Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

Honor Culture and Conflict Coaching

On the day my neighbors move out, I hang out with the kids while they pack their car. At the end of their final check through the house, they turn off the air conditioner.

A few days later, a handyman paints the kitchen cabinets and turns it back on. This makes sense, it is 86 degrees outside.

The next day I still hear the air conditioner running. Since I know there is no one in the house, I get triggered by thoughts around the waste of energy. But, maybe I am mistaken and there are folks back working in the house today.

Three days later, I still haven’t seen any cars on the driveway or heard any sounds in the house. I get upset enough to go over and see why the AC is running 18 hours a day while no one benefits from it.

I ring the doorbell. No one answers. I walk around the house. No one there either.

I do see a leaking hose and washed-off paint on the lawn. And a completely open kitchen window. A freezing air greets me as I walk toward it.

Thoughts about global warming and polar bears losing their habitat race through my mind.

I owe it to them to do something about it. I climb through the window and turn off the air conditioner. It was set at 68 Fahrenheit. No wonder it’s running day and night.

I only think of the Texas Castle Doctrine when I climb back outside. It’s a law that allows Texan homeowners to use deadly force to protect themselves against an armed intruder. I think of myself as an innocent, albeit somewhat weird, lady, but how would they know I wasn’t carrying a weapon?

It’s something I never, ever was afraid of in the Netherlands. Not that climbing through windows was my habit, but walking around the house or peeking inside when looking for your neighbor is quite normal over there.

And I certainly was never afraid of someone pointing a shotgun at me.

That’s because the Netherlands is primarily a dignity culture while Texas is mainly an honor culture.

This is what Ryan Brown, a Social Psychologist and Managing Director for Measurement at Rice University writes on his website about honor cultures:

“Social scientists say that a society exhibits an honor culture when the defense of reputation plays an incredibly important role in social life (in more technical terms, reputation maintenance is a “central organizing theme” in that society). For men in a typical honor culture, the kind of reputation that is highly prized is a reputation for toughness and bravery. Men in honor cultures want to be known as someone that others ought not to take lightly.

Because of the importance placed on reputation maintenance, honor cultures allow or even expect people to defend themselves aggressively when threatened, even if the threat is not a physical one. So, when men in an honor culture are insulted or their honorable qualities are called into question, they often go to extremes to prove their mettle.”

Honor culture impacts how vulnerable populations are treated. People who can’t protect life and stock might be loved, but they are not respected as members of society. Often suicide rates among older men are high, mental health issues are not addressed, and sharing your feelings and needs is seen as a weakness.

In such a culture, it can be hard to get support for your organization’s mission around dignity for those at the bottom of societies’ hierarchy, racial justice, and ecological concern.

Schedule a coaching package with me, if you want to explore how to navigate the influence of culture on your impact.

You get 10% off if you enter “honor2021” in the coupon field. So that is $810, instead of $900.

The coupon expires on Juneteenth 19, 2021.

Read more about honor culture.

Read more about Texas “Stand your Ground-Castle Doctrine”.

“Actually, this one”

Eddie, my 2-year old neighbor kid, is fascinated by anything garbage. Garbage trucks, garbage men, garbage bins.

Every Friday he puts on his “I love garbage” t-shirt, his “garbage fan” baseball cap, and follows the garbage truck with his dad.

Sadly my neighbors are moving out today. I am hanging out with Eddie, while they pack.

Since it is garbage pick-up day, we walk around the block, looking for the garbage trucks. They haven’t come yet.

Eddie doesn’t care, garbage bins are just as exciting. He stops at every bin, points at them, and says “Actually, this one”. Maybe a bit more like “Ashually, cis one.”

“You want to see what’s inside it?”

He looks at me stunned, clearly not expecting his dream to come true.

“Yeah.”

“Step back a little, so your face doesn’t touch the bin. I think it’s dirty.”

He happily obliges, knowing that he won’t get to see the treasures inside unless he does. With his hands behind his back, he looks at it for more than 10 seconds. Mesmerized with the white trash bag that’s in it.

“Actually, this one.”

He runs off and points at a compost bin. Same instructions, same mesmerized look. He carefully examines the leaves, grass, orange peels, and rotting kale. It is clearly the most interesting thing he has ever seen.

“Actually, this one.”

He runs over to each bin on the street and looks at its contents with the same delight as if he is looking at the cutest puppy on planet earth.

Even when bin number 19 is topped with fermenting pizza and wriggling maggots, he doesn’t back away with the slightest glimmer of disgust on his face. He looks at it like a professor studying his favorite topic, hands on his back, enthralled with magical bins.

Gosh, if I could have the same earnest wonderment when hearing criticisms, blame, demands, anger.

Just like trash, these are experiences that people dump on the street, maybe in your ears. My instinctual reaction is to back away with disgust. Or annoyance or frustration. Maybe even some righteous indignation that I deserve better than this “verbal abuse”.

But Eddie inspires me to have more openhearted curiosity and listen a little better. Perhaps not take these tragic expressions of unmet needs personally. To understand that they contain a precious request, “Hey, I want to process these painful feelings and unhelpful thoughts. Can you help me to figure out a better way to meet my needs?

In my free webinar “Tragic Expressions of Unmet Needs”, I offer insights and practices to help you be an empathetic listener to anger, blame, demands, and criticisms.

Hopefully, you walk away with:

  • Understanding what a check-engine light has to do with needs
  • A simple trick to translate blame and accusation into requests, without manipulation
  • A neat cheat sheet to put up on your fridge for when you get stuck, so you avoid using words that will make things worse
  • The one thing you need to do whenever you hear criticisms, blame, demands, and anger and have more closeness
  • The fun of failure applause so you feel excited to keep practicing empathy for hard-to-hear messages, even when you fail

Friday, May 21, 2021, from 9:00-10:00 am CST.

Sign-up here.

Listen on Spotify

by Elly van Laar

Don’t worry, your unpleasant feelings are here to stay

Fun fact one, at least for me, since I love gardening: St. Augustine grass grows well in the shade.

Fun fact two: St. Augustine spreads by stolons, also known as runners: “mother” clones that form “daughter” sprouts which spread and weave soft, thick mats of greenness.

Fun fact three: these stolons put out thin, almost invisible roots that grow at least 10 inches into the ground.

St. Augustine grass is here to stay. That would be great if I want to see my water consumption triple in July and August. And not so great since I want to be eco-conscious and want to make my yard drought-tolerant.

Since I am crazy about attracting butterflies, birds, and bees, I decide to replace part of our lawn with a bed for native plants that attract them. After the heavy rainfall this weekend, the soil is soft enough to dig up the grass in a spot more or less 6 by 12 feet.

I start super enthusiastically. Halfway through and covered in mud, I am totally discouraged, At 6:30 pm and 3 hours into the project, I only removed half of the grass.

Since my goal is to end up with flowers and wildlife and not perfection, I change strategies to “good enough”.  I remove enough grass to help the native plants establish themselves but not more. I will defer to pulling out grass if it comes back.

This change in strategy reminds me of facilitated dialogues.

In this work, the goal is to create enough compassion and understanding to help you find solutions for your issues.

You don’t have to dig up every trauma when you want to tell your teammate that you have gotten triggered when he talks more than 80% of the time in a meeting with 13 other team members. Instead, you can focus on how to meet his need for respect for his expertise and the need for respect for other team members.

When you want to tell your colleague that you rather work on a grant application than chat about what she did over the weekend, you don’t have to go into the details of how your pregnancy is impacting your attention. You can just agree to start your meetings with 2 minutes of appreciation to build trust and understanding.

You don’t have to share how your ex-partner’s angry outbursts got you to file for a divorce. It is already a win if you can talk constructively about how much time your daughter can be on social media when she is with him.

This is what a few happy clients wrote me:

“For me, the biggest thing is that we’re both trying so hard, and I think that is making the biggest difference. We’re both really committed to making it work. I have way more trust in A. than I did before. I’m hopeful, and I feel good about where this is going.”, S.B., Team leader, Foundation Communities

“I agree 100 percent. Last month was extremely hard to where I was taking it home, and I was replaying conversations, and it was stressful and almost to the point of me not wanting to work here anymore. So I feel like now we both can come in and do our jobs successfully since we both have huge responsibilities. We’re going through so much right now that for us to come in and be the best that we could be, something had to give with the tension that was in the air. I’m really grateful for our time with Elly, and I feel like we both can be more productive in our jobs through this process.”, A.O., Team leader, Foundation Communities

“The facilitated dialogues are very, very helpful and give me the promise of and the felt experience of an alternate way of interacting. One thing I have really appreciated about Elly is her neutral stance. Because I had very, very little sympathy for my ex-husband. In her neutral stance and giving equal time to paraphrasing him and me, she has helped me develop compassion for him. There have been times when I said: “You need to do this with him, You need not do this with him, You need to speak up.” I think I’ve tried to be directive with her because I know him well. I appreciate that she has resisted any temptation. She has not shown me or him a preference for one of us over the other. That’s a very new experience for me, which benefits me.”, C.M., Organization Development Consultant, Austin

Do you want to see if a facilitated dialogue can help you with your issue? Comment on this post.

Get moving!

My 90-year old uncle is the first to arrive at my Zoom-birthday party. Then my team leader from my work in mental health facilities. Third, my former buddy from my Dutch improv theatre group and her family.

And my beloved dorm friend, childhood friend, business buddy, brothers, sister+boyfriend, the American exchange student who lived with us when I was 16. The aunt and uncle I was a bridesmaid of at age five. Of course my hubby.

And halfway through the introductions, my parents join with party hats and plastic flower strings wrapped around their necks and sing a birthday song. 16 Screens throw their arms in the air and holler “Hieperdepiep, hoera! Hieperdepiep, hoera! Hieperdepiep, hoera!”

Three times because Dutch people like to party, even if only on Zoom.

And as much as I love all of it, I do miss in-person parties. Nothing can replace a hug, moving around from one group to another, looking into real eyes.

And the normalcy of silent moments, of quiet reflection before speaking.

This last year I have done all my coaching and mediation on Zoom.

It works, surprisingly, very well.

And I am ready for coaching in person.

More specifically, coaching while walking, so we can take our masks off and be safe. (But you can leave yours on, of course)

You might be ready for in-person coaching too and let the natural pauses in the conversation help you reflect on your goals and aspirations.

You might want some outdoor time after being stuck at home behind a computer while trying to homeschool your first grader for a year. Or sixth-grader. Or highschooler.

And even though you are proficient at participating in meetings on Zoom, even running them yourself, you might like to move your feet instead of navigating the software.

Enjoy the fresh air and the beauty of Texas spring after wearing a mask at work all day.

And let the environment inspire you to look at your situation from a fresh perspective.

You choose how long we meet, as long as it is more than 1 hour. You simply pay $175 per hour, prorated.

Since this is a new offer, I will pay for the time I spent biking or driving to our meeting place, as long as it is within 11.2 miles of my home (which will get us to McKinney Falls State Park, yeah!).

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.”

Since many of my clients are early morning people, I will meet you as early as 7:00 am.

Do you want to talk about how this might work?

  • Email me
  • Or call me at 512-589-0482
  • No strings attached, pinky promise: I always like talking to you even if you don’t want to take me up on this offer

Broken Bucket

Reusing resources is a good thing. I am convinced of that. It’s good for our planet, for our people, and my profit.

So throwing water out on the lawn seems a good idea to me.

Even if it is dirty water with some Dr. Bronner lavender soap in it. 

Thus, when I finish cleaning the kitchen floor, I pick up the bucket to throw the water onto the lawn. Happy peppy water saving.

Only, the bucket slips out of my hands.

It smashes on the ground and breaks. A crack appears from the top to the bottom. My only cleaning bucket is rendered useless. My intention to save resources results in having to spend time and money to buy a new one.

What a bummer.

Looking at the cracked bucket, I decide to:
1.    Accept the result of my action and the blame and frustration that come up from my failure.

2.    Ask my husband for help. Fortunately, he is happy peppy to repair it with his soldering gun.

Because of these 2 actions, I have a perfectly usable bucket.

Why did this work so well?

Because it includes two crucial elements of repair:
1.    Acknowledging that the impact of our behavior can be very different from our intentions.

2.    Focusing on repairing the impact, instead of dismissing, defending, or explaining our intention.

Psychology research shows that these elements work in human relations as well. It doesn’t matter in which culture you grew up, in which faith, or in which millennium.

Almost everyone responds positively to a sincere effort to repair ruptures in relationships.

By expressing our regret about something we said or did, we convey that the other person matters to us and that they are worthy of support and understanding.

I imagine everyone likes such confirmation.

Without repair, others will trust you less. If you don’t reach out, they don’t get the reassurance that you are conscious of your incompetence, that you want to learn from your ignorance, and that your focus is the relationship, not your ego.

The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge for yourself that you made a mistake and practice self-compassion, so the acknowledgment doesn’t turn into shame.

The second thing is to share your mistakes with a confidant and ask for help. Someone who can listen with empathy and compassion and help you figure out how to repair the rupture.

For people who want support in learning how to have and give empathy and repair ruptures in relationships, I offer a group coaching program: The Authentic Joy Journey, also known as the Pledj-group.

We meet bi-weekly for 12 weeks and we explore and practice these topics:

1. Learning
Failure applause, creative tension, and tiny habits

2. Needs
Self-acceptance, the three levels of needs, and the bougainvillea and purple heart

3. Feelings
Pseudo-feelings, check-engine lights, anger

4. Emotional Liberation
Codependency, quality of the relationship, honesty & empathy    

5. Self-Worth
Shame, self-compassion, and limiting beliefs

6. Autonomy
Interdependence, requests, mourning & celebration, next steps

This is for you if you can joyfully pay $438 and commit the time and energy to this program.

This is not for you if the challenges in your life seem overwhelming. You might benefit more from working one-on-one with me or talking with a therapist or counselor.

In this program, we work on transforming core beliefs that we don’t matter, stop living as if life will start later, and start feeling present, content, and grateful in our day-to-day life.

We will meet bi-weekly on Zoom for six sessions, 90 minutes each. We start in February with a max of eight participants.

Contact me with any questions.

Read more about the program.

Who is your rescue angel?

When I arrived in Austin in 2009, I signed up for an improv class. I had been part of an amateur theatre group In the Netherlands. I played Konstanze in Mozart, Ophelia in Hamlet, and roles in many commedia dell’arte plays. Now I thought it would be fun to be on stage without a script.

After a few classes, I sign up for a student show called the Fancy Pants Mashup. Some 12 students put their name in a hat and are randomly matched to play a scene. As I write my name on a piece of paper and put it in the hat, Eric, one of the other players, comes over to say ‘hi’. We laugh, chit chat for a bit, and go into the theater.

The show begins and the MC pulls out two slips of paper from the hat and invites the actors to play a scene.

With a combination of excitement and anticipation, I listen for my name. My anxiety builds when others are called on stage and I am not. This show was a fun idea, but the more I think about it, the worse the idea seems. All the previous scenes were hilarious, funny, or moving. I fear that mine won’t be nearly as entertaining.

In the last round, the show master pulls out ‘Eric’.

Hum? Two Erics and no Elly?

“I haven’t played yet”, I whisper.

“No, your name is not in the hat. I have ‘Eric’.” He shows me the paper. Clearly, it is my handwriting.

?

I try to explain that I must have been distracted writing my name as I was talking to Eric. The show master’s eyes light up and he tells me to play a solo about this guy Eric.

Oh no!

Not by myself! My saboteur yells at me: “You’re not good enough to create a scene worth watching!” Etc, etc.

I am worried that on my own, my longing to be funny will get in the way of my spontaneity. But I can’t think of an escape, so I step into the spotlight. I am hoping that I won’t see the 49 pairs of audience eyes when I am blinded by the light.

It helps.

I don’t even notice that Eric jumps up on stage and pantomimes what I say till I turn around. His wordless support boosts my confidence and our scene gets laughs, quiet, and applause.

He is an example of someone willing to help others shine and succeed in their goals.

Maybe you are a bit like me and make one of these mistakes around achieving your goals:

  1. Thinking you have to do it on your own
  1. Shaming yourself for not showing up the way you want
  1. Setting your standards too high

But what good does it do if you don’t ask for help when you need it?

When I realized that it was totally normal to get help to achieve my goals and values, I started to ask for help proactively. Self-worth issues became less relevant, my choices included more perspectives, and I felt more content with what I accomplished.

This happened to the participants of my first coaching group too. The emotional safety of the group helped them accept their shame, fear, and anger. They talked about what is truly important to them. And they found their authentic joy by working through inner obstacles and limiting beliefs.

In January I start a second group: the Authentic Joy Journey.

In 12 weeks you get six sessions with a group of people who are able to create a brave space, listen with empathy, and have enough resources to support you.

In each session, we work on a different theme:

1. Learning: failure applause, creative tension, and tiny habits

2. Needs: the three levels of needs and self-acceptance

3. Feelings: pseudo-feelings, anger, the messenger of needs

4. Emotional liberation: codependency, quality of the relationship, honesty & empathy

5. Self-worth: shame, self-compassion, and limiting beliefs

6. Autonomy: interdependence, requests, mourning & celebration, next steps

This is for you if you are willing to reflect on yourself, go beyond your comfort zone, and are excited to practice radical love.

If you are currently cutting corners, this helps you to trust that it is all there for you and that life is inviting you to go get it.

This is also for you if you can joyfully contribute $438 for the program.

This is not for you if you rather complain and expect others to take care of you.

It’s also not for you if you have too much stress in your life and won’t be able to listen with empathy to others.

I accept eight participants at most and have only five spots left.

Email me if you want to join and we’ll talk about whether this is a good fit for you.

P.S. Watch the video with Eric and me here.

P.P.S. I am appalled by what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6. I am intensifying my efforts to be an anti-racist, engage in difficult conversations, and stand up for my values of empathy, compassion, and mindfulness.

P.P.S. You can also visit this page to first get a feel for the group.