Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

Empathy helps. It always does.

You wake up in the morning and you are already dreading the conversation with this parent in the afternoon. You fear he will blame you for the poor grades of his daughter. You don’t like these difficult conversations. You anticipate conflict, and want connection. You want tools to listen to and talk with the angry parent and maintain your inner calm.
Maybe it is not a parent, but your boss. Or your colleague. Or your spouse. Or even yourself.



Empathy helps. It always does.



We all share the same human needs, and if we focus on those -no matter how the other person expresses him/herself- we immediately create connection. Because we understand what it is like to want support, or respect, or belonging, or to be heard, or to matter. We all have these beautiful, universal needs.



Now the discussion is not about being right or wrong, your way or the high way, it is about finding ways to support all needs. It is about being creative enough to find strategies that everyone likes.



And that’s possible.

Image courtesy to


Nonviolent Communication helps us to capture a language of feelings and needs that supports connection. It is easy to learn and effective to use. A community helps to practice this language in a safe setting, so we can experiment with new behavior and set ourselves up for success.


I am honored and happy to invite you to our Communication for Connection Practice Group. We meet every Monday, 7-9 pm, 6405 Culpepper Cove, Austin, TX 78730. Suggested donation $10. We can also work one on one to help you learn these compassionate communication skills.


Contact me if you want to see if the group or individual work is a good match for you, 512-589-0482.

Mediation between kids

Friendship“Informal mediation is sticking your nose into other people’s business without being asked.” (Marshall Rosenberg)

I often do informal mediation between my two nanny kids, with more or less success. Today I applied what I just read in the Mediate Your Life manual. When you mediate on the spot, between two parties who didn’t ask you to do so, you make quick, short, snappy empathy guesses and you go back and forth without asking the other party to reflect.

This suggestion turns out to be very helpful.

My usual process is to spend minutes empathizing with one kid, before listening to the other -often leaving the one not listened to more and more agitated as they hear their sibling say things that are totally different from their experience. Today I ask Maya to tell me the most important thing she wants me to hear. I listen to her frustration and upset, I listen to her needs. I get her. Then I tell her that I’m gonna ask Kiran the most important thing he wants me to know, before I get back to her for her second message. She is willing to wait. Knowing that I’ll be back is enough reassurance that she’ll get the listening she wants.

So I listen to him. I hear his feelings and needs. I get him and tell him that I’ll listen to Maya’s second message, before I’ll return to him.

Maya asks what Kiran said. I tell her that I’m not doing that yet. That I first want to understand the most important things of both of them, one message at a time, before I ask for reflections and responses. She settles in. I empathize a little bit more with her frustration and upset. I get her need for fairness. She relaxes into the experience of listening and support and waits patiently for my return after my second Kiran-round.

Kiran doesn’t have a second message. He is ready to play.

When I come back to Maya, she has received so much listening, acceptance, connection, understanding and support that she, too, is ready for something else.

And off they go, to color pages.

Life is so sweet when you have the tools to mediate conflict.


You want to learn to mediate conflict? Contact me 512-589-0482. I think I can help!

Mediating conflict with empathy, 2

Image courtesy to freedesignfile.comSo I here I am at Hoppin House trying to figure out how to talk with the parents of the kid, who apparently said “f… you” and support Maya’s needs for safety and respect, my need for acceptance and safety, and the parents’ and kid’s needs, probably for safety, acceptance and respect too. I am not looking forward to the conversation and need some self-connection first.

I breath in and out.

I remember Thich Nhat Hanh‘s advice to ask for help when you’re upset.

That I can do.

I walk up to the table. “Hi, I am Elly and I need your help. My girl…” I interrupt myself. The kid shows up. Maybe just five years old. I want to be transparent and support his sense of emotional safety. I don’t want to talk about him as if he were not here. I look him in the eyes and say gently “Hi, I’m Elly, what’s your name?” “AJ” “My girl is upset, because she heard you say ‘fuck off’.” “I didn’t say that! I didn’t say that! I didn’t say that! I didn’t say that!”, he yells. I see him fidgeting with his fingers, fumbling his shirt. I hear his mom tell him to apologize, and I remember “Empathy first.”

“Are you scared you will get into trouble with your mom?” He looks down, nodding ‘yes’. “Are you scared you will be punished?” Wildly nodding ‘yes’. “Do you want your mom to love you, no matter what you do?” His head still hanging down, nodding ‘yes’. “Maybe you want to walk over to your mom, and hear her say that she loves you?” Nodding ‘yes’, more quietly. He walks over to his mom, she looks at him, with some sweetness in her eyes. She seems to be telling him non-verbally ‘It’s okay, I’m not mad. Let’s work this out.’ I take a break. “Do you want your mom and me to know that you want to play in a way that works for everyone?” ‘Yes’ “Do you want me to go over to my girl and tell her that?” ‘Yes’ “Do you want to hear that I am not angry with you, and that I rather be friends with you?” ‘Yes’ “Can you look me in the face, and see I’m not angry?” He finally looks up, still a little scared, just a little puppy. He has a faint smile on his face. I touch his shoulders “Thank you!” He seems relieved as he runs off to play again.

When we leave an hour later, I say goodbye to a table full of smiling faces.


Do you want help to resolve conflicts in a way that creates connection? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.

Mediating conflict with empathy, 1

Image courtesy to Creative CommonsWe’re in Hoppin House, Maya, Kiran, Georgia and I. We have a blast. We just played in the foam pit, and now I’m taking a break. I sit at the table, enjoying my tea, when Maya comes up to me. Her face is red, she seems agitated. “Elly, this kid (pointing at a boy on a slide) just told me ‘fuck off’, and you have to do something about it. You have to talk to the mom (pointing at a group of adults a table away). He has to apologize… I’m not kidding, he said that, really!” Georgia fiercely shakes her head. “I heard him say that too!”

I see how upset she is, and how important it is for her to receive respect. I want to honor her feelings and needs. And I am not looking forward to walk up to this table with six adults “Hey, your kid said “f… off”, and he needs to apologize.” Some of them are broad-shouldered and tattooed, and I don’t know what their communication style is. I’m not sure if my needs for safety and acceptance are gonna be met.

“Maya, I see how upset you are and I get that you want to be able to play in a way that brings respect and safety. I want that for you too. I’m gonna sit for five minutes and think about how I can talk to the parents, so that we create friendship, instead of more conflict. You can continue to play in the meantime.” Maya seems okay with that, and runs off.

I breath in and out. I don’t want to talk with the parents at all. I don’t like conflict, and I rather walk away from it. Especially when I am by myself, and they are with six.

Yet, at the same time I want to support Maya’s needs for respect and safety. I also want to show her that she matters enough to take action and overcome my fear of conflict. Even if that feels uncomfortable. And I want to figure out a way that supports the needs of the parents and the kid, maybe for respect, safety, and acceptance, just like us.

(This post is a little experiment: I split it up in two parts: one today, and the other tomorrow. Read more tomorrow!)


Want help to address conflict in a way that creates connection? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to work with you on that.

Conflicts are opportunities to learn

footstep“My marriage sucks.” She looks at me with tears in her eyes. “I give it a 2. I’m ready to leave. I’m sick and tired of the bickering and squabbling. I want peace and love and joy. Just a friendly face in the morning, someone who greets me with a smile ‘Good morning, my love, what a delight to see you today.’”

Tears roll down her face. She feels lonely, sad and hopeless.

She started her marriage with such excitement. A match made in heaven. She thought this time it would be a ten, or at least a nine, and for certain a consistent eight. Now she is ready to give up.

We sit together in silence.

I see her sadness and respect her pain.

Taking one little step at a time

“You know what?”, she says, with a sudden twinkle in her eyes. “I could see it differently. I could strive for a 2½, instead of being frustrated it is not a 10. Just a little improvement. One thing that works better today than yesterday. Just one little step, and then stabilize it. And then a next little step. And stabilize it. And then a next little step. Till I am where I want to be.”

Conflicts are opportunities for better understanding

She seems relieved. “I could see our conflicts as learning opportunities. ‘Oh, we bumped into each other. Hum. Maybe he needs help to make his life more wonderful. Maybe he has a unique request for me, something I could never have guessed, unless we bumped into each other. Maybe if I listen, instead of demanding that he asks differently, we will get somewhere.’ Hum.”

She ponders.

“You know what? I have actually been telling myself that what he wants is not valid. That he should not want the dishes to be put away, that that is a ridiculous thing to want. That the dishes are fine in the sink.”

Another silence.

“Isn’t that strange? I would never do that with my plants. I would never tell my bougainvillea ‘Don’t be a sissy wanting less water. Don’t demand more nourishment. Don’t complain you don’t get enough sunlight. The other plants don’t do that! They do fine in the shade, soaking in water, in barren soil. Just grow up and bloom!’ I don’t do that with anyone. But I do it with him. As if I am the judge of what is reasonable and unreasonable to ask.”

Making life more wonderful

She straightens her back. “I’m gonna see all our conflicts as opportunities to learn a little bit more about this unique man. As a privilege to understand more about this unique manifestation of life. And then try to accommodate that little request. Just one request. And then another.”

She gets up and empties the dish rack. I can tell her marriage is already at an 8.


You want help to see your conflicts as learning opportunities? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.