Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

The man with the hat

My neighbor is a journalist. He covered the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and “You Can’t Close America” protest.

He tells me how he has learned to move through high-intensity events with an acute sense of how to dodge bullets, cans, pushbacks, arrests.

He also shares one of his tricks: he wears a cowboy hat.

He doesn’t really know what that does, but I have a guess. I think it stands for being a cowboy, a native Texan, being on the side of the Lone Star State. I associate it with being a conservative, probably Republican. And also being an individual, somewhat friendly, who likes beer and barbecue.

I imagine that the hat is ambiguous enough to make him a neutral observer. People open up to him, they feel comfortable enough to share what’s on their minds.

And hearing their perspective, values and wants, thoughts and feelings, his hat helps him to be a better empathizer.

You might wear a hat too.

Only yours is invisible. It might be the hat of the team leader, the Director, the CEO. Your hat might signal authority, job reviews, evaluations, or power.

And as a result, people might change how they interact with you. They guard bad news. They put things in a positive light, so you will support them in their individual goals. 

When people are less honest it is harder for you to empathize. With less information to understand their experience, you make your own guesses about who they are and what they want. Guesses that might be more grounded in your own history than their present. With less empathy, there is less honesty. The cycle escalates.

Empathy and honesty go together like two wheels on a bicycle.

Sure you can move forward on a unicycle. It is just way harder. It takes much more practice, a willingness to learn by falling, and a mentor.

In my free webinar: “Align your actions with your values” we explore what you can do to be more empathetic, even if the other person isn’t completely honest.

  • Get one super-simple step to start your empathy workout, which you can use in each and every situation

  • How to empathize with someone you dislike, keep your balance, and hold onto to your truth

  • Why bathroom breaks are probably the best back-up plan to restore your calm when everything else fails

  • A better understanding of your biggest obstacle in empathizing with those who trigger you the most

  • How a three-word question will help resolve the tension in a few seconds

  • Why accepting your current reality is helpful, even if you struggle to empathize with challenging people

  • The fun of failing over and over again, taking your efforts lightly, and build your empathy habit over time

Saturday, July 11 at 1:00-2:00 pm CST. 

Join me.

Thank you hubbie, David Nayer, for your quick and awesome edits and teaching about empathy and honesty.

Frequently Asked Questions:

“Will you be supercritical of my work or leadership skills, telling me how I should improve myself?”

Sofia, Director Services for a Housing Nonprofit in Austin, had that same fear. She was nervous that she was going to feel like everything she was doing was wrong or that she just could be so much better than she was.

But as soon as we started working she loved it. She told me that it ended up being so much more than she would have ever thought that it could be.

The coaching relationship really gave her some benefits that she would not have imagined. It allowed her to look at the work that she was doing and look at the direction that she was going professionally through a little bit of a clearer lens.

It helped her to discern some things in a better way and then really think about how to move ahead. What kinds of things she wanted to change on her team and in her department, what kind of things she wanted to change as far as relationships go with other co-workers or her supervisor or people that she supervises, and then be able to make changes to get them to be what I wanted them to be.

She and I worked on structuring team meetings or team training and developing a little bit of a framework for how her team sees case management and what they’re doing on that side. How they would describe it to themselves, how they would describe it to funders. As a result, she got two grants that she applied for, even though she was honest about the limits of the contribution they could make.

Self-compassion, day 3: radical honesty

Radical honesty. Nope, not my thing. It sounds nice, but not for me. I rather believe what I want reality to be, than be upfront with what is true.

Byron Katie suggests we increase our self-awareness by turning thoughts about others around to the self. You replace the ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’ in the thought with ‘I’.

Castel Sant' Angelo, Roma.

Castel Sant’ Angelo, Roma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I much rather not do that. It shows up as “I am not completely honest with others about my actions and situation.” I don’t like that at all. I prefer to keep my focus on the other, and judge him for not being completely honest. It’s just easier that way. I have no desire to focus on the not-so-sunny-sides within myself. I rather keep believing that I am completely honest with everyone and everything.

Hum. That doesn’t work either. It creates cognitive dissonance. My system remembers all the times I didn’t disclose information if I thought it would harm me. My system remembers all the times I presented myself much more positively than I in reality was.

Peter Senge describes personal mastery as the ability to be completely honest about your current situation and to hold on to your dreams. Personal masters are those people that don’t get overwhelmed with the emotional tension that arises when they see the difference between where they are and where they want to be. Or who they are and who they want to be. They don’t get discouraged when they are less compassionate than they want to be, they don’t give up when their mindfulness is not as full as they want it to be. The difference between reality and vision generates creative tension, and they use it take a first step to their vision. Their honesty helps them to identify where they are and buy the relevant map to get to where they want to be.

They want to arrive in Rome. They bought a map of Germany, thinking they were in Germany. Now they wake up to reality and realize they are on the North pole. That sucks. And they understand that their German map doesn’t help, and buy themselves a new one. Then continue their journey to Rome. They don’t despair for being farther away than they thought. They don’t blame themselves for being stupid thinking they were in Germany. They take a breath, nurture themselves, get the right equipment and continue their journey.

Hum, that sounds yummy… Maybe I should tell my friends that I have secretively been eating their chocolate, every time I’m at their house. To get more real with who I am. And then take it from there. On my path of more joy, compassion and harmony.