Jo Berry took the decision to make good the death of her father in the IRA Brighton bombing - befriending and working with the bomber Pat Magee. Performance coach Joella Bruckshaw discusses conflict resolution in action.
I just got back from my summer holiday, camping in a field for 10 days doing all kinds of workshops. What a gas!
The high light for me was a workshop on conflict resolution given by Jo Berry, whose father Anthony Berry, was killed in the IRA bombing at the Conservative Conference in Brighton in1984. Her ability to transcend right and wrong and look instead for what connects us as human beings was quite extraordinary.
Jo spoke movingly in a TED talk about her decision to react to his death constructively and her subsequent meeting and befriending of Pat Magee, his killer. On her journey, she set up a charity, Building Bridges for Peace, giving workshops with Pat all over the world. As a result she has learned many practical ways of resolving differences between people.
How to resolve conflict
Many at her workshop were there because they had conflicts with people in their lives which needed to be resolved. Jo asked if anyone would be prepared to share one and a woman spoke up about how she and her partner regularly get into a standoff because he wants more from her than she can give. She then withdraws and the mismatch doesn’t get resolved.
Facilitated by Jo, we asked questions and shared our own experiences where we had dealt with something similar. Waiting until things had calmed down and revisiting the topic, realising it’s a family pattern, forgiving herself for the part she played in it, leaving the room and returning and starting again or using humour to diffuse the tension, were all suggested. She took notes finding some suggestions especially helpful in offering a concrete next step.
Finding our humanity
It was fascinating as, during the discussion we began to realise that most of the issues that lead to conflict, whilst seeming to be different had a lot in common when it came to considering what would decrease the tension and begin to evoke trust and a willingness to listen. Finding ways of taking the risk to open up and show your humanity seemed to be the key, especially if presented in a structured way. Jo took us through just such a structure.
As you read this you may be thinking about a conflict of your own that you would dearly love to shift into a more positive context. If so try it to help you open up a conversation that could take you towards a different outcome.There are five sentences started in the following way that are likely to make a difference to how the discussion goes:
1) When you describe the facts about what happened in a non judgmental way - (When we had that conversation me not being able to meet our needs on Tuesday)
2) I felt (upset, scared, anxious, exhausted, uncertain)
3) I need (to feel more relaxed than I do at the moment before I can have that discussion because it brings up such difficult emotions for me
4) I would like (to work on this with you and suggest we talk more about it tomorrow evening when I am less stressed)
5) Benefits (that would really help me to take responsibility for my part in this and understand what is important to you)
As we identified the steps everyone, including me, wrote furiously in their notebooks, thinking of a specific difference of opinion they could see might benefit from such an approach, everyone was keen to learn how to use it.
Seeing the common ground.
I came away with a strong reminder of how simple things really are. After all it wasn’t rocket science. All that is needed is finding the space to stand back and see another as a human being just like us who wants to be listened to and when they have calmed down, hear our point of view.
Why is that so difficult?