Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

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.

Break up?

It’s 5:10 pm. I’ve spent the last three hours sweeping leaves, collecting them in the compost bin, turning the bin upside down when it’s full, then mulching the leaves into the grass with the lawnmower.

I would rather have been knitting, but the leaves in front of the curb were piling up into a border patrol wall. Besides, once I’ve mulched them, dozens of pecans pop up, ready to be tossed in a salad. So the effort is pretty rewarding.

I look at the last strip of lawn covered with leaves. It will take me 40 minutes to get through them. I have less than 20 minutes before sunset.

I want to cross ‘leaf mulching’ off my to-do list, so I use the last of my resources to finish the chore. I mow at jogging speed.

When the mower gets stuck under the lower branches of the mountain laurel, I hunch forward, duck my head, and push my way through.

The mower gets unstuck.

And is dead.

I don’t understand what happened until I see the handle disconnected and loose in my hand.

It powers the deadman switch. Without the switch, the electricity won’t connect. Without electricity, the blade doesn’t rotate. And without a rotating blade, the last strip of leaves won’t get mulched.

The force I used to push my mower through the branches didn’t get me the results I wanted.

Worse, I broke the machine. I panic when I imagine having to spend $199 for a replacement. As I go inside, my shaming thoughts don’t even allow me to relax.

I wonder if I am the only one who gets so stuck on finishing their tasks that they forget to recognize their limits and accept an unfinished task?

Or are there others who ignore their body’s signals because they would rather have it done and over with than look at an uncrossed item on their to-do list?

Maybe your task is about residents who are about to lose their homes. Or clients who will be jobless, unless you spend time mentoring them. Or a nature preserve that is at risk of being turned into an industrial park. Dropout students who rely on your emotional and practical support to help them get to college.

And you might experience emotional, social, and moral pressure to give your 300%. If you’re not careful, you are sliding into exhaustion, depletion, burn-out.

That’s why I am excited to offer a short video-course on self-compassion. In two weeks you’ll get seven videos of less than 3 minutes each. They offer insights and practical tools to nurture self-compassion in your daily life. As a result, it is easier to meet your longing to contribute to your clients or your cause and your own needs for rest and physical well-being.

You’ll learn:

  • How a bougainvillea can teach you self-compassion, even if you don’t have a green thumb and most of your plants die
  • The four elements of self-compassion, how it differs from self-esteem, and the simplest action to nourish self-compassion that is super helpful in any situation and takes only 2 seconds
  • Why sitting on a meditation cushion is not enough to survive these crazy times and why our habit energy can be such an obstacle in trying to be more mindful
  • What you can do to make yourself a priority without feeling guilty, even as you see more urgency of your cause and distress in your clients in this pandemic
  • Why taking care of yourself is the opposite of being selfish and how it reassures others that they can do the same

Email me if you want to receive this course. It is a beta version, so I offer it for a discounted price of $26.10. Plus, I will include your questions, comments, and feedback in the design.

Don’t miss this opportunity, self-care can make you more productive AND less stressed.

P.S. Eventually I overcome my shame and tell my husband about it. He repairs it and we save $199.

P.P.S. I have a 100% money-back guarantee. You don’t like the first video? Let me know, and I’ll refund you (minus any processing fee)

P.P.S. Email me too with your response to this email, I love to stay in touch.

Cockroach in a bookcase

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.

Conflict can feel like balancing on a tight rope

One front foot. Pause, maybe 1-2 seconds. A second foot. Pause, 1-2 seconds. Maybe even three. A third foot, an even longer pause.

The tiny squirrel is now nine feet out on a narrow utility line, some 18 feet above the ground. He has to cross another 35 feet to get to the other side of the line into the tree that he wants to get to.

At that moment a mockingbird swoops in and squawks at him. God knows why. Twice he flies in at full-speed right at the baby squirrel. And the squirrel freezes at his feeble spot on the line.

My heart goes boom, boom, boom.

How I wish I could climb up and bring it back into safety. Instead, I am left on the ground 18 feet below hoping and preparing to catch it if it fell.

A few seconds into the freeze, the squirrel manages to turn around and get back into the tree where he came from. When he jumps into it, I think he’s safe and I continue my morning walk.

The event reminds me of what can happen with people in conflict when they don’t feel safe enough to move to the perspective of the other person.

Some freeze when they imagine what the other person might say about them. Scared that they will only hear how fundamentally flawed they are.

Others swoop in with a list of blame, evaluations, and ‘shoulds’ rather than share their more vulnerable feelings and needs, not trusting that they will be heard with compassion and empathy.

Neither one sees their conflict as an opportunity to improve collaboration. It is more a boxing match on a utility line than a chance to explore the values and norms, assumptions, and preferred strategies underlying their respective positions.

I hear many of my clients struggle with conflict these days, as their challenges increase with economic shocks, social changes, isolation, presidential elections, funding stress, and higher demands for their services.

That’s when a neutral facilitator can help. They create a brave space for each participant to share honestly. They model how to listen with empathy. They accept and work with the triggers that come up. And they support each participant to make requests.

As a result, the participants don’t only solve their problems, they actively find solutions to improve their collaboration.

I just finished a facilitated dialogue between two nonprofit team leaders. This is what they say after our third session:

“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 in order for us to come in and be the best that we could be here, 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.”

“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 him than I did before. I’m really hopeful and I feel good about where this is going.”

Contact me if you want to see how hiring me as a facilitator can help you.


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

P.P.S. You feel happy giving some happy money to my endeavors? You can Venmo me at @Elly-VanLaar, use PayPal with, 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.