Tips for a Conflict Resolution Career

 

Career in Conflict Resolution-2

 

Everywhere I’ve lived and worked, I’ve met people who feel a deep inner echo to the idea of making peace.  I’m a bit mystical about such things. The inner echo is one mark of a calling and I have a lot of time for people hearing it.

But then it gets complicated.  How to get from inner echo to outer action? Sustaining my own call over 37 years and observing others, I’ve learned a few things:

      1.  View a job in conflict resolution and peacebuilding as a long-term objective.

        Almost nobody gets a degree in conflict resolution and then walks straight into a job in the field. You prepare and position yourself, you build experience and relationships, and if you are lucky a path slowly opens. Which means that, unless you are independently wealthy, you need to….

      2. Maintain at least one area of expertise or credentials besides peacebuilding.

        Most people with a job in conflict resolution subsidized their interest for a number of years with something else.   It takes a while to build up experience and a reputation in conflict resolution. In the meantime you’ve got to eat.  Whether law, social work, editing, teaching, web freelancing, pastoring, or carpentry, you’ll probably need something else to live on. This is not a bad thing because there’s more than financial reasons to have a second set of credentials.

      3. The path to full-time work in conflict resolution often runs through something else you’re already good at.

        People in conflict don’t want just any old mediator. They want someone competent in the area of their disagreement. Businesses want assistance from someone who understands business; schools, an educator. Religious organizations want “one of us.” International organizations seek facilitators, trainers, and consultants with deep knowledge of a region or relevant disciplines. So expertise in another area gives you your best opportunities for building a career in conflict resolution.

        Even if you cannot yet credibly present yourself as a resource on conflict resolution, you can still  advocate for creation of structures and processes for constructive resolution in the settings where you are connected. Start a playground mediation program in your school if you’re a teacher, encourage clients to explore mediation if you’re a lawyer, counsel a client in dealing with a conflicted family if you’re a social worker, lead a workshop on conflict resolution for a group of youth if you’re a youth worker.

        One great way to start is by leading a conflict styles workshop. Groups and teams of all kinds benefit from spending an hour or two reflecting on conflict style preferences of individuals in the group. So long as you are comfortable with basic group facilitation you don’t need to be a conflict resolution expert to lead a successful learning experience. Download my free “Trainers Guide to Successful Conflict Styles Workshops” for help in designing the workshop.

        In all the above, you’ll make mistakes but you’ll learn fast! If you enjoy it and others respond well, you’ll want more and you’ll find ways to do a repeat. Over time,  more and bigger doors will open.

      4. Expand your vocational goal from mediator to peacebuilder.  

        Mediating is a valuable but rather narrow go-between role, often confined by professional or social expectations, for which there is limited need in our world. Peacebuilding is a way of being and contributing to constructive resolution of conflict that can find expression in any number of roles and functions. There will never be enough peacebuilders because human beings are diverse and therefore conflict is inescapable.

        You might find, if you are, say, a lawyer, that you love being known for handling legal cases in ways that encourage early settlement. An administrator might take deep satisfaction in becoming highly effective in managing staff disputes. Even if you are sure you wish to end up working fulltime as a mediator, one of the best things you can to do open doors for that is to become known in your existing profession as someone with great conflict resolution skills.

      5. Polish writing skills.

        Conflict resolution work almost always involves the creation of new processes and structures. You have to advocate unusual ideas, develop proposals to get approval and funding, draft reports, create summaries. All have written communication at their core.  So at a minimum make it a goal to learn how to write clearly and simply.

        In a world where digital communication influences everything, learn tools for use of visuals in writing as well. You probably already know how to use Word and Powerpoint. What about Canva.com, where you can easily craft killer visuals with attractive fonts and pictures at little cost?  (I have no relationship to any of the mentioned products or sites.)

      6. Learn inbound marketing.

        This is a recent and still tentative learning based on the eye-opening education I’ve received marketing my Style Matters conflict style inventory. Seemingly unnoticed by people in the social change, peacebuilding, community development, and human rights worlds, a transformation is taking place in how businesses reach buyers and clients.

        Many successful online businesses now avoid the loud, attention-getting sales strategies once considered necessary to sell. Instead they invest in listening carefully to the people who use their products. They give away a lot of useful knowledge and services for free. They emphasize collaboration and networking. People come to view such businesses as helpful and trustworthy and don’t need to be persuaded to buy.

        Clear strategies and tools have emerged in the business world with tremendous potential for peacebuilders and other agents of social change. Do a search on “inbound marketing” for resources, many of them free, at least for small users. Two of my favorites are hubspot.com and smartpassiveincome.com.

        Look at Craig Zelizer’s Peace and Collaborative Development Network for a rare example of inbound marketing in the social change world. Lots of freebies there – good ones that clearly respond to needs. Extensive use of social media. Blogging. Networking in all directions. Obviously the site requires revenue and generates some – ads, requests for support – but revenue generation doesn’t dominate.  And no, you don’t have to be as big and ambitious as that site to benefit from inbound marketing approaches.

      7. If you aspire to do peacebuilding internationally, get a foundation in community development.

        The cutting edge in peacebuilding internationally lies at the intersection of peacebuilding and development. Reflect that awareness in your career path and you will be more credible to agencies doing serious peacebuilding work.  The single best career advancer for someone interested in international peacebuilding would be to spend several years in development work, paid or volunteer.

        But do not make the mistake of targeting the large, monied international organizations that are widely considered the pinnacle of international work as your ultimate career destination. You will pay dearly to elevate yourself in such organizations, in currencies that are priceless – the health and stability of your personal relationships (“Consider the UN your wife,” a seasoned UN peacebuilder once advised me, not in jest), your rootedness in community, your hopefulness for humanity, your contentment of soul.

        That is not advice against a sojourn in such places, but rather a caution against staying too long in them or assuming too much regarding what can be achieved there, how you will be treated, and how you will feel about your life as a result of your time there.

        If you like this post, click on an icon below to give it visibility on Facebook, LInkedIn or Twitter!

        Ron Kraybill has worked as an in-residence peacebuilding advisor and trainer in South Africa, Lesotho, the Philippines, Ireland and other locations for the United Nations, Mennonite Central Committee, and other organizations since 1979.  He now resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and blogs at www.KraybillTable.com. Copyright Ron Kraybill 2016.  All rights reserved. May be reproduced if this statement of authorship is included and links are made to http://www.riverhouseepress.com/blog/career-in-conflict-resolution/.
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

7 thoughts on “Tips for a Conflict Resolution Career

  1. Pamela Struss, Ph.D.

    Ron-
    I appreciate your discussion. I teach undergrads majoring in CAR and suggest they discover what industry they wish to work in. All industries have challenges that the CAR tool box works in. The difficulty facing us as a discipline is many industries don’t understand what we do and how we can help. I think we need to make a concerted effort to educate human resources and capital, business, service industries and government how those with CAR skills can help make their organizations sustainable, profitable and the place to work.

  2. Patrick Moulsdale

    Ron, thanks for the article. You make a lot of really good points. What I would add is the importance of exploring your own relationship with conflict. Self awareness. Personal development. ‘Peace building’ sounds romantic and inspiring but it starts from a place of conflict. A peace builder has to be comfortable with sitting in the heat of the fire or more to the point they have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable! How a peace builder relates to conflict will impact how effectively he is able to build peace and if he is not aware of the nature of that relationship then he will not know when it is influencing what he is doing.

  3. Gerald R.Baer

    Thanks, Ron. Don’t leave out the medical field in discussions about a backdrop to conflict resolution. I especially appreciate your emphasis on acquiring good writing skills. I appreciate your advice over the past 30 years.

  4. Ellen F. Kandell

    I often get asked for ADR career advice from people who want to enter the field and have offered many of the same suggestions. Mediation is no different than any other field, you have to market yourself. Some people have naive expectations, i.e., they’ll get training and do court ordered cases. Well if that is the objective you’ll go hungry!!
    I urge people to get involved in the profession with groups such as their local chapter of ACR or a statewide group, such as Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution, http://www.mcdr.org

  5. David Brubaker

    These are all excellent suggestions, Ron, but I want to particularly highlight the importance of number 2–“maintain at least one area of expertise besides peacebuilder.” Since joining the peacebuilding field in 1986 (working with you at Mennonite Conciliation Service), I’ve endeavored to stay current with the field of organizational development as well as organizational conflict transformation. I’ve discovered that the processes and skills for “leading organizational change” are complementary to and as important as those for “transforming organizational conflict,” but the theory and research for the two fields are quite distinct.

  6. Lisa Schirch

    These are some great suggestions. I have also given a talk on this to younger students and colleagues and I had a few other suggestions.

    1. Care more about finding meaningful work, and less about making a large salary or having a fancy title. Life is too short to be chasing after dollars or egos.

    2. When working at home or abroad, think of yourself as resource to local leaders – not as expert leading locals. Leaders make the team look good – they don’t seek the spotlight.

Comments are closed.