When I came back to live in England after the best part of 20 years, I was invited to join a certificate course entitled ‘Mediation in the Workplace’ with Professional Mediation Resolutions Ltd with a view to collaborating with the MD on developing other courses for mediators.
While doing the training I realised that mediation was a great outlet for my own training, skills and experience so I gained the certificate and have been helping to resolve conflicts in organisations ever since. I also train mediators and run advance mediator training and have become a Team Conflict Specialist.
My earlier training in Counselling and Nonviolent Communication has supported this and in 2005 I completed a teacher training retreat in Mindfulness Based Approaches at Bangor University to complement my own extensive Mindfulness and facilitation experience.
The environment I grew up in was traditional middle class England, in which strong emotions were neither encouraged nor expressed. I rarely experienced anger or many other feelings, and my parents never seemed to argue or express their emotions.
Emotional ‘incidents’ were so rare that when they did happen, I did not know how to deal with them. When I was a teenager my mother threw a jug of water at my father across the dinning table, which shocked me hugely. I felt totally unprepared for it, and I can remember rushing out of the house to be on my own and struggling to process what had happened.
Upon leaving school I went to work in agriculture in Africa, where I discovered conflicts I could not previously have imagined. There I learned that one way people dealt with conflict was to shoot each other. I witnessed deep racial and cultural tension first hand, and stood open mouthed as a white farmer threatened to kill a black worker with a brick.
Returning from Africa, I discovered my parents were splitting up. My mother, disabled from a debilitating illness, needed caring for and I experienced her pain and tears, without really being able to understand what she was going through. When I went away again, I worked in London and discovered a world of workshops and new types of thinking.
I became interested in what was going on inside me, how I related to other people, and they to me. This took me away from my traditional upbringing and over the next 20 years I travelled a lot and spent long periods in a variety of countries including Nepal, India, Holland and the USA. In this period I took part in huge numbers of experiential workshops, therapy sessions, seminars, retreats and training courses. I lived and worked with different groups in different countries around the world and experienced conflict (interpersonal, organisational, institutional) like I’d never experienced before, feelings like I’d never experienced before and understanding I’d never experienced.
I learnt how destructive conflict could be, and realised how ill equipped we generally are for discovering the hidden truths that are embedded within conflict. This is how I developed an interest in looking deeper at personal, interpersonal and organisational conflict and exploring ways to transform it.
I learnt how so many relationships break down because of an inability to work through conflict constructively. I learnt how empowering and rewarding it is to sit, look, listen and learn – and how hard it sometimes is to do that when the emotions are burning.
I experienced the positive side of conflict and how we are all in conflict with ourselves, in one way or another, while we continually try to work that out with others or through others, and often blaming others.
I experienced that it can be hard to choose the best path and to have the deeper conversation that defines you.
I saw that there is a place beyond the whole blame game of right and wrong, good and bad – and that’s a place really worth looking for.