Issue-Focused Topics — PNDC Practice Sessions

Along with our core training programs for individual growth, we also offer training that is narrowed down to certain specific issues we find to be common to both personal and professional relationships. These Issue-Focused Topics are often offered as PNDC Practice Sessions. They are offered as live three-hour sessions and as two-hour Webinars.

Once a person has had an introductory PNDC course, he or she will have a strong foundation for moving right into a Focus Topic as a follow-up training that provides additional practice and enhances non-defensive skills. In addition, people sometimes attend without having had the introductory workshop and learn simply by example. If you have a group of people who would like to take one of the Issue-Focused Practice Sessions, let us know and we can arrange it. We can also offer coaching with regard to specific incidences related to the topics below.

The topics for the practice sessions deal with issues related to our own internal process, as well as our external relationships. The sessions offer an opportunity to apply non-defensive communication skills in an experiential way to situations that impact our own lives.

See also: Standard Topics and Specialized Issue-Focused Topics


Eliminating Our Own Victim Mind-Set

Eliminating Old, Internal, Self-Defeating Scripts

We Give Negative People Too Much Power — It's Time to Stop

Micro-Inequities — Small Insults Can Do Great Damage

Identifying Defensive Modes — A "Parlor Game"

Identifying the Defensive Modes that Trigger Us & Letting Go

Curiosity Didn't Kill the Cat — It Won the Peace Prize

The Power of Tone — For Women

The Power of Tone — For Men

Giving & Receiving Feedback — Essential for Healthy Reciprocity

Vulnerability — An Essential Source for Living with Full Power

Expressing Strong Emotions with Integrity and Wisdom

Reciprocity — The Circle 8 of Infinite Energy

Changing Our Own Destructive Patterns

Responding to Offensive Remarks with Honesty and Ease

Burned Out on Giving Encouragement — Empowering Others Without Draining Yourself

Apologies — The New Blame Game

Denial — One of the Crazy Makers

The Control Trap

Caught in the Middle — Helping to Resolve Conflict or Fueling it?

Balancing Accountability

Creating Conversations with a Genuine Sense of Equality

Having More Fulfiling Intimacy Without Losing Autonomy


Along with these Specialized Issue-Focused training programs, we offer 8 Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skill-building workshops as well as Personal Growth Conference presentations. In addition we offer training programs and conference presentations for professionals in more than a dozen fields.


Eliminating Our Own Victim Mind-Set

Scientific data now demontrates that the moment we become defensive, we lose our ability for complex problem solving and develop the mind-set of a victim. Given than defensiveness is epidemic, it follows that millions of us move easily into a victim mentality. I believe that the damage this does to our lives is immeasurable. Whenever we are in this physiological and psychological state, we are likely to see others as having power to make our life difficult and feel a loss of control. We often even assume others have a much more conscious intention to hurt, dominate, or manipulate us than they actually do. Even when someone is treating us badly, the minute we feel like a victim, we undermine our own ability to protect ourselves effectively. In this state, we can not only feel unable to find a solution, we are likely to lose all compassion for the other person.

In this workshop we'll focus on how to stay out of both the physiological and psychological victim mind-set, even in circumstances where others are, for example, being disrespectful and/or not not doing their share at home or work. The insights and skills you gain can free you to see the other person's strengths and weaknesses more realistically, make clearer choices and set more effecitve boundaries. In many cases, you'll realize the other person is not as intentionally wanting to hurt or control you as you thought and, thus, be more likely to feel compassion for her or him. Ultimately, you can protect yourself with strength, while engaging in more productive and creative problem-solving.


Eliminating Old, Self-Defeating Internal Scripts

Our relationship to ourselves is a primal one, I believe. It has a huge impact, not only on our self-esteem, but also on our relationships with everyone else. And we use those same "Rules of War" in our own mind as we criticize and judge, then defend ourselves. We may cycle round and round for years — or our entire lifetime. Our own minds and hearts can become a battlefield where we are simultaneously abuser and victim, and perhaps even the third-party protector.

In this workshop, you can learn how to create an environment inside of yourself where discovery and healing can take place. We'll practice how to get rid of self-defeating inner voices, so you can strengthen self-esteem, confidence and decision-making power. With greater internal clarity and peace, you can have a foundation for creating more fulfilling relationships with others.


We Give Negative People Too Much Power — It's Time to Stop it!

We tend to give negative people who act in cold, manipulative, hostile, and/or withholding ways the power to control our own mood, or even the mood of a whole group. Without being sure about how to deal with the reactions of a negative person, individuals and/or groups can allow that person to throw the proverbial wet blanket on everything from a family dinner conversation to creative brainstorming on a work team or even just having fun at a party. In this practice session, we'll look first at how and why we have given negative people, even those who are a "weak link" in the group, so much power. Then we'll practice using non-defensive methods to diminish or even eliminate their demoralizing impact on one-to-one relationsihps and on group morale, creativity and cohesiveness. In some cases, the person will simply not gain power by using a destructive process. In other cases, the person will shift their attitude and become more positive.


Micro-Inequities — Small Insults Can Do Great Damage

The phrase "micro-inequities," coined by Dr. Mary Rowe, professor at MIT, refers to small, seemingly insignificant interactions where one person feels dismissed, ignored, interrupted, embarrassed, negated, or otherwise offended by another person. Her work focuses on the workplace and data now demonstrates that such "small insults" are actually a major source of conflict and dissatisfaction for both employees and managers. People are more likely to quit a job over a repetitive series small incidents — such as being regularly interrupted by someone in a meeting — than over a single major issue.

I believe that micro-inequities are rampant at home too. The little things we ignore and don't appreciate that others do for us, the saracstic teasing that makes someone feel repetitively negated, the advice that is delivered with virtually the same words and tone over months or years, can all erode love, intimacy, and joy in our personal relationships. Whether you want to deal with the little wounds that get increasingly sore, like a splinter you can't get out, at work or home, this session will help you find solutions. Bring a few examples of the "little things" that push your buttons and learn how to change the dynamics.


Identifying Defensive Modes — A "Parlor Game"

Together, Tiag — a recognized master at creating learning games — and I have created a game that can be played as a card game or done as a parlor game with teams. In the practice session, we'll do the parlor game version. Using various scenarios, teams will each have one minute to decide which of the six defensive modes the key person in the example is using. We'll then discuss the results, gaining deeper understanding of how we all act our our defensives in daily interactions. Understanding the dynamics of our own and others' defensive responses is a crucial part of learning to be less intiminidated and/or triggered by other people's reactions. It's a fast, fun practice.


Identifying the Defensive Modes that Trigger Us & Letting Go

Recognizing which defensive reactions others are using gives us the ability to shift our internal lens from seeing the person as having simply and intentionally gaining power over us to seeing the person as defended for some reason. This information gives us much more ability to respond quickly without getting caught in the power struggle. We will work on effective responses to each defensive mode and how to lighten up and respond less intensely when our own buttons are pushed.


Curiosity Didn't Kill the Cat — It Won the Peace Prize

When we are defensive, curiosity might as well be a dead cat. Our natural curiousity simply shuts down. If we do ask questions we are usually trying to prove our point or are sarcastically jabbing at the other person. In this practice session, we start by looking at how to get our curiosity back as a way to move quickly out of defensive reactions. We'll also deepen the practice of asking questions that have the innocence of pure curiosity, and look at why such curiousity has such tremendous, almost magical power to bring people to the table for the kind of real conversation that takes us to new places.


The Power of Tone — For Women

From the moment we were born, people spoke to us, as baby girls, in a higher tone. "Isn't she cute?" they said. The baby boys heard a deeper tone, "He's sure a sturdy little guy." As women, with social training and focus on both relationship and approval, we may often also speak in a tone that reflects our own insecurity. Consequently, we are prone to speak in a voice level is actually higher than our own natural voice. In many cases, we project our voice through our nasal passage rather than from the resonance in our chest.

Conversely, when we want to assert ourselves, we can have a kind of urgency to our voice that comes, in part, from our belief that we will be ignored. In either case, we can find our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings too easily dismissed. We may be treated as irritating or bothersome, even when we do something as simple as asking a waiter a question about the menu.

In this practice session, each woman can work to find her own natural tone. We will work together to practice the rhythms that convey the confidence and natural authority that foster respect. How we use the power of our own tone of voice can change our visibility and our lives.


The Power of Tone — For Men

I recently watched several "Biography" programs about men who have created financial empires. Ironically, I noticed that they used many voice tones that are actually identical to what I teach in non-defensive communication. I think it is because they had a level of comfort with their power and authority that most men and women do not have.

While men typically have more modeling in their families and in society for using the natural, deeper tones of their voice, they are also trained to be very competitive and to hide more tender feelings. For many men, voice tone is used to convey a sense of confidence and power they don't actually feel.

It is difficult as a man to feel powerful when society teaches that unless you are the top competitor, you are a failure. Even in the current era, it is difficult for men to reconcile tenderness and strength. One man I know said, "I don't care about power, it's more important to me to be sensitive." He didn't even realize that he was assuming he had to make a choice between the two.

In this workshop, we'll work together to practice voice tones that demonstrate deeper levels of confidence and authority while expressing a full range of feeling, bringing strength and compassion together. What you learn can help you to use something as simple as your tone of voice to escape the myth of competition as the source of power and become more integrated and whole.


Giving & Receiving Feedback — Essential to Healthy Reciprocity

"Feedback" has a bad reputation. Most of us, to varying degrees, have experience other people's feedback as critical, harsh, and judgmental, coming to us as uninvited, unwanted advice. Or, conversely, as indirect and vague, which can be equally, if not more, frustrating because at least open criticism is direct, not hiding in subtle comment. In fact, as people noticed that giving feedback makes people react defensively, some communication experts have suggested that we give only "I" messages, not "you" messages, as a way to avoid making others feel criticized. The problem, often, here is if we don't give honest feedback, our "I" message will convey the criticsm anyway. For example, we often now hear people say things like, "I feel maniupulated," or "judged" or "let down." The real message simply becomes a passive-agressive form of "I think you are letting me down" — with the judgment intact.

In this practice session, we'll work on how to give feedback using a process that is direct, gentle, and constructive. We'll also look at the need for encouraging others to tell us the truth, and receive feedback as a gift instead of a wound. Finally, we'll look at how to respond to harsh, hurtful feedback by separating the wheat from the chaff, taking the gift of what will feed our growth and leaving the garbage where it belongs. In the process, we can reclaim honesty and much integrity.


Vulnerability — An Essential Source for Living with Full Power

I think the issue of how we show our vulnerability is a crucial one. It is so hard for many of us to experience vulnerability as power instead of as giving in or being hurt. At work, showing vulnerability is often even more taboo. Is vulnerability a weakness? Do we dare show it to someone we don't feel safe with? Most of us have internalized deep messages about hiding vulnerability except from those we trust completely. I believe this is very damaging to our ability to be real in our interactions with others and so it isolates us. In fact, I think hiding vulnerability is what weakens us. An important piece of hiding vulnerability is that we can never be fully honest when we do, so each time we hide we lose integrity and part of the freedom to fully express our essence.

In this workshop we'll examine how vulnerability can be transformed from our Achilles heel into a taproot to our source of strength. We’ll use various exercises for practice. Whether it is an expression of our fears, a story about a painful experience, a feeling of shame or embarrassment, or an admission of a mistake, expressing our vulnerability can be disarming and bond us with others. It gives us the freedom to express ourselves with our full power — even to the point of being inspirational to others.

Expressing Strong Emotions with Integrity and Wisdom

In the world we've all been born into, the expression of strong emotion has most often been seen as part of argument, bordering on being out of control, making bad decisions, even accelerating to violence. People advise others, using variations of "keep your emotions under control." I believe that a key reason for the "bad rap" our emotions get, is that much of the time when we express strong emotions, it is part of the fabric of some defensive reaction we are having.

Conversely, expressing the depth of our emotion is essential to keeping our own integrity and voice, as well as letting others know what kind of impact they have on us. In this workshop we'll look at how to express our thoughts, feelings and beliefs strongly, even passionately, without contaminating them with defensiveness or engaging in power struggle. As we do, we will have far more power to speak with integrity and wisdom, often inspiring others in the process.


Reciprocity — The Circle 8 of Infinite Energy

In the "War Model" for communication, the world is often seen as composed of the "givers" and the "takers." People who have value systems built on compassion will continue to give to others even when treated rudely by people who don't do their share. Unfortunately, continuing to give to others without any reciprocity deplletes the giver. In addition, it often means that the giver begins to resent the giving, contaminating the process of nurturing. The saddest part is that those who receive gifts and refuse to be reciprocal do not even feel nurtured; they suffer from seeing the cup half full.

While healthy relationships involve give and take on both sides, the essence of reciprocity is not a "tit for tat" negotiation or a "score card." What one person gives may be different from what he or she receives from the other person. What is given back may be as simple as genuine appreciation. In this practice session, we'll look at how to create healthy respect and reciprocity in our relationships with others, which includes not only giving to others, but holding others responsible for how they respond to what we give. When real reciprocity happens, it enhances the bond between people and sparks a tenderness and joy that fuels our energy for life.


Changing Our Own Self-Destructive Habits

Changing entrenched "problem" habits is often difficult. In many of our relationships, our habits often affect others profoundly. Others may feel irritated, invaded, insulted, or worried if the habit affects our health. The people involved may even disagree about whether a habit (lateness, interrupting, table manners, over-committing … ) is a problem or not. We will look at how to work within our personal and professional relationships to strengthen a non-defensive approach to deal with habits that create relationship stress.


Responding to Offensive Remarks with Honesty and Ease

An offensive remark made in a group setting often has a kind of "startle impact." Everyone in an entire room full of people can be a bit stunned, like deer in the headlights. Frequently, no one says anything and after a moment or two of that kind of dead silence, people go on as if it never happened. Sometimess, perhaps depending on how well a group's members know each other, one or more people will become angry and attack back.

In such situations it is very possible that one or more people involved in the interaction were the "target" of the remark. After people leave the group, perhaps from a family gathering, office meeting, or a party, some people may talk about what happened, or even apologize to anyone who took the brunt of the comment, saying something like, "I'm sorry Joe made that comment, I thought it was offensive." Apologizing for what the other person did is often unhelpful. The person receiving the apology may wonder why the person giving it didn't speak up in the group and is just doing it privately.

The problem is that the incident happened in the group. It probably impacted most people in the group, and therefore, in a sense, was group property tht can damage the fabric of the group, creating hurt and divisions.The same principles apply to one-to-one interactions where offensive comments are made. The focus in this practice session will be on how to respond to jarring, offensive comments with ease and grace.


Burned Out on Giving Encouragement — Empower Others Without Draining Yourself

So often, when we try to support or encourage our intimate partner, another family member, a friend, a co-worker, or someone we supervise, we find that the person resists even our best efforts. We can come away drained, feeling that we are doing all the "work." We may shift from feeling supportive to feeling irritated, angry, or defeated. If it's someone close in our family, our efforts to be supportive may turn into nagging.

This workshop will focus on how common ways of giving support actually cause resistance. We will practice how to respond to people who need encouragement in ways that are respectful of their autonomy and ensure that we don't inadvertently disempower them. Using the skills learned, others are more likely to be increasingly conscious of their own choices and we can also be more conscious of making sure that our encouragment doesn't turn into an attempt to convince or control the other person. It is freeing for both parties and greatly enhances the chances that the person who has been discouraged or resistant to change will become more self-motivated to deal with the issues that have been holding her or him back.


Apologies —The New Blame Game

Currently, common forms of apology not only are not genuine, but actually pass blame back to the other person in more or less covert ways. For example, people often say, "I'm sorry if you took it that way." Translated, "I'm sorry you misunderstood me." I'm using my apology to suggest that I did nothing wrong, you simply misunderstood me. Such apologies usually do more damage than good, because the person receiving the apology was first offended and is then blamed for the problem. People often say they are sorry just to "keep the peace."

In this practice session, we'll will focus on three areas: (1) dealing with people who give apologies which seem to be insincere, manipulative, or even blaming, (2) refraining from apologizing as a surrender to someone else's judgments, and (3) giving full, thorough apologies when we have done something we believe was inappropriate or hurtful.

Learning to distinguish when to give an apology, based on a person believing he/she has done something inappropriate, inconsiderate or hurtful is a first step. Learning how to give an apology in way that takes accountability without justifying one's own behavior comes next. For many, this is a lost art that needs reclaiming. Giving real apologies when appropriate is a building block not only for healing and rebuilding relationships, but often taking them to a new level in one quantum leap.


Denial—One of the Crazy Makers

Most of us have felt crazy-made when someone isn't willing or able to hear our message, and seems to be in denial about something we think is obvious regarding the person's attitude or behavior. The denial might even be about how someone else is treating that person or about serious problems, such as alcholoism or depression that need to be addressed.

A common response, even during simple disagreements, is to try to to force our way through the "denial." The person often then accuses us of causing the problem and suddenly we're on the defense ourselves. As quickly as Alice fell into the sometimes nightmarish Wonderland, we can fall into a kind of power struggle where reality seems to have become dramatically distorted. Sometimes we just give in and accept the denial. This workshop will focus on how to respond effectively without either being drawn into accepting the other person's denial, or feeling compelled to drag the person out of it. Using non-defensive skills changes the power dynamics that go on with denial, and increases the likelihood that either (a) we can walk away without getting hooked into it, and/or (b) the other person, not having to fight us off, will lift the veil and look more closely at the possible validity of what we are saying.


The Control Trap

Our traditional communication is permeated with the belief that we "need" to exert control over other people. While all PNDC workshops focus on how to use power in our communication without creating the power struggles that come from trying to control how other people respond, this practice session will be focused more narrowly on the issue of control.

We will examine the dynamics of simple everyday interactions and look at every point where the effort to control pops up. We practice identifying the hooks others put out that can pull us instantly into the "control trap." And it is truly a trap, because every time we try to convince others of anything, we have an astronomically high risk of prompting defensiveness and resistance. Over time, we become discouraged by our inability to have the kind of impact we'd like with others, and we try even harder, perpetuating a self-fullfilling prophacy for defeat.

In this practice session, we'll identify ways that we erroneously interpret controlling others as our own personal "needs," leaving us feeling frustrated, angry and helpless. Then we'll practice how to have clarity without trying to force others to listen or to change. An important piece of this session is carefully working with how to do this without falling into the reverse trap of not giving up reasonable expecations and being co-dependent with people who are taking more than they are giving. The outcome is not only a greater sense of freedom by staying out of the trap, but also the often unexpected movement the other peson makes when we let go of trying to "get" them to change.


Caught in the Middle — Helping to Resolve Conflict or Fueling It?

Being caught in the middle of other people's conflicts can happen in many ways. Families can develop patterns of interaction that may go on for decades, where one or more people are constantly caught in the middle between two or more family members. At work, a whole group in a meeting can be held captive to a conflict between two people. A co-worker might be the "listening ear" for two other co-workers in conflict with each other; a manager or HR person may have to manage complaints from co-workers who constantly rub each oher the wrong way or are making accusations about inappropriate behavior. A manager may also feel caught in the middle between upper management and people who report directly to her or him. Friends and people in community organizations can just as easily find themselves caught in someone else's conflict.

A common method of responding is to try to support each of the two people in conflict while trying to help them get along better. The problem is that people who feel caught in the middle often try so hard to support each of the people that they fuel the conflict without realizing it. In this practice session, we'll look at how to identify how the "mediating" person can unwittingly fuel the conflict. Also, we'll practice how to always establish a position of your own, while supporting conflict resolution between two other people. Becoming highly skilled at how we deal with others when they are in conflict, without getting "caught" can be a powerful tool that impacts the functioning and cohesion of larger family, work or community groups.


Balancing Accountability

In many of our relationships, it is very difficult to figure out how to deal with each person's accountability. When does holding another person accountable become an effort to exert inappropriate control over the person? When am I giving too much "grace" out of empathy for the other person, who may not be taking accountability. Also, if the other person isn't taking responsibility for her/his own attitude and/or behavior, how do I hold myself accountable without taking more than my share of the responsibility? When am I taking accountability that doesn't belong to me? Refusing it when it does? Or just taking more or less than my share?

In this session, we'll look at how the PNDC framework can help us create a healthy balance in how we hold ourselves and/or others accountable. We'll discuss and practice how to hold others more accountable without being controlling. We'll also examine how to take accountability, without being weak, for our own part, even if the other person won't do the same. Just as we need to balance our bank account, we need to manage the balance of accountability in our relationships if they are to be vibrant, healthy sources of nurturing and strength.


Creating Conversations with a Genuine Sense of Equality

Even as more and more of us are working to communicate in less authoritarian ways, there still seems to be a strong, if slightly more subtle tendancy to slide into being the authority figure: teacher, parent, critic, or advice-giver. We slide easily into the "one-up" and "one-down" positions.

In our conversations with loved ones, co-workers, and friends, this usually involves one person telling the other person how to fix their communication or some other problem. The first person wants to be seen as "helping" or "supporting" or even trying to "empower" the other person. In many relationships, people often take turns, like two people on a teeter-totter. When it comes to our children, we also have great difficulty knowing how facilitate their ability to become competent and develop strong values — respect, honesty, equality, compassion — without resorting to some form of lecture.

This session will focus on how to avoid the one-up or one-down trap and use our own non-defensive skills to communicate as equals whether we are talking to someone far younger or older, or someone with similar or different life experience. We'll look carefully at how we respond, using actual examples of conversations, so we can more easily identify when we slip into superior or inferior, and then how to communicate to maintain equality, without losing the power of our own wisdom. Such conversation, based on an inherent sense of equality, can prompt spontaneous changes in attitudes and behaviors on the part of one or both people.


Having More Fulfilling Intimacy Without Losing Autonomy

We live in a society that too often substitutes sex for true intimacy. We also receive many media messages that suggest that intimacy is something we can only have with the person we are in love with. Thus, we not only often substitue sex for intimacy, but we associate intimacy with sexuality. Next, in the context of the War Model for commuication, which dictates that we are either on the same side or against each other, intimacy in love often comes to mean merging with the other. Even when this is more true for women, men are impacted as well. And, in more ways that we commonly recognize, men are equally merged. Such merging leads to a loss of automony and/or the struggle on the part of one or both people to maintain a sense automomy and independence. It sets the stage for us to have all our eggs in one basket, and to feel extreme betrayal and loss when things are not going as we envisioned.

In War Model communication, intimacy can only happen when there is high trust. Thus, traditional communication blocks intimacy, leading many of us to consider it rare. Conversely, when we live with that balance of openess and honesty that is an inherent part of the non-defensive process, intimacy can occur at any moment, can be a regular part of life. This practice session will focus on how to increase your capacity for intimacy.

We'll start by looking at beliefs about intimacy that undermine our capacity to achieve it, then examine how to create greater balance between genuine intimacy and healthy autonomy. We'll also look at how to make changes in attitude and behavior in specific situations to create greater opportunitiy for intimacy. As part of this session, we'll examine how to expand our concept of intimacy to include relationships with many people. In reality, it is possible to have the kind of intimacy that involves being fully present in many different life experiences and share that experience with others. When we know how to experience intimacy as an inherent part of almost any experience, we will be more fully alive.


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