Denver Bar Association
February 2010
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Q & A with Vickie Samland of The Conflict Center


"Give priority to building relationships over short-term victories. Conflict makes us feel that in order for me to win, you have to lose. That is a delusion. In nonviolence we do not seek to be winners, or rise above others; we seek to learn and make things better for all." 

— Gandhi

Docket Question: What is The Conflict Center?

Vickie Samland Answer: We teach problem-solving skills and peaceful conflict resolution classes to adults and students. More than 5,500 individuals attended our programs in 2009.

We also have the largest library in Colorado with books, audio and video curriculum on nonviolence and peacemaking. The library is open to the public, and is searchable on our website www.conflictcenter.org.

Since 1987, our nonprofit center’s mission has been to teach practical skills that help reduce levels of physical, verbal and emotional violence. We believe that personal and systemic violence are inextricably related. We believe that people of all socio-economic conditions need skills in nonviolence. We are a partner agency of The United Way.

Our programs are offered in businesses, organizations and schools. We can bring our training and discussion programs to your business or to another site, or employees can come to us. Programs last from two hours to the entire day.

Q: How are attorneys involved at The Conflict Center?

A: During the past 20 years, The Conflict Center has worked with many attorneys, both as volunteers and as program attendees.

Attorneys have served as mediators and trainers, as well as on the board of directors and event committees. Attorneys have also read to elementary school children through the Reading for Peace program.

And not only do attorneys volunteer here, they also attend our programs to improve their careers. Most attorneys work within the legal system, which is based on an adversarial process. Oftentimes, the need to win a case dominates these two important measures of success: solving problems and building relationships. Learning to solve problems and build relationships are at the root of what we teach at the center.

Attorneys who come to The Conflict Center are attracted to the cooperative, win-win philosophy here. They learn new ways to approach situations collaboratively rather than from an "us vs. them" mentality, because they’ve come to recognize that "winning" does not always produce positive and lasting solutions to problems.

Q: What are some of the lessons in conflict resolution that might help attorneys?

A: The practice of law is built around conflict, and it can be easy for attorneys, especially litigators, to become caught up in the competitive element. To quote Thomas Crum, "When conflict becomes a win-lose in our minds, we immediately try to win." This trait can help in a courtroom, a very different set of interpersonal skills is needed to effectively manage conflict and to maintain personal and professional relationships.

We teach how conflict can actually offer opportunities to learn, grow, connect, cooperate and strengthen relationships. We teach how to:

• Listen actively and ask clarifying questions (instead of simply waiting to talk).

• Find win-win solutions through compromise and innovative problem-solving (instead of treating each conflict as a zero-sum game with a winner and loser).

• Use humor to defuse conflict (but avoid the use of insincere sarcasm).

• Honor your emotions and those of others, but do not let your actions be driven by them.

• Take a time-out or schedule the conversation for a later date if you realize that you are becoming too emotionally involved in a conflict to speak or act wisely.

Q: How can attorneys get involved?

A: Feel free to use our library, which is searchable online. Attend a class on positive conflict resolution. Hire us for your business or organization. Volunteer as a youth or adult classroom instructor or school assistant. Or, work behind the scenes in fund development or research.

If volunteering is not the right opportunity for you right now, please consider supporting our mission of peacemaking by helping in other ways. Tell your friends, family and colleagues about our work. We host monthly orientation sessions and quarterly open-house meetings with our executive director. You can visit www.conflictcenter.org and donate online to this worthwhile, community-building cause.

Vickie Samland is a program coordinator at The Conflict Center. She is trained in mediation through the University of Denver and is a member of the Colorado Council of Mediators, and has a bachelor’s in sociology and a Master of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology.

 


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