PNDC for Individual Empowerment

Using This Information Packet: This packet includes (1) an overview of the content presented in workshops and at conference; (2) short biographies for Sharon Strand Ellison and her daughter, Ami Atkinson Combs, who are the primary master teachers of the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication process developed by Sharon; and (3) signed and unsigned comments from participants. The overview starts with the introduction on the landing page and then continues with more information. Each is marked clearly.

You can use the links below to go to directly to each section. You can also return to the landing page to access additional information about workshops, conferences, and coaching.

Training Context & Overview
Biographical Information
Signed Participant Comments
Unsigned Participant Comments

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Training Context & Overview

Introduction from Landing Page: Major discoveries about human nature are unfolding, including evidence that what we believe can alter our own reality and even our genetic makeup. This reinforces the idea that we create self-fulfilling prophecies, drawing just the right people into our lives to co-create them, for good or ill. While I believe that the environment we are born into and how we have been treated have power in shaping our reality, what we do with what we are given is also of paramount importance. One person who suffers may become bitter, another, compassionate. One with privilege, self-serving, another, generous. One who has been well loved may become possessive, another, inclusive.

Many of us have inherently trusted that our own attitudes and beliefs have major impact in determining who we draw to us, as well as how happy and fulfilled we are. Yet, no matter how hard we work, too often we still face seemingly irresolvable problems in our relationships and feel like something is missing from our lives.

Training in Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC) offers the paradigm shift that can allow us to move past common habits of defensiveness and power struggle to a system of communication built on honesty, openness and vulnerability. Honesty and vulnerability together create an alchemy that produces unique strength and allows our potential to unfold.

More . . . A huge block to personal empowerment, as well as to issues we face globally, is that we have been using the rules of war as the basis for conversation. As a result, we get defensive instantly when we feel a need to protect ourselves. Such defensiveness has a physiological impact on us, shutting down our capacity for creative problem solving and propelling us to engage in destructive, needless power struggles. We become alienated, not only from people we don’t respect, but from those we love most, and even from ourselves. We lose integrity and hope, a devastating combination.

In anything we do, we are most likely to get the results we want when we bring skill together with quality tools, such as when we prune a tree. One tool in crafting the life we want is learning to use our energy wisely, creating and sustaining the beliefs that will bring us fulfillment. Another tool is how we communicate—both in our own internal dialogue and in relationships with others.

Using non-defensive communication skills, you can shift your internal conversations with yourself from arguments where you take turns blaming and defending yourself and/or others to the kind of dialogue that eliminates “old scripts” that keep you stuck. You can communicate directly in your relationships and build confidence even when you don’t have other people’s cooperation. Non-defensive communication can be very disarming, so others are likely to drop their defenses too, often instantly, thereby opening the door to a real conversation that touches the heart. Using these skills you can take quantum leaps toward being fully present and empowered, while connected in community.

Biographical Information

Sharon Strand Ellison, M.S., Executive Director of the Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (IPNDC), is an internationally recognized communication consultant, an award-winning speaker and the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words. Sharon with her daughter, Ami Atkinson produced the award-winning audiobook, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. Sharon is a pioneer in developing methods for eliminating defensiveness so people can communicate with constructive power. She was a nominee for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute.

Sharon began her career working with families in extreme crisis. Later, she started a private practice and has since been providing coaching and counseling for individuals regarding both personal relationship and professional performance for more than 40 years. She also works with couples and families. Her approach has always been to give direct honest feedback to each person in a relationship and to do on-the-spot coaching to help each person learn ways to respond without getting defensive. Sharon also provides an overview or map for the couple with regard to how the relationship functions as a “system” of interactions, which includes what she calls VERB elements: values, emotions, reasonings, and behaviors. Due to her commitment to teaching Powerful Non-Defensive Communication in group settings in order to offer more people access to the skills, Sharon no longer coaches individual couples. However, she offers workshops for couples and speaks at many conferences.  

Sharon also speaks at conferences and provides training programs for professionals in more than a dozen fields. Her clients include Kaiser Permanente; Nordstom, Regional Diversity Managers; Wells Fargo; the United States Department of Justice, Stanford University, The smithsonian, and the Centre for Dispute Resolution, London, England.

Ami Atkinson Combs, Director of IPNDC, is a graduate of Mills College and co-author of the audiobook Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. As Sharon’s daughter, she has been an active participant in the years of discussion as Sharon envisoned and refined the PNDC Communication model. Ami has done psychosocial research at Stanford Medical School, been on the Newborn and Parent Advisory Board at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, and worked with severely emotionally disturbed children.

Ami is gifted in the art of identifying relationship systems. She is also highly skilled in modeling the interruption of any process that involves defensiveness and power struggle and guiding individuals in making changes that empower them in both personal and professional relationships. She also works with couples and families toward in-depth non-defensive conversations. Ami offers coaching and workshops for couples and parents as well. Her husband, Jesse Combs also does training with parents, couples and groups of men. The mother of 16-year-old twin boys. Ami uses a hands-on approach when providing workshops and coaching for parents. She also speaks at conferences and provides training for early childhood education programs.

Ami’s innate understanding of systemic patterns in communication is alsp a cornerstone of her work with organizations, helping individual teams as well as the organization as a whole to strengthen their communication internally and with their client base. She offers coaching and trainings for educational institutions, nonprofits, corporations, and community organizations. Her clients include: General Dynamics, CA; Lockheed-Martin, CA; Habitat for Humanity, CA; the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Toronto, Canada; The Association for Early Childhood Education, National Conference, and CCG Systems, VA.

Signed Participant Comments

I can still remember the silence of the audience being pierced by little astounded gasps as the profundity from the first time I heard Sharon and her teachings. It was in many ways, for myself and what I believe to be the overwhelming majority of the audience, a "eureka!" or "a-ha!" moment wherein one comes to realize that one has been unconsciously acting in the world in a way that is so counter-productive and unnecessarily harmful—and more importantly—that within grasp is an awareness and a set of techniques whereby one can act in the world in a way congruent and harmonious with our highest intentioned selves.  

From that introduction to Sharon and her work, I have had a hunger for more exposure and familiarity with her material (her books and CDs). I continue to marvel at the simplicity and beauty of her words, concepts and what in many ways is a complete and self-contained "way of being" and I continue to strive to take it all, literally, to heart."

—Chris Arnold, Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator, past president, Ontario Collaborative Law Federation, Adjunct Professor, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

The vision in itself is powerful—that we could create a world where this model of communication was practiced uniformly, or better yet where this model was automatic. It almost takes my breath away to imagine it. Imagine the changes we would see. I found the workshop format extremely valuable, providing solid information along with a nice balance in practicing and receiving feedback. The idea of communicating with integrity and authenticity is a laudable goal. How to do that without powering over others is a true art, and one I now look forward to cultivating with a mix of joy, excitement, and a little apprehension! Now I will work on summoning the courage to test the ideas out here in the trenches!

Ellen Russell

Albert Einstein was able to visualize and communicate a more profoundly accurate model of how our physical Reality is structured, as a quantum space-time fabric. I believe Sharon Ellison has done the same with a more profoundly accurate model of how our human relationships are structured, as a linguistic virtual reality. Changing how we speak changes how we relate.  Her work might transform humanity in the 21st century.

—Stephen Weitz, Ph.D., Biochemist

You are masterful and elegant in the presentation of the work and in the gentle way you interacted with us. I strongly believe that you will achieve national recognition with this communication method. It is larger and more powerful that the Mars/Venus model!

—Phil Wilchire, Pharmacist

Although it's only been short period of time, I feel a genuine shift to a calmer attitude towards everything I've done since the workshop. Driving, having dinner with friends, talking on the phone, it all just feels better because I know I don't need to be drawn in or snagged by any hooks.

I even had a conversation with my mother where she actually listened to me! I think that deep down, on some hidden level, we know we're hurting each other somehow when we're in power struggle, but it's so automatic, so expected and accepted, that we don't even think to stop and ask ourselves what that pain is all about. We have such powerful, untapped brains.

When I started speaking differently, it was so obvious. When I realized my words weren't betraying my actual feelings, I was blown away and I felt more in touch with my emotions. The best analogy I can come up with is that if I'm a camera body, I've just been given a new set of lenses. A set of lenses with no distortion. No matter what I'm viewing, the images that come out of me are true.

 —Jesse di Franco

After a decade of being on the public speakers circuit showing my films about world peace, it became clear to me that creating peace really does begin with the individual. I wanted to clean up my own act. I was looking for a way to help me communicate with clarity and an open heart. After searching for some time, I had the good fortune to find Sharon and Powerful Non-Defensive Communication. Her book is terrific and so are her workshops. I hope she reaches a critical mass, so we can all improve our lives personally and globally.

 —Vivienne Verdon-Roe, Academy Award Winner, Women for America, for the World

When used with compassion, thoughtfulness, and respect, language becomes a powerful tool for liberation. We need Sharon Ellison's work in our homes, in our offices, and most of all, in our hearts.

Evelyn C. White, editor, The Black Woman's Health Book

I am sure I will be absorbing the material I learned and practiced in this workshop for a very long time. I have already pulled out the excellent workbook you provided to review the material again and to begin integrating it into my thinking (action next!). At this point, the biggest impact on me of the workshop has been a new level of awareness about my own motives in communication, my personal methods of dealing with conflict, and the ways these limit my growth and connection to others. I am excited. I can feel how this new awareness, along with the many, many practical tools you taught, will enable me to move into a more open, yet at the same time more secure, approach to those around me.

I want to affirm your success in presenting a large amount of complex material in a clear, simple and comprehensive manner. I appreciated the combination of theory, practice, and story telling which enabled me to learn the material more thoroughly through engaging the analytic, practical and creative brains simultaneously. I want to especially recognize the skill and delicacy with which you balanced the need to manage the time and cover all there was to learn with the students’ individual needs and concerns. Your modeling of respectful and truly nonjudgmental curiosity, and at the same time your very genuine tender concern for each of us, helped me to participate more fully and, I believe, receive the material intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Thank you, Sharon, for this enriching experience.

—Ruth Wilson

I thoroughly enjoyed your wonderful energy and clarity. I admire you for doing something that is truly a representation of who you are — and you do it superbly. It is my belief that the universe supports us when we can be who we are fully. I agree that so many options for how to resolve individual and community problems have been invisible as long as we have operated inside the "war model" for communicating. I see your book becoming a best seller, and your message spreading out across the nation.

Rob Merlo, Engineer

I am a Stanford graduate and have taken coursework in negotiation. At Stanford, we used Getting to Yes and Difficult Conversations as the basis for an excellent class on negotiation. Once in the professional world, I have continued my study, with books including Getting Past No, Beyond Reason, The Power of a Positive No, and Messages. You cover the techniques of non-defensive communication with a clarity that resonated with me in a profound way. You address material not found in other well-regarded works on negotiation and communication, and you address this material in a common-sense, ready-to-use manner.

Your CD gave me the strength to have a very difficult conversation with someone I care about very much, in an effort to rebuild that relationship. In the past, despite all of my training, I found myself getting defensive—so much so that I was unable to use any of the tools I had been taught! Your CD allowed me to stay curious, actually listen to the other person, and accomplish my goal, which was mutual understanding. We actually heard each other, for the first time in a number of years.


How many times have I said "Well, I know what she's going to say, so why bother asking?" This kind of anticipation is exactly what keeps us in conflict with others. Sharon teaches the art of asking questions without any assumptions or expectations. And, miraculously, what we hear is rarely what we anticipated. And here is where the learning and the real communication begins. You are one of the people who will help turn us from the violent society we are to a more powerful and loving one.

Jenine Sternlieb, Host, A Novel Idea, KRCB Radio

In this workshop I saw you handle conflicts that arose with a skill and effectiveness that amazed me. I saw you show a well-developed sensitivity to differences such as gender and culture that was unbiased and open to new information. You also focused on holding each person (including me) accountable—gently and disarmingly—for specific behavior and its impact, and coached each of us to say directly what we want to say without attacking, defending, hiding or giving up.

Emily Zimmerman, Instructor, Korean Studies, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA

This is fascinating material—brilliant. You are a master. Your methods are so extraordinary. You are like a contemporary Freud. It is so outrageous what you have discovered. And actually, it's so simple, it's beyond belief that we haven't been here before. I think when the world finds out about you, Sharon, it's just going to be an explosion of marvelous things.

Carol Blumenfeld, Owner of Carol's Cow Hollow Inn & Albion House Inn, San Francisco, CA

I believe that people come into our lives for a reason.  You came into mine and gave me something I've been searching for a long time, that is, a way to communicate and to teach others to communicate non-defensively.  Like you, deep down inside, I have felt for as long as I can remember that there must be a better way for human beings to relate to one another and to resolve their conflicts.  I believe you have found the key.  You touched my Spirit and I knew this was the right way for me.  I thank you for sharing your gift and I hope to do it justice as I share it with others.  Much love and peace.

—Carmen C. McKines

Unsigned Participant Comments

This work is a map. It gives me new direction and I hope that my life in this world can become more and more wondrous, worthwhile, and human. Thank you for your life's gift to our world.

You have provided us with new options for how to communicate that have been completely invisible to us as long as we have operated inside the "war model."

I am amazed how the results are almost identical for men and women and for so many diverse personalities.

I feel like the boa constrictor that just ate an elephant, it will take me months to digest this.

I went home after the first session and asked my husband one non-defensive question and we had the best conversation we've ever had.

What I'm learning from PNDC is to become aware of how I point the finger and place the blame on others for my own defensive reactions. I'm also seeing that their seemingly offensive behavior is really defensive behavior.

Yesterday I found myself feeling quite critical of the whole process. It seemed contrived and artificial. Today I see it differently. It is a bridge to get us from our past way of being and dealing with life's problems to a new and better and more honest way of being. If it seems strange and difficult at the beginning, that is because we do not realize the extent of our immersion in the old, dysfunctional way of relating. I'm 78 years old—it's going to be hard to change. But I'm going to try.

Very good, imaginative analysis of typically difficult conversations. I can see how this kind of language work could empower both typically "aggressive" or "passive" verbal types.

I am staggered by the flood of responses I am having to this workshop. Amazed at Sharon's insights, excited by the possibilities, and also terrified by the prospect of truly getting beyond the defensive postures to dealing honestly with intimate relationships.

The workshop was incredibly empowering and inspiring. The skills and lessons should be taught to all of us starting from a young age.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous at first about coming. I have sometimes walked out of workshops, but you made me feel very comfortable. I not only enjoyed the seminar immensely, I learned a lot! I had no idea that this would be so helpful and pertinent. I'm aware now that there is another way.

This workshop had a transforming effect on me. I learned a great deal about how I communicate and about my own inner power struggles.

I think the work you are doing is not only extraordinarily significant, it is just plain extraordinary!

I learned how to relate with people in a way that I can find strength for myself.

The concept of the material you teach is astonishing to me. I have spent most of my life defending or attacking, and getting nowhere fast. I look forward to distilling this and putting it to work.

I can not only improve my current relationship, but can see what I could have done differently in past ones.

I knew there had to be a way, but I couldn't see through the power struggle mode. So I am thrilled to receive this clarity. Thank you.

The most important thing I felt all day was how much I wish that I could have taken this workshop 40 years ago.

I feel I will use this, not only in my present relationship, but also in reviewing (and revising) my part in past relationships.

I feel that the workshop gave me a method to live what I believe is possible in relationships. Sometimes I got chills in my body or tears in my eyes from your statements about how we can be non-defensive and still be safe/protected—that in fact, this is the way to be safe.

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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"At this point, the biggest impact on me of the workshop has been a new level of awareness about my own motives in communication, my personal methods of dealing with conflict, and the ways these limit my growth and connection to others. I am excited.

I appreciated the combination of theory, practice, and story- telling which enabled me to learn the material more thoroughly through engaging the analytic, practical and creative brains simultaneously."

 —Ruth Wilson




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