PNDC for Collaborative Law Professionals

Using This Information Packet: This packet includes (1) an overview of the training; (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; (3) a partial client list; and (4) comments from collaborative law professionals.

The overview starts with the introduction from the landing page and then continues with more information. You can start with "More . . ." if you've already read the introduction.

Training Context & Overview
Biographical Information
Partial Client List
Comments: From Collaborative Attorneys, Therapists, Mediators & Financial Planners

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Training Context & Overview:

Introduction from Landing Page: In keeping with the mission of collaborative family law, it is crucial that professionals model non-defensive communication while maintaining the integrity of the collaborative process. Integrating methods and goals strengthens teamwork among the professionals and greatly enhances clients’ capacity to achieve transformative resolution. During conference keynotes, workshops, and other training programs, attorneys, therapists, financial planners and realtors can learn how to diffuse power struggles involving clients and/or other professionals.

More . . . Collaborative professionals will learn how we have used the “Rules of War” as the basis for how we talk to each other, in both professional and personal relationships. Thus, the way we commonly use language literally creates needless conflict and pain within families. It also inhibits our power as professionals to facilitate conflict resolution. We'll examine subtle (and not so subtle) ways that professionals may prompt each other and clients to become defensive and block effective resolution of disputes. Participants will learn about the physiology of defensiveness, and how to diffuse power struggle. They'll also learn new methods for enhancing honest, genuine dialogue, including:

—Asking disarming questions that get at the heart of an issue quickly,

—Giving honest feedback while conveying respect rather than judgment,

—Stating opinions with clarity and power, while creating understanding rather than polarizing parties, and

—Creating boundaries that increase respect and accountability.

Collaborative professionals in every field will leave with skills that can be used immediately to transform interactions with individuals and families in crisis, as well as with other professionals.

Biographical Information:

Sharon Strand Ellison, an internationally recognized communication consultant, is an award-winning speaker and the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words. Sharon is a pioneer in the development of methods for eliminating defensiveness and was a nominee for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute. She has her Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Juvenile Corrections from the University of Oregon and she was a Scholar in Residence at Saint Johns University. Sharon and her daughter, Ami Atkinson Combs, produced the audio book, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting, winner of a  Benjamin Franklin Award.  Her background includes much work with families, as well as training other professionals who provide services for youth and parents.

In the field of collaborative family law, Sharon has been a keynote speaker for statewide and regional conferences, including California and Ontario, Canada. She has been a speaker for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) annual conferences in San Diego, Toronto, New Orleans, Minnesota and Washington, DC. In addition, she provides training programs for collaborative practice groups accross the United States, and Canada.

Ami Atkinson Combs, Director of IPNDC, is a graduate of Mills College, has been a research coordinator at Stanford University Medical School, as well as Interim Manager of the Stanford Child and Adolescent Division of Psychiatry. Prior to that, she worked with severely abused children at Lincoln Center in Oakland, CA. 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 abused 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 offers coaching and workshops 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 Association for Early Childhood Education, National Conference, CCG Systems, VA; and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Winnipeg, Canada.

Partial Client List of Collaborative Family Law Organziations & Conferences:

  • San Francisco, California
  • Quinnipiac University School of Law, Connecticut
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Edmonton, Canada
  • Calgary, Canada
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Taos, New Mexico
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Dallas, Texas
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Quebec, Canada
  • Toronto, Canada

Keynotes have also been provided for:

  • The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts
  • The Association for Dispute Resolution of Northern California
  • The Federation of Law Societies of Canada, National Family Law Program, Keynote, Bi-Annual National Conference for Judges and Lawyers
  • The Centre for Dispute Resolution, in London, England

See More Complete Client List

Comments: From Collaborative Attorneys, Therapists, Mediators & Financial Planners:

1. Attorneys:

My professional life has changed dramatically since the day I discovered Sharon Ellison's theory of Powerful Non-defensive Communication. Non-defensive communication skills have enhanced my effectiveness as a lawyer, mediator, and as a law professor who teaches counseling and negotiation to law students. Although I prided myself on being a problem-solver and collaborator, with both my clients and counterpart lawyers, I found myself shifting into defensive modes more than I liked, especially when I felt most strongly. I struggled to understand how and why I was undermining myself, and what to do about it. When I met Sharon, heard her lay out her theory, and watched her demonstrate her approach, I was amazed at how many answers clicked for me. The theory and the practice of PNDC gave me a clarity, control, and a new mindset that had eluded me in the past.

—Carolyn Kass, Associate Professor; Director of the Legal Clinic; Co-Director, Center for Dispute Resolution; and Director of the Family and Juvenile Law Concentration; Quinnipiac University, School of Law, Hamdon, CT

I first encountered Sharon and her teachings in 2006 in San Diego at the IACP Forum and I can still remember the silence of the audience being pierced by little astounded gasps as the profundity of what she was talking about became evident.  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) and participated in a full-day workshop with her at the Toronto Forum in 2007. 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

I consider you a treasure, as does each and every legal professional I have spoken with regarding your work and the manner in which you present it.  In the highly complex and emotional area of family law in which we work, relearning the manner in which we deal with one another is nothing short of extraordinary. I formerly thought of myself as a professional who had good self-awareness and excellent non-defensive communication skills.  After reading your book, listening to your tapes and attending several workshops that you have offered, I am now acutely aware of how much better my communication can be in my professional and personal life.  My clients have commented on the manner in which I deal with difficult situations and difficult communications.

—Suzan Barrie Aiken, Attorney, Mediator, Mill Valley

I have experienced Sharon Ellison’s PNDC presentations both in a brief workshop at a national conference and at a full-day seminar she presented to our group in Chicago a few months later.  Her presentations were riveting, powerful, and effective.  Her voice, her manner, her inclusiveness and her approach helped each participant to understand the importance and the effect of PNDC on personal communication experiences as well as professional ones.  I try to utilize Sharon’s methods whenever possible and have found it has made a profound difference in how I approach problem conversations professionally and personally. As an adjunct professor teaching a law school seminar on Alternative Dispute Resolution, I require my students to first read and then discuss “Taking the War out of our Words”  so that they will be receptive to the paradigm shift necessary to fully understand ADR.  Sharon Ellison has my utmost respect and admiration.  I would unhesitatingly recommend any program she offers to any group who may have the privilege of attending it.

—Sandra M. Rosenbloom, Attorney at Law, Northfield, IL, Adjunct Professor of Law, Loyola Law School

I’m absolutely stunned by the power of the non-defensive process Sharon teaches. I’ve gotten used to the concept of how good communication skills, including listening, “I messages,” and reframing help manage and reduce the emotional temperature in the room. I’ve accepted and even been excited to learn about concepts like emotional flooding so I could tell myself, clients and students not to even try to have a rational conversation when you’re flooded or when the other person is flooded; rather, to wait 15-30 minutes for the brain to be re-capable of rational thought. But listening to Sharon’s examples and process, I realize that by putting yourself in a place of true, deep curiosity, you can almost instantly defuse the other person’s defensiveness. What amazes me is not just the incredible success, but also the speed and directness. The potential to actually have a constructive and respectful conversation over an issue that could easily push anyone’s buttons is amazing.

—Arlene Kostant, Attorney and  Mediator, San Francisco, CA; Negotiation Instructor, UC  Hastings Law School & UC Berkeley Boalt Law School

2. Therapists:

I found Sharon's presentation fascinating and extremely relevant to my work not only as a divorce mediator but also as a coach in collaborative divorce. I was able to apply her non-defensive communication techniques immediately in the next four way meeting between coaches and clients and the clients responded very positively - it was very exciting!! I look forward to taking more of Sharon's workshops.

—Debbie Katz MFT, Collaborative Practice Group of Contra Costa County

I signed up for Sharon Ellison’s  PNDC Level One Training in the hopes of learning communication skills that would be useful in my work with Collaborative Divorce cases.  What I came away with is the foundation for a new way of communication, which I believe, has the potential to be transformational in any relational context, professional or personal.

Sharon’s style is warm, engaging, humorous, and inclusive.  She has a wonderful way of tailoring the workshop to address the needs of those present.  She is a gifted storyteller, and uses stories to demonstrate the incredible difference that can occur when a person uses PNDC.  She was patient and kind in guiding us through our first bumbling attempts at using PNDC skills.  I would love for all of my collaborative divorce colleagues be trained by Sharon in PNDC, as I believe would be enormously useful in our work with families.  PNDC provides a structure to have difficult conversations without engaging in posturing and increased hostility. Couples can learn to reach peaceful resolutions and relax their vigilance about winning and losing.

 —Emily Weaver, MFT, Oakland, CA

I just finished your book Taking the War out of our Words. It is chock full of smarts. I borrowed it from one of my colleagues who heard you speak at the Collaborative Law conference in Toronto and several of us will be discussing it tomorrow.  I just want to congratulate you on producing a tour de force, which I pray I could influence all my clients to read. It is a reference book that keeps on giving.  It picks up where the Murray Bowen (family systems) thinkers leave off.

You provide tools to understand what it means to create boundaries, to differentiate and grow up, becoming one's own agent of authority, able to express self in an manner that is honest, appreciative, respectful, and dignifying.

—Shel J. Miller, Ph.D.

Being aware of one’s feelings and reactions to clients is one of the cornerstones of a therapist’s training. Newer paradigms of countertransference also distinguish between feelings that arise from the therapist’s own history versus those that may be evoked by the client. Through metabolizing or working through their own feelings, therapists can use this understanding to help the clients. Sharon Ellison’s analysis of defensive communications can be a key to helping therapists understand the feelings the client invokes in both ourselves and others. Her methods of non-defensive communications allow the therapist to quickly work through countertransference feelings and more importantly, provide the tools for communicating to the patient in ways that are most likely to be heard.

Ms. Ellison’s workshop provides techniques and experience in changing countertransference feelings into helpful interventions for the client. While techniques are frequently discussed in theoretical terms, this workshop provides not only a theoretical paradigm but a valuable experience and practice—something that is all too frequently missing in post-graduate workshops.

—Mary Krentz, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist in Private Practice in Oakland, CA; Assistant Professor at the Wright Institute, Berkeley, CA, 1989-2001

I have taken Sharon’s workshop, as well as participating in a study group led by Sharon with Collaborative Divorce Mental Health Professionals (i.e. psychologists and marriage and family therapists) and Collaborative Family Law Attorneys.  Learning and practicing non-defensive communication techniques has been invaluable for both my clinical and collaborative work. Many clients come to see me dealing with life situations and transitions that are extremely stressful. Helping clients deal both with their stress and the concomitant anxiety that results from these life situations is critically important.

Since one major antidote to anxiety is information, I find that in informing clients about non-defensive vs. defensive communication adds an effective communication skill set that helps to reduce their anxiety. For clients to feel more effective and empowered to confront their challenges leads to them feeling more competent and confident. Being able to offer both the information as well as the practice skills of non-defensive communication has increased my success in couple and family therapy.  Learning this skill has also improved my therapy practice. I am noticing that, in some cases, behaviors I may have interpreted as client resistance, I am now seeing as defensive reactions resulting from how I have communicated to the client.  With non-defensive communication I find my clients better able to respond to my interventions and interpretations.  I highly recommend Sharon’s training for psychologists as well as other mental health professionals.

—Marc Berke, Ph.D., Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist; Collaborative Divorce Mental Health Professional; Director, Diablo Counseling Associates, Danville, CA

Financial Planners:

It was a year or so in the making to get Sharon Ellison to visit Rochester.  From the very first moment, sitting among my collaborative colleagues, I knew this experience was going to change the way we communicated in our community.  Folks who usually don't have much to offer, or at times are skeptical of workshops, went out of their way to make sure I understood what impact this was having on their thinking just hours into the experience. To say it was positive, incredibly helpful—or even to use countless other descriptive phrases—do not do it justice.  To explain that we were, and will forever be, changed by our work with Sharon just begins to scratch the surface.  On Day 1, and in a text message with her ex-husband, one of our members immediately practiced some of the learning and was astounded with the results.  On Day 2, other stories emerged that followed a similar pattern.

This work impacts all aspects of a person's life, personally and professionally.  Learning from Sharon can only enhance one's relationships.  There is no downside, other than being unable to have her live amongst us and continue to help us practice and grow.  I wish everyone could experience Sharon and her gift even once in their own lives—we would have far less conflict, and so much more energy to devote to the positive aspects of life. 

Personally, I am a better practitioner of my craft, a better mother, a better friend, a better wife.  On behalf of my family, friends and clients, thank you for sharing your gift so willingly. 

—Donna M. Maier, President, Collaborative Law Association of the Rochester Area, NY

In our role as a neutral, we are often meeting with couples in conflict without the supportive presence of a second team member.  Being able to facilitate difficult conversations and handle unanticipated emotional expressions or outbursts can be tricky to address and remain neutral.  Sharon teaches skills that not only help us know how to respond appropriately but gives us skills needed to help us better understand the clients and build trusting professional relationships.  As the awareness of the collaborative model in family law increases, more are drawn to seek it.  With a larger pool of clients also comes an increase in difficult cases.  We need to continually improve our communication skills and practicing Sharon’s Non-Defensive Communication process is the perfect way to improve our ability as financial professionals.

—Lisa A. Schneider, CFP, Schneider Financial Advisors, AIG Financial Advisors, Inc.

I have had the good fortune to study Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication with Sharon Ellison both in a large group and small group environment. Sharon is an excellent facilitator in both forums. Sharon can both keep the group on task yet follow the important threads that lead to deep learning. At the end Sharon is able to neatly tie the threads together and I always feel I take away a new learning experience. In addition to her leadership skills Sharon provides a level of comfort and safety that helps to create a more effective learning environment. Sharon clearly presents concepts and responds to questions and/or resistance with useful exercises always in a respectful, sincere, and honest manner.

My profession involves working with divorcing couples and teams of professionals. My specific area is finances. The PNDC process has helped me to facilitate more effective meetings with the spouses and help them to communicate what is important to each of them. Finally, on a personal level, I have used PNDC with my relationships with my husband and other family members.  I have listened to the parenting tapes and quite effectively set boundaries with my son. 

—Natalie A. Leininger, CFP, CDFA

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I first encountered Sharon and her teachings in 2006 in San Diego at the IACP Forum and I can still remember the silence of the audience being pierced by little astounded gasps as the profundity of what she was talking about became evident . . . a "eureka!" or "a-ha!" moment wherein one comes to realize . . . 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."

—Chris Arnold, Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator, Past-President, Ontario Collaborative Law Federation, Adjunct Professor, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law




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