Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator


Nonviolent Communication claims we all have the same universal, precious needs. We all value things like safety, love, consideration, support, acceptance, belonging. We differ in the strategies we choose to support our needs. Needs are universal through space and time, strategies are local and idiosyncratic. My favored strategy to meet my need to be heard is by talking with my husband. My sister’s strategy is hanging out with her best friend. My neighbor might choose talking to her roommate.

When we get attached to our strategies, it’s harder to find solutions that work for everyone. Conflict is around the corner. When I think I need to talk to my husband, and he wants to sleep, we might fail to find ways that meet both our needs: to be heard and for rest.

When we recognize our needs for rest and to be heard, we can brainstorm: maybe he can take a nap, and then we talk. Or he goes to bed, and I call my friend. Or we talk for 15 minutes, and then we both go to bed.

Getting attached to our strategies happens more often in charged situations like conflict, because we might think our partner doesn’t care about our feelings. Before we know it, we fight each other over our strategies, neither of us really getting our needs met.


Ask your partner to talk more about their strategies. If your partner gets what they are looking for, what would that do for them? And for you? Which needs would be met? Share more about your strategies. What would your world look like, if you got what you’re asking for? What would your partner’s world look like if you get what you want?

Which needs are up between the two of you? Can you brainstorm as many strategies as possible to meet those needs? The brainstorming helps to surface everything that might work; it’s a creative process. In this dialog, you might hear ideas you never thought of. You maximize choice, while respecting the relationship.

SMART helps with this process:


“I’ll send you an email with my response to your proposal”, instead of “I’ll get back with you”. A specific goal will usually answer the five ‘W’ questions:

  • What am I agreeing to?
  • Why am I agreeing to this, what’s the purpose or benefit of this agreement?
  • Who’s involved?
  • Where’s the agreement taking place?
  • Which are the requirements and constraints for carrying out this agreement?


“We’ll settle on X-amount of alimony on a monthly basis, paid by the first of the month”, instead of “You’ll get enough financial support”. Measurable is about:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know we’ve accomplished this?”


Rather than saying “I never want to hear blame and criticism”, ask “Tell me specifically about what I did, which feelings came up when you saw what I did, and which needs were not met by my actions.”

Achievable helps you set yourself up for success, by making agreements you can keep. If your goals are unachievable, you set yourself up for failure, which results in feelings of disappointment, frustration, and sadness.


You want to agree on goals that matter to you. “We’re gonna send each other a Christmas Card before December 15 each year” is pretty SMART, and probably doesn’t really matter to you. What really matters is finding an agreement around co-parenting for example.


Give your agreements a clear timeline. When you set a timeline to the agreement, it creates a sense of predictability, as well as safety for both of you. And it offers an opportunity to renegotiate, if we know we won’t make the deadline. This builds trust.

Let me know how this lands for you. I love to stay in touch.