Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

The professor is howling at the nurse

Every night at eight p.m. my neighbor across the street, a university professor, goes outside and howls.

So does the real estate broker from his backyard, And the owner of a radio station three doors away.

Even my neighbor, the nurse, goes outside to howl.

And yesterday, I did too.

It is the silliest thing I have done in a while. And I feel utterly amused.

Here we are, dressed in our home slack, howling at each other.

I can even hear people in other parts of our neighborhood howling.

The howling lasts just a few minutes. Afterward, we chat a little bit, and in eight minutes or so we go back inside, to whatever we were doing before the howl.

I know that in Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands people went outside at eight p.m. to applaud the nurses, doctors, and other front line people who keep us healthy, safe, and fed.

Here in Hyde Park, Austin, Texas we howl.

Maybe that’s the reason I like it so much. Because it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t contribute. It doesn’t help. It is silly, visceral, and we laugh and connect.

And we see each other from a new perspective. No serious talk about the virus, shopping, planting, politics. No updates about work and life. Normal people with regular jobs, doing something silly together.

In a way it reminds me of coaching.

My clients tell me that they value coaching because it helps them to see situations from a different perspective.

To look at their issues with fresh eyes.

To gain a deeper understanding of what is meaningful to them.

And to have space to reflect on priorities and values, beyond the daily rush of things.

You might like the idea.

And you might think that a coach is too expensive. My clients have that consideration too.

This is what Eric tells me afterward:

“It was absolutely worth my money. I feel like it was well-thought-out. The process was awesome. I was encouraged and challenged to do that kind of deep, reflective work. And the outcome of that has been worth it.”

Not only did he leave a job that wasn’t a fit for his aspirations, but he also found a job in which he is earning more with a lot less stress, in less time, and with more satisfaction.

While he had to pay a mortgage, and his wife was not earning any income because of maternity leave.

This was not a result of me being pushy or bully whipping him into shape.

This was the result of him being in a brave space, where he could authentically connect to himself, question his norms and assumptions, and have enough support to make unconventional choices.

You might not need any of that.

You might be good on your own, with family and friends supporting you.

But if you are curious how working with me could help you, you can schedule a free, discovery call with me.

Anyone who signs up for coaching with me will be grandfathered in my current fee of $100 per hour, as long as they coach with me at least once a month.

June 1, I raise my fees to $150 per hour.

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

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.

This very moment is the perfect teacher

My ex-husband, Rob van Gils, passed away November 16, 2017. His cremation was Thursday November 23.

My visit to the Netherlands for his cremation service was much harder than I anticipated. Rob and I had succeeded in having –what our mediator described as– “the most peaceful, loving, and harmonious divorce.” We had also figured out how to have a caring friendship beyond divorce. While we had moved on, four of his best friends still harbored pain and anger about my decision to leave him nine years ago for my second husband.

The cremation service becomes not only a moment of intense grief and mourning over the loss of my first love, it becomes a startling confrontation with unresolved issues of loss and perceived betrayal in our former circle of friends.

One friend turns away as I approach him. Another can barely say ‘thank you’ when I share my condolences. A third lets me wait for two minutes, before he interrupts his conversation, then looks at me with a face that seems to convey his wish I had died instead of Rob, and says with emphasis, “You better leave. I don’t want you here.”

I leave the service quickly, too overwhelmed with confusion, pain and grief.

That night I read Pema Chödrön’s “When Things Fall Apart”:

“Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors –people who have a certain hunger to know what is true– feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

As enemy images of Rob’s friends race through my head, fretting how they should have behaved, how badly I am treated, how not deserving of their wrath I am, I notice I soften. I am open to using this experience as a wake-up call to lean into where I’m stuck. To let it all be, the pain and sorrow, the hatred and shame. I am willing to allow myself to be penetrated by my feelings –to be changed by them. Slowly I relax into my human condition, and experience the vulnerability of being alive.

That evening, I do not reach enlightenment. I do stop myself from becoming frozen in my judging of how life “should” be. Instead, I accept what is: the pain and the hurt triggered by people needing understanding and compassion.

I take another step on the path of the spiritual warrior, facing adversity with dignity and compassion.

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

Scratching, unwholesome seeds, and mindfulness

It is 5:00 am at the second day of our Mindfulness Retreat. I wake up in the dark with a terrible itch on my left foot. I guess that it is probably fire ant bites from walking in the woods. The itch is overwhelming, it drives me crazy. I start scratching as hard as I can, until I feel it starts to bleed. The itching just gets worse.

After 10 minutes, I finally pause my scratching and attempt to practice “accepting what is”. I breath in and breath out of the terrible itch, and try to have an openhearted curiosity about what it is like to have a big itch. I do my very best to accept the experience, rather than to change it.

I have to say, I am not completely up for the challenge. I fail several times at holding back my scratching. Half of my brain would like to apply a sander to get rid of the itch. The other half gradually surrenders and succeeds at breathing in and out of the big itch.

Eventually I fall back asleep.

The next morning I wake up with less itch and a little more understanding about what I believe Thich Nhat Hanh means by wholesome and unwholesome seeds in our consciousness.

“Whether we have happiness or not depends on the seeds in our consciousness. If our seeds of compassion, understanding, and love are strong, those qualities will be able to manifest in us. If the seeds of anger, hostility and sadness in us are strong, then we will experience much suffering.” Thich Nhat Hanh

At the surface it might seem that Thich Nhat Hanh is making a distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, an instruction to only water the ‘good’ seeds. A moral dichotomy.

After my itchy experience, I see this differently. He is instead simply inviting us to be present with whatever is: to make our choice based on our most mindful vision for ourselves and others. If I want to keep my foot happy, I better stop scratching, even if the scratching feels good in the moment.

By extension, I imagine that if I want more happiness, peace, and love in my life, I might do better if I water the seeds of happiness, peace, love, understanding, and compassion in myself. If I want more conflict, suffering, or stress I might focus on watering the seeds of anger, fear, deficit.

When we are in choice about which seeds we water, we can be in choice of how we experience our lives. This is a practice with no right or wrong, just trying, and failing. Then trying again. Failing. Sometimes doing things that are not so wholesome, but feel good in the moment. We try to be curious and we try again. We continue until we are practiced enough to transform unwholesome habits into more wholesome ones.

Which seeds do you nurture within yourself? Let me know, I would love to read from you.

Does Self-Criticism help us learn?

We have two armchairs in our living room. They have been around for 25 years. We also host two weekly Nonviolent Communication classes and a monthly workshop in our living room. People come in clean or not so clean and sit on these chairs.

I am a big fan of cleanliness and talk with my husband about washing the cushion covers. We agree to run an experiment and machine wash one set carefully in cold water on delicate setting.

With some excitement, I undress the covers of the chair cushions. I put them in the washing machine and take them out an hour later. As soon as I see them, I feel anxious. Like very anxious.

I know my husband really likes these chairs and he has taken good care of them for more years than he has known me. Except for some wear and tear, they were in excellent shape.

Were.

Now with my washing, the covers are shrunken and shredded. With all my might I barely succeed in pulling the covers back over the cushions. They are seven inches short.

I sit down deflated. With lots, lots, lots of self-critical thoughts. “You stupid, stupid, stupid idiot! IDIOT! What a complete moron you are for not checking the settings on the washing machine!” I feel pained and upset, and angry with myself.

Finally I decide to get up and walk mindfully for three minutes. Then another 20 minutes around the block. The physical movement helps me shift my self-criticism to self-compassion.

A friend asked if I think self-criticism is essential for growth and learning. I don’t believe it is. After reading and listening to people I respect (Thich Nhat Hanh, Marshall Rosenberg, Rick Hanson, Kristin Neff, Martin Seligman) I’ve come to the conclusion that criticism is not only not needed for learning, it is likely detrimental.

Criticism targets who we are, not what we do. Criticism conveys something is fundamentally wrong with us, as if we are unworthy of love, acceptance, and belonging. As social animals, these needs are essential to our survival. When we hear criticism of who we are, we fear that our emotional, social, and physical safety is in jeopardy. Our reptilian brain is activated and we react with fight, flight, or freeze. We lose access to the part of our brain that helps us find creative, collaborative solutions to the problems we face.

That’s not to say that we can’t regret and mourn what we did. When we approach our regret with self-compassion, instead of self-criticism, we can redirect our energy to thinking what we could do differently in the future. When we acknowledge our flaws, we can try to make amends, learn from the experience, and restore connection. We see that making mistakes (even irreversible ones) is part of our shared humanity. Humans are fallible and that doesn’t mean we’re not worthy of love and belonging.

With self-compassion, we don’t have to hide our mistakes to protect our emotional, social, and physical safety. We can more clearly see the needs that we tried to meet, even when our actions failed. We can think of better ways to meet our needs while caring for the needs of others.

Rather than shame and expulsion, we are empowered to ask for support and learn.

How do you nurture self-compassion? Let me know, I would love to read from you.