PNDC for Women's Organizations and Leadership Trainers

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 women involved with organizations serving the needs of women and/or women's empowerment and leadership training programs.

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Training Context & Overview
Biographical Information
Partial Client List
Comments from Conference Organizers, Professional Managers, Independent Consultants, and Business Owners

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Training Context & Overview

Introduction from Landing Page: Women's empowerment is a core issue in virtually all women’s organizations, whether they focus exclusively on various aspects of women’s leadership or provide needed services for specific populations, such as those with health issues or those who have been victims of domestic violence. Because empowerment is, likewise, an issue for women in any work environment, many women's leadership programs are geared to corporate and other professional environments, as well as community settings. While great strides have been made in recent decades toward achieving greater equality, the “glass ceilings,” stereotyping, and abuse still exist in epidemic proportions. What is needed now is for women to assert their needs, rights, and leadership with a voice of wisdom that can reach the mainstream of women, men, and children.

More . . . Many women and girls, who have far more freedom of choice than their mothers and grandmothers did, believe they have equality now. Other women still feel committed to roles where they continue to accommodate and nurture spouses and children who are unappreciative at best and likely to be demanding and rude, even verbally or physically violent.

Women who seek leadership roles find that an old dichotomy is still alive and well. When they express traditional female values of compassion, women are usually not seen as having the kind of strength needed for leadership. In addition, they may be accommodating in a way that reinforces the status quo. On the other hand, adopting a more aggressive, traditionallly male type of leadership reinforces the old stereotype of the angry, aggressive woman, which is applied both to women of color and white women.

In keynotes and training programs on Powerful Non-Defensive Communication Sharon Strand Ellison provides a framework for how to bring compassion and power together in a kind of leadership that sparks respect for women and young girls, as well as for men and boys who use it. Participants will have an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of how common ways of speaking prompt defensiveness and power struggle, a pervasive problem that creates blocks for women who seek any kind of change in personal or professional relationships. Women and/or girls will have an opportunity to examine the physiology and dynamics of defensiveness. In addition, they will also receive information about the pitfalls of currently accepted communication practices such as active listening, empathetic listening and “I messages." 

With this foundation, women will then learn how to shift to a method of communicating that does not require defensiveness for self-protection or power struggle to achieve goals. This shift requires changing (a) intention, (b) voice tone, (c) body language, and (4) certain skill sets when we use our four basic forms of communication: asking questions; giving feedback; expressing thoughts, feelings, and beliefs; and making predictions, such as setting clear boundaries. The changes give participants the ability to:

  • Ask questions that are disarming — so instead of feeling manipulated or interrogated — others often instantly open up, making it possible to get to the heart of an issue quickly,

  • Give feedback using a three-step process — so instead of others feeling nagged, judged, or criticized — the likelihood that others will feel respected and want to listen increases,

  • State opinions, beliefs, and feelings with honesty, integrity, and even passion, but without any effort to convince others to agree — so instead of creating polarization and alienation — bonds of understanding can be established.

  • Make a specific form of prediction — so that instead of feeling threatened or controlled — others have the security of considering the consequences of various choices in advance. Such predictions have the power to prompt others to assume more accountability, as well as becoming more competent and reciprocal.

Using these skills, women can protect themselves far better in most situations and use their innate personal authority with greater influence — all without getting defensive or attempting to “control” others. In the process, a woman can, in a new way, combine assertiveness with compassion and become a model for others with a voice that is far more likely to be heard and heeded.

Biographical Information

Sharon Strand Ellison, an internationally recognized communication 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. With her daughter, Ami Atkinson, she produced the audiobook, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. She has been a scholar in residence at Saint John's University and was a nominee for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute. Sharon is also committed to continual learning with regard to cultural competence and brings this increasing awareness to her work. She has been providing training for women's organizations and speaking on women's empowerment and leadership for over 35 years.

Sharon's has provided kekynotes and training programs for a wide range of women's organizations, including the Women's Forum of both the American and Canadian Bar Associations.Hewlett Packard, Women in Administration; the Forum of Executive Women; and USCF Medical School, Gender Equity Center. Sharon was a keynote speaker for the Women’s Global Health Imperative, Global Health Scholar's Program, an international conference in leadership development for selected women scientists working with women’s health issues in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. She was a speaker at the international conference for the Women's Funding Network and offered a training program for the Women of Color in International Development.

Sharon has addressed the Women Leaders for the New Millenium, University of California Statewide Conference; "Images, Illusions, and Identity," University of Oregon, Statewide Conference; and Voices of Creation: The Art of Women's Leadership, Stanford University Gender Equity Conference. She has been a keynote speaker for the last four consecutive years at the Diversity Pipeline, a California statewide leadership conference for women of color in health sciences, as well as a speaker for the Women of Color Action Network (WCAN), annual San Francisco Bay Area Conference, a professional development and networking organization dedicated to the advancement of women of color in the corporate sector.

Sharon has also provided training and executive coaching for women in management at Hewlett Packard and Wells Fargo, as well as working with women-owned businesses, such as Gallagher and Associates, tax consultants; Cassis and Leaf and Pedal, women’s boutique clothing stores; and Aegis Capital Management, investment company.

In the area of women’s leadership, Sharon has been extensively involved in development projects.  For example, in conjunction with a selected team of Native American women leaders from Indian Health Services Dental Programs (HIS), she developed a nationwide training program for Native American dental assistants who are often supervised by white dentists. Training included issues of differences in culture and power differentials. She has a commitment to continual learning in the area of cultural competence and brings this increasing awareness to all of her work.

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’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; Dress for Success, OR & WA; The Association for Early Childhood Education, National Conference; and CCG Systems, VA.

Both Sharon and Ami are deeply commited to the Empowerment of women.

Partial Client List

  • Wake Forest University, Women Faculty and Administrators
  • Babcock School of Business, Women Faculty and Administrators
  • Mckenzie-Willamette Hospital, Women’s Resource Center
  • American Association of Women in Community College
  • the American Association of University Women
  • the University of Oregon, Sexual Harassment Network
  • Lane Community College, Women in Transition
  • Rape Crisis Centers in Oregon & Minnesota
  • Shelters for Domestic Violence Victims in Oregon & Minnesota
  • San Francisco Jail: Empowerment Project for Women Prisoners
  • University of California, San Francisco, Medical School, Gender Equity Center

See More Complete Client List

Comments from Conference Organizers, Professional Managers, Independent Consultants, and Business Owners

Your presentation was wonderful!  It touched a nerve for everyone.  Your presentation was well received by the more knowledgeable group members, and by those who usually criticize and challenge speakers.  It was one of the best presentations in the five years the Forum of Executive Women has been in existence.

Jeanie Wilkens, Forum of Executive Women, St. Cloud, MN

As Executive Director of the UCSF Center for Gender Equity, I invited Sharon to speak at a leadership conference for women of color students in the health sciences which was also attended by some of the university medical school deans. The conference was designed to increase the pool of women in career
academic paths in the UC Health Science system with a particular emphasis on women from underrepresented backgrounds. As always, Sharon’s presentation was engaging, participatory and highly valuable. She was able to communicate effectively across lines of culture and received the highest ratings from the attendees. Comments included:

“I believe everyone would benefit from hearing Sharon’s message and practicing her techniques."  “As a woman of color, I thought this was outstanding. She brought me to tears!” "Amazing information! Very powerful. The best and most practical workshop of the conference.” “I think this was the best talk I have been to in my entire medical career.”

 Amy Levine, Director, Gender Equity Center, University of California Medical School, San Francisco, CA

Sharon Ellison's workshops took the campus and community by storm. I can easily say that in my five years here no speaker we have had, even others with international reputations, has galvanized our community as effectively as she did. My colleagues in the Association of Faculty and Administrators were excited by the presentations. One faculty member told me that learning these skills has revolutionized her interactions with her rather authoritarian department head.

Members of the Women's Network, an organization for secretaries and support staff, appreciated her suggestions for empowerment in their dealings with supervisors. Women faculty and administrators at the Babcock School of Business and Management were so impressed with Sharon's knowledge that they have asked their dean to invite her back to conduct a workshop for administrators, faculty and students. A year after her visit, we are still actively discussing and practicing these non-defensive communication skills. I find Sharon Ellison's professional expertise and personal insight to be quite remarkable. She is truly a woman of courage and vision.

Dr. Mary De Shazer, Coordinator of Women's Studies, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

Sharon Ellison has consistently presented high-impact communication workshops through the Women's Resource Center at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital. Sharon is genuine in living her model of communication, and she has helped to positively transform the way I work with others.  She is a role model as well as an excellent trainer. 

Even with a large group, Sharon conveys intimacy and concern for each participant. Sharon's modeling with audience members makes it clear that these skills can be invaluable.  I am particularly impressed with Sharon's grace and tact when answering challenging questions from her audience. Sharon Ellison’s clarity and command of her material comes through as she engages the group.

She captivates her audience with her honesty and fresh perspective on relationships.  Participants' responses to her practical and easily understood model of communication have been very positive; many have conveyed to me their increased confidence in communicating about difficult issues or to difficult people.

Gail Winterman, Director, Women's Resource Center, Mckenzie-Willamette Hospital,  Springfield, OR

"Women on the Move" is a yearly conference for approximately 600 professional and career women to improve their knowledge, skills, and networking ability. Sharon Ellison was a presenter in 1994 and 1995 and was a great success.  She spoke to approximately 200 women at each of her two presentations.  Many written comments indicated that Sharon is an excellent speaker, respectful, succinct, and demonstrated communication tools that were practical and immediately useful in the business world.  Almost without exception, her sessions received the highest ratings possible, both for interest and effectiveness.  We heard repeatedly that Sharon's workshop was outstanding. 

Elaine Barrar and Sue Douglas, Women on the Move, Conference Coordinators

For many years I have coached other managers and colleagues at both Chevron and Kaiser. My coaching has focused on issues such as dealing with a difficult employee, communicating with colleagues who are peers, and building collaborative skills with teams where there are underlying conflicts that inhibit productivity. I see so much behavior in the corporate world where people feel victimized by others, avoid accountability, and pass blame. Using Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skills to ask questions that get at an issue quickly; give honest, yet respectful feedback; state opinions with clarity and power; and set effective boundaries can move employees and managers alike out of the victim-blame cycle. As I use these skills, I find that I can clarify my own position much more easily. As I coach others, I find the skills to be logical and easy to model, discuss, teach, and apply to almost any issue at hand.

Karin Kelly Givens, National Project Manager, Kaiser Permanente, Recipient, President’s Award, Chevron, 2000

An innovative and practical process with unlimited potential. Ellison has developed a powerful method which will strengthen interpersonal relationships, increase organization effectiveness, and contribute greatly to building a more productive and harmonious society."

—Diana Chesterfield, Corporate Diversity Affairs Manager, Nordstrom

Every team I work with struggles with defensiveness — which ultimately gets in the way of becoming a truly high performing team. Sharon's tools help both individuals and teams to break out of defensive patterns and to learn more authentic and productive ways of communicating. In my ten years of studying communication systems, Sharon's is the most powerful and potentially transformative work I've come across.

—Jane Grossman, M.A., Team Effectiveness Consultant

The PNDC process I learned from Sharon enabled me to engage in and maintain a constructive dialog during an especially difficult period at work. Employing PNDC enabled me to keep the points of discussion moving forward in a neutral, non-threatening and effective way. I was able to achieve a positive outcome to a situation that I think otherwise would have devolved into typical power politics with the core conflict left unresolved. I credit PNDC for enabling me to keep my work and career on the trajectory I wanted. In my opinion, learning PDNC is an invaluable skill set for any professional working in the financial services industry.

—Kari Hovland, Senior Vice President, Wells Fargo Bank

With the external pressure of meeting deadlines in our financial planning and tax-consulting firm, we sometimes find it hard to remember we are on the same team. Sharon's workshops have helped us function as a unified team and given us techniques for relieving our clients' stress as well. We have offered our staff workshops with other consultants, and I can say that the unique benefit of Sharon's is that she gives direct, practical techniques that can be used immediately.

—Nancy Gallagher, founder of Gallagher and Associates

As a teacher and a coach, I have found that my work with Powerful Non-Defensive Communication has been invaluable. Sharon both teaches and models PNDC in a way that I find challenging and exciting. Her ability to go to the heart of any issue that comes up inspires me. I have learned much from her about how to hone my own perceptions and give effective feedback to students and clients so that they can learn to communicate in ways that are more authentic and effective.

 —Vicki Dello Joio, Qigong Master and Life-Skills Coach

PNDC has had a profound impact on how I pursue difficult conversations with my clients. Being an investment advisor, my relationship with my clients is very intimate. We, as practitioners, can see attitudes and behaviors that can be self-defeating for our clients. With PNDC I am able to have meaningful exchanges with my clients’ without defensive blocks. These interactions typically result in life-changing insights for all of us. PNDC gives me the "guts to go there" with those around me.

—Marjorie Bennett, CFA, Aegis Capital Management, Inc.

Sharon Ellison is a superb coach and teacher.  Her years of experience and professional training, combined with her keen insights and understanding of human behavior, bring tremendous depth and sophistication to her work.  I am a better coach, a better consultant, and a better human being as a result of Sharon's influence and teaching.

—Teresa Edmondson, CEO Edmondson Consulting

Taking your workshop has made a world of difference in my management skills. As the owner/manager of two women’s clothing stores, I am faced with issues regarding supervision of employees and customer issues on a daily basis. In the short time since taking the workshop I am achieving success in dealing with the people problems at work. Furthermore, my staff has noticed, is impressed, and is now coming to me for advice.  If they have a "bad" exchange they come to me to discuss how they could have handled it differently.

When staff come to me with a need around interactions with either customers or other staff, I feel I have something tangible to offer them. I feel as though I have actually become a source of wisdom at work. I see the staff feel gratitude and respect towards me and I think they feel relieved and in possession of their own self-respect.  What we all like about this process is that we don't have to make concessions.  We can be honest and yet not hurtful.

Carol Cruikshank, Owner, Cassis and Leaf and Pedal, Palo Alto, CA

Sharon Ellison conducted a retreat on how to communicate non-defensively for all staff employees. Her style in presenting powerful principles so impacted all employees that we still reference and practice them to this day. In fact, yesterday some of our software development staff discussed how much difference practicing what they learned in the workshop was having in their daily lives, both at work and at home. I personally reference and practice on something we learned from Sharon and her book almost daily in our workplace.

Sharon’s passion and obvious expertise for her subject area are so contagious that her gentle style lends even more power to her ability to help participants grasp and embrace the changes needed in order to communicate more effectively and with greater caring. We have had many powerful presenters and learning workshops that both informed and entertained, but we have never had one that taught us so well how to be more aware of what we are doing and how to change to improve. Sharon demonstrated the ways to communicate non-defensively by "catching" us in the act, as well as using the challenges we presented from real situations in our daily activities.

Finally, as referenced earlier, the impact of what we learned has not diminished but actually increased. I cannot imagine any other investment that would pay such high returns and I have certainly never known a professional who lives and demonstrates so powerfully principles that, if practiced, change the way we relate and the quality of our working and living together.

Pamela J. Nelson, CEO of CCG Systems, Norfolk, VA

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.

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Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2017 Sharon Strand Ellison

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"I can easily say that in my five years here no speaker we have had, even others with international reputations, has galvanized our community as effectively as Sharon did. I find her professional expertise and personal insight to be quite remarkable. She is truly a woman of courage and vision."

—Dr. Mary De Shazer, Coordinator of Women's Studies, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC









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