Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

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.

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.

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.”

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!