by Elly van Laar | Aug 6, 2022 | Communication, Conflict, Empathy, Nonviolent Communication, NVC
My neighbor Jing walks around the block every night around 7:00 pm. She loves talking with the neighbors and uses a translation app to improve her rudimentary English. It’s a slow process, but I enjoy chatting with her and contributing to her fluency.
Today, I only have time for some simple greetings. It turns out her English is worse than I thought. She looks at me in bewilderment when I tell her, “Nice to see you.” She doesn’t answer my question, “How are you?” And when I say, “See you later,” she waves at me in confusion.
As I’m biking off, I realize that I wasn’t saying any of these things. Instead, I said, “Goed om je te zien.”, “Hoe gaat die met jou?”, and “Tot ziens!”
Without realizing it, I was speaking Dutch. Given that I had just come back from two weeks of taking care of my parents 24/7, with my sleep deficit and jetlag, it’s not surprising that my brain is foggy and doesn’t realize it’s back in the States.
Had I paused and checked if she understood me, I would have known that what I wanted to say was not what she was hearing.
Fortunately, our connection is positive enough that my blunder doesn’t have much of a negative impact.
But when relationships are under stress, misunderstandings aren’t brushed off lightly. Every interaction gets filtered through the lens of emotional baggage and enemy images, distorting confusion into malicious intent.
You don’t hear what the other person is saying as a tragic expression of unmet needs. You hear it as blame, defensiveness, criticism, contempt. Left to your own devices, you spiral down into mistrust.
Mediators have known this for a long time and have designed processes to help people resolve their conflicts in constructive ways. A mediator’s calming presence and firm leadership reduce the risk that conflicts turn into a screaming match.
As a credentialed mediator with the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association, I know the process and have improved it with the insights of Nonviolent Communication and Thich Nhat Hanh.
The result is a facilitated dialogue that nurtures mutual respect, dignity, and emotional safety and supports participants to find solutions that meet as many needs as possible.
As Catherine said:
“Working with you was pivotal for me. It helped me get over the enormous hurdle of really feeling heard and seen by my ex-husband, and helped me to finally feel forgiveness in my heart. I’m happy to report that my relationship with him is in a really good space, and also that our daughter is doing very well.
I will forever treasure you and the gift you gave me, of a framework for knowing and naming needs and feelings, and for making all the difference in what many people thought was an impossible situation for me. For that, I am profoundly grateful.”
Contact me if you want to know how my services can help you transform your conflict into collaboration.
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 | 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 | Jul 29, 2020 | Communication, Compassionate Communication, Empathy, Nonviolent Communication
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!
by Elly van Laar | Jul 7, 2020 | Empathy
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.
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.