PNDC for Attorneys

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 attorneys.

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. You can also return to the landing page to access additional information about workshops, training topics, conferences, and coaching.

Training Context & Overview
Biographical Information
Partial Client List
Comments from Attorneys

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Training Context & Overview:

Introduction from Landing Page: During keynotes and training programs, attorneys will learn about the impact of using the “Rules of War” as the basis for how we talk to each other, in both professional and personal relationships. For attorneys, this is a key issue since adversarial relationships have historically been built into our legal system as a protection for the accused. At the same time, the cost of litigation has become astronomical and many cases are negotiated out of court. Traditional communication methods make facilitating conflict resolution exceedingly difficult and can be counterproductive even within the context of an adversarial system. Learning high-end communication skills for negotiation can be an invaluable tool for attorneys.

More . . . During conference presentations, as well as more intensive training programs,attorneys will gain understanding about the pitfalls of using the “war model” for communication, such as how techniques for gaining leverage by making other attorneys and/or their clients defensive can backfire. Participants in training programs will also gain understanding of the physiology and dynamics of defensiveness.

Next, participants will learn Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skills for: (a) asking questions of clients, opposing council and witnesses using a process that  can diffuse defenses so you can get at the heart of an issue quickly; (b) giving clear feedback to clients in ways that prompt them to listen to advise with less resistance than they might otherwise have; (c) stating your position with clarity and power, while avoiding unproductive power struggles, and (d) setting clear boundaries that prompt clients and/or other law professionals to take greater accountability and make more productive choices.

The skills can be used in negotiation, arbitration, litigation, mediation, and collaborative practice. Using these skills, attorneys can enhance their success in meeting their clients’ needs, while creating stronger reputations for having integrity. This, in turn adds to the contribution made by the field of law to the community.

Biographical Information:

Sharon Strand Ellison, an international consultant and pioneer in the field of eliminating defensiveness is an award winning speaker and the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words.  She was a nominee for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute. Sharon and her daughter, Ami Atkinson Combs, produced the audio book, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting, winner of a  Benjamin Franklin Award.  Sharon has provided conference keynotes and training programs for Attorneys for more than 20 years.

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. 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. 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:

  • The Marin County Bar Association
  • The Washington Bar Association
  • The Alameda County Bar Association
  • The Pasadena Bar Association
  • The United States Department of Justice
  • Napa Superior Court
  • Sacramento Superior Courts: Family, Civil, & Criminal
  • Central District of California, Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) (combined chambers and clerks office)
  • Lane County District Attorney’s Office, Eugene, OR
  • Quinnipiac Law School, CT
  • Texas Bar Association: Collaborative Family Law Conference
  • The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts
  • Center for Families, Children & the Courts
  • Judicial Council of California
  • Los Angeles County Superior Court
  • US Bankruptcy Courts
  • The International Association of Legal Administrators
  • The American Bar Association, Annual International ADR Conference, Washington, DC & Florida
  • The Federation of Law Societies of Canada, National Family Law Program, Bi-Annual National Conference for Judges and Lawyers
  • American Bar Association DR Section: Webinar on "Why Do Questions Backfire?"
  • The Centre for Dispute Resolution, 10th anniversary conference, in London, England.

See More Complete Client List

Comments from Attorneys:

The Powerful Non-Defensive Communication process has been invaluable to me in my work as an attorney and mediator. I allows me both to utilize and to model non-defensive communication methods with parties who are in the midst of conflict or are unable to communicate effectively. The formats for non-defensive questions have been particularly helpful, as they allow me to move beyond a party's position to find the true interests that lie behind it, without creating defensiveness. In turn, this helps the parties to feel that they have been thoroughly heard, creating more potential for the resolution of conflict. Sharon Ellison's book, and her technique, should be studied by attorneys and mediators everywhere.

Emily Doskow, attorney and mediator, Panelist for the U.S. District Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Panel

Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication can significantly improve how we, as lawyers, practice law. Law schools historically have not taught communication skills. Likewise, there has been little in the way of high quality continuing legal education on the subject of communication.

Only a very small percentage of cases make it to the courtroom. In my experience, most of the lawyer's time is spent in verbal interactions - with clients, opposing counsel, witnesses, etc., in person, on the phone, in settlement negotiations, depositions and interviews. This communication, regardless of the setting, tends to be adversarial and defensive, which I have found is often counterproductive to achieving an early, acceptable resolution to the client's legal matters. This causes many people to lose faith in our justice system, and foster criticism.

There is a better way of doing it, one which can assist the lawyer in representing clients better. With skill in communicating non-defensively, I believe that lawyers would be in a unique position to model appropriate conflict resolution skills to clients and others with whom we come into contact with in our work. I believe that Sharon's workshop can provide lawyers, judges, mediators, and arbitrators with a highly effective approach to communicating with power, dignity and integrity in our professional and personal lives.

Laura Parrish, attorney, Past President of the Lane County Bar Association, Eugene, OR

After seeing you in action and learning more about the non-defensive communication process you teach, I believe it is the most powerful and effective communication technique I have seen. I wonder what would have happened if you had been at Camp David [for the Middle East peace talks]. 

Maureen A. Tighe, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice

I think that your models and hypothetical examples were most helpful in understanding these new concepts for communication. You presented your material clearly and beautifully. The way you demonstrated how to better communicate before the group was masterful. Your love of the material and patience in working through conceptual glitches was much appreciated. I find the application to the field of law intriguing.

Carson Bowler, Attorney, Portland, OR

I’m absolutely stunned by the power of the non-defensive process Sharon teaches. 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

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 have experienced Sharon Ellison’s PNDC presentations both in a brief workshop at a national conference and at a full-day seminar she presented in Chicago a few months later.  Her presentations were riveting, powerful, and effective. 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.

—Sandra M. Rosenbloom, Attorney at Law, Northfield, IL

In a couple of hours, at our annual meeting at Pepperdine University Law School, Sharon Ellison presented a funny, interesting, clear sample of the kind of non-defensive communication those of us who practice family law could benefit from using ourselves and also modeling for our clients. It's a unique and valuable program.

—Fern Topas Salka, Attorney at Law, Los Angeles, CA

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 now comment on the manner in which I deal with difficult situations and difficult communications.

—Suzan Barrie Aiken, Attorney, Mediator, Mill Valley

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 negotiation. 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

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I’m absolutely stunned by the power of the non-defensive process Sharon teaches. 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 . . . is amazing.

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





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