Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Based in Austin – Specialized in Empathy and Self-Compassion

Am I deserving of appreciation

Friday January 5, during Shabbat service, I was formally welcomed into the community of the Jewish people, making myself available to “become a partner with God in the work of creation and in the healing and redemption of the world”.

It is a festive, joyous evening of community and celebration. My husband is there, my stepdaughter, my friends Jen, Margaret, her kids and parents-in-law, and of course my congregation. We sing, we pray, we hug. My stepdaughter and I lit the candles to welcome in the Shabbat and recite the prayer. We are a bit nervous about whether we remember the whole Hebrew blessing. My husband reads one of his poems to express how I have contributed to his life. The congregation president reads one of my blogs. She thought it was the best way to describe how I show up in life. My stepdaughter jumps up and shouts “Yeah, Elly”. The cantor sings a song about being held by the wings of Shechinah (Spirit) and says I am a gift to the congregation.

I feel a bit shy with this shower of appreciation. I think of a quote by Marshall Rosenberg:

“For many of us, it is difficult to receive appreciation gracefully. We fret over whether we deserve it. We worry about what’s being expected of us… Or we’re nervous about living up to the appreciation.”

These people who share their appreciation, do they know that I have lied? That I get angry and yell? That I have people I let down? That I have done things I feel ashamed of? Would they still appreciate me if they know the whole truth about me, and nothing but the truth?

Maybe. Maybe not.

As I sit there and receive congratulation after hug after welcoming, I start to relax. Yes, I have done things in my life I wished I could undo, and I have desisted from doing things that I wished I had done. That’s the truth. And even though that is correct, it is also incomplete. Because I have also helped others, listened to my friend’s suffering, refrained from saying hurtful things, committed to a 95% vegan, eco-friendly, fair-trade diet, tried the best I could.

As I open up to the appreciation and love, I see more clearly that I have contributed to other people’s needs. I see that I have the capacity to make life more wonderful for others. And since I already am aware where I have made life more miserable for others, receiving appreciation helps me better see the whole picture of who I am and how I show up.

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

My Mother’s Day Ode to aunt Ria

“Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for all you do to help me as a mother, guide and support Maya and Kiran through life.”

I feel touched. Even a bit teary. I’m grateful for her appreciation of my role in her children’s life and of my dedication to help them grow into happy, healthy, self-connected adults.

Foto (1)I never gave birth to a child. I carry sadness and a sense of loss around that. I once thought I would have at least five kids. I imagined us sitting at the dinner table, laughing, talking, playing around. A bit chaotic and noisy, and super fun. An adult household version of Pippi Longstocking.

After I realized this would not happen (and even before that) I decided to direct all my motherly energy and love to the children in my life that I do have: my nieces and nephew, kids of friends, my Dutch foster child, my step daughter. If I can’t be a mom, I can be an aunt, a foster-mom, a nurturing adult in the lives of the children around me. I can reinforce their self-worth, remind them that they matter, and coach their autonomy.

Ria van Wijlen jeugdfoto img878This Mother’s Day I thought of my aunt, tante Ria. She had such love for children. She didn’t give birth to her own children either.

She is my inspiration for how I want to show up for the children around me: respectful, accepting, tolerant, lots of fun, supportive, interested, and engaged in the relationship.

There are many children who don’t get the love, support and acceptance they need. A social worker once told me how difficult it is to address these issues with the parents. The best you can do is to offer the children an alternative relationship. A relationship that conveys that you care about them, respect their experience, and value their needs.  Your actions and respect acknowledge them as autonomous human beings, who are entitled to their own dreams and goals.

I know from experience how valuable such an aunt can be.  I grew up struggling to find support for my sense of emotional safety, acceptance, understanding, support, and belonging.

So this is my ode to my tante Ria.

Thank you for supporting me on my path to self-worth and mattering. You did this over and over againfrom the day I was born to today, and even beyond the bounds of your death.


Safe travels David. Thanks for editing!

Appreciation NVC-style (3/3)

We “receive appreciation with the same quality of empathy we express when listening to other messages. We hear what we have done that contributed to others’ well-being; we hear their feelings and the needs that were fulfilled. We take into our hearts the joyous reality that we can each enhance the quality of others’ lives.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 188)

2015, Nov-12, Pedernales2There is nothing to be shy about. There is nothing to be proud about. There is everything to be happy about: life is wonderful when we contribute to needs being met! We celebrate needs met: ours or others. Receiving appreciation is letting go of our inferiority complex, our superiority complex, or even our notions of equality.

Appreciation is beyond judgement.

Receiving appreciation NVC-style is stepping into the understanding that we inter-are and that your happiness is connected to my happiness, that we share an inter-happiness. We don’t need a special skill to contribute. We don’t need to hide in embarrassment when our contribution is appreciated. We don’t need to pretend that everyone would have done the same. Receiving appreciation has nothing to do with wondering if we are worthy of appreciation.

Receiving appreciation is the unique opportunity to deepen our understanding of the needs that are alive and important to the other person. It is a quality of understanding that is like reading a personal manual of their idiosyncratic well-being.

It is also an opportunity to know ourselves and understand our contribution-niche: these are the actions that I enjoy taking that others enjoy receiving. It may be a signpost for the crossroads of our purpose in life: “this is what I am good at, that brings more joy and happiness in the world.” When we receive appreciation we open up to “the awareness that God has given everyone the power to enrich the lives of others.” (Rosenberg, p. 189).

When we receive appreciation in this way, we give a boost to our aspirations: what if we did this everyday? Wouldn’t that make the world a better place? For you and for me?


You want help to receive appreciation? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Appreciation NVC-style (2/3)

“The beauty of appreciation is spoiled when people begin to notice the lurking intent to get something out of them.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 185, 186)

There is a difference between appreciation and praise and compliments. Appreciation is an expression of how our lives are enriched by the actions of others, the needs that are met and the feelings that arose from those needs being met. Praise and compliments can be a shortcut for appreciation. “That was a yummy dish” can have the same intention as appreciation, a summary with fewer words.

TeacherPraiseGirl-HiAnd often praise is used to get someone to do something. Sit still in the classroom. Do chores. Work harder. “You’re such a good girl.” “Thanks for being a team player.” These compliments often hide a request to continue certain behavior to support needs that are unspoken, and sometimes even unclear to the speaker. The speaker doesn’t reveal the needs met by the action they praise, nor the happy feelings that arose from these needs being met. There is just an evaluation of who you are and what you did. As if they are God and know who is good and who is bad, what is right and what is wrong.

I find the sticker sheet that parents use to encourage their child to do their chores a clear example of the lurking intent behind praise and compliments. ‘If you sweep the floor, you are a good boy and you’ll get a sticker.’ And after 10 stickers for 10 chores, you get to buy your favorite toy, or watch your favorite movie, or get to eat ice cream.

These praising and complimenting strategies certainly get your child to do what you want. They work. So much so that we continue to use them in the workplace with salary raises, job evaluations, choosing the best employee of the month.

But they only work to a certain extent. They get people to behave a certain way, but we don’t get them to do so out of the joy of their heart. They contribute to get the results they want for themselves. We are not sharing how their action meets our needs, so they can’t understand how they make a difference in our lives. Praise and compliments reinforce instrumental contribution. They don’t inspire us to contribute out of the intrinsic joy of contributing. Once the reward loses it’s appeal, we lose our excitement to modify our behavior.

I believe that appreciation is the way to go. Simply sharing the actions that have contributed to our well-being, the particular needs that have been fulfilled, and the pleasurable feelings engendered by the fulfillment of those needs. Appreciation expresses how others contributed to our needs. It is a celebration, not a hidden request.


You want help to appreciate NVC-style? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Appreciation NVC-style (1/3)

“When we use NVC (=Nonviolent Communication) to express appreciation, it is purely to celebrate, not to get something in return. Our sole intention is to celebrate the way our lives have been enriched by others.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 186)

Appreciation NVC-style inspires us to express ourselves in a way that fully reveals our experience without judging others. We share the specific actions that contributed to our well-being, the needs that have been fulfilled, and the feelings engendered by the fulfillment of those needs. The focus is to create a clear understanding of how our life was enriched. The specifics of our observation and the honesty about our feelings and needs enhance the impact of our communication. The lack of judgement invites a shared acceptance and connection around the purity of the celebration.

12287525_910657528989506_173872630_oWhen our needs are unmet, requests help to ask for what we want.

When our needs are met, appreciation celebrates what worked for us.

Here is an example of what NVC-appreciation can sound like:

“When I saw your FB-message “You can absolutely use my cartoons! I just went to your blog and the cartoon looks so cute and I love your post! I’m thrilled that you like my cartoons enough to put some on your wonderful website.”, I felt excited, happy, and enthralled. It met my needs for support, creativity, and collaboration.”

Or, maybe less formal:

“Wow, I felt excited, happy and enthralled, when I read your FB-message. I so like the support, creativity and collaboration!”

Appreciation NVC-style might take more words. It might even be a bit more vulnerable to share our feelings and needs directly and honestly. I find NVC less gratuitous than praise (“You’re such an awesome person!” “That was a fantastic thing you did”), as it zooms in on the clarity of our experience and not on judging our supporter through praise. Marshall describes all “praise and compliments to be life-alienating;… it establishes the speaker as someone who sits in judgments.” (Rosenberg, M., p. 185)

We don’t want to sit in judgment. We want to be vulnerable and authentic. Appreciation takes us out of playing God. It brings us back to who we are and what we need. Appreciation helps deepen connection between two human beings who both have the power to enrich life and appreciate the contribution.


You want help to appreciate NVC-style? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Thank you, Amy, for allowing me to use your cartoons on my website. I feel real excited to work together on a world with more compassion, empathy, and veganism! Add a link to RedandHowling, if you want to repost this cartoon.