Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

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.

The need behind the no

You want to ask for a raise. You have been working in this job for several years, and you know you add value. You want appreciation for the unique qualities you bring to your clients, you want acknowledgment for the results you’ve created, and you want support for your financial sustainability.

You feel anxious even thinking about it. You feel scared they’ll say ‘no’. You feel afraid you won’t get support for your needs, because they don’t really care about you. You ask, they say ‘no’, and that’s it. Done and finished. Thank you so much, and goodbye.

Gosh, asking certainly has been a challenge for me. I often skipped the asking part, went straight into demands or into disconnection, too afraid to hear ‘no’.

In the Mediate Your Life retreat we did a very helpful exercise: ‘the need behind the no’. You express your feelings and needs and make a present-tense, action-oriented, positive-language request. Your practice partner says ‘no’. If you are triggered, you can move to the mediator chair and do a self-connection practice. As soon as you are calmer, you ask your partner which needs would be unfulfilled if they would say ‘yes’. And then you invite them to think of something that would support those needs and your needs.

To you it probably sounds as simple as 1+1=2. For me it was an eye-opener. Invite your partner to work with you on finding strategies that work for everyone. Not just for them, not just for you, but for everyone. Make it a collaborative effort, a mutual partnership to nurture all underlying, human needs. What a shift from thinking that I alone was responsible for figuring it out. What a change from thinking that it was either/or.

Let’s apply this insight right away. With you.

When I imagine you’re reading this blog, I feel tender, shy and happy, as my needs for appreciation, connection and to be known for my work are being met. My request is that you sign up as a follower of my blog to nourish these needs. If you have already done so, I ask you to share my blog with someone else. If you say ‘no’ to my request, which needs do you think would be unmet by saying ‘yes’? And what do you think would work better to support both our needs?

I would love to read/hear your response! (And I want to acknowledge how tender I feel just asking. I imagine I am not the only one who feels vulnerable when asking. There is a rawness of the open heart when we share what we truly want.)


You want to learn to work with the need behind the ‘no’? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be humble to work with you.

Screaming in giraffe

GiraffeMy friend is unhappy at work. She wants her boss to understand her troubles and acknowledge their shared responsibility in the problems. She hopes this will inspire him to support her finding a position where she will be seen and appreciated for her qualities.

Current conversations haven’t helped. She wants my advice how to proceed.

I tell her that I would start with “Beginning Anew”, and use feelings and needs language. As I talk, I notice that she grows quiet. I ask her how this idea lands with her.

It doesn’t. At all. She is sick and tired of having to listen first, of being the empathic and compassionate one. So far it turned out that her listening ended any conversation. The other responds to her accurate reflections of feelings and needs with “Exactly, that’s it” and walks away. No interest in her experience. No intention to include her needs.

I understand my friend.

Listening is just another strategy for connection. Reflecting feelings and needs can help to establish trust and understanding.

And it might not be sufficient.

Nonviolent Communication is not very nonviolent if it sustains an imbalance in resources. It is not very nonviolent if it excludes the needs of some and emphasize the needs of others. It is not very nonviolent if it silences the have-nots and favors the haves.

Sometimes we need self-expression as a strategy for connection. Sometimes we need to “scream in giraffe” (a term coined by Marshall Rosenberg) to be heard. Sometimes we need to take action to make sure all needs are included, also ours. Peace, connection, understanding are not possible if not all needs are supported.

Let’s practice using NVC to express our anger and unmet needs AND maintain connection. Let’s practice using NVC to support ALL needs. Let’s practice using NVC to awaken our awareness that our needs are interdependent, and that none can be happy if not all are happy.


You want to learn to scream in giraffe? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be excited to work with you!

How self-connection deepens connection with others

Connection10:30, I am excited. My first mediation triad! An opportunity to mediate my own conflict! Mediating your own stuff might not sound yummy to you, but to me it sounds empowering. If I have the tools, skills and consciousness to navigate difficult conversations -especially those where I think my sense of worth and mattering are on the table- I am sure that I can create happy, healthy and safe relationships with anyone I want.

We start with me being the disputant, Faith as my counterpart and Candace as the mediator.

It works fine. I’m getting my point across, and I understand what Faith -as my counterpart- is saying.

Then we change seats. I am the mediator, Faith is me, and Candace is my counterpart. Faith -as Elly- starts to speak. I am immediately triggered by what she says, and especially how she says it. It sounds very much like me, but not the ‘me’ I want to be. And certainly not the ‘me’ I want to be seen.

I move to the self-connection chair. An empty chair next to me, where I can move on to, when I am triggered. To practice such a safe space in my own mind. And while I sit there, I focus on my breath. Real simple. One breath in, one breath out. Then I focus on my feelings. One breath in, one breath out. I feel anxious and scared. Then I connect to my needs. One breath in, one breath out. I want acceptance for who I am, from others, and certainly from myself. Then I switch back to the mediator seat.

During this whole self-connection practice, I listen to Faith playing me. I reflect her back and check if I get her, to nurture her need to be heard.

This self-connection practice doesn’t take me out of connection, it takes me more deeply in it. It expands it, by adding self-connection to it. While I am connecting to you, I am connecting to myself as well. And this self-connection helps me to bring the full me to the table, all of me. My fears, frustration, sadness, joy, anything I feel and need in this moment. And the awareness that those are just experiences in this moment, that I am more than that.

It enriches the connection to an extent that I find surprising. You don’t need to express what is happening inside, as long as you get it yourself and you embrace it with compassion.

It allows you to acknowledge your pain, and putting it on hold for now, and relate to the other from the heart, instead of from  your subconscious trigger.

And that creates a whole lot of freedom, and a whole lot of loving.


You want help to practice self-connection in the heat of the moment? Contact me 512-589-0482. I am honored to help you.

Thank you, Ike Lasater and John Kinyon for this practice and insight.