PNDC for Alternative Dispute Resolution 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 mediators.

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 Mediators

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Training Context & Overview

Introduction from Landing Page: Mediators and other alternative dispute resolution professionals are dedicated to facilitating conflict resolution outside the realm of adversarial process, which requires sophisticated communication skills. Because the mediator must be open and direct enough to invite trust, while neutral enough to avoid “taking sides,” the balance is extremely delicate. The ability to quickly diffuse defensiveness, along with asking questions that get at the deeper issues behind surface arguments are also crucial skills. 

More . . . In keynotes and training programs mediators will gain a deeper understanding about how traditional methods of communication—built on the “rules of war” —can still impact a mediation process despite best efforts to remain neutral. The physiology and dynamics of defensiveness will be examined as related to the mediation process. In addition, participants will learn to identify pitfalls in currently accepted communication practices, such as active listening, and “I messages.” These issues are vital as modeling non-defensive skills is key to a mediator’s success. If clients pick up on even subtle covert messages, it can damage their faith in the process.              

Building on this background information, participants will learn Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skills, which alter four aspects of communication, (a) intention, (b) voice tone, (c) body language, and (d) actual formatting for questions, statements, and predictions. These changes enhance a mediator’s ability to be genuinely open and inspire trust while maintaining neutral with regard to directing the outcome of the process.

Participants will learn four skills sets. The training will focus on how to:

  1. ask questions that can, in many cases, prompt clients to instantly move out of defensive posture and respond with a willingness to simultaneously (a) show vulnerability and (b) be honest.

  2. give direct feedback about patterns that are disrupting the process of resolution, and to do so in a series of steps that increase the likelihood that clients will feel respected and want to listen.

  3. state opinions, when appropriate, in ways that enhance understanding rather than alienating one or more parties.

  4. make predictions that clarify boundaries needed for the process to be workable, and those that give clients the ability to foresee the consequences of certain choices they might make.

Beyond learning certain "techniques,” participants will walk away with skills they can use immediately to enhance their ability to facilitate genuine, heartfelt conversations. Using these skills, Mediators can enhance their ability to create the kind of transformational resolution that goes beyond compromise, with the power to foster healing.

Biographical Information

Sharon Strand Ellison, Sharon Strand Ellison, M.S., Director of the Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, is an internationally recognized communication consultant, an award-winning speaker and the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words. Her Parenting CDs, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting, won a 2006 Benjamin Franklin Award. 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 has been doing training for community mediators, attorney mediators and other ADR professionals for over 30 years. She has also made a continuing effort to deepen her understanding in the areas of diversity and cultural competence.

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

Keynotes and training programs have been provided for local, state, regional, national and international ADR organizations. They include:

  • The Association of Conflict Resolution, International Conference, Presentation
  • IACP International Conferences for Collaborative Family Law Professional, Presentations: San Diego, Toronto, (Day-Long, Pre-Conference Session) New Orleans, Minneapolis, Washington DC, San Antonio
  • The ADR Association of Northern California, Annual Conference, Keynote/Day-Long Presentation
  • The Work/Life Center mediation team at the UCSF Medical School, Annual Retreat
  • Mediation Services of Lane County, Oregon, Day-Long Training
  • Kaiser Permanente, California Annual Statewide Ombuds/Mediators Conference
  • The US Navy, International Mediation Conference, Keynote & Presentations
  • The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, Keynote
  • Maryland Bar Association, DR Section, Annual Meeting, Keynote/Day-Long
  • The Santa Clara County Dispute Resolution Program, Day-Long Workshops
  • The 11th Annual Kaplan Lecture, in honor of Judge Kaplan, (early supporter of mediation), Keynote
  • Association for Dispute Resolution of Northern California, Annual Conference Keynote/Day-Long
  • Virginia Mediation Network, Annual Meeting, Keynote/Day-Long Training
  • Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution, Annual Conference, Keynote
  • Heartland Regional Conference of Mediators, Annual Conference, 4 Keynotes
  • New Hampshire Federal and State Court Mediators
  • Maine State Court Mediators
  • The American Bar Association, DR Section, Annual International Conference, Washington DC. & Florida
  • Arkansas Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission, Annual Meeting, Keynote
  • The ADR Working Group for the Federal Government, Washington DC, Keynote
  • The Centre for Dispute Resolution, 10th Anniversary conference, London England, Keynote/Day-Long

See More Complete Client List

Comments From ADR Professionals

The seminar achieved a great deal by getting the delegates to analyze their own behavior and assess how defensive behavior can arise during the course of legal negotiations. It is an invaluable course for anyone who is involved in negotiations of any kind. It was an excellent day, with a very clear, professional and unpretentious presentation. It was also refreshing to have someone challenging something as fundamental as our rules of communication without preaching or being too idealistic. 

Katy Lawrence, Centre for Dispute Resolution, London, England

We are still basking in the afterglow of the conference. Our conference committee has never heard so many accolades. This was our most attended biennial conference since our initial conference in 1998. Sharon gave four plenaries during the two-day conference. They were highly rated by participants and we received many evaluation comments indicating strong appreciation for the personal connection she made with many of them. Sharon certainly knows her subject, exhibits ease in communicating key concepts, and has an engaging method of presentation. She made it very inviting to ask questions and make comments, which enhanced the experience for professionals getting advanced training. Sharon interspersed the topic with humorous stories that were engaging and delivered her message. We are already getting requests for an encore.

~ Kathleen Bird, Director of the Office of Dispute Resolution Services for the 7th Judicial Circuit of Missouri, Treasurer of the Missouri Association of Mediators & Chair of the 2013 Heartland Regional Conference of Mediators

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 San Francisco Hastings Law School, UC Berkeley Boalt Law School

Sharon Ellison provided a day-long keynote for the Northern California Mediation Association Annual Conference. It was one of the best-attended conferences we have ever had. People felt excited and challenged by the content and structure of her keynote, role-plays, and interactions with audience members. She received a standing ovation.

— Emily Doskow, Attorney and Mediator, Panelist for the U.S. District Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Panel

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

As a mediator and trainer of mediators, I consider Sharon Ellison's  Powerful Non-Defensive Communication to be the ultimate language of conflict management. On a practical level, fluency in PNDC provides me with a variety of useful tools for mediation: for example, how to formulate essential questions and ask them directly, without putting disputants on the defensive. In a large sense, PNDC provides a model of communication in which people with differences seek to understand one another in their full complexity, rather than engage in a simplistic power struggle. I highly recommend this training to anyone who wants to facilitate mediations that are not only successful, but actually transformative.

Mady Shumofsky, Conflict Management Consultant, award-winning Mediator, member of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution

Once again you have made a significant impact on the lives of people in our community with your "Powerful Non-Defensive Communication" workshop. As you are aware, the two sessions you held were well attended by folks who responded and participated with gusto, reporting immediate, successful application of your principles.

Michael Connelly, Director, Community Mediation Services, Eugene, OR

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, learning how to relearn 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 and 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 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

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"Sharon Ellison provided a day-long keynote for the Northern California Mediation Association Annual Conference. It was one of the best-attended conferences we have ever had. People felt excited and challenged by the content and structure of her keynote, role-plays, and interactions with audience members. She received a standing ovation."

— Emily Doskow, Attorney and Mediator, Panelist for the U.S. District Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Panel




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