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Sharon Strand Ellison (Screengrab via YouTube) Sharon Strand Ellison (Screengrab via YouTube)  

$4 million conference taught IRS employees how to be ‘direct,’ ‘honest,’ ‘open,’ ‘transparent’

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Patrick Howley
Political Reporter

In 2010, the Internal Revenue Service dropped $4 million on a swanky conference in Anaheim, California where IRS employees learned, among other things, how to be “direct and honest, open and transparent” when speaking with taxpayers.

The IRS employees learned from a “pioneer in the field of eliminating defensiveness” how to stop communicating using the “rules of war.”

The pricey event included lavish hotel rooms for IRS officials at the Anaheim Marriott and elsewhere, according to a report by the Treasury Department Inspector General.

The tax collection agency has since admitted to multiple years of selectively abusing conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status on the basis of their politics, despite insisting in years past that no such abuses were going on.

Among the workshops the IRS arranged for the August 25, 2010 conference was a communications lesson put on by the Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication.

Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC) is “a revolutionary method for eliminating defensiveness,” according to the company’s website.

PNDC is “a new paradigm that is a dramatic departure from our traditional methods of communication, which are based on the ‘rules of war,’” Institute founder Sharon Strand Ellison wrote on her site.

“I’ve spent most of my life developing this process because it never made sense to me to use the same rules for two such completely different activities — war and conversation,” she wrote.

“The PNDC Model is a system for protecting ourselves without getting defensive and achieving our goals without resorting to power struggle. The outcome is that we can be direct and honest, open and transparent, gaining integrity while keeping spontaneity. We are more likely to feel compassion for others, while having the capacity to create clear boundaries,” wrote Ellison.

Ellison, her site says, “has dedicated her life to developing a method of communication that can disarm defensiveness and diffuse power struggle.”

Her extensive client list includes Women of Color in Action, Rainbow Coalition, Human Rights Coalition, Violence Prevention Coalition, and government entities including the city of Portland and the United States Postal Service.

According to the Institute’s website, Ellison’s clients have used words like “opportunity,” “magical,” and “magnitude” to describe her training’s impact on their lives.

In a YouTube video, Ellison describes just how quickly most people can become defensive.

“When I speak to audiences or groups — or when I work with groups of people — I often ask everybody, ‘How long does it take to get defensive?’,” Ellison explains, “and the answer is almost always ‘a nanosecond.’”

When reached by phone for comment by The Daily Caller, Ellison quickly became defensive.

“I believe that much of the criticism is misrepresenting what happened, misrepresenting the cost of the conference,” Ellison insisted.

“If you figure the cost per person, it was about 85 dollars per person,” she continued. “By citing the total expenditure, [the press] is misrepresenting the cost per person of that conference.”

Ellison couldn’t provide evidence to support her claim, but the IRS IG report revealed that there were 2,609 participants at the $4.1 million conference, a cost of $1,584 per person.

“The only thing I want to say is I think that every situation is complicated. Much gets distorted when people like yourself publish articles. I think everything is complicated. I think it will take thorough analysis to determine what happened, and what the facts are,” Ellison said.

Ellison was paid $7,000 by the IRS for conducting four 90-minute workshops, according to the Inspector General report.

A spokesperson for the IRS told The Daily Caller that the agency’s policy has since changed and outside speakers are no longer paid to speak at events.

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