Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

A car driver shatters my enemy image

My husband and I are on our daily walk around the block. We do that twice a day, to connect, listen, and hold hands. It’s always the same circuit, more or less 1.5 miles long. It’s drizzling, so I’m extra worried and aware that cars might not be as attentive as I wish.

And heck, for sure: an SUV backs out of the driveway, straight into us. Being alert, we’re already on the lawn of the opposite house by the time it would have hit us.

I feel annoyed. Mainly scared, but it shows up as annoyance. As a committed commuter cyclist, I have had my fair share of almost being hit by cars who don’t look around enough. For the last three years, at least once a month, I have to jump the curb, swivel around, or do an emergency break to avoid being run over.

I confess, I have thoughts of breaking car windows to teach this damn driver a lesson.

Thank God I don’t.

Once the car is out on the street, the driver rolls down the window. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…” I see a fifty plus woman with tears in her eyes. “I’m really distracted, … my mom is dying … I’m off to say goodbye to her …”

She stops the car and sits there quietly, I assume to calm herself, before she drives off.

I feel shocked. And embarrassed. Never in the world would I have expected that.

My enemy image of car drivers shatters in a thousand pieces.

I remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice to always ask “Are you sure?”. He invites us to write this question down and put it somewhere where we will see it: a bathroom mirror, the fridge, our calendar. And live by it.

As I regret my quick jump to the conclusion that she was inconsiderate of my need for safety, I stutter “I am so sorry for you.”

She drives off. I ask my husband to confirm which house she came from, and I make a promise to myself to drop off a condolence note.

I go home and write the note.

And a sticky note “Are you sure?”.

It’s up on my bathroom mirror to remind me to not jump to conclusions about someone’s intentions and character.

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

Self-compassion, day 7: Empathy

empathy-quotesMy new client walks in with some apprehension. I bid her welcome and offer tea. She sits down and starts to talk. About everything that bothers her. Her concern for her mom, her struggling relationship with her husband, her worries about finances. I give her space to talk, non-stop, uninterrupted. I want her to know that I am here for her, that she is not alone in this, that I’ll support her the best way I can. She cries. She feels so much sorrow, grief, guilt, confusion.

She takes a breath. I reflect back what I heard her say, using her words. She looks at me surprised. “Yes, that’s exactly it, that’s exactly it.” She relaxes.

We are silent. We are connecting to ourselves, savoring what has been said.

Then she continues talking. Worries about losing relationships she cares about. Celebration of relationships where she receives acceptance for her choices. Her best friend, her sister, her colleagues. I share what I observe: her tears, her softening frown, her relaxing facial muscles. I guess her feelings, her needs. Simple empathy. She softens even more. She tells me how good it feels to just be heard, without being talked over. How grateful she is for my enthusiasm to work with her. How she appreciates the support and acceptance she is getting.

I look at her with a smile. I feel compassion for her. I see a woman who carries a lot of pain. A woman who has tried to carry this pain by herself, not wanting to burden anyone. I see a woman who is dedicated to bring more support, trust and acceptance in the world. A woman who is committed to work on herself, before judging others.

I feel honored that she chose me as her coach.

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.” Marshall Rosenberg

“Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of “You’re not alone.” Brene Brown

If you want my help to deepen your self-compassion, healing and integration, contact me for a complimentary, discovery session.

No! No more Nonviolent Communication!

Rejection therapy, a 30-day journey for cowards” “No, that’s not a good title,” says my inner critic, “cowards is a label. There are no cowards, only people who sometimes are too scared to act according to their values, and regret that later.” “But I like the title. It’s catchy. My audience will resonate with it. People who label themselves as cowards, and want to be courageous.” “Yes, that’s exactly it. It divides the world in cowards and hero’s, this against that. It reinforces the fallacy of dualism, and forgoes the insight of oneness.” Silence. She continues “When -by the way- did you forget the lesson about ‘but’? That it diminishes the likelihood of collaboration and increases the likelihood of antagonism? Don’t you remember what Marshall Rosenberg said? ‘Never put your but in the face of an angry person’?” I remember vaguely. I know it’s true. And yet, I like the title so much. Even if it divides the world into cowards and hero’s.

I am done with always having to speak perfect Nonviolent Communication. Sometimes I want to use labels. He is an asshole, she is pretty, Kiran is adorable. Yep, as if I am God, judging who is right, who is wrong, who’s good, who’s bad. It seems much more efficient than: “When I hear Kiran say ‘Elly, watch me, I can do a cart wheel!’, and I see him put his hands on the floor, flip his legs over, land on the floor and jump up and down smiling (“My goodness, even ‘smiling’ is an interpretation! If I was a fly on the wall and had no clue about human interactions, I could not use that description. I would say something like: ‘the corners of his lips curl up, his teeth show, his cheeks rise’. You see what a drag it is to describe events in strict observations!”), I feel touched and amused, because I have a need for…”

I stumble. Which needs are nurtured when I see Kiran’s pride and happiness with his accomplishments? I don’t know! I just find him adorable! Why can’t that be enough? Why do I have to know the needs underneath my label? My critic doesn’t give up. “It helps you to connect with what’s alive in you, what’s important to you. Remember what Socrates said? Gnōthi sauton? Know thyself? That’s the whole point of life. To know yourself.” I sigh. There is some truth in what she says. It might help me to understand myself better. What’s important to me. What my life is about. Gosh, wouldn’t that be a blast? To know what my life is about! Maybe I can start here. With my needs and values, and let life unfold itself. Now it’s not so complicated anymore. I have two different needs: I want easy connection and understanding, and I want to honor the fact that I am limited by my perspective. I am sure I can balance both needs. I just have to sit with it.

What if it’s war, and no one goes?

What if this fear of rejection never goes away? What if I’ll always be afraid that I don’t add value, that I have nothing interesting to say? What if I’ll always have the thought that whatever if do, it’s never good enough, that I am not good enough?

I had decided to call my former clients and ask if they wanted to work with me again. To increase my income. I dreaded the whole thing. I hated the idea of selling myself. No matter how hard I tried to perceive the interaction as mutually beneficial, I didn’t. I saw it as begging, and I was sure they wouldn’t need me. I postponed. For two weeks. Completely and joyfully unconscious. I was very busy with other things. Important things. Cleaning the bathroom. Folding the sheets. Watching videos about enrolling conversations with clients. I knew I had to get started. I didn’t. First this email. Now I am hungry. Thank God, my husband wants to play music with me. Anything was a perfect reason not to call.

Then I caught myself in the act. I saw what I was doing and how I was rationalizing my behavior. I realized I would never generate any income, if I would not get up on stage and take action. Just start somewhere, anywhere. Now.

So I picked up the phone. Called one client. Left message. Then took a break. Then another client. Left message. A break. And another. And another. After six clients I started to enjoy it. Reaching out had nothing to do with fear of rejection. It had everything to do with connection. It had everything to do with getting started. Marshall Rosenberg writes something like “anything that’s worth doing, is worth doing poorly“.

You don’t have to overcome your fear of rejection. You don’t have to try to integrate it and heal it. It’s there. And it might always be there. Like a big hump on your back. Do you want to spend the rest of your life trying to get rid of your hump? Do you want to spend all your efforts and energy trying to make it less visible, more integrated? Or do you want to spend your time and resources on creating the life you want?

What if it’s war, and no one goes?