Confessions of a conflict coach — I’m still learning

Guest column by Linda Newell
Posted 10/8/18

Professionally, I have worked with conflict for decades — finding tools and resources, teaching classes on conflict and anger management, and facilitating conflict conversations. In the state …

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Confessions of a conflict coach — I’m still learning

Posted

Professionally, I have worked with conflict for decades — finding tools and resources, teaching classes on conflict and anger management, and facilitating conflict conversations. In the state Senate, I learned how to navigate conflict with higher stakes — knowing people’s lives were sometimes depending on us to resolve our conflict. I’ve worked on alternative dispute resolution and restorative justice statutes and established Conflict Resolution Month in Colorado in the state Legislature. That’s what I’ve done in the public eye. I’ve loved it. I’m proud of it.

But how I’ve handled conflict in my personal life has been a different story. As I’ve been in seminary and chaplaincy training recently, we are not only studying theology, ethics, and social justice, but also examining ourselves internally. Through this soul-searching, I have discovered how I have dealt with conflict in my personal life, and it hasn’t always been healthy.

Growing up with an alcoholic father and co-dependent mother, I was taught well how to be the peacemaker and avoid, ignore, or sweep conflict under the rug. That seemed to work well for me over the years. I was always the optimistic one in the room, focusing on the goodness of life and every human and able to maintain a peaceful life. Then I married an alcoholic who similarly had no training or counseling at that point, and I furthered my skewed rose-colored glasses worldview, just to keep peace in our household.

Now divorced, single with adult daughters, back in counseling and in seminary, I am discovering what I’ve done well, what I’ve done poorly, and what I’ve simply not been able to see at all. Due to the trauma I experienced (or tried to avoid), I am now discovering that I literally don’t share all the same memories of our household events as my daughters have. We each remember varying degrees of our experiences because our brains, when in trauma, “select” which memories to retain consciously or hidden. And this is how we’re able to “handle” conflict healthily or not.

On one hand, I am very grateful our family survived much conflict, whether it was avoided or managed effectively. On the other hand, we are re-learning, together and separately, how to handle conflict directly and beneficially. “They” say it’s never too late. I believe you teach what you need to learn the most. I’m finding that’s very true … again. Publicly, when I’m aware and conscious, I’ve been able to prevent or manage conflict pretty darn well. Privately, I am unlearning my co-dependent ways and re-learning how to personally use what I teach.

So, it’s Conflict Resolution Month in Colorado, and before you think, “So what,” you may want to take an internal look at yourself this year. It’s amazing how relationships improve when we’re willing to look at ourselves, talk about it, and work it out together. If you want to learn about preventing or managing conflict, there are workshops, classes, articles, books, and facilitation and mediation professionals available. Check out www.conflictresolutionmonth.org or email me.

In peace,

Formerly a Colorado state senator, now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, speaker, filmmaker and consultant. She may be reached at senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.

Linda Newell

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