Sharing news of Scott & nudging you to live your questions…

By Nedra Chandler, about a 6-minute read

My husband Scott Graber died on the morning of December 17, when a speeding train came up to a rural crossing built at an uncommonly dangerous angle and crashed into him on the driver’s side. There were no cross-arms, lights or even a stop sign there to blast through ‘automated’ human habits of attention and non-attention.

The blunt force of the impact moved his entire heart over in his chest and threw his body, various garden squash, his thermos and about $3000 in cash went flying that his dad had handed him to pay a guy near Big Timber for some special seed corn. Scott landed in the field beside the tracks — not too far from his family’s little farm where he had spent the weekend fixing a roof and fishing the Bighorn River.

My friend Liz pointed out the irony that my last post just about a week before Scott died was about ‘life bombs’ showing up in the lives of our close friends. It was the first week of December and I wrote about a conversation I had with Scott on the way home from Thanksgiving. We talked together about how life is wonderful even though the truth is, as Scott said, “we’re all a bunch of critters” on this earth, where surprise is constant, where we are never running the show as much as we like to imagine. Let’s deal with what’s real.

I went down to my basement…

This thing, this fact that Scott is not alive in this world, sent me to my basement, literally to look for things; and emotionally, to check on my foundations. I am just now barely accepting that Scott is not here loving me, being my mate, co-parenting our kids, and serving as chief engineer of tools, things with motors or computers, and so much else.

Anyway, what I found down there was both solid and compromised. Our home was built in 1890 and the foundation is 18 inches thick — a sturdy survivor of two big earthquakes. I also went down to that wintry basement looking for my values and my sovereign Nedra self. Yeah, I re-found (is that a verb?) my core strengths. I re-noticed all the ways I lose my composure and focus and regain it again through my well-established habits of stilling my mind (my new turn of phrase for ‘meditation, thanks to Neurozone), moving my body, getting sleep and decent nutrition that I use every day. And, as my treasured professional coach, Rebecca Johns told me, “Nedra it seems the more grounded you are, the more expansive you are.” Wise words.

Enter a handy little liberating structure here: what are the facts? So what does it mean? Now what?

Here is that familiar cadence of always being somewhere on the constant move between the polar opposites of dread and joy, fear and courage, life and death, or at least deaths of things like innocence, marriages, jobs, and other deaths that may occur before each of our individual last breath in the body.

Scott’s life spoke

When I walked into the hospital room in Billings some hours after the accident and saw his body, I had this simple yet profoundly-felt awareness: Scott’s life spoke.”

Those words came directly into my thoughts. It was like his 50 years of life were concentrated into that one truth I was witnessing, and that knowing seemed to fill up the space with love and loss at the same time.

And then, “my life is speaking too — here I am still alive in this body, on this planet.”

Life is speaking on the days I feel crushing loss and on days I am completely thrilled to be alive. I remember how Scott laughed at Homer Simpson, looking at one of those ‘inspirational’ posters that says Live Each Day Like It’s Your Last. Taking the news to heart, Homer panics and runs off crying, “I’m too young to die!!!”

Today I know this: our lives speak whether we are paying attention to that or not.

Live the questions now

“Live the questions now” is an often-quoted line from poet Ranier Maria Rilke.

You are no doubt already ‘living your questions’ in your own way. I want to tell you how specifically grateful I am for one of the questions I answered nearly every night of the week in 2018: did I love Scott up and love him up specifically and on purpose today?” That question turned out to be pure gold for me, for Scott, for us. I put the other 10 daily questions I asked at the bottom of this post. Now, more Rilke:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…” 

Like you, like me, Scott had energy that ‘spoke’ every time he showed up. He composed his life through his presence and choices he made — investing his love, time, energy and money in particular ways.

Live the questions now. The quality of the questions we ask ourselves and ask each other have everything to do with the quality of our conversations, our work, parenting, governing – shaping our lives as individuals and our lives together with each other.

A nudge of encouragement and why

Who I am, how I live in the world, and I how I serve clients is forever affected for the better by having loved and married Scott. And now, forever changed by losing him as my mate. My blog audience is a band of current and past clients and work mates — some of whom have not yet heard from me about Scott. I am telling you about Scott’s death so that you know. So that you continue to know me, and me you.

Another business reason I want to tell you is because the only way you get the coaching results you want is when you and I are honest and trusting learning partners. I had a brave client ask me how I can be present to clients right now. It’s a reasonable question. I am in the middle of new territory and I haven’t yet adapted to my new normal, but I will.

Meanwhile, I sense and hear from a few I am doing some of my best coach partnering work right now. By working less for the near term, I am committed to keep the quality standard high. I am also expanding from working almost exclusively with government leaders and teams into the corporate world, thanks to my talented work mates and leaders at Elation.

Here is your nudge directly from my heart to yours: fulfill on your own commitments to yourself, your people, places, your sphere of influence. Seek and know the main questions you are living most days. When you can, choose what your life is saying. String one day together with the next and you compose this life.

A bit about me: I work with business and government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facili-coach in navigating change, cultivating leadership and supporting organizational health. Thank you for the gift of your valuable attention. I appreciate you and I enjoy hearing back from readers. Find me here about once a month, find my current colleagues at Elation here, and my longtime work mates at Triangle here.


Some of the questions I lived in 2018: I used an automated tracking system called Topmind — a company founded by AJ Willemsen, a fellow coach in the Marshall Goldsmith cohort of Lead60 coaches. Thanks to AJ, I used it all of last year and it was surprisingly effective (and fun) in keeping me focused on what matters most to me. Knowing that at the end of each day I would get an email asking whether I fulfilled on my own commitments worked on me as I made decisions throughout each day.

What I mean by “worked on me” is that more of my intentions got real as I composed my human critter life day to day.

The truth is, I haven’t gotten around to re-subscribing to the automated system this year but I did take Marshall Goldsmith’s excel spreadsheet that he uses and generously shares and I revised my daily questions there. Truth: I nearly immediately fell off the wagon of answering them when I didn’t get prompted by the automated email.

I offer these questions of mine remembering that not everything that matters should be measured. Still, here are the questions I wrote and that landed in my inbox each day. Some have a Likert scale (1 low, 7 high), some have narrative, some were just yes or no.

  1. “Did I do my best to take care of my own energy and health today?” (I have sublists under this one about sleep, moving, stilling my mind and self-respecting nutrition that are specific for me here.)
  2. “Did I take care of my clients whatever that needed to look like today to keep them front and center knowing my work is all about them and their success?”
  3. “Did I spend my first 90 minutes at work with singular focus on my highest-impact work for today?”
  4. “Did I connect with Scott and love him up specifically and on purpose?” (I have sublists under this one for our kids and other people in particular but the measure wasn’t daily.)
  5. “Did I reach out to at least two prospective clients this week with whom I may want to work with in the coming year knowing that creating resonance with good-fit clients must be a consistent area of focus?”
  6. “Did I take care of this week’s focus for my business systems (billing, sending needed data to my accountant, backups, continuing education, credentials etc.)”
  7. “How well did I listen today?”
  8. “How present was I?”
  9. “Was I friendly with what is?”  (a la E. Tolle)
  10. “To what extent did I find and express some joy today?”
  11. “What are 3 things I know I was grateful for today?”

Here is the link to Scott’s obituary here.

‘Life bombs’ & rhythms I’m noticing

By Nedra Chandler, 3-minute read (thanks for photo used with permission from Bob Wheeler’s recent visit to Poland.)

We spent Thanksgiving at the small family farm run by my husband’s family in Eastern Montana. They have lots of critters running around: turkeys, chickens, goats, cats and dogs. With so much life, there’s always a story about how one or the other of the critters met their end. Coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, snakes, raccoons are the critters and also eat the critters. Many of the critters end up on a table somewhere. We ate Wendy for Thanksgiving dinner.

My husband Scott and I were talking politics, culture, global warming and such when he said, “We’re all just a bunch of critters running around.” Gulp. My man is so…grounded.

I’ve shared his straightforward observation a few times in the past week in coach partner conversations. Because here we are right in the thick of our personal and shared critter reality. I hope this is useful to point out to those who read me. I find dwelling on this fact valuable in the same way I find poetry life giving.

It’s remarkable how many of the leaders and teams I am coaching with right now are facing health or other crises themselves or have family, employees, friends or neighbors who, like all of us if we wait some more months or years, we we will know serious jeopardy of some kind.

Here’s a meditation on that theme

Joy, joy, dread, dread, dread.

joy, joy, dread, dread joy.

Like that. The cadence of life. That’s my sense of my own current, approximate proportion of joy and dread and everything in between, both/and.

Not long ago I got a text message from one of us — could be any of us – saying, “I won’t be able to join you tonight at (event). We’ve had an unexpected ‘life bomb’ – a mass below (name’s) heart.” Cancer.

Lively life, suddenly breath taking. The inevitability of adversity parades through and makes itself noticed.

Another dear friend: same story, just many years younger, and trouble in slightly different locations in the body, but same narrative: life bomb.

Then a phone call with a former work partner: “You know Nedra, my life has taken a big turn. I have brain cancer. I am in the sit-and-wait-mode after surgery and chemotherapy. I have a lot fatigue. That’s the worst of it right now. I really can’t work and I wish I could. I miss it you know.”

Another phone call with a client from years back, letting me know he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. I heard a surreal quality in his voice, strained across distance, saying with gallows humor, “yeah, you probably won’t see me alive again in this meat suit.”

There, in an instant: oh! Well hello death. Aren’t you the biggest bummer?

These moments exist right alongside the exhilaration of babies, wonderful relationships, music, great projects, mountains, poems, art, snow, bicycles, puppies and kittens.

Today, I really mean today, death stopped by my friend’s home with just a brief wave and said, “hi, I’m coming for you sometime, and coming for every single human, every living thing. Oh, and while I’m at it, I will also come for your sun.”

“Wait, what?! Our sun?!”

“Yeah, it’s just a star. It happens to be the one that warms the earth you depend on. Eventually, inevitably, I’m coming for it too.”

Father Uncle Cousin Kid!

That is a sneaky way to swear. Thank you Sally Crabtree, my brother-in-law’s mom who learned it as a young girl just after World War II.

I can still see the look of mild confusion on Bob’s face at last year’s company retreat just after he brought up the subject of our personal “bucket lists” and I threw a metaphorical bucket of cold water on the whole concept of having one at all. A bucket list, that is.

I was the bummer in the group. Instead of inspired to future trip I more often get the creeps and resist. Sort of, “I don’t want a bucket list! How about we be here right now?” For some unknown reason I blurted out into the fun others were having, “we’re all going to die you know. Death will come for all of us.” Nervous laugh, oops.

There was no thanks from Bob for my penetrating glimpse into the obvious. And, if you’re still reading here, maybe you aren’t thanking me either. That’s okay. I’m hellbent on expressing it anyway.

See? It’s freeing to just notice the rhythm of life’s dance back and forth from one side of this bridge in Krakow to the other. Between all kinds of polar opposite states of being, feelings, situations arising from inside and outside ourselves. We walk that bridge, run it, dance it, sleep on it. Sometimes moving faster, sometimes slower. Back and forth between dread and joy, fear and courage, life and death, or deaths of innocence, marriages, and other smaller deaths before each of our individual last breath in the body.

I can’t explain why I dwell here sometimes. It’s both disturbing AND so freeing. As a critter on this bridge I feel awake, a little extra awe.

joy, joy, dread, dread joy. Dread, dread, joy, joy, joy. A rhythm I can appreciate. An insight I can use: stop forgetting we’re all just a bunch of critters too. A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Sometimes I just post what I’m musing about. Thank you for the gift of your valuable attention. I appreciate you and I enjoy hearing back from readers. Find me here once a month, more of my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and my colleagues at Elation. If you see something of value here for you or someone you know, please pass it along. Thank you.

Stand in the river that flows through you

Scott on the Mighty Mo (Missouri) River near Craig, Montana, August 2018

By Nedra Chandler

Hi friends,
What I have for you this month is a link to a blog post that has been requested of me several times since I first wrote it some years ago. I was happy to have the University of Utah College of Law post it yesterday.

In my world, this ‘triangle of satisfaction’ is some of the best applied theory out there for group dynamics in any setting. For example when humans are either deciding to seek agreement or not, or actively collaborating, or not– especially in the realm of public decisions.

It might be relevant to apply to your individual self too. What constitutes a good day in your life right now? What are your main substantive, procedural and emotional needs in the life you are composing? Are some of your needs below the surface?

When they are underneath, do you maybe forget to notice or feel them sometimes? Welcome to the big club of humanity. Yet neuroscience (and poetry) tell us that access to our feelings is a big part of what makes us innovative, emotionally intelligent and resilient in these times. All times.

Here is encouragement to each of you paraphrased from Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s something I repeat to myself often: stand in the river of power & love that flows through you. Translation: remember, re-member for just one example, your body is more than a handy vehicle to take your head to meetings or your other work. Use all your resources. Feel your feelings and use them along with your brain power to swim in the complexity all around us. It seems we might all be better off that way, over the long term, for our generations and the ones coming next.

More wisdom from rivers from Norman Maclean:
All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me   at and more of my long-time work mates at

Apply the Power of Vulnerability to Have a Better Day Today

by Nedra Chandler

About Letting Your Guard Down More Often, On Purpose…

If you’re walking through life with your armor on all the time, trying not to show you’re vulnerable, you’re missing a lot.  You’ll show up less skillfully and make fewer contributions to the good of the whole than you are capable of. Period.

I know for example when I am overextended (tired, hungry, haven’t slept well), I might get overly interested in being ‘right’ about things; I might try to save face rather than risk connecting with someone; or I might just shut down and hide out – too spent to listen or be heard, or both.

We the people seem especially triggered these days as our politics, health care, education, land management and other systems we rely on become more polarized. “Triggered” in this context means “to cause a strong emotional reaction of fear, shock, anger, or worry in some individual or group.” For example, I take this position, you take that position and those positions are polar opposites with a lot of blame assumed on each side.

Dr. Brene Brown has become famous, in part, for researching shame and vulnerability. She says that:

“vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.” 

Wow, what an invitation to take off one’s armor!

Brown looked for things she could predict about what causes people to live with a deep sense of worthiness – worthy of love and belonging. After 6 years of research and a ton of data, it turned out the courage to be imperfect, to “let go of who you think you should be in order to connect” is necessary. Willingness to be vulnerable helps move us out of a reactive mode and into a more resourceful way of being and belonging. Brown is a great storyteller by the way, and in one of her Ted Talks with over 8 million views, she tells the story of how her research led to a personal breakdown. She said she “hated vulnerability” and had to deal personally with her own findings.

See Rachel Caldwell’s Guest Blog at

What got me back to this topic is that my friend Rachel Caldwell, a former Triangle Associate, wrote a compelling blogpost yesterday on the power of vulnerability in conflict resolution.

I recommend it. Besides pointing to Brown’s research, Rachel includes a personal story herself that provides great backup for an approach I use with the government leaders and teams I coach too. Trust–remember that a big part of trust between people is rooted in vulnerability–is the most important foundation for leading yourself and leading teams.

Government is Like a Marriage…Best to Take A Learner’s Stance

In sickness and in health. ‘Til death do us part.

Democracy in this country, and all over the globe, is an ongoing experiment. It’s alive, shifting and changing with the influence and participation of each individual and the whole. The experience of self-governance is always evolving, slow-going, messy, uncertain. Because I’m a government geek, I continue to work on ways to express and put to use what we now know about the power of trust—in service to the living systems we use to govern ourselves.

DIY (Do it Yourself) Coaching

Here is a classic model you can apply to your own self and to the communities you work in. It comes from the coaching profession, the simple arc of:

  1. awareness
  2. choice
  3. action

Awareness, choice, action. Awareness, choice, action. See? It’s a repeating loop. How do you personally move through that loop hour to hour, day to day?

This is intensely dynamic process requiring commitment to keep practicing as we change, and conditions change.

To repeat:

  • we possess the ability to tap our awareness of our own state and that of others moment to moment in any hour, any day;
  • we discover what we can be and do, and then make choices;
  • we practice doing those things, being those things.

Then we go around the circle again…awareness, choices, practice; awareness….we do this alone. We do this together.

The thing is, being aware of our own state includes being aware of our current ability to trust and be vulnerable, which, as Brown says, is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. We can follow that awareness with choice and action that build those things.  It’s all within our own power to manifest these attributes, through awareness, choice and action.

Risk and uncertainty is ever present and will never go away. Trust is about being vulnerable and not knowing where it’s all going and still acting in service to what matters to us.

Trust in self, trust in others, and trust in flexible-yet-principled institutions of democratic governance and decision making have the same positive results.  So the message from Brene Brown, my friend Rachel Caldwell, and me today is to take off your armor and find the courage to be vulnerable. More love, belonging, joy and creativity await those who dare.

A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach and third-party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me   at and more of my long-time work mates at

Some of my past posts on trust and trust in government were to point out it’s possible to operationalize and practice trust. Commitment trust, for one example, is especially practical in personal and workplace settings. See my friend Faith Ralston’s work on that topic here. Also a post I wrote a few years ago about trust in government using the Malheur situation as grist for the mill.

Permission to Learn

By Nedra Chandler, 1 minute read

Giving yourself permission to keep learning isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity for everyone providing leadership and being of service in American government right now. I just returned from several weeks of work across the country mostly with U.S. EPA and Department of Interior leaders and their teams who told me taking a learner’s stance is a big unmet need in government now.

Instead, many agency leaders are finding themselves in “clamp down and over-control” mode and “pile on and pedal harder” mode.

Overcontrolling can take lots of forms but micro-managing people is a big clue, as is the presence of complaints and workplace conflict gone wild. People get isolated. They get any combination of “cold, wet, tired and hungry.” They get chronically overextended. Burnt out.

Pile on and pedal harder often looks like a growing portfolio of priorities with no focus on letting go of what has become irrelevant or unsustainable or both.

In response to so many challenges, many of the government leaders and teams we work with are actively giving themselves permission to learn. They don’t expect to have all the answers every hour, every day. They remain open, inquiring, listening, learning, taking action based on clear purpose.

This is no small thing.

In my December 12 post I’ll lay out some things I’ve noticed about what ‘taking a learner’s stance’ looks like, sounds like, as reported by leaders and teams we work with now.

A bit about me: I work with government clients as partners in professional and team development, navigating conflict and learning opportunities of all kinds. For the past several years I’ve been writing on this theme of how our collective trust in government is linked to trust in ourselves. In the coming few months in I am exploring practical moves we can make to give ourselves and each other permission to keep learning. I focus on the government space because that’s where we do most of our work. Find me and my long-time work mates at and/or sign up to receive my monthly posts into your inbox by giving me your email at Cadence.


Road Rant: Creating Conditions for Learning at Work

By Nedra Chandler, 4 minute audio

I recorded this emphatic, defensive-about-being-defensive voice memo while driving, which I titled “Bring your flawed self to work and let’s practice being humans.”  

Scott estimates not one reader will give it a listen. It’s fun to take a risk and post it, so there.

I got dramatic, sort of like when I was 4.

My mom was a Dionne Warwick fan and I grew up listening to the 1966 hit What the World Needs Now  I hear I listened to it nonstop for some months. The story goes that when I was 3 I learned to turn on the stereo, put the vinyl on the turntable and sing it top-of-lungs style out our open window. I hoped our neighbors, the Whites, would hear my warbly voice and clap for me. My siblings will verify this was my routine for quite a while.

Love IS what we need right now. People learn best and rise to meet challenges most effectively when they feel safe and can hear each other and learn with one another. We’re a bunch of humans. I get it we’re not going to heal every rift or achieve perfection. There is only practice.

The best we can hope for is we’ll stay with it. We can create conditions for self awareness, building rapport with one another, and creating systems that allow us to keep making small-yet-meaningful moves toward greater purposes, and skills and resourcefulness that exceed what we’re showing each other now.

While we continue to evolve as a species, let’s learn some better conversational skills on purpose. Let’s accept and allow one other to bring our whole selves to work.

I’d appreciate hearing how this plea lands with you. Do you buy it that there are so many settings right now where we need to make it safer to show up as us? Safer to both receive and give feedback, to clarify things together, to disagree, to be learners together, to carry out purpose-driven work, especially in government right now? How does this affect you?

Today, in the wake of so much suffering the world, I want you to consider that the need for love and patience with each other has obviously become as indispensable as regular haircuts. More important than guns. Very needed. Pro or amateur (for the love of it): get in there and show some more love.

End of road memo — give a listen and I’ll appreciate it if you’d leave a comment.

A bit about me: My favorite work right now is about human and organizational health. Today that’s about serving public sector clients and their partners as third party facilitator and professional coach. I am a committed process maven and applied social geographer. People call us most when they have conflict to navigate and public decisions to carry out. 

Resource Note on Diversity and Inclusion


prairie smoke 2016

Resource Note By Nedra Chandler, Cadence & Triangle

“The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.” — Joanna Macy

Thanks to a connection through a dear coach client and development partner of mine just now, I went to see more about Angela Park while looking for equity and diversity training and whoa!

First of all, I trust through Susan’s experience that Angela is amazing, and then, in addition, I see she is a Donella Meadows fellow. Yay.

Donella Meadows Fellows Network

Angela Park

Donella Meadows is a hero writer in my world (see her paper Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System). Great to know of this fellows group in her honor.

Also so sweet to see this videoclip of Meadows fellows out making art in nature. Relaxing and encouraging to view even for a few minutes. Enjoy.

Three Facilitation Moves You Can Play With From Acting Class

By Nedra Chandler, approximately 4 minute read

I am sitting in a closet with black velvet curtains drawn. It has a small light, chair and tiny desk, yet it is unapologetically a closet.

The high school teaching crew wanted me out of the way but within earshot because I am their required adult presence for a theater workshop for kids ages 5-12.

It was fun to be a fly on the wall and observe. It was a welcome opportunity to go looking for elements from theater camp and improv that you and I can take right into daily personal and professional life.

I noticed 3 effective methods during my morning shift from 9 to noon:

1)          whole body introductions with active listening;

2)          inviting centered breathing as a way to assist focus; and

3)          using improvisation “yes/and” skills to have more connected conversations.

Whole Body Introductions

First, the group got in a standing circle, facing each other. The moods and energy in the circle lifted as the volume came up on the background music — the 1982 hit by Survivor, Eye of the Tiger.

One workshop leader demonstrated how they would learn each other’s names and connect with each other right away. There was no over-explaining.

Each person said or sang their name with ‘an action’ they chose to share. Picture, for example, one exuberant face with jump as one child said her name. Then, picture another child showing a non-committal shoulder shrug and a big smile as he said his name. You get the picture.

More active listening and expression unfolded in a few more rounds with specific, yet easy-to-follow instructions for each round.

To me, the group looked like they had heard, seen and connected with each other as a result of these introductions.


A bit later, I noticed a group just outside my curtain in a centering practice. Some articulate 17-year old told her small group, “acting requires focus, so let’s slow ourselves down now and focus in on our breath….”

Wait, what? These kids know about using their own breathing as a path to centering and finding focus? Yes, they do.

My daughter, who was one of the high school student teachers, stopped into my closet space to check on me.

I told her excitedly, “They sound like they are having so much fun! Hey did you design that small group centering thing about focusing in on your breath as a way to get grounded?”

I’ve coached her in this so I had the audacity to imagine I was her original source on the power of the breathing pause and making your breath the boss, right? Wrong.

“No I did not design the field of acting,” she said, “Breathing techniques are not new, mom. It’s acting.” Then, she acknowledged, “Kids are such great learners. They know how to engage.”

My observation of what happened when the leader invited the kids to focus on their breathing was that they seemed to be almost immediately more relaxed and present with one another. Fascinating neurobiology in action. They settled down their nervous systems together.

Short-Form Improv Games to Practice Committed Conversations

Then a Grandstreet theater teacher walked through the workshop space to check on how things were going and he stopped at the closet talk with me.

I found out among his many talents, Dee teaches improvisation. I asked him about possible connections with theater and my work as a group facilitator. It turns out there is a whole world of cross-pollination. For one example, there is theater for social change. For other examples it could fit well in meetings to help people build currency and rapport with one another, spur innovation, or just have a good laugh together.

I asked Dee if he might be available to come lead an hour of improv practice with groups I work with who are practicing active listening with one another on their paths toward better organizational health or lively intergovernmental work that can be carried out successfully. What might that look like, I asked him.

Dee described an example exercise where a participant receives just one line, a clue about who her scene partner is and what that person is experiencing or doing. Then then it’s improvisation go time.

He said it requires you practice the give and take of dialog and of saying “yes” to whatever comes up, always yes. One of my gurus Eckhart Tolle might call that “getting friendly with what is.”

Dee pointed out you don’t have to say yes to all ideas but you do find ways to engage and say various versions of “yes/and” and relate honestly with that person – essentially generating the next moves.

For example, as you practice you learn non-judgmental listening with empathy for the good of the whole. As in, you don’t block someone to make your own point or ‘be right.’ You find a way to say “yes” to create or allow something to emerge in the conversation that wouldn’t have otherwise happened had you shut a person down with no. This is not about being a pushover or not having principles by the way, it’s about accepting what is at the moment.

It was fun to notice elements from this theater camp that I knew, felt and sensed before so many years of conditioning took hold in my adulthood. Thinking, feeling, sensing are three different intelligences. We can increase our own literacy with these and bring some lessons from theater camp and improv right into daily personal and professional life.

Introductions: Do we know how to say hello to others and notice how we are personally feeling while we check on how others are feeling?

Centering: Do we know how to pause, find composure and breathe?

Improv: Do we trust ourselves and each other to participate and look for, as Alan Seale says, “what wants to happen”? Are we willing to be silly with each other now and then?

Consider trying some of your own professional variations on these facilitation practices when you sense they may fit the needs of the group:

  1. Whole body introductions with active listening;
  2. Inviting centered breathing as a way to assist focus;
  3. Using improvisation “yes/and” skills to have more connected conversations.
  4. See if there’s something worth learning from acting school and taking it into your own work world. There was for me.

A bit about me: I work primarily with government clients and their partners as a professional coach or third party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me and more of my long-time work mates at

Look At What Connects Us

by Nedra Chandler (approx 5 min read)

Photo shows a current example of trusting work relationships between tribal, federal and city government leaders at Fort Peck. This core group decided to collaborate — without over-reaching or burning out — on some redevelopment of Poplar properties. The practical choices they are making as they trust, show respect and engage with one another is making a difference.

I feel like I’m part of an anxious herd of humans right now. How are you all doing?

One thing I’m feeling in myself and sensing in others must be related to how topsy turvy our public life has been in this country since the November election.

No matter how you voted I’ll bet you share the sense that we’re collectively experiencing quite a bit of mutual mistrust in our government. Except for the few who seem to not want government to work at all, if you’re reading here you know government is us. Still, this current scene has an emergency feel, urgent, with extra drama. I’m aware that it’s a choice to view it that way, or some other way.

I write and work within this theme: trust in self and trust in government share the same root. Trust in self; trust in others; and trust in the flexible-yet- principled institutions of democratic governance are all the same element at root.

This past election brought us a significant change in the leadership in the White House and in Congress and in many states, yet it is the continuation of a long trend.

It reminds me of wise observations I heard Kettering Foundation president David Mathews deliver in a speech a few years ago:

It is no secret that the American people have been unhappy with our political system for some time, and they doubt that the system can reform itself. The public’s loss of confidence in government as well as other major institutions is well documented and widely reported. Worse still, the distrust is mutual. Under these conditions, polarization flourishes.

Here’s a little story about this week. I live in Helena where many thousands of people are coming over this Saturday, January 21, inauguration day, getting together at the Capitol. I understand the event will begin with holding hands in a circle around the entire building and grounds.

“We hope to bring people together after such a divisive election,” says one of the event organizers, “the hope is that all will agree that everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect despite their gender, gender expression, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, economic status, immigration status, age, or disability.”

What a great reason to meet: to bring people together, to focus on what connects us. That’s the part I look forward to most: the circle, seeing and showing respect for one another.

I’ll be with a larger than usual crew of family and friends because January 21 is also my birthday and my home is just a 5-block walk from the Capitol building.

I’ll need to confront and manage my excitement to get together right alongside my fear around showing up at the Capitol on Saturday at all.

In the interest of talking myself out of my own tree, here are some things that help me steady myself day-to-day in my life and work, and for Saturday:

  1. One key that underlies conflict prevention is for us each to know ourselves and manage ourselves. We can rest on that and carefully choose actions that in line with our own integrity. Practice pausing and take at least one long breath before responding to drama.
  2. Remember we are resourceful and we get to choose our responses. Things go better for everyone when we each know our values, beliefs and behavior strengths and are not afraid to use them.
  3. We are all better off too when we pay attention to the strengths and capacities of others, together. In this way we develop ourselves at the exact same time we are contributing to the development of others. That’s a swell deal.
  4. This managing of ourselves, trusting and respecting ourselves and others in our still-precious yet messy democratic system is all a dynamic process, It requires commitment to keep practicing all that as we change, and conditions change.

How much am I projecting my unique fears on others? Here’s a unique fear I have: as one side effect of the unusual way I make my living for the past 25+ years, I don’t have experience as an attender of marches. Almost zero. I wonder how best to manage myself, how best to remain present and not be a killjoy.

For another source of personal angst, I also fear judgement will rain down on me whether I go or don’t go. I’m worried I will judge and be judged at the march somehow. Maybe for not being correct enough or for not knowing exactly how to be there. And I can be the worst judger who judges judgers for being judgmental you’ve ever met!

When I hear me, my friends, family or acquaintances be overly-focused on judging everything that’s wrong,wrong, wrong with everything and how our species and this beautiful planet is doomed it pushes all my survival buttons. Especially if I am not well-rested when I hear it. Those darned judgers! I judge em harshly! Because I believe, like the Poplar crowd said, we’re all one anyway.

Fortunately for everyone who lives or works with me, I get professional coaching to help me manage me when I get in the grip of (righteously) judging this or that righteous judger here or there or everywhere. Still makes me crazy. But I recover faster now. And p.s. to my clients who read me, please don’t hold this confession against me. When I am under contract to be calm and fair I do that well, remember?

On Saturday, no one is paying me to be there. So if I perceive one-too-many ugly signs or expressions of outraged righteousness on the left or right, it’s possible my geeky “I love government of, for and by the people” heart will get all jumpy and resistant and judgmental and I’ll need to excuse myself and walk home early.

Back to democracy and these themes of how trust in self and trust in government are essentially the same. That trust in self and others and trust in the flexible-yet-principled institutions of democratic governance share the same root.

The fact that our system has fallible humans and special interests in it is a big part of why Thomas Jefferson and government system designers since his time know and acknowledge: democracy is an ongoing experiment. As we are alive, it’s alive, shifting and changing with the influence and participation of each individual and the whole.

One reason I’m a process geek is this: good process results in good outcomes. Unfair, unethical process results in predictably crappy outcomes. I saw that at my first real job after college working on campaign finance and model ethics legislation, I saw it even more in conflict management work, and I see it today.

When I hear President-Elect Trump is “not my president” and similar expressions, I want to ask, is there some other government waiting in the wings to step in for us this month? Seems to me only the super duper scary kind could be ready that fast — the type where people might need to be on the watch or the run from paramilitary forces acting as government, police and military all-in-one.

On more promising trains of thought, here’s the link to the remarkable 46-minute Martin Luther King speech from 1968 called Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution my friend sent us on Monday. My favorite part is where King said:

“We are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution.”

“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Everything King said at the front end of that speech in 1968 perfectly underscored this modern, right-now imperative: reverse the decline of trust by fostering it in ourselves, our communities and government.

Even in the middle of what seems to be more of a polarizing trend we can look at it and find what connects us.

Thanks for reading. This got long. And I’m calmer for having expressed my current perspective. And my perspective may change, but the belief and value underneath, about how trust in self and others is the same darned thing, this is a big thing to me.

Please consider subscribing to my monthly posts and I’ll be glad to see you send me a note, a challenge or question, any comment or share.

A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach or third party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me at and more of my long-time work mates at

Some of my past posts on trust and trust in government: trust is possible to operationalize and practice. Commitment trust, for one example, is especially practical in personal and workplace settings. See my friend Faith Ralston’s work on that topic here. also more on trust in government.


Find Stillness. Bust a Move. Repeat.

Above Feathered Pipe Ranch, Montana

So, in an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still. Pico Iyer in his 15 minute talk, see Stillness

by Nedra Chandler (1-minute read)

This is a counter balance to the too-muchness of holiday activity. Just in case you want it. I know I do.

Just in case you’re out there busting a few too many moves in a hurry during these short December days, and just in case your lower brain is hustling you for more chocolate or more wine and less sleep, just be still. Even if it’s just for one full breath. Then, okay, choose.

Stillness takes no special training. For my own cadence, finally, after about 20 years of fits and starts, I’ve grown consistent and devoted to some minutes of stillness in meditation almost every day.

I’m also devoted to wine and chocolate, but that’s a different post and I’ll be happy to write that one too.

I remember the relief I felt when I found out even Zen masters agree there’s such a thing as ‘moving meditation’ too. Whew! Right on. Antsy people can meditate too.

I heard from a credible source that Zen master Thich Naht Hanh likes to guide walking meditations with the following reminder, “Walk like you’re free people!” In my own imagination, the next line he would say to encourage me is, “yeah, we’re not zombies — we are free people, now sit there.”

When I want a guide, sometimes I use the 10-minute Headspace app, or other digital options out there. And at yoga or other retreats, I’m always glad to practice being still with others. Being still in a group or community is a powerful experience in itself.

Why take the time? Here’s one key thing: I’ve always sensed those moments spent in stillness directly support me in making better moves, better decisions in every area of my life. I’m a more resourceful mediator and coach, a more grounded parent, a more generous friend when I devote that time to being still on purpose.

And now there’s growing evidence in the field of neuroscience to validate that felt sense. So yay! Now centuries-old wisdom meets the Yale Lab and a ton of other researchers figuring this out using science: meditation and stillness is part of what keeps you in your prefrontal cortex more often.

Super cool fact: your body knows how to breathe and be still. And with practice, it’s gets more and more self-reinforcing and rewarding.


A bit about me: I work mostly with government clients as partners in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me at and more of my long-time work mates at