by Elly van Laar | Jan 17, 2023 | Communication, Compassionate Communication, Conflict, Nonviolent Communication, NVC
As you might know, in September David and I moved to the Netherlands to be closer to my parents. To travel lightly, we sold and gave away most of our furniture. Now that our container has arrived with all our boxes, it’s time to replace some of that furniture.
I find a nice wardrobe on Marktplaats and rent a car to pick it up. The car has a manual transmission. The last time I drove a stick shift, I struggled so miserably to drive up a steep slope, that I burned the rubber of the tires. We could smell it weeks later.
Fortunately, there are plenty of YouTube videos that show you how to drive a manual, which I watch zealously. And successfully. I drive away without fail, succeed at shifting to second gear, and stop before the traffic light at the busiest intersection in Bilthoven.
I am first in line and see a slew of cars behind me, eager to finish their Saturday shopping. When the traffic light turns green, I implement what I learned from the videos.
I inch four feet forward, then the engine turns off. I restart the car. Three feet forward, engine off. A third time. After 15 failed attempts to clear the now utterly chaotic intersection, I am about to give up.
That’s when someone knocks at my window. I expect an infuriated car driver yelling at me about how stupid I am. Instead, I see a friendly face: “Can I help you?”.
He’s a professional car instructor. He gets in the car and sees that I am trying to start up in the wrong gear. With some embarrassment, I thank him from the bottom of my heart and succeed in finishing my trip.
This would probably never happen to you. Repeating the same mistake 15 times without getting professional feedback. It seems kind of dumb. And it causes stress and chaos.
But when it comes to conflicts we often do just that. We watch some John Gottman videos. Work through Byron Katie’s Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet. But as soon as our colleague, partner, or neighbor opens their mouth, we are triggered and fall into the trap of the harsh start-up.
That is one of the biggest communication killers that cause relationships to fall apart. And even though it seems an easy issue to solve, it takes skillful awareness to put the theory into practice.
To resolve that problem, I offer facilitated dialogues. In these dialogues, you learn three simple steps to transform conflict into collaboration. You can practice them till you are a master, and move your relationship forward.
We can work on Zoom or meet in person. Contact me if you want to explore how these dialogues can help you.
And I won’t yell at you, not even if you make the same mistake 15 times. I will just gently show you that you’re trying to start the conversation in the wrong gear.
by Elly van Laar | Jul 30, 2022 | Communication, Compassionate Communication, Conflict, Empathy, Mindfulness, Nonviolent Communication, NVC
Some things you just can’t do on Zoom. Like holding your friends’ hands while saying grace for food. Tucking your baby in at night and singing him a lullaby. Taking out the trash for your elderly neighbor.
So when my dad gets hospitalized in June, I fly out to support him and my mom. Calling him on the phone won’t get his hair brushed. Seeing my mom on Zoom won’t get her to the hospital. Empathy won’t help with cooking dinner. I need to be there in person.
Zoom is great, but not for everything.
The same is true for email. Wonderful if you want to appreciate what your colleague did. Use it to inform others of your upcoming travel plans. Very practical for sending your team the agenda of the meeting.
But don’t use it to express frustration or resolve conflict. Then the ‘enter’ button is your enemy. With just one click on a button, you risk ruining a relationship that probably already is challenging.
“Message sent, is not always message received” is true for any communication. But even more so with email. You cannot check the facial reactions as you talk, you don’t see the shift in body posture as you deliver your message, and you can’t notice the change in breathing as you share your frustration.
So it is very hard to know that your message is received the way you intended, not even if you ask them to email back a summary of your key points. How do you know they didn’t just copy and paste your text, let alone have true empathy for the underlying issue?
But resolving conflict by phone isn’t necessarily a good alternative either. Even though it has the immediacy of the interaction and the nonverbal cues of your voice, you don’t know if their silence means that they are reflecting on what you said or have put the phone down to do something else.
The best way to resolve conflict is to meet in person. Especially if you use Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Beginning Anew.” It is a sequence of sharing appreciation, regret, and then requests. The focus is on improving the relationship by nurturing honesty and empathy so that your requests are true requests, not camouflaged demands.
With practice, this process becomes second nature. But you do need to know that you are practicing the right way. That’s where coaching with a mindfulness coach comes in.
Since 2011, I have practiced with Thich Nhat Hanh’s community and taught many of my clients how to use this process. If you want to see if working with me would help you too, you can schedule a free discovery session with me.
It could help you wipe off the yuck of even the most contaminated relationships!
Use this link to schedule your free session.
by Elly van Laar | Apr 28, 2021 | Compassionate Communication, Empathy, Nonprofits
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.
by Elly van Laar | Dec 1, 2020 | Communication, Compassionate Communication, Conflict, Nonprofits, Nonviolent Communication
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.
by Elly van Laar | Sep 22, 2020 | Communication, Compassion, Compassionate Communication, Empathy
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.
by Elly van Laar | Aug 7, 2020 | Communication, Compassionate Communication, Conflict, Nonviolent Communication
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!