Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Based in Austin – Specialized in Empathy and Self-Compassion

You don’t have a negativity bias, do you?

This pandemic triggers all kinds of feelings in me: anger, sadness, fear, panic, shame, guilt, and a lot of “shoulds” about how I should help more. These are feelings and thoughts that I am not such a fan of,  especially when they come in huge quantities.

I know from reading and listening to Rick Hanson that our brain is wired for the negative. He calls it velcro for the negative. According to him, we need four times more positive than negative input to counterbalance this negativity bias.

So I started a mission to look at all the “positive” conditions for my happiness. And who is a better role model than Julie Andrews playing Maria in the Sound of Music, singing “These are a few of my favorite things”?

Inspired by the lyrics I look at all my favorite things. Like the purple bearded irises in my yard. I planted them in December. And even though I tried to take care of them, they didn’t do much. All the irises in the neighborhood have been blooming like crazy, and mine just stood there as green stalks in the ground.

Until a few weeks ago. Suddenly they started blooming like crazy.

Do you have a similar situation? You think you’re taking care of your supervisees, but they still are overwhelmed and stressed out?

Or you try to empathize with your board, and they just keep telling you that you don’t understand the relevance of the issues at hand?

And even though you want to add value, does your supervisor tell you that your input distracts the team from the main focus?

Or you keep trying to keep a balanced perspective, while you wobble from an angry donor or disappointed stakeholder to the next?.

Whatever your intentions are, maybe you don’t see the results you’re trying to create. No joyful lawn of blooming flowers. Just stalks that seem to stand still.

Join my discovery webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”. We will address how “resulting” can get in the way of our most excellent choices, intentions, and efforts.

As a result, you might enjoy your connections with those around you, let go of the outcome, focus on what’s at hand, and go to bed rejuvenated after smelling the flowers.

Free webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”, Tuesday, April 28, 8:00-9:00 am CST.

Sign-up here.

I fall from a wobbly chair and twist my ankle

I am standing on a wobbly, one-legged chair with a wide footing. Its seating is torn up. Basically, a few threads held together on the edges. In the last five years, I have stood on it probably 219 times to unhook the cloth line to reel it in.

I have never lost my balance. I trust I won’t lose it this time either.

Only, today I feel exhausted and I am distracted as I look to the right at a fascinating, exotic bird.

I lose my balance to the left. I fall on the concrete patio. Fortunately, my instincts help me to keep my head and wrists safe. But the rest of my body is not so happy.

I lay on the concrete patio for a couple of seconds, before I manage to get up.

I can barely walk. My hip feels incredibly sore, my knee seems bruised, and my ankle can hardly carry my weight.

I know I need to ask my husband for help. He is a miracle healer of sorts, and I know he can support.

But I don’t want to ask for help. I feel ashamed of my stupidity for being distracted and I struggle with familiar, habitual thoughts that are screaming in my head “I am such a clumsy idiot!”

I feel too embarrassed to take the risk that he will blame or shame me for what I believe is true. Even though I know he won’t, I don’t have the mental and emotional resources and will take even the slightest raising of an eyebrow personally.

I rather hide in my study and suffer in silence.

That is certainly what I would have done in the past.

But this time I remember how much worse bad situations became as a result of silencing and hiding my need for support.

Being the hero he is, he neither blames or shames me. Not even the lifting of an eyebrow. He immediately puts me on the couch and brings me icepacks and blankets. Even a stuffed animal.

I feel relieved.

And I wonder how many others have learned all too well to toughing it out, rather than vulnerably asking for help.

Maybe I am not the only one who would love acceptance of their struggles.

Or feeling overwhelmed trying to get everything done on their to-do list, slugging through 7:00 am-9:00 pm?

Maybe others also have a sense that they are responsible for everything.

And I bet I am not the only one who does so much better working in a supportive environment of trust and honesty.

Probably.

And just like me, we all can learn to ask for help. Even when we are the cause of our own pain and suffering.

And you don’t need to hit the concrete patio to do so. It’s easier:

Join my free webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”.

You will:

  • Learn the five biggest mistakes when making requests
  • See how a vegan gets the best dish in a steakhouse
  • Shift your paradigm about requests and see them as strengths, not weaknesses
  • Understand what Santa Claus has to do with getting help
  • Connect with peers and inspire each other
  • Memorize ten magic words for constructive requests

As a result, you will be more confident that you can create the collaboration you want, inspire others to support your cause and goals, and transform conflict into collaboration.

Tuesday, April 28, at 8:00-9:00 am. Maximum nine nonprofit leaders.

Contact me with any questions. I am here to support you.

Or sign up here.

All the best,

Elly van Laar

Coach for Nonprofit Leaders

A bee is waking me up

Buzz, buzz, buzz

It’s 3:00 am. I am woken up by the sound of a bee. I feel tired, and turn on a light to see if the bee is inside and I need to take it out.

Nope, it is outside, hovering in front of its hive.

My fatigue turns into sadness. An outcast is desperately trying to get back in. Bees are sensitive, smart, and social, so I am sure they have a kind of mechanism to punish members. Ostracizing could certainly be one of them. It’s effective for humans, why wouldn’t it be for bees?

Hanging out on the porch

At 7:00 am no buzz. I feel relieved. Thank God, maybe the bee was accepted back in.

When I tell my husband, he laughs. He tells me that Texan beehives get hot in summer, and sometimes bees hover in front of it to cool off, especially right before dawn. Like hanging out on the porch, before we had air conditioning.

Empathy and Sympathy

With a mixture of amusement and embarrassment, I realize I confused empathy with sympathy.

I thought I was respectfully understanding what the bee was experiencing, as if I was walking in its shoes (flying in its wings?). Instead, I was sympathizing: not walking in its shoes, but running away with them, and thinking they were mine. I was superimposing my experience of fitting in, as a lens to look at its experience. Because I was ostracized as a six-year-old, and stood apart, doesn’t mean that others who stand apart, are being ostracized. Probably not this particular bee.

Empathy is not better than sympathy

It’s just different. Empathy helps to respectfully understand someone else’s experience. Sympathy is more about creating closeness by sharing our own experience: “I think I know what you’re talking about since I think I’ve been in a similar situation.”

And since our situation can be different from theirs, sympathy can create as much confusion as understanding. It shifts the focus to us, instead of maintaining it on our partner. It’s more about being understood than understanding.

If you want to understand your team members, empathy is your tool. When you listen for and accept their reality as is, without imposing your lens on it, you can more effectively help (or empower) them resolve whatever issue they’re talking about.

With empathy I could have provided shade for the beehive. With sympathy I would try to mediate between the bee community and this single bee (if there is even such a thing as bee mediation).

Empathy can be learned

For some of us empathy may not be our go-to strategy when we listen. We may “react, before reflect”. If you want to learn to “reflect, before react”, I’m your girl. We can work on specific tools and skills to support you be the team leader you want to be. I’m sure you can learn to be more effective, create better results, and go home fulfilled and satisfied.

Schedule your discovery session to start working with me.

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A pole is not a pole

Don’t think you know what people are talking about

Even if you’re absolutely sure you understand the words they’re saying, those words can have a very different meaning to them than to you. “Well, how is that important?”, you might ask. Let me tell you a short story.

Confusion

Last week, I was camping. When I checked in, I received a green reservation card “to clip on the pole”. I felt confused about how to do that. The poles of my tent are round and on the inside of the outside layer, so I how can I clip that card on the pole?

Eventually, I decide to shove the card under my ground cloth and trust they will find it, if they want to check my reservation.

Understanding

The next day, new campers arrive. As I walk to my tent, I see those same green reservation cards. Clipped on the pole. But not the pole I thought the registration lady was talking about. Nope. The pole at the entrance of their camping spot. With two clippers. And the number of their site. Never even thought of looking at that pole. Let alone check how to clip my card on it.

Same word, different meaning

It dawns on me that even a simple word like pole, has a different meaning to the registration lady than to me. And because the meaning seemed so obvious to me, it never occurred to me to ask questions what she meant with it. As a result, I got confused and couldn’t implement what she was asking me to do.

Conflict

This was a pretty innocuous misunderstanding with no consequences. And we can all think of situations, where the consequences can be more harmful.

When someone is calling you a jerk, you’ll probably get defensive. You either withdraw or turn against them. You disconnect or you call them names, or worse. As a result, conflict lies around the corner.

Reflect, before react

The solution is to reflect, before we react. You either literally use their words, or ask about their meaning. “You want me to clip this card to my tent pole?” (“du-uh, no, silly, the pole at the entrance of your tent spot”). “What do you mean when you say I’m a jerk?”.

In the reflection of their words they have a chance to self-connect and check if they’re expressing themselves in the way they want to be heard. Sometimes people realize they mean something different, when they hear their words reflected back.

And reflecting gives you a chance to take a deep breath, calm yourself down, and connect to your values, before you react.

Contact me

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, I can tell you from more than 11 years of practice it isn’t. We need sincere dedication and perseverance to make this a daily habit.

Schedule your discovery session to see if I am your accountability partner to help you make this your daily habit.

Let me know how this landed for you: shoot me an email.

Listen to this newsletter

Now you can listen to this edition!! Download the recording here.

Parenting Group

I handed off the parenting group to Kayla Rose Yoder, one of my students in Nonviolent Communication and a dedicated mom who I deeply admire for the level of unconditional respect for and support of her three year old.

She starts Tuesday, April 23. She asks $195 for the whole series. Contact Kayla with any questions.

Shame, Creative Tension, and More

All my commitments fly out the window: “I reflect, before I react.” “I see the positive in every person and every situation.” “I accept myself unconditionally, especially when shame arises.”

In a second. I have nothing left but a puddle of shock, fear, shame, and anger.

‘Tragic expression of unmet needs?’ Never heard of it. All I hear are criticisms, demands, evaluations. ‘Seeing our interdependence?’ Not today. I take her remarks personally and my mind races with defenses, counter arguments, attacks. ‘Empathetically guessing: “Are you feeling upset and scared? You want more respect and safety?”’ My mind draws a blank.

All I can do, is stare at her moving video image on my computer screen and desperately (and thanks to my Sangha, moderately successfully) try NOT to express the angry, anxious thoughts clamoring to come out of my mouth.

I barely succeed in saying “I love you” at the end.

After we hang up, I feel deflated, discouraged, hopeless.

My thoughts are: “What a fool I am for believing I could create a warm, extensive community that includes me, my husband, my family, and friends. What an utter idiot I am for having that crazy dream, trying to get my reality closer to my vision.”

The emotional tension is so intense that all I can think is “Give up, give up, give up. Pack your stuff and fly back to the Netherlands.”

And then I also think of something I read in Peter Senge’sThe Fifth Discipline”:

“The juxtaposition of vision (what we want) and a clear picture of current reality (where we are relative to what we want) generates what we call ‘creative tension’: a force to bring them together, caused by the natural tendency of tension to seek resolution. The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.”

“People often have great difficulty talking about their visions, even when the visions are clear. Why? Because we are acutely aware of the gaps between our vision and reality… These gaps can make a vision seem unrealistic or fanciful. They can discourage us or make us feel hopeless… If we fail to distinguish emotional tension from creative tension, we predispose ourselves to lowering our vision.”

This was a literal and figurative call back to reality. Apparently I am not anywhere close to seeing my vision fulfilled. My reality is very different from where I thought it was. Yes, this is a set-back, and yes, I feel discouraged about it.

And that doesn’t mean that my journey is in vain. It means the difference is a learning opportunity for me. Where am I on the path? How do I work -not fight- with the obstacles I face? How can I be more creative, resourceful, and whole?

How can I make the journey the reward?

And with that inquiry I shift to feeling a little more settled, at peace, and hopeful.

Let me know: how do you work with creative tension? I would love to hear from you.

Our four choices when receiving hard to hear messages

(This is a re-post from January 2018, when it was still cold. I hope this is a refreshing reminder that everything is impermanent, also temperatures)

It is sleeting. The road is getting slippery. It’s also getting dark. And it’s rush hour. Everyone seems anxious to get home, before the road completely freezes up and driving becomes a car balancing act on ice.

I’m on my bike. And I feel scared. I don’t like biking when it sleets. I have had my share of slips and falls growing up in the Netherlands with these road conditions. I have no desire to add one more to my track record.

I have to cross a busy street without stop signs or traffic lights within half a mile. I decide to cross without that support.

I wait and wait and wait till there are no cars in either lane. I cross the first lane as careful as I can. Before I am half way, the cars from the other side have a green light and are coming at me. I have to wait. As I look over my shoulder, I see that the cars behind me also got a green light. They’re speeding up. One truck in particular. In my lane. I see him coming right at me. I feel terrified he will drive into me, but I have nowhere to go. There are cars in either lane and I can’t make myself smaller with my bike. I just have to hope and pray that the truck is gonna spot me, before he hits me.

He does. He swirls around me within six yards, hunks at me, and continues with at least 50 miles per hour. No one gets hurt.

I tremble as I get on my bike to finally cross the street.

In my upset I start to rant blame toward him: “He is f*cking going way too fast on a slippery road, and the idiot was probably texting too. What a moron he is!”

After biking a few blocks, I turn the blame toward myself: “You are an idiot too, not taking the time to walk over to the traffic light and cross when it’s safe. You’re a fool for risking your life for a few minutes efficiency! You’re not competent to ride a bike! (Ouch, that’s very painful for a Dutch woman to hear)”

It’s only when I am home and feel safe, that I start to empathize with myself: “Gosh, Elly, you were terrified that you would be hit and end up with a wrecked bike, broken legs or arms, or… dead. You want to know that car drivers care about your needs for safety and consideration.”

It takes a few more hours, before I start to empathize with the car driver: “He probably didn’t see me at dusk. He probably didn’t expect a cyclist in the middle of the road. Maybe he was tired and anxious to get home safely. Who knows, he might have had to pick up a sick kid.”

I feel super grateful for Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings on our four choices when receiving a hard-to-hear message:

  • ​blame outward
  • ​blame inward
  • ​empathy inward
  • ​empathy outward

Realizing I can choose how I respond to difficult messages and situations helps feel empowered. I am not in full control about what’s happening around me, but I am in control of how I respond.

How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.