Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

I fall from a wobbly chair and twist my ankle

I am standing on a wobbly, one-legged chair with a wide footing. Its seating is torn up. Basically, a few threads held together on the edges. In the last five years, I have stood on it probably 219 times to unhook the cloth line to reel it in.

I have never lost my balance. I trust I won’t lose it this time either.

Only, today I feel exhausted and I am distracted as I look to the right at a fascinating, exotic bird.

I lose my balance to the left. I fall on the concrete patio. Fortunately, my instincts help me to keep my head and wrists safe. But the rest of my body is not so happy.

I lay on the concrete patio for a couple of seconds, before I manage to get up.

I can barely walk. My hip feels incredibly sore, my knee seems bruised, and my ankle can hardly carry my weight.

I know I need to ask my husband for help. He is a miracle healer of sorts, and I know he can support.

But I don’t want to ask for help. I feel ashamed of my stupidity for being distracted and I struggle with familiar, habitual thoughts that are screaming in my head “I am such a clumsy idiot!”

I feel too embarrassed to take the risk that he will blame or shame me for what I believe is true. Even though I know he won’t, I don’t have the mental and emotional resources and will take even the slightest raising of an eyebrow personally.

I rather hide in my study and suffer in silence.

That is certainly what I would have done in the past.

But this time I remember how much worse bad situations became as a result of silencing and hiding my need for support.

Being the hero he is, he neither blames or shames me. Not even the lifting of an eyebrow. He immediately puts me on the couch and brings me icepacks and blankets. Even a stuffed animal.

I feel relieved.

And I wonder how many others have learned all too well to toughing it out, rather than vulnerably asking for help.

Maybe I am not the only one who would love acceptance of their struggles.

Or feeling overwhelmed trying to get everything done on their to-do list, slugging through 7:00 am-9:00 pm?

Maybe others also have a sense that they are responsible for everything.

And I bet I am not the only one who does so much better working in a supportive environment of trust and honesty.


And just like me, we all can learn to ask for help. Even when we are the cause of our own pain and suffering.

And you don’t need to hit the concrete patio to do so. It’s easier:

Join my free webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”.

You will:

  • Learn the five biggest mistakes when making requests
  • See how a vegan gets the best dish in a steakhouse
  • Shift your paradigm about requests and see them as strengths, not weaknesses
  • Understand what Santa Claus has to do with getting help
  • Connect with peers and inspire each other
  • Memorize ten magic words for constructive requests

As a result, you will be more confident that you can create the collaboration you want, inspire others to support your cause and goals, and transform conflict into collaboration.

Tuesday, April 28, at 8:00-9:00 am. Maximum nine nonprofit leaders.

Contact me with any questions. I am here to support you.

Or sign up here.

All the best,

Elly van Laar

Coach for Nonprofit Leaders

Requests are SMART (3/3)

What are requests?

Requests are an invitation to support our needs. After we have shared our observations, feelings and needs, we ask for what we imagine would meet our needs. Hearing feelings and needs without hearing requests is like living in hell. Hearing feelings, needs and a request empowers us to create heaven, because we understand how to contribute to the other person’s needs.

Danny Shanahan, New Yorker cartoonRequests are SMART


We use specific language to ask for what we want, and avoid vague, abstract language. Instead of asking “I want you to be interested”, ask “Could you spend 30 minutes before 5:00 pm today listening to me and reflecting back what you heard me say?”


In the above example, we can check if our friend listened 30 minutes and reflected back what they heard us say.

If our request is specific and measurable, it helps us, because:

  • We know when our request is fulfilled or not fulfilled.
  • If it is fulfilled, we can express appreciation for the contribution the other person made.
  • If it is not fulfilled, we can ask the other person what stops them from fulfilling our request and engage in a collaborative dialogue to support their needs too.
  • It allows the other person to check if they can say ‘yes’: do I have half an hour available before 5:00 pm?


Ask a ‘do’, not a ‘don’t’. If I want to book a holiday for my friend and all she says is: “Not Syria”, would she be happy if I book a holiday to the slums of South Africa or organize a bike ride through the Netherlands? It is very hard to do a don’t.

Our request won’t work either if we know in advance it is hardly doable for the other person. Don’t ask me to listen to you for 10 hours. It will leave me exhausted. Ask for what is within my influence and capacity: an hour of solid empathy is probably doable.


When we connect to our feelings and needs, before we make a request, we increase the likelihood that we ask for something that is important to us.

Time oriented:

If we specify when we want our request to be fulfilled, we avoid the stress of not knowing when something will happen. A time specification gets us on the same time frame and helps both of us understand what we are saying ‘yes’ to. If I ask you to review my paper, and I don’t tell you when, you might get confused because you don’t know my sense of urgency and I might get stressed because I don’t understand why it takes so long (or surprised that it takes so short!).

SMART Requests help all parties to contribute to life and needs being fulfilled. Try it yourself!

You want help to make SMART requests? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Requests are not demands (2/3)

“We demonstrate that we are making a request rather than a demand by how we respond when others don’t comply. If we are prepared to show an empathic understanding of what prevents someone from doing what we asked, then by my definition, we have made a request, not a demand.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 80-81)

What are requests?

Requests are not about getting what we want. Requests are a suggestion of a specific strategy that supports an unmet need or needs. A request is an invitation to a dialogue that intends to meet all needs, not just our own. They are the cherry on the NVC-cake. Hearing feelings, needs and a request empowers us to respond effectively in a way that requires no compromise. Requests are about building an understanding relationship based in trust and a willingness (maybe even enthusiasm) to see and support all needs. And because we have an excitement to include their needs, we are willing to hear a ‘no’ to our request. Any ‘no’ is a wonderful opportunity to empathize with the needs behind the ‘no’.

Image courtesy Amy Luwis,

Requests versus demands

Sometimes we think we are making a request, when we actually are making a demand. How do we know we made a demand? By how we feel and think after we hear ‘no’. If we feel dejected, angry, disappointed, sad, we probably have made a demand. If we receive the “no” as a personal rejection, it’s probably a demand. If we interpret the “no” as an expression that we don’t matter, or as an insult, hum, yes, most likely a demand.

There is nothing wrong with demands.

It is part of our human fabric to want a ‘yes’. If we didn’t care about the answer, we probably wouldn’t have asked in the first place.

The trick is to recognize the feelings and thoughts when we hear ‘no’. When these feelings arise, our lesson is to know that we can shift our view of the other person: they are not an adversary or an opponent, they are a collaborator who can make life more wonderful!  We can shift from separation to collaboration.

To support this shift we can empathize with the ‘no’. We can ask: “Which needs are not met if you said ‘yes’?” Or we can make a guess: “Do you think this request would limit your autonomy?” “Do you want to be heard about your ideas?” When we empathize with the ‘no’ we expand our awareness of all needs. With a deeper understanding of what’s alive behind the ‘no’, we will be more successful in finding strategies that support all needs. We make decisions that are not only more inclusive, they are also more sustainable: all parties are enthusiastic to uphold our agreement because they had a voice in the design of it.

You want help with requests? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Requests are about building relationship, always

What are requests?

Requests are not about getting what we want, requests are an invitation to support our needs. After we share our observation, feelings, and needs, we tell the other person what we think might meet our needs. It could simply be “Could you reflect back what you heard me say?” when our main need is understanding. Or: “I wonder how this lands for you?”, when we want to connect. Or: “Are you willing to do the dishes before 8:00 pm tonight?”, if you want to include needs for support and rest.

Requests are the cherry on the NVC-cake. Hearing feelings and needs without hearing requests “is like living in hell.” Hearing feelings, needs and a request empowers us to respond effectively in a way that honors other’s needs and our own needs too.

Relationship, relationship, relationship

Requests are about building a relationship that is built in understanding, trust, and a willingness (maybe even enthusiasm) to support all needs on the table: mine and ours. We want to create a world of and-and, and get off the either/or wagon. We share our observation, feelings, and needs to help the other person understand where we are coming from and find merit in our perspective. Our request is an invitation to the other person to brainstorm strategies that support all needs: theirs and ours. And because we have an excitement to include their needs, we are willing to hear a ‘no’ to our request. A ‘no’ is just a wonderful opportunity to get to know the other person better and understand the needs behind their ‘no’.

A simple question

This can help: “If that doesn’t work for you, what can you imagine would work better for you, that would include my needs too?” For example: “I am noticing we are six days away before my brother arrives (observation). I feel overwhelmed and scared (feelings) when I think of all the cleaning I think needs to be done before he arrives (thought, impacting feeling). I have a need for support (need). Are you willing to vacuum clean the rooms before Tuesday 2:00 pm? And if that doesn’t work for you, what can you imagine would work better for you, that would include my needs too?” We engage the other person in finding strategies that support all needs, because we acknowledge both of us are in this relationship.

“The NVC process is designed for those of us who would like others to change and respond, but only if they choose so willingly and compassionately. The objective of NVC is to establish a relationship based on honesty and empathy. When others trust that our primary commitment is to the quality of the relationship, and that we expect this process to fulfill everyone’s needs, then they can trust that our requests are true requests and not camouflaged demands.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 81)

You want help with requests? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Do the request dance

What does this guy want from you? He tells you all this stuff about what he saw and heard, how he felt, and what he wants: belonging. Great. Now what?! He wants you to drag him along to all your friends and social events? He wants you to tell him what a great guy he is? He wants you to set him up for a blind date?

Ever felt lost when someone tells you their feelings and needs? Ever had a sense of ‘what do I have to do about that?’

Nonviolent Communication is a great help to empathize with requests, especially the ones that aren’t made. “Hey, are you asking if you can come for lunch with me and my friends?” (after maybe a silence, a moment of self-connection, and acceptance that that is actually what he was asking) “Yes, I would like that.”

Astaire-Hayworth-dancing, Image courtesy to WikipediaThis is the first step in the request dance. Now that you heard what he wants, you check in with yourself to see which needs would be met and unmet if you say ‘yes’ to this request. You realize that you wanted to work on a project with your friends during lunch. Having this guy come along might interfere with that. On the other hand, you get that he doesn’t want to eat alone. You wouldn’t like that either, if you were new to town. So, on the one hand you have needs for collaboration and forward movement, on the other hand, you have needs inclusion and support for his sense of belonging. So what might work for all the needs on the table?

If you can come up with that, you took the second step in the request dance. It is your ‘yes, and’-moment, the skill of building on each other’s ideas. “How about this: you come along with us for lunch, and let us work on this project for the first ten minutes, then we talk about whatever comes up?” “Sure, I might even be able to pitch in some ideas, I have been a project manager for seven years.” “Cool, let’s go.”

He might also have a ‘yes, and-moment’, building on your suggestion: “What about I make two phone calls, while you guys work on your project, then I join for the remainder of the lunch.” Third step. You can take as many steps as you want, till you feel satisfied with your result in the relationship.

Tedious? Maybe. Efficient and sustainable? Yes. 95% Guarantee that you’ll come up with solutions that address all the needs, increase a sense of understanding, and deepen your relationship.

You want help to take the first steps in the request dance? Contact me for a free, discovery session. I would be delighted to help, 512-589-0482.