 12 at noon CST I offer a free Zoom-call around how we can nurture loving-kindness amidst the grief, despair, fear, anger, confusion. A moment to come together for empathy and community.

Join me.

 

With loving-kindness,

Elly van Laar

Coach for Nonprofit Leaders

512-589-0482

www.ellyvanlaar.com

Protests, grackles, and ways of renewal

There are protests in Austin. A car is set on fire, nine shops are vandalized. The police use tear gas and I can hear helicopters all night long. The highway is blocked off by protesters, I can hear voices through a megaphone. probably less than three miles away.

And I feel scared.

I am afraid this violence will escalate into greater violence and cruel hardships for all of us, and I feel at a loss for how to contribute.

Until I see a grackle in my backyard. Her baby chick follows her around, making a lot of sounds, trying to get her attention by opening his beak. As if to say “Mommy, mommy, I’m hungry, feed me. Now!”

She jumps around from spot to spot, putting in a lot of work to find seeds. Apparently not quickly enough, because the chick starts imitating his mommy and finds his own food.

When I look at her, I feel relieved. I can do the best I can with the resources and qualities I have been given and then let go. I can see that I am not the only one responsible for keeping everyone fed and safe. I can look for the helpers, as Fred Rogers said, and follow their example.

Just like the grackle teaches her young to find food, Fred Rogers’s mom taught him to look for the helpers when he felt scared. We can look for the helpers too and form a community where we make sure that everyone is fed.

I see clients struggle with the same issue. Managers and leaders have an enormous sense of responsibility for the well-being of others, especially in organizations with missions of caring. They use all their talent and energy to support causes that are way bigger than themselves. Many struggle to rest when social injustice is clearly not resolved and the environment remains increasingly under threat.

I have spent the greater part of my life developing practices to contribute to others without depleting myself. I have coached hundreds of clients around self-care and self-compassion. That’s how I know which tools help, no matter what your commitment, experience, or circumstance.

For example:

  • Practice gratitude every day and notice our interbeing, even if you work by yourself, you can’t get the support you need or feel isolated. Every wisdom teacher and tradition recommends a gratitude practice to experience more joy.

  • What you have to do to feel rejuvenated, even when demands on you increase, funding shrinks, and you have to let go of precious staff members.

  • Why a short exercise of 10 minutes or less each day will help you in these challenging times, keep you excited, and inspire you to work for systemic change. You can do it everywhere, anytime and effects will easily justify your time investment.

  • How to be stable and powerful, without being pushy or feeling overwhelmed, and inspire your team to find new solutions. You can’t do it alone, so use the talents in your team to creatively come up with unconventional ideas.

  • Trust that knowing your ‘why’ will help you with almost any ‘how’ even when it seems hopeless. Viktor Frankl inspires me to believe that meaning generates the resilience to accomplish anything in spite of our conditions and conditioning.

  • That seeing our behavior as strategies to meet human, universal needs nurtures compassion for others, helps us move beyond us-them thinking, and increases the likelihood that others will support your cause. After only a couple of sessions, Megan started to empathize with a key stakeholder and now is regularly invited to meetings where she meets shakers and doers who help to have an impact on systemic change.

Sign-up for my free webinar:

“Two ridiculously simple ways to refresh in times of protests”.

And walk away with a deeper sense of peace, joy, and hope.

Tuesday, June 9, at 8:00-9:00 am.

Contact me with any questions. I am here to support you.

Or sign up here.

With loving-kindness,

Elly van Laar

Coach for Nonprofit Leaders

512-589-0482

www.ellyvanlaar.com




“There is one external partner that I work with on a regular basis who is in a position to do a great deal of good. And I wanted to support that person, but I felt like they were not listening or that they were not seeing my perspective. And when I stopped trying to get them into my boat and decided to just go ahead and get in their boat, that was where we had a breakthrough.

I now have regular standing meetings with that person who is much higher than me on their organizational chart than I am in mine. And they have connected me to key doers and movers and shakers within their organization to start getting things done. I think there’s finally traction and they are open, they’re reviewing my input with an open mind.

By being able to get the right people in the room, we might actually accomplish social change. If for lack of being able to communicate effectively, you’re unable to get the right people in the room, you know, great things never kick-off.

But just being able to communicate more effectively got the right people in the room, things started happening. And as a result, on a systemic level, we can affect change that will be beneficial.”

Megan Elkins

Director Talent PipeLine Success, Workforce Solutions, Capital Area Austin

Vic

Vic is the newbie on Seal Team Bravo, a character in a TV show I watch with my husband.

Vic has had a challenging childhood, missing love, acceptance, safety, a sense of family. When Vic is accepted into Bravo Team, he experiences brotherhood for the first time in his life.

In this episode, the team goes on a covert mission. Unwittingly, Vic throws a grenade in the room where the hostage is being held that the team is trying to rescue. The hostage dies and the mission ends in failure. The team faces serious scrutiny, maybe even charges. If anyone finds out about Vic’s mistake, his membership of Team Bravo will be in jeopardy.

So Vic makes his second mistake, he keeps his actions secret to stay on the team.

He makes his third mistake when his team sponsor and mentor Ray thinks that he, Ray, killed the hostage. We see how devastated Ray is when he imagines facing court-martial and being removed from the team he has been part of for the last 18 years of his life.

Vic chooses a strategy to meet his needs for belonging that violates his values of integrity, honesty, and responsibility. The error becomes a moral weakness.

Eventually video footage surfaces, and we see Vic was the one. Ray is off the hook. Vic is being dismissed from the team. Not only did he betray his own values, but his strategy didn’t even meet his needs. Instead of belonging to the team, he is discharged with shame and guilt.

Marshall Rosenberg calls that “a tragic expression of unmet needs”. We choose strategies to meet our beautiful, universal, human needs that end up sabotaging those very same needs.

I know all too well what that feels like. And you might too. Self-compassion helps with understanding the needs we were trying to meet. Honesty with personal growth when we see which values we violated. And support to discern which values are important and which needs would be effective to nurture those needs.

Would you describe yourself as someone who wants to honor their values and integrity, contribute to others, and nourish self-compassion?

Then you might enjoy coaching with me. I have 23 years of experience with and in nonprofits. And I have a personal practice of empathy, compassion, and mindfulness.

This is what Megan Elkins, Director, Talent Pipeline Success, Workforce Solutions in Austin says about working with me:

“I was just so pleasantly surprised at how much progress I could make. You know, being someone who pursues knowledge for my entire life, you know, I’m constantly trying to learn, constantly trying to self improve, I didn’t realize I had that much potential for growth. Both on like a social-emotional or an empathy scale, but also on a professional scale. I kind of didn’t realize that I had not yet peaked in my ability to communicate with others. And that’s something that was really insightful.”

If you sign up before June 1, you will be grandfathered in at my current fee of $100 per session. And because of Memorial Day, if you sign up for six, you will get one session for free.



What I am reading: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl:

“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. Man is able to live and even die for the sake of his ideals and values.”

471

My foster daughter invites me to start an exercise discipline. We use the 7-Minutes app to do 13 exercises, each morning. We both do it at home and inspire each other to stick to the routine.

I say ‘yes’ to support her in her ambitions for a fit, strong body.

And I hate it.

Push-up, plank, lunges, wall sit, high stepping, push-up-and-rotation. I dread them all. There is absolutely nothing I like about it, and I don’t really care that I might get fitter or stronger.

But I continue for her. I then find that she had quit within a few months.

But by now I no longer experience the 13 exercises as so gruesome, or even unpleasant, and begin to like being more fit. I feel the boost of dopamine each time my app counts my new streak.

Even when I only have two hours of sleep during 27 hours of travel, or I have to get up at 6 am, or I am at the airport: I am now on a mission to do my seven minutes, no matter what!

At day 470 I feel super proud of myself. I am approaching 500!

Then I go for a hike with my nephew, we have lunch, and I go to the bathroom.

And I drop my phone in the toilet.

My phone stops working for 25 hours.

And I lose my streak.

No 471 for me.

I can start all over again.

In the past, I might have been so disappointed with myself that I would have given up.

But this time it is different. The 470 days in a row got me hooked enough to return to my routine the next day, even though the app starts at 0.

I realize that I am not exercising for the dopamine, the short-lived reward of the app count, or even to get stronger. I am practicing to build up self-discipline, to stick to a program whether I feel like it or not.

I am actually practicing living by my values and vision, whatever my circumstances, conditions, or conditioning are. I am nurturing what Viktor Frankl calls the ultimate freedom, the freedom to choose who we want to be, and how we want to respond in each instant of life.

You too might face situations that you dread. Struggling to do things because they are challenging. Starting conversations that might derail into more conflict.

Whether it is your interaction with a Director you see as too demanding of you. Or figuring out how to respond to a leader you think is self-serving. Or finding some mutual understanding in a leadership team that seems at odds with itself.

Or just hanging in there as you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, maybe even tired enough to move on to an organization that is easier to work in.

Only for those situations, there is no app.

No simple instructions to go through the motions.

No celebration when you succeed at your commitments, whatever your circumstances.

My clients reach out to me when they want support to have those dialogues. To deepen understanding, find resolutions, and strengthen the team. I support leadership teams, boards, and organizations of all sizes. I share the tools and insights to help you find constructive solutions in conflict.

As a result, you will:

  • Be empowered to transform future conflict into constructive solutions 

  • See the beautiful motivation behind everyone’s actions

  • Understand the underlying causes of misunderstanding that lie at the root of the conflict

  • Build the trust that empowers working together toward a common goal

  • Clarify the priorities to align your team

  • Make requests with Santa-Claus energy

  • Learn to fail fast and forward

  • Walk away with strategies that increase the effectiveness

Talk to me if you want to discuss how this could help you and your organization. I have 23 years of experience with nonprofit organizations, I am a credentialed mediator, certified coach, and I have a lifelong commitment to nourish empathy and compassion:


Sofia Barbato, Director Supportive Services, Foundation Communities, Austin

“I think the other real benefit was just a different way of thinking about things. So thinking about when maybe there’s some conflict in a team meeting, thinking about that conflict in a different way and more as an opportunity to figure out how to collaborate. And I really liked the stuff that we did around Nonviolent Communication, really thinking about the needs and strategies. And I think once I started seeing conversations with people through that lens, it really changed those conversations and made them to be a little bit more collaborative. I felt like I had more empathy for the people that I was working with, whether that be co-workers or clients, and then be able to not even problem-solve, but just kind of solution-find together to figure out what met both people’s needs. And that the strategies sometimes are going to be different, but that we needed to really look at what are the actual needs that we were trying to address.”

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl survived Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, Kaufering and Turkheim.

In 1946 he wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning” in nine days.

Part one is a description of his experiences as a prisoner and slave.

Part two is an elaboration of the psychotherapy he developed: logotherapy, the therapy of meaning. 

I can only read the first part for a maximum of three minutes a day, early in the morning. I need the rest of the day to process the horrors I read and find some peace before going to bed.

The second part I can gobble down like a hungry baby thrush. I find it uplifting, inspiring, and encouraging. I feel excited to realize how much Positive Psychology, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, and Stephen Covey owe Frankl’s work. I feel delighted to see the similarities between his teachings and those of my favorite Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

I keep reflecting on Frankl’s quote of Nietzsche:

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

I feel humbled to realize that Frankl came to see meaning as the driving force of life after he lost his position at a famous hospital in Vienne, his wife and their baby, his mother, his father, his brother, and all other immediate family members.

I also feel humbled to reflect on Frankl’s view that our lives are not the puppets of pathology described by Freud. We are not about resolving childhood issues. We are not determined by our conditioning or conditions. Our main purpose is not to have instant sexual gratification.

Our lives are first and foremost a search for meaning.

The question is not what we can ask of life, but what life is asking of us. If we suffer, are we worthy of our suffering? If we are happy, are we worthy of our happiness?

I am inspired to ask myself: How can I transcend my situation and contribute to others and the causes I care about?

Some of my clients work on exactly these questions. They have a vision of a world with equity, social and economic justice, understanding, empathy, and peace. They support people with mental health challenges, foster kids, the homeless, inmates, immigrants, future generations, the environment.

And they struggle with shrinking funding, daunting demand for their services, conflict among their staff, turnover, emergencies.

They keep on working. They show up strong for their team, they push through, no matter how overwhelmed, stressed out, frustrated, or stuck they feel.

I am grateful that I have a way to contribute to their lives, work, and purpose. My clients tell me that coaching offers them a place of reflection in the rush of the day.

An opportunity to reorient to self-care and self-compassion; to celebrate the growth they went through.

Or to find a place to talk freely through their issues without being expected to choose what is expected of them, instead of what they value.

And maybe most importantly, we work on understanding and accepting that maybe today, they did enough. That they are not solely responsible for the outcomes. That they can rest.

In coaching with me you can:

  • Learn tools to resolve conflict way faster

  • Nourish empathy to inspire key stakeholders

  • See the similarities between a bougainvillea and your needs

  • Learn from a vegan who gets the best dish in the steakhouse

  • Master failure applause

  • Accept your limitations and use Santa Claus to ask for what you want

Since last week was International Coaching Week, I offer a free session to anyone who signs up for six coaching sessions before May 31. So that is $600 for seven sessions.

Expensive?

If you see it as a cost, it is. If you see it as an investment in your effectiveness, creating the right results faster, it is not.

Talk to me if you want to see how coaching can help you be a more effective leader.

512-589-0482

elly@ellyvanlaar.com

schedule a spot

You already know enough?

Go ahead and sign up here.


This is what some of my clients have shared about working with me: 

“Some of the things that we did together I found very powerful, emotionally powerful. Elly always had creative and engaging exercises that helped me process challenges on emotional and cognitive levels.”

Niko Hilgerdt, Pedagogical Leader, Austin Waldorf School, Austin

“I’m earning more with a lot less stress, in less time and with more satisfaction. I feel really satisfied and fulfilled. I feel like I’m making a positive impact on not just the students at my school, but teachers around the area, the larger area of Austin and beyond.”

Eric Mann, Math and Computer Science Teacher, Longview School, Austin

“I think Elly role-models the way to be present to other people. So if I were going to be with someone else, how I might hear them deeply or listen more closely to what was going on in someone’s life. To maybe hear beyond the words. Maybe just be present to feeling what might be going on for the other person. So it not only helped me, but it helped me think about how I wanted to be with other people.”

Jen Collins, Associate Professor, Texas Tech University, Health Sciences Center 

“Elly’s genuineness in accepting all of my troubles, detail by detail, is felt. But the true wonder of being a collaborator with Elly goes straight to her core beliefs: she is an example that love and empathy will always save the day.”

Conor Jensen, Website Manager, Texas Bar Books, Austin

The squirrel and Superman

We don’t have a lot of songbirds here in Hyde Park, Austin.

We have Carolina wren, American robin, mockingbird, northern cardinal. And occasionally a tufted titmouse.

That’s about it. The rest are grackles, blue jays, doves.

To attract more singing birds, I hang up a bird feeder specifically designed for small birds.

And squirrels… evidently.

On the first day, the most audacious squirrel eats right through the plastic of the feeder tube and feasts on the food.

Gone, all of the seed.

No problem. I hang a plate over it, so he can’t access the feeder.

The next day I find that he can. Don’t ask me how, but I see him hanging at the bottom of the feeder, stuffing himself with seeds as if he is in the Garden of Eden.

Okay.

Game over. I plan to beat him with my human intelligence. I hang an aluminum lasagne pan over the plastic plate. This will make the top of the feeder so wobbly, that any attempt to swing around it to get at the feeder, will result in him losing his balance and falling to the ground.

Little did I know of the acrobatic tenacity of my squirrel superhero. I watch him while he figures out the wobbly aluminum pan. He tries this and that. He tries again. And ultimately he succeeds.

While I am sad about not having attracted any songbird, I am certainly inspired by this squirrel. He is a phenomenal example of a growth mindset, not being hindered by any limiting belief, 200% committed to achieving his goals.

Maybe you want some of that mindset yourself.

Maybe you feel stuck, because you have tried everything to inspire a key partner to contribute to the success of your mission and he still doesn’t return your calls. You feel frustrated and hopeless, and maybe consider giving up.

Or you really need focused time to work on your most essential priorities, and your team keeps interrupting you with urgent, but not so important issues. You feel depleted and overwhelmed.

Maybe your team meetings have a few talks all the time and your timid team members don’t get speak up. The atmosphere is contentious and you know you are not utilizing all the wisdom in the team.

Or your responsibilities are just exhausting you, and you want to change jobs but feel too scared to give up financial safety.

These are some of the things my clients have worked on. They created amazing results and found that the coaching was not just a worthwhile investment, it was also a much needed space to reflect on their values, get feedback and inspiration, and fail fast forward.

In honor of International Coaching Week, this May I offer anyone who signs up for six coaching sessions one extra free session. So that is $600 for seven sessions. Sign-up here.

P.S.: You want to see if this would be something for you? Schedule a free, discovery session.

P.P.S.: As of June 1, you pay $150 per session.

P.P.P.S.: You can use those seven sessions till November 15, 2020.

The professor is howling at the nurse

Every night at eight p.m. my neighbor across the street, a university professor, goes outside and howls.

So does the real estate broker from his backyard, And the owner of a radio station three doors away.

Even my neighbor, the nurse, goes outside to howl.

And yesterday, I did too.

It is the silliest thing I have done in a while. And I feel utterly amused.

Here we are, dressed in our home slack, howling at each other.

I can even hear people in other parts of our neighborhood howling.

The howling lasts just a few minutes. Afterward, we chat a little bit, and in eight minutes or so we go back inside, to whatever we were doing before the howl.

I know that in Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands people went outside at eight p.m. to applaud the nurses, doctors, and other front line people who keep us healthy, safe, and fed.

Here in Hyde Park, Austin, Texas we howl.

Maybe that’s the reason I like it so much. Because it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t contribute. It doesn’t help. It is silly, visceral, and we laugh and connect.

And we see each other from a new perspective. No serious talk about the virus, shopping, planting, politics. No updates about work and life. Normal people with regular jobs, doing something silly together.

In a way it reminds me of coaching.

My clients tell me that they value coaching because it helps them to see situations from a different perspective.

To look at their issues with fresh eyes.

To gain a deeper understanding of what is meaningful to them.

And to have space to reflect on priorities and values, beyond the daily rush of things.

You might like the idea.

And you might think that a coach is too expensive. My clients have that consideration too.

This is what Eric tells me afterward:

“It was absolutely worth my money. I feel like it was well-thought-out. The process was awesome. I was encouraged and challenged to do that kind of deep, reflective work. And the outcome of that has been worth it.”

Not only did he leave a job that wasn’t a fit for his aspirations, but he also found a job in which he is earning more with a lot less stress, in less time, and with more satisfaction.

While he had to pay a mortgage, and his wife was not earning any income because of maternity leave.

This was not a result of me being pushy or bully whipping him into shape.

This was the result of him being in a brave space, where he could authentically connect to himself, question his norms and assumptions, and have enough support to make unconventional choices.

You might not need any of that.

You might be good on your own, with family and friends supporting you.

But if you are curious how working with me could help you, you can schedule a free, discovery call with me.

Anyone who signs up for coaching with me will be grandfathered in my current fee of $100 per hour, as long as they coach with me at least once a month.

June 1, I raise my fees to $150 per hour.

Bumping your head against the communication ceiling

A few months ago I did a little market research.

I wanted to know:

Who are my best clients?

I could do this very scientifically. And I could do it quick and not-so-dirty. My favorite research method is:

Follow the results.

Which clients come back, year after year? Which clients refer me to other clients and organizations? Which clients introduce me to their staff? Which clients engage me for different services? Which clients give me stellar reviews? And which clients create results that leave me breathless and inspired?

It was easy to come up with a list of a dozen clients who I love to work with.

And they share a dozen or so similarities.

A few of them stand out:

They resolve issues by reflecting on themselves.

They have the guts to make decisions that honor their authenticity.

They invest empathy and compassion in their relationships.

Of course.

They are leaders in nonprofits and education. They value contribution. They choose meaning over money. They are driven by a sense of purpose. And they don’t accept the world as is, they have a vision of what it can be.

And that’s what they choose to spend their time and energy on.

They are, what Stephen Covey calls, “highly effective leaders“.

Their next challenge is:

To inspire their team, their supervisor, their Director, their donors, and other stakeholders to work together to bring that vision about.

To transform conflict into collaboration. To prioritize and focus on the big rock. To take a stand for the long-term vision, no matter the pushback from current circumstances.

In the last few years, I have been experimenting with how to do that. My clients provided me with valuable insights and wisdom.

As a result, my marriage is stronger, my family ties are more loving, my friendships are more joyful. And I am happier in my own skin.

My clients also created impressive results. Some left their job for a career that is more meaningful and financially rewarding with less stress. Others changed good relationships into even better ones. Others transformed their relationship with important stakeholders from an antagonistic into a supportive one. Another has more effective team meetings. And yet another changed their open-door policy into focused time to address important issues only they can address.

That’s why I decided to offer a new service.

A Membership.

For anyone who wants to get support to be successful in transforming their relationships from conflict into collaboration. Or good relationships into even better ones.

And I would like your input for that.

Which questions do you have about communication and self-compassion?

Let me know which topics you would like to be addressed in the membership.

Thanks!

Are you making these five mistakes when asking for what you want?

Last week I was in an online marketing training. One of the participants shared that she saw me peeing while on Zoom.

Ouch.

Of course I felt embarrassed about it. But that feeling passed pretty quickly, as there were only eight or nine participants on the call and I expect to never see them again.

As soon as I hang up, I realize that the session has been recorded. The recording will be available to all the previous, and current, and future participants in this program.

At least 230 participants so far and counting.

My anxiety peaks, as I realize that I am the only participant with her full name visible under her screen!

I am in a bind about what to do.

I can wait and hope I will be saved by some technological issues, like the recording failing. Then I don’t have to ask for help and reveal my embarrassment even more. But, it would leave me at the mercy of random events.

Or, I reach out to the virtual assistant, face more embarrassment as I share my blooper, and it can’t get fixed. But, I create the chance that it will.

I choose the second option. Even though it seems an unpleasant choice.

Pauline and Sinian, troopers as they are, laugh out loud and reassure me that the participants’ screens don’t even show up in the recording.

Making requests always involves sharing vulnerably and honestly what you’re feeling and needing. It always involves undressing emotionally, not knowing how the other will respond to your nakedness. You might get a better outfit, or you are laughed at.

But making requests is not a random thing, where you are dependent on the mood and goodwill of others. Successful requests follow a reliable pattern. There are simple steps to significantly increase the chance that you will get what you want. And the good thing is that you can do it in a way that feels like a gift to others!

In my online presentation “Effective Communication for Leaders in Nonprofits and Education”, you will:

  • Hear the five biggest mistakes when asking for what you want
  • Understand what Santa Claus has to do with requests
  • Connect the dots between a bougainvillea and request
  • Learn from the vegan who gets the best dish in the steakhouse
  • Get 10 words to improve your requests

See you Tuesday, April 28, 8:00-9:00 am CST on Zoom. (Make sure your camera is off if you’re peeing.)

Sign-up here.

Peeing on Zoom

I am on a video call with my business marketing training group. The trainer presents his material. Above the main screen are the initials of the participants.

I feel disappointed that I am the only one with a camera on. Seeing the faces of the others would bring me more connection.

I am enthralled by the materials that are shared and the questions answered. I am delighted and engaged, I gobble all the info down like a hungry duckling. I watch the slides keenly and carry my laptop around while I am doing chores. 

Halfway into the session, the presenter reads a chat from one of the participants. “Tell everyone to turn off their camera, I can see someone on the toilet.”

I think “Poor guy, forgetting to turn off their camera while they do their private business. So embarrassing.” I feel lucky that I have participated in enough webinars to know to turn the camera away or off.

…..

Then I look at the screen with the initials of the participants. And Elly’s happy face…

With a shock, I realize that I have forgotten to turn off the camera, and it is me in the bathroom. I am blushing with shame as I imagine who else sees me pee.

I can’t help and think that nonprofit leaders might end up in similar situations. Hopefully not peeing on Zoom, but experience the gap between what they think they are doing and how others perceive them.

I have heard examples of this. Like a leader who intended to be fair and neutral, and yet gets accused of racial bias.

I have heard about simple intentions to contribute, being received as bossy and interfering.

Leaders who try to balance all needs, and yet choose relationships over honesty and authenticity, unintentionally eroding the trust that issues can be discussed openly.

Or they work hard to help and still hear staff complain about feeling overwhelmed and not getting the support they need.

Lastly I’ve heard a leader report that even though they thought they set clear boundaries about availability, they work 12 hours Monday through Friday and get calls at the weekends.

Instances, where the message sent, is not the message received. Moments where they have to spend extra effort to clean up the confusion and misunderstanding they did not intend to create.

Fortunately, you can learn to be a more effective communicator and increase the chances that how you want to be seen, is how you are perceived.

For all those, who want to learn what to do and not do, I offer a discovery webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”.

You will:

  • Hear the five biggest mistakes in communication
  • What to do better while listening to your team members
  • The 10 words that will improve your requests
  • Connect to other nonprofit leaders
  • Get a once-in-a-lifetime offer

See you Tuesday, April 28, 8:00-9:00 am CST on Zoom (and make sure you’re not in the bathroom with your video on….).

Sign-up here.

You don’t have a negativity bias, do you?

This pandemic triggers all kinds of feelings in me: anger, sadness, fear, panic, shame, guilt, and a lot of “shoulds” about how I should help more. These are feelings and thoughts that I am not such a fan of,  especially when they come in huge quantities.

I know from reading and listening to Rick Hanson that our brain is wired for the negative. He calls it velcro for the negative. According to him, we need four times more positive than negative input to counterbalance this negativity bias.

So I started a mission to look at all the “positive” conditions for my happiness. And who is a better role model than Julie Andrews playing Maria in the Sound of Music, singing “These are a few of my favorite things”?

Inspired by the lyrics I look at all my favorite things. Like the purple bearded irises in my yard. I planted them in December. And even though I tried to take care of them, they didn’t do much. All the irises in the neighborhood have been blooming like crazy, and mine just stood there as green stalks in the ground.

Until a few weeks ago. Suddenly they started blooming like crazy.

Do you have a similar situation? You think you’re taking care of your supervisees, but they still are overwhelmed and stressed out?

Or you try to empathize with your board, and they just keep telling you that you don’t understand the relevance of the issues at hand?

And even though you want to add value, does your supervisor tell you that your input distracts the team from the main focus?

Or you keep trying to keep a balanced perspective, while you wobble from an angry donor or disappointed stakeholder to the next?.

Whatever your intentions are, maybe you don’t see the results you’re trying to create. No joyful lawn of blooming flowers. Just stalks that seem to stand still.

Join my discovery webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”. We will address how “resulting” can get in the way of our most excellent choices, intentions, and efforts.

As a result, you might enjoy your connections with those around you, let go of the outcome, focus on what’s at hand, and go to bed rejuvenated after smelling the flowers.

Free webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”, Tuesday, April 28, 8:00-9:00 am CST.

Sign-up here.

I fall from a wobbly chair and twist my ankle

I am standing on a wobbly, one-legged chair with a wide footing. Its seating is torn up. Basically, a few threads held together on the edges. In the last five years, I have stood on it probably 219 times to unhook the cloth line to reel it in.

I have never lost my balance. I trust I won’t lose it this time either.

Only, today I feel exhausted and I am distracted as I look to the right at a fascinating, exotic bird.

I lose my balance to the left. I fall on the concrete patio. Fortunately, my instincts help me to keep my head and wrists safe. But the rest of my body is not so happy.

I lay on the concrete patio for a couple of seconds, before I manage to get up.

I can barely walk. My hip feels incredibly sore, my knee seems bruised, and my ankle can hardly carry my weight.

I know I need to ask my husband for help. He is a miracle healer of sorts, and I know he can support.

But I don’t want to ask for help. I feel ashamed of my stupidity for being distracted and I struggle with familiar, habitual thoughts that are screaming in my head “I am such a clumsy idiot!”

I feel too embarrassed to take the risk that he will blame or shame me for what I believe is true. Even though I know he won’t, I don’t have the mental and emotional resources and will take even the slightest raising of an eyebrow personally.

I rather hide in my study and suffer in silence.

That is certainly what I would have done in the past.

But this time I remember how much worse bad situations became as a result of silencing and hiding my need for support.

Being the hero he is, he neither blames or shames me. Not even the lifting of an eyebrow. He immediately puts me on the couch and brings me icepacks and blankets. Even a stuffed animal.

I feel relieved.

And I wonder how many others have learned all too well to toughing it out, rather than vulnerably asking for help.

Maybe I am not the only one who would love acceptance of their struggles.

Or feeling overwhelmed trying to get everything done on their to-do list, slugging through 7:00 am-9:00 pm?

Maybe others also have a sense that they are responsible for everything.

And I bet I am not the only one who does so much better working in a supportive environment of trust and honesty.

Probably.

And just like me, we all can learn to ask for help. Even when we are the cause of our own pain and suffering.

And you don’t need to hit the concrete patio to do so. It’s easier:

Join my free webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”.

You will:

  • Learn the five biggest mistakes when making requests
  • See how a vegan gets the best dish in a steakhouse
  • Shift your paradigm about requests and see them as strengths, not weaknesses
  • Understand what Santa Claus has to do with getting help
  • Connect with peers and inspire each other
  • Memorize ten magic words for constructive requests

As a result, you will be more confident that you can create the collaboration you want, inspire others to support your cause and goals, and transform conflict into collaboration.

Tuesday, April 28, at 8:00-9:00 am. Maximum nine nonprofit leaders.

Contact me with any questions. I am here to support you.

Or sign up here.

All the best,

Elly van Laar

Coach for Nonprofit Leaders

A bee is waking me up

Buzz, buzz, buzz

It’s 3:00 am. I am woken up by the sound of a bee. I feel tired, and turn on a light to see if the bee is inside and I need to take it out.

Nope, it is outside, hovering in front of its hive.

My fatigue turns into sadness. An outcast is desperately trying to get back in. Bees are sensitive, smart, and social, so I am sure they have a kind of mechanism to punish members. Ostracizing could certainly be one of them. It’s effective for humans, why wouldn’t it be for bees?

Hanging out on the porch

At 7:00 am no buzz. I feel relieved. Thank God, maybe the bee was accepted back in.

When I tell my husband, he laughs. He tells me that Texan beehives get hot in summer, and sometimes bees hover in front of it to cool off, especially right before dawn. Like hanging out on the porch, before we had air conditioning.

Empathy and Sympathy

With a mixture of amusement and embarrassment, I realize I confused empathy with sympathy.

I thought I was respectfully understanding what the bee was experiencing, as if I was walking in its shoes (flying in its wings?). Instead, I was sympathizing: not walking in its shoes, but running away with them, and thinking they were mine. I was superimposing my experience of fitting in, as a lens to look at its experience. Because I was ostracized as a six-year-old, and stood apart, doesn’t mean that others who stand apart, are being ostracized. Probably not this particular bee.

Empathy is not better than sympathy

It’s just different. Empathy helps to respectfully understand someone else’s experience. Sympathy is more about creating closeness by sharing our own experience: “I think I know what you’re talking about since I think I’ve been in a similar situation.”

And since our situation can be different from theirs, sympathy can create as much confusion as understanding. It shifts the focus to us, instead of maintaining it on our partner. It’s more about being understood than understanding.

If you want to understand your team members, empathy is your tool. When you listen for and accept their reality as is, without imposing your lens on it, you can more effectively help (or empower) them resolve whatever issue they’re talking about.

With empathy I could have provided shade for the beehive. With sympathy I would try to mediate between the bee community and this single bee (if there is even such a thing as bee mediation).

Empathy can be learned

For some of us empathy may not be our go-to strategy when we listen. We may “react, before reflect”. If you want to learn to “reflect, before react”, I’m your girl. We can work on specific tools and skills to support you be the team leader you want to be. I’m sure you can learn to be more effective, create better results, and go home fulfilled and satisfied.

Schedule your discovery session to start working with me.

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Break up?

It’s 5:10 pm. I’ve spent the last three hours sweeping leaves, collecting them in the compost bin, turning the bin upside down when it’s full, then mulching the leaves into the grass with the lawnmower.

I would rather have been knitting, but the leaves in front of the curb were piling up into a border patrol wall. Besides, once I’ve mulched them, dozens of pecans pop up, ready to be tossed in a salad. So the effort is pretty rewarding.

I look at the last strip of lawn covered with leaves. It will take me 40 minutes to get through them. I have less than 20 minutes before sunset.

I want to cross ‘leaf mulching’ off my to-do list, so I use the last of my resources to finish the chore. I mow at jogging speed.

When the mower gets stuck under the lower branches of the mountain laurel, I hunch forward, duck my head, and push my way through.

The mower gets unstuck.

And is dead.

I don’t understand what happened until I see the handle disconnected and loose in my hand.

It powers the deadman switch. Without the switch, the electricity won’t connect. Without electricity, the blade doesn’t rotate. And without a rotating blade, the last strip of leaves won’t get mulched.

The force I used to push my mower through the branches didn’t get me the results I wanted.

Worse, I broke the machine. I panic when I imagine having to spend $199 for a replacement. As I go inside, my shaming thoughts don’t even allow me to relax.

I wonder if I am the only one who gets so stuck on finishing their tasks that they forget to recognize their limits and accept an unfinished task?

Or are there others who ignore their body’s signals because they would rather have it done and over with than look at an uncrossed item on their to-do list?

Maybe your task is about residents who are about to lose their homes. Or clients who will be jobless, unless you spend time mentoring them. Or a nature preserve that is at risk of being turned into an industrial park. Dropout students who rely on your emotional and practical support to help them get to college.

And you might experience emotional, social, and moral pressure to give your 300%. If you’re not careful, you are sliding into exhaustion, depletion, burn-out.

That’s why I am excited to offer a short video-course on self-compassion. In two weeks you’ll get seven videos of less than 3 minutes each. They offer insights and practical tools to nurture self-compassion in your daily life. As a result, it is easier to meet your longing to contribute to your clients or your cause and your own needs for rest and physical well-being.

You’ll learn:

  • How a bougainvillea can teach you self-compassion, even if you don’t have a green thumb and most of your plants die
  • The four elements of self-compassion, how it differs from self-esteem, and the simplest action to nourish self-compassion that is super helpful in any situation and takes only 2 seconds
  • Why sitting on a meditation cushion is not enough to survive these crazy times and why our habit energy can be such an obstacle in trying to be more mindful
  • What you can do to make yourself a priority without feeling guilty, even as you see more urgency of your cause and distress in your clients in this pandemic
  • Why taking care of yourself is the opposite of being selfish and how it reassures others that they can do the same

Email me if you want to receive this course. It is a beta version, so I offer it for a discounted price of $26.10. Plus, I will include your questions, comments, and feedback in the design.

Don’t miss this opportunity, self-care can make you more productive AND less stressed.

P.S. Eventually I overcome my shame and tell my husband about it. He repairs it and we save $199.

P.P.S. I have a 100% money-back guarantee. You don’t like the first video? Let me know, and I’ll refund you (minus any processing fee)

P.P.S. Email me too with your response to this email, I love to stay in touch.