Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

Click-Whirr

Did you know that mother turkeys only mother to those chicks that make a cheep-cheep noise? And that she ignores, mistreats, and even kills her chicks if they don’t make that noise?

Well, maybe you don’t care, but I find it fascinating.

To make things even more interesting, she even mothers stuffed polecats if they have a small recorder with that cheep-cheep sound inside them.

Those same stuffed polecats that receive immediate and furious attacks if they don’t make that sound.

And it is not only mother turkeys who have automated responses. Other animals have it too. Male robins attack nothing more than a clump of robin-redbreast feathers, while virtually ignoring a stuffed replica of a male robin without red breast feathers.

In “Influence”, Robert Cialdini calls it fixed-action patterns, “They can involve intricate sequences of behavior, such as entire courtship or mating rituals. A fundamental characteristic of these patterns is that the behaviors that compose them occur in virtually the same fashion and in the same order every time. Click and the appropriate tape is activated; whirr and out rolls the standard sequence of behavior. The most interesting thing about all this is the way the tapes are activated.”

It is not the whole animal, situation, or person that activates those fixed-action patterns, it is only one specific feature of the situation.

Humans form no exception to the rule. I know that I only need to see a LinkedIn notification on my phone and I open the app. My sister visits me and I go on a cleaning frenzy. I hear criticism and I feel ashamed and judge myself.

I wonder if I am the only one with such fixed-action patterns. Or if there are others who have some too.

People who automatically get defensive and start explaining themselves, when their supervisor blames them.

Who get pushy and raise their voice when conflicts don’t get addressed, let alone resolved.

Who work an hour longer, as soon as someone asks them to take on another task, even if they had planned to spend time with their kids.

People who don’t ask for help because they know their co-worker is having trouble at home.

And I wonder if you would rather have more choice on how to respond to those triggers. Instead of being dictated by your feelings, limiting beliefs, and conditions, respond from a place of care and inclusion of all needs. Including your own.

What if you could build a new fixed-action response when those triggers arise?

A habit that gets so automatic that whenever you hear blaming, shaming, complaining, demanding, you pause and practice self-care first.

And then use that pause to consciously choose how to respond. One that meets your needs as well.

If you want that new self-care habit, join my free webinar “Self-care as your new habit”.

In this webinar, you will:

  • Walk away with a simple four-step model to build a new habit that doesn’t take more than a minute or two to apply
  • WOOP every day to strengthen your self-care muscle and understand why this is such a powerful process (especially interesting if you like the science behind methods)
  • Work with all the obstacles to self-care without resisting them, and instead use those obstacles to learn more about yourself and thus be more effective in building your habit
  • Transform paradigms that self-care takes away from caring for others, into seeing how it contributes to them
  • Find a community that is committed to work on non-judgmental acceptance, self-love, finding peace and equanimity, and using those superpowers to serve others

After participating in the last webinar, Hanneke, my beloved sister, liked that she “got hope and practical tools for an easier daily way of living. It was very useful that Elly gives practical tools for everyday life. Like: set very small goals so there is a big opportunity you will succeed and that gives confidence for taking the next steps.” Of course, I know Hanneke is biased. But I did like this sentence a lot: “Elly is a very inspiring lady and fun to hang around with because she is also vulnerable about her own struggles.”

And Jess, a former participant in our Nonviolent Communication group, enjoyed that he received tools to work with the anger/intense emotions within his inner world and the outer world.

What do you want to walk away with after participating in this webinar? 

Find out by signing-up here. For free.

P.S. I am gonna start free, monthly office hours to help you with issues around conflict resolution, communication, and compassion. I haven’t chosen a day/time yet for the first one. Let me know if you have a preference and I’ll try to accommodate you. Just email me at elly@ellyvanlaar.com

P.P.S. You feel happy giving some happy money to my endeavors? You can Venmo me at @Elly-VanLaar, use PayPal with elly@ellyvanlaar.com, and/or send a check/cash (oh yeah, I love our USPS-delivery lady!). You find the email at the bottom.

P.P.S I know that I use my happy money in service of God’s world.

Who needs conflict resolution skills? I do! [especially with squirrels]

This one is big. And red. And almost ripe.

I have nurtured this tomato for weeks now. Carefully watering its roots. Trimming off shriveled leaves. Propping up the stalk with a pole.

Its 3 predecessor tomatoes disappeared mysteriously. They were also big, but green. I didn’t see a trace of them, not even a sliver of skin on the bottom of the plant bed. I wonder what happened to them.

Now I know.

As I am happily brushing my teeth, I walk around in my kitchen and stop in my tracks to spot a miniature pumpkin face grinning at me from the yard. It is carefully placed on top of the fence.

Halloween is months away, the neighbor moved out. So who wants to spook me with little devilish tokens of: “I see you, I know where you live, I am coming after you”?

It takes another breath and a closer look to see it is not a carved pumpkin.

It is the big tomato. Not carefully placed, more randomly munched at. And at least 95% guaranteed left behind by a squirrel. Those same squirrels that take a few nibbles out of my figs, and rummage my pecan tree to leave chunks of pecans on my front path.

The same squirrels that I am clueless about how to collaborate with.

If we would speak the same language, I might make a request:

“Hey, when I see you eat the tomato and leave most of it uneaten, I feel sad and disappointed. I want more respect for the preciousness of our resources, and some celebration for my hard work. What about I cut you half the tomato when it’s ripe and you leave it alone till then? And if that doesn’t work, what would work better for you that would also work for me?”

As it is, we don’t share the same language.

I have no clue how to talk to the squirrel and find a solution that works for both of us.

Interactions with people can sometimes seem like working with a squirrel. Even though you and the other person share the same universal needs, the strategies you choose to meet those beautiful needs are probably different. You might not even want to find a solution that works for both of you. You rather walk away with disappointment and frustration or turn against with force and anger.

And that’s when conflicts start.

Conflict never starts at the level of human, universal, needs. It starts at the level of strategies.

If we understand the needs underneath the strategy, it is much easier to brainstorm strategies that meet all needs involved.

My mini-training “The 5 secrets to resolve conflict that hardly anyone uses” gives you the basic tools to transform conflict into collaboration.

This is what Titia van Rootselaar, Mindfulness and Compassion Trainer, Netherlands emails me after reading them:

“In these secrets, Elly beautifully shows how you can change the atmosphere of a conflict, possibly a painful and stressful situation, 180 degrees through a compassionate attitude. By opening yourself to the needs of the other and yourself, more space and openness is created. Your heart is also more involved. It is a really good tool, and not only suitable for the work environment. I’ve already applied it privately.”

And my sister Hanneke van Laar, a Personal Care Counselor for People with Mental Disabilities, writes:

“Thanks for your secrets. I should have called you much earlier about the tensions I felt at work. Then I might have made another choice. I should have become very quiet in myself first. Perhaps I saw too many unjustified ‘jackals’.”

 And Jen Collins, Associate Professor School of Nursing shares with me:

“Hi, Elly. This is great wording: ‘You no longer just problem-solve, you solution-find’.”

Curious how it can help you? Sign-up here. For free.

In the next 10 days, you get 5 emails with simple steps to resolve conflicts that you can apply immediately. With humans.

And maybe with squirrels.

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!

Empathy without compassion

George Floyd

Breonna Taylor

Ahmaud Arbery

Mike Ramos

Justin Howell

Brad Levi Ayala

Empathy without compassion can be cruel. It would be like sitting next to a choking man, listening to his pain, reflecting back his words “I can’t breathe”, and then not helping, or worse, not pulling the knee off. To stop at understanding is not to address suffering.

True empathy inspires compassion. When we put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, attempting to see the world through their eyes, we can take “Right Action” as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it. Action that addresses the immediate issues. And action to improve the underlying systemic structure of those issues.

Marching to create mass attention. Signing petitions to build momentum. Sitting on a cushion to look deeply within to uncover unconscious bias.

And actions that focus on transforming our society into one where Black Lives matter in words and deeds. A society where everyone’s needs for safety, dignity, fairness, and support to fulfill our potential are met. For far too long we lived with horrible racial injustice.

I have not figured out where to begin, although I know it must be grounded in loving-kindness.

Thich Nhat Hanh and many other traditions offer loving-kindness prayers. First, fill yourself up with loving-kindness. Second, wish loving-kindness to a loved one. Then to someone neutral. And end with someone you struggle with.

This Friday, June 12 at noon CST I offer a free Zoom-call around how we can nurture loving-kindness amidst the grief, despair, fear, anger, confusion. A moment to come together for empathy and community.

Join me.

 

With loving-kindness,

Elly van Laar

Coach for Nonprofit Leaders

512-589-0482

www.ellyvanlaar.com

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