Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.