I grew up in a family where my mom and dad oftenhad very different opinions. All I ever wanted was that we would all get along well and I could not understand why they did not. Sometimes it was this painful silent treatment or the heartbreaking arguments that were building walls between them. I know they actually wanted to connect, but did not know how. It all caused a lot of hurt and distress for them and the whole family even after their divorce.
As a child if I said something others disagreed with I was often judged to be foolish or made to feel wrong. At the same time the way I expressedmy different opinionsometimesoffendedthem. I desperately wanted to avoid all this pain and drama I was causing to all of us.
So I decided it was safer for me and them if I hide my viewpointand keep it to myself. I started building protective walls around me asI thought this would help us avoid drama and conflicts and keep everybody happy.
Yet within me there was still this urge to tellmy point of view. I craved to be heard, butwas filled with fear. I really did not want to hurt other people’s feelings or be rejected myself!
I felt trapped because I wanted to say something but did not know how. Oh, how I longed forbridges of a trueconnection where communication would flow without somebody being scared of being judged or without offending someone.
For many years I believed we can cross the river only when we come to the bridge. But I was not patient enough to wait until I come to a bridge. One day it struck me in my heart that I could build bridges myself and connect with people on the other side!I was not aware if this was only my childhod fantasy asI had no real life role models to follow.
Open conversations and deeppersonal connectionswas something I learned about in my books. Deep inside I had the dream that this is how I wanted to live my life. I decided I would educate myself how to build bridges of true connection and I searched for information in books.
At first it was easier for me to have challenging debates with friends and strangers, so I practiced my bridge building muscle with them. I was heartbroken at times when I was still not truly heard or when I unintentionally hurt someone by expressing my opinion. Nevertheless I kept on learning from my mistakes, reading and practicing even more to make my dream come true.
When I turned 15, I thankfully discovered my friend’s family,whowere often discussing conflicting topics in a very unconflicting manner. I was amazed that sharing my different opinion was welcomed and nobody was offended or hurt.
This time I was not shut down! My perspective was seen as a valuable contribution that made the discussion lively, juicy and rich. I was wondering if I was expressing myself differently when with them or were they receiving my messages with better understanding, without judgement.
I still vividly remember those conversations and the feeling I got from them. I felt deeply heard, I felt deeply appreciated and I felt deeply seen. I wanted to observe closely how they do it, but each time I was enjoying the conversations so much I could not be a neutral observer.
Personally, taking part in this conversations was a real-life bridge building experience that changed my life for ever.I thought to myself: they might be the only family in the world who did it, but if they can do it, so can I! It was the only proofI needed to turn this dream of mine into reality.
As a teenager I was fascinated to find out what was the key to a successful and harmonious relationship. Whilst my peers were joking around I became a student of people, studying sociology, psychology and personal development. I was trying to figure out what makes individuals feel fairly treated andappreciated by other members of the group.Why were some thriving together whilst others were hurting each other?
This experience led me to study law, because I naively thought as a lawyer I could help people find justice and peace again. I qualified as a lawyer but I soon realised that the courtroom was not a place to bring people together.
People (usuallyonly their attorneys) had the chance to present their legal arguments, but they did not have the chance to openly discuss what truly botheredthem. The focus was on blaming each other,fighting to win, giving their power away to the judge to make a life changing decision on behalf of them. In the legal process bridges are burned and high protective walls are built between people.
Sure, people got ajudgment at the end, but this toxic situation made most of them feel like enemies, not able to communicate at all. They were cut off and isolated although they still needed to live or work together the next day! At this point they had no clue or desire to get past those negative emotions. They were not able to have a respectful conversation with each other as coworkers, neighbours, ex-spouses, family members etc.
This inability to have powerul conversationsonly created further tensions, conflicts and hurt which deeply saddened me.I felt like I had reached the top of the wrong mountain and all this left me disappointed, depleted and disheartened.
Then I discovered mediation where people in conflict were not focusedon fighting each other, but rathertalking at the table about what was trully important to them and searching for the fair solution together. I lovedhow mediation allowed them to confront different perspectives withoutdrama that would burn their bridges. Now, that was something I had been looking for!
As a mediator I was leading their difficult conversationswithout shaming, humiliating or hurting the parties involved.When we resolved their issue, they wereso grateful for the relief they felt.
Even though I loved mediation so much that I was teaching other people how to do it, I realised it had itslimits.In my experience the biggest problem was that often people who came to mediation were already so hurt by their conflictit was difficult for them to envision their collaboration in the future.
After we resolved their one conflict in mediation I wondered how they would talk the next day. Would they be able to rebuild trust and collaborate again? Or would they again wait for too long without addressing what was bothering them, letting the tension and walls between them rise too high. If so, the conflicts between them would then spread like a wildfire, hurting everybody involved, although this was the last thing they wanted.
Also I discovered that people would often not give consent to start a mediation. Usually, this was because one or both parties were just too hurt or too afraid of the situation worsening.The final limitation was the fact that they needed a mediator to lead their conversation for them and a mediator cannot be with them all the time.All this made me feel heartbroken.
It dawned on me,if I could teach people how toleadtheir own difficult conversations with grace they alone would be able to prevent escalation of their own conflicts! They might even prevent their conversations becoming difficult!
As if by chance, my friend happened to invite me to attend alife coaching training program. The new tools which I discovered helped me teach my clients how to heal the wounds from conflicts and teach them how to build their own bridges in the future by leading their difficult conversations with compassion. This made me feel totally liberated as I felt I had finally cracked the code to my life’s work.This time I had climbed the right mountain.
Throughout my life I have seen what conflict looks like both personally, as a child, and professionally, in the courtroom and in a mediation session, which saddened me. Luckily I have found strategies that prevent the conflict from escalating like a wildfire and even from happening in the first place. My approach is that I help my clients lead difficult conversations with ease and compassion so they build bridges, not walls between them.
But like everyone else I too am faced with occasional situations where I need to have a difficult conversation myself. For example it could be with a family member, a client or a neighbor. Thank goodness I now know what to do!
From what started as a childhood dream, is now my everyday reality. I am helping people to build bridges with one another, at any time, any place, any where – from CEOs, to neighbours, spouses, family, by doing what I wanted to do aged 15.
Do you want to build bridges instead of walls as well?