Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

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.