Conflict is a scary word for a lot of people, but I’ve realised that I’ve been working with people in conflict pretty much all of my working life.
My parents were great teachers; they were in constant conflict. Somehow, despite feeling very uncomfortable around conflict, I ended up working in the legal world, dealing with ongoing and entrenched conflict. I have run a community legal centre, set up and operated a program for Legal Aid and have spent most of the last 27 years working with parents fighting about the two issues most dear to them – their money and their children.
But I have a creative side as well. I have also worked in the arts, producing theatre and training films. I love the arts. I love working with small teams to create amazing outcomes. I love music, movement and words and how art can make you feel all the feels.
I’ve had an interesting life.
My parents were very clear when I was growing up – they valued me because I was a hard worker. My mum even said once “You might not be very bright, but you will always be okay because you work so hard”. Thanks, Mum.
Anyway; overworking is what I do best. I’ve overworked pretty much my entire life. I love what I do – but there is no doubt I work too much. It’s my safety net. Despite the ridiculous number of hours I work, I don’t generally get sick. I don’t get colds or the flu. I don’t take time off work.
I have been self-employed for about 17 years and have rarely taken a day off in that time. But in January 2013 I couldn’t sleep. It was driving me nuts, so I begrudgingly took myself off to the doctor. When she checked my blood pressure, she laughed that the machine must be broken… it wasn’t.
My blood pressure was 240 over 110. I had morbidly high blood pressure, and I wasn’t allowed to go home. I ended up in hospital for four days (with my computer with me of course), and when I was eventually sent home it was with clear instructions – lose weight, drink less, exercise and slow down.
Ok – I said.
I lost a bit of weight, drank a little bit less and pretty much kept going as I had before. There was just too much to do; I didn’t have time to slow down.
In January 2014, I went back to the doctor because I still couldn’t sleep. This time the doctor did a blood test. The blood test said that my liver was a mess, my blood pressure was still too high, and my weight had crept back up to where it was before. My doctor read me the riot act. I have not had a drink since that day, I lost 30 kg and started walking; then running (like a turtle) and I got my life back. I am so grateful to know what it feels like to be relatively healthy – I am never going back.
So the greatest challenge for me was to slow down; not work so much. For the next two years, I only worked on my Government contract in family law. I didn’t do any other work, no training, no workplace mediations or consulting; I did not produce any theatre or films. It was a relatively lonely existence, but I was looking after myself a lot better, and I was really enjoying being healthier.
In early 2016, I was rung by a former colleague who asked me to conduct an urgent workplace mediation. I thoroughly enjoyed conducting that mediation. I loved the creativity of solving problems and getting to know and understand the people, the culture of the organisation and the issues at hand. The mediation was extremely successful, the executive learned a lot about what was triggering conflict in the workplace and learned the value of nurturing relationships and the power of building a strong community.
It was at this time that I realised how much joy I got out of working with teams, with assisting an organisation to truly value and nurture their people (their greatest resource). I realised that the skills I had developed in managing conflict over many years could be applied to any conflict, whether that is within a family, a workplace or a dispute between a builder and their client.
Due to the nature of the Government contract work I have done, I have had clients from all walks of life from every industry there is. I have worked with people under enormous personal and work-related stress, and I have developed a lot of skills in understanding people and their work environments.
But I wanted to do more than mediation, as much as I enjoy it. I wanted to help individuals and workplaces better manage conflict, reducing their stress levels – because I was acutely aware that these high levels of conflict and stress so negatively impact on people’s home lives; and their complex home lives impact on their work lives. Due to my background in family law, I knew that this meant their children would also be caught up having to deal with all of that pain. This means poor outcomes for not only the adults engaged in conflict at work or home; but also for their children.
Intuitively we all know that unresolved conflict and high levels of stress is bad for everyone. We know how destructive it can be on an individual or a team’s physical and mental health, in their relationships with their family and on the productivity of an organisation. But many people do not know how to manage conflict. They don’t know where to start or how to begin a difficult conversation.
So it was that in April 2016, I started Adelaide Conflict Management (now The Conflict Coach). I undertook training in conflict coaching and facilitation to enhance my skills. I now work with leaders and managers on how to build conflict resilient teams.
I teach people how to be assertive so that they can take better care of themselves. I teach them to feel the feels and deal with the issue when it arises so that they can be their best selves.
I believe that peoples’ lives are dramatically enhanced and their stress levels reduced when they are not fearful of conflict; when they recognise that conflict is a gift because it gives us so much information and that being assertive is incredibly powerful and rewarding.
I feel it’s important to share my own story in order to give my clients permission to get real about the stress and conflict in their own lives. Together, we can work to bring about change and improve everyone’s quality of life.