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.

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.

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.”