Professional Topics: Standard Training Categories

The effort being made by many professional and community organizations to provide training that strengthens employee performance is very exciting. It is particularly gratifying to work with organizations that give attention to learning how to communicate effectively. We believe that authentic communication is a new frontier in the development of human potential and organizational success and we see ourselves as part of that frontier, bringing new concepts and practical skills for consistently genuine communication.

We have found that all 12 of the types of training outlined below are essential to an organization’s capacity to function at full power. The links are listed in the order we believe provides the strongest foundation for a highly functioning organization. For example, management training comes first, then team relationships, followed by leadership development, cultural competence and conflict resolution. With strong skills in those areas, devloping high-level skills in relationships with clients, presentation and negotiation, sales, strategic planning and change management can be accomplished with much less effort. Finally, community building within the organization and outside of it can be developed more easily, at least partly as an organic expansion of the level of functioning managers and employees have already established.

Most organizations excel in some areas and need to strengthen others. Any of us in the PNDC Consortium can collaborate with you to help you determine what kind of training is most urgently needed, tailor programs designed and delivered with respect for your organization’s values, and offer recommendations for further training and/or support at the conclusion of our consultation. We can also present more comprehensive programs, including some that provide training in all 12 categories. Our goal is to help integrate Powerful Non-Defensive Communication into any organization’s culture, and thereby provide a foundation for greater mutual respect, creativity, and performance at all levels.


Team Relationships

Leadership Development

Cultural Competence

Conflict Resolution

Relationships with People in the Population You Serve

Presentation & Negotiation


Strategic Planning

Change Management

Community Building Within Your Organization

Relationships with Local and/or Global Communities

Along with these categories of training, we offer Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skill buiding workshops and 12 Specialized Issue-Focused training programs that address specific problem situations common to the workplace. We also tailor our training to the needs of many specific professional fields. See also how we appply our training programs to your own profession: Business & Corporate Consulting Firms — Education-K-12 Education-Community College Education-University Finance — Government Healthcare Law Collaborative Family Law Mediation Non-Profit Mental Health — Women's Organizations


Traditionally, most managers have been promoted because of  “technical” job skills rather than “people” skills. At a time when managers simply told employees what to do and expected it to be done, poor communication skills were tolerated. In fact, communication was thought of as a“soft” skill and not particularly valued. Now, with the movement from vertically to horizontally operating organizations, traditional methods of using authority don’t work well. In addition, with many organizations now having local, national, and international offices, management issues are increasingly complex. In the face of dramatic changes in organizational structure, many managers are either still too authoritarian or simply do not provide adequate supervision, both of which require a change in communication patterns.

As organizations move to a more collaborative management style, communicating effectively is no longer a soft skill.  It is one of any manager's most important tools. We can provide managers with the non-defensive skill sets they need to use authority wisely.  They can then become extremely proficient in all aspects of individual and team supervision, including how they gather accurate information, give and receive feedback, set effective limits when necessary, and maintain high performance expectations. For example, we can show them how to respond to and defuse defensive maneuvers that employees and managers frequently use so each person can become more open to feedback and work better with others. These skills can turn managers into respected leaders.

Team Relationships

While the shift from the traditional hierarchical structure to a team-based structure has proven advantageous in most organizations, the adjustment period is often difficult for employees. This change, essentially from a more authoritarian structure to a more democratic one, can create some chaos, because many people lack the skills to take initiative and make joint decisions. In addition, within any team, the power dynamics among the manager(s), team “lead(s)” and team members can be complicated and confusing. Moreover, various teams may be in conflict with each other. Decision-making can bog down. Some people may fail to do their part and not be held accountable, causing others to resent them.

The team-building modules we offer can give your staff essential skills for understanding others that go beyond active listening techniques and maximize their ability to interact with genuine curiosity. Participants can learn how to speak with sincerity and honesty, even in intense situations.  They can learn how to make efficient decisions, clearly define roles and responsibilities, set boundaries, hold each other more accountable for keeping commitments, and engage in creative problem-solving.

Leadership Development

For managers and employees alike, leadership training can empower people to develop confidence in their own personal authority, both formal and/or informal. While our management training programs cover some of the same issues, leadership training focuses on personal development in a way that can prompt deeper changes. Our leadership programs also are often focused on subcultures, so we can look at factors that impact how many individuals in a given group of people have been influenced with regard to how they demonstrate leadership. Factors such as gender, race, age, and sexual orientation can influence how individuals come to terms with their own leadership potential. We often, therefore, offer separate leadership programs for men and women, for men of color and women of color, gay men and lesbian women, younger managers and older managers.

Such leadership development is crucial in an era when people work more in teams, and team members as well as team leads or managers may have very different technical skills sets. Given that many teams have national or international members as well, how each person uses her/his own leadership skills and personal authority will damage or enhance team efforts.

Cultural Competence

As people work increasingly in multicultural and international environments, many professional organizations have made commitments to diversity training. However, people often still see it as something to do “once,” or as being forced to be “politically correct.” Without diversity awareness, any professional environment can be a breeding ground for individuals to consciously or unconsciously stereotype and mistreat people who belong to certain groupings such as age, gender, sexual orientation, job classification, physical ability, race, and religion. The magnitude of the problem can be invisible to many, but the cost is immense, in terms of human dignity, productivity, and dollars.

We believe diversity training is as essential as ongoing management training or team building. It is an immune builder for the health of the whole organization. We take people below the surface of the behavioral mandates to real conversations about difficult subjects regarding many levels of diversity. We can provide the tools for people to examine non-defensively their own attitudes, find common bonds, become comfortable, and develop respect and caring for others who are different from them.

For comments about Sharon's Work in this area of focus, go to Cultural Competence

Conflict Resolution

The person who says “pick your battles" is advising people to avoid talking about any disagreement that isn't important enough to get into an argument over, because dealing with any conflict can take a lot of energy, even make things worse. People are often afraid to talk about problems because, in most cultures, we have learned to communicate in ways that actually intensify conflicts rather resolve them. Feeling that they only have the no-win choice of stuffing their feelings or getting into an argument, staff members may withdraw and become less communicative about important work issues, pass insults back and forth, have disagreements that spill over onto co-workers, or hold back until they explode. People’s inability to deal with conflict constructively in professional relationships is pervasive. 

We can demonstrate specifically for any staff how traditional ways of communicating pull them into power struggles and block their efforts to resolve conflict even when they are doing their best.  They can learn non-defensive communication methods that are far more efficient and powerful. Employees and managers can practice how to ask questions that can be so disarming that others instantly stop being defensive. They can find out how to state their own position with great clarity and confidence without being judgmental or alienating the others. And they can develop skill in setting limits which prevent future problems. With these skills, staff can approach conflict openly and achieve genuine resolution.

Relationships with the Population of People You Serve

A strong tradition in customer relations is based on the philosophy, “the customer is always right.” This philosophy has spread, in many ways, to professions outside the business realm. If the clientele your organization serves uses this power to manipulate, staff become the recipients of much blame and verbal abuse. People fail to follow legal requirements for a housing permit and then get angry at the official required to uphold the law. They berate hotel clerks, hoping for an upgrade, or take back used clothing to the department store, demanding their money back. Clients ignore professional advice and then expect the company to absorb costly changes when they don’t like the results of their own decisions. Yet when people are demanding, they seldom become truly satisfied, genuinely appreciative customers. In addition, it creates a serious issue for staff morale, not to mention lost revenues.

We can provide professionals in any field with the skills needed to create excellent client relationships while protecting them from being treated disrespectfully, as well as minimizing financial losses. Employees and managers can learn how to establish relationships with clients/customers where their advise becomes highly respected, the clients take responsibility for their own part in the decision making, and they feel valued even if they can’t get exactly what they want. We can work with staff members on how to create trust, even with strangers, which we believe is the foundation for loyal relationships with any population of clients.

Presentation & Negotiation Techniques

People often get defensive when their ideas are questioned, whether presenting to co-workers or people from another organization. And others do challenge presenters to see how well they can “defend” their ideas. While the goal may be to find out if presenters can back up what they are saying, it is an adversarial process which prevents people from listening well.  It results in attack and defense instead of a genuine examination of the ideas. Countless presenters with valid ideas have been undermined. Everyone is blocked from doing the creative brainstorming and problem-solving that would profit them all. Similar issues exist in individual and group negotiations, as well as one-to-one sales interactions.

We can coach individuals and groups on how to present or negotiate without a hint of defensiveness. Even in a adversarial systems, such as the law, people can enhance performance. They can learn to ask questions that draw out hidden agendas and respond with great clarity. Sales people can get better results by presenting information to potential customers without resorting to techniques of persuasion. People can negotiate without bluffing, coming to agreement more quickly, with less effort and better results for everyone. Staff members can get over-the-top, cutting-edge skills in presenting and negotiating with confidence, integrity, and power.


Traditional sales methods often utilize various techniques for “persuasion” which can backfire. The sale may be lost if the client/customer feels pressured. Even if the sale goes through, the client/customer may be left with a residue of mistrust or dissatisfaction.  We can show your sales people how to increase sales without ever needing to convince or persuade. Using the cutting-edge skills we offer, your team can create loyal customers and you can expand your customer base. They will gain skills in asking questions that quickly get to the core of your customer's needs. They will learn to present your product extremely effectively without pressuring the client. They will find out when to refer the client/customer to someone else and how that can enhance your business. Finally, they will develop the ability to make predictions that enhance the customer/client's trust in you and confidence in your advice.

Strategic Planning

It is an understatement to say that effective strategic planning is extremely complicated. Systemic analysis must take into account the organization’s mission and culture, its financial structure, and its current strengths and weaknesses with regard to its various functions, from delivery of services to marketing. It requires gathering thorough information from people at all levels of the organization. After that, designing a growth plan hinges on the ability to accurately project the kind of results that can be obtained from specific changes that are made. Ultimately it requires getting commitment from the organization’s managers and employees to support the development plan.

We can help an organization develop and implement a plan that is built on a systemic analysis of the organization’s functioning. We will work with you to maintain the organization’s stability, which gives employees an essential sense of security, while enhancing growth. We also provide strategic planning for organizations that collaborate with each other. Our goal is to co-create a strategic plan that is energizing and empowering for everyone in the organization.

Change Management

Most people resist change. One person balking at a joint decision made by their team can drag everyone down. A group of employees dragging their feet about complying with changes in procedure or job requirements can sabotage the organization’s ability to meet time-lines and achieve goals. It is often said that it is “normal” for people to resist change; while some resistance to change is appropriate, many organizations have an inordinate amount of it. The resistance can be because people have not been properly prepared for the change. Also, the way we have learned to communicate can cause people to get defensive when asked to learn new things. They learn to view change as threatening.

We can provide management and/or employees with an in-depth understanding of the causes of “change-resistance.”  Then we can teach them how to greet change with a different attitude and a new set of skills to prepare for and implement it. Change management is a crucial piece in achieving strategic planning goals when implementing major changes. Since change is a constant, it is also routinely important. Effective change management heightens people’s willingness to be proactive in “participating in change” and enthusiastic about achieving the organization’s goals.

Community Building

At various times in its evolution, an organization can have a strong sense of community where its employees or members have a common purpose and are inspired to work together to achieve the organization’s goals. For example, a new start-up company, small non-profit or professional association can have this kind of energy. Unfortunately, the feeling of community within an organization often gets lost when, for example, a company gets larger and its pioneer spirit fades. Within long-established organizations, such as educational institutions, government bureaucracies, health care organizations, and large corporations, individuals and departments may have entrenched competition for status and/or financial resources. Individual units or teams may no longer feel a primary bond to the whole organization.

Building community within an organization doesn’t happen by accident. Just as some parents know how to create a cohesive family, leaders and managers in some organizations know how to build an inclusive sense of community, others do not. While training in all the other areas strengthens cohesiveness, we also teach specific methods for actively creating the trust, openness, honesty, fun, and loyalty that are hallmarks of a healthy community.

Relationships with Local and/or Global Communities

The kind of public image an organization seeks to create is often seen as a PR effort that has little relationship to its actual values, agendas and impact on the wider community.  Simultaneously, most organizations suffer from being seen in the harsh light of certain self-serving or otherwise negative stereotypes about their particular profession. Once an organization becomes stereotyped in a certain way, representatives of that organization often are defensive and thus inadvertently reinforce the stereotype.

We believe that the first step in creating good public relations is to do community building within the organization and then extend that effort outward to the larger community. We can work with an organization to integrate its values and goals realistically with its public image so people can respect the organization as one that “walks its talk.” We can help those representing the organization to respond non-defensively to criticism. Our experience is that a non-defensive response to issues raised about the organization’s performance and impact increases the amount of respect it will receive from the wider community. We can also work with any organization regarding how to interact effectively with other groups in the community when there is a conflict of interest. Ultimately, as an organization, you can build a reputation that is based solidly in public trust.

The Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication • Contact Us
Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2017 Sharon Strand Ellison

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