PEACEBUILDING FROM THE INSIDE OUT
I am a workplace mediator and leadership coach. With my business Lead and Connect, I help my clients stay healthy, confident and calm in the midst of tension and clashes around them. They are leaders, peacemakers and people interested in grassroots leadership.
I had freedom in abundance and spent long hours in the endless forest surrounding our village
With British-German nationality, I work in the UK and internationally – with clients in Europe, the US and Canada. I grew up, went to University and first worked in Germany. My husband’s work as a research scientist led to two years in Belgium before we moved to Cambridge, UK in 2002, where we still live with our teenage daughter. I grew up in a little village, surrounded by a caring family and many friends, influenced by a combination of the famous Protestant Work Ethic, the Lutheran Church, Scouts and my parents’ rather open-minded and optimistic view of life. They let me experience first-hand, what unconditional love looks like in a practical sense, modelling – and enabling – trust, courage and confidence.
I had freedom in abundance and spent long hours in the endless forest surrounding our village, together with my friends, all year round. In particular, foraging, climbing trees and reading books in trees became a major source of inspiration, comfort and peace.
All this was setting the course for the future and my understanding of what is actually important in life: spiritual growth, loving relationships and social engagement. Even today, forests and trees remain essential to my sense of balance and wellbeing – although these days with less climbing!
However, there was also a dark cloud hanging over my early years, indeed almost my whole life until recently. An ongoing conflict between two relatives affected our whole family. Too old to be settled easily, fuelled again and again through new incidents and misunderstandings.
It was like walking on very thin ice, trying to keep everybody happy. Like many of my clients today, I felt trapped in a conflict that wasn’t mine, unable to set boundaries, with a huge sense of responsibility to find a solution. This conflict was one of the main motivations for me to become a mediator.
After my time at University, I had a wonderfully varied corporate career with fabulous five years in qualitative market research, then more than fifteen years’ work as a freelance consultant, recruiter, mediator and coach.
However, despite the experience, success and great relationships with customers, I started to feel unfulfilled and increasingly frustrated. My work didn’t make a real difference. Too often, I was called in as a mediator when it was too late, for example, when conflicts were already highly escalated, or legal battles were in full swing. All I could do was help “mop up” the mess.
At that time (as today), work-related stress, anxieties, depression and conflicts were at an all-time high. There is a growing “elbow mentality” and a culture of mutual blaming and shaming in many organisations.
I wanted to address all this with a new business. When I launched “Lead and Connect”, I totally underestimated what it means to run your own business. Also, in my private life, unexpected obstacles repeatedly popped up, as massive speed bumps on a road.
A beloved one was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumour; relatives and dear friends faced confrontations and bullying at work; still, this ongoing conflict in my family which I couldn’t help settle – even with all my expertise as a mediator.
I was desperate like a duckling in a river: They seem to be calm on the surface. But actually, they are paddling furiously underneath to stay alive. The more fancy tactics I tried, the harder I tried to “fix” all this, the more I felt the responsibility – and guilt when things didn’t work out. It felt like a heavy burden on my shoulders.
I learned a lot about dealing with chronic pain, patience and asking for help
Then, I hit rock bottom. I was diagnosed with a food intolerance and needed surgery after a spine injury. Bound to the sofa and unable to walk for months, I sometimes lost confidence that I would ever be without pain and able to walk normally again.
On my long way to full recovery, I learned a lot about dealing with chronic pain, patience and asking for help. Most important: about living in the moment, re-connecting with my body, emotions, intuition, values, inner wisdom and the “better” part of me: my true self.
Looking back, it paid off to struggle through all this. It helped me to understand what’s really important in life. Today I am equipped to empathise with the situations that my clients face. It also helped me to find my “cause” that serves as the basis for my business and the purpose of my life:
Peacebuilding from the inside out – without losing myself!
On my way to recovery, I kept asking myself, why I am always in the middle of those clashes, why I am always the one who has to “fix” things and keep others happy. Always this fear of being everybody’s enemy – including myself!
I realised that inner and outer peace goes hand in hand. Yes, peacebuilding is about communication and conflict resolution strategies. But it is far more. Inner peace is the game-changer, no matter if I clash with somebody or if I am just an observer. That’s what I want to have for my clients:
Everything shifts when you have the confidence that you can deal with others in conflict without losing yourself.
I mean the confidence that derives from healthy self-acceptance and compassion – for yourself and others. You need to take yourself out of the equation. You can’t fix it for others. No matter how hard you try to keep people happy and calm, it’s not gonna happen. It is such a relief when you take this burden off your shoulders!
Peacebuilding is about your increased awareness, your attitude and your habits. It is about training your mind, and – most importantly – opening your heart and connecting with your inner wisdom, your true self! We are all social beings and naturally wired for connection. We all want to live in peace – even if you can’t believe this sometimes when you see how people behave.
It is about re-connecting with this inner voice, this “Inner Peacemaker” we all have. Also, it is about taking responsibility and leading yourself and others – at work and in your private life, whether you have a formal leadership position or not.
Peacebuilding is about Courage and Choice
I still need to remind myself every now and then, that I always have a choice, about how I act and react, even in the worst situations, as this quote of Victor Frankl shows. He was an Austrian Psychiatrist, who survived Auschwitz concentration camp:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Victor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning
Everybody wants to be valued, to be understood and to make a positive contribution. Yet, we tend to be our own worst enemies when we lose ourselves in tension and clashes of others. It takes a lot of courage to look in the mirror and face your fears and survival mechanisms.
Conflicts are opportunities for learning. Often, clashes we would deem to be a fiasco, turn out to be more transformative and helpful than we could have ever imagined. One clash even saved my life. If we meet in the future, be sure to ask me, and I will happily tell you the story.
With a holistic approach based on scientific evidence, I use many different practices and models, based on psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, spiritual traditions and interdisciplinary models of conflict resolution.
The essence of my work is the “Peacemaker’s Tree”, a model that has grown and derived from research and personal experience (…and yeah, it’s a tree!). It is practical, easy to learn and provides a set of basic principles, qualities and strategies as well as a shared language and exercises adaptable to different cultural settings.
With this model, I am on a mission:
I want us to change how we think about conflict in general and how we deal with tough situations, clashes and tension. I want us to re-connect with our “Inner Peacemaker”. Finding and maintaining our “inner” peace is a precondition for more peace in the world.
We are all interconnected. The “Peacemaker’s Tree” is a fantastic metaphor for my work. In many cultures around the globe, big trees in communities are a place where people gather and connect. In medieval Europe, courts were held regularly in their shade. Relationships are like trees. We need to “water” and “feed” them regularly. All branches, the trunk and the roots of trees are interconnected.
It is the same with clashes and conflicts. With growing tension and arguments, we lose trust, the whole relationship / the whole “tree” is affected. In the same way, the whole forest is a social network, so when we improve our mutual understanding and relationships in one area, all other areas improve as well. We need to work more with those synergy effects and think in terms of systems.
“Life is an embodied network. These living networks are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationship.”
David George Haskell – The songs of trees
We are all “one of a kind”. The object I want to show you is a marble; it is handmade and unique. It reminds me of the coaching mantra that my clients are naturally creative, resourceful and whole. They don’t need to be “fixed” and already have what is needed within them – it’s a question of creating the safety, trust and courage to bring it out. I also give these marbles to clients to help them remember that we are all “one of a kind”, like those unique marbles, precious and special. There is no one like us, and each of us is needed with our unique gifts and talents to make a positive difference. Marbles are also a symbol of happy childhood memories, playfulness and creativity… two qualities which can transform how we approach tough situations. The marble becomes a reminder and an invitation to be in the moment and live life to the full.
“Peace is not a goal to be reached but a way of life to be lived.” – Desmond Tutu
Together with you, I want to create a shift towards a sense of mutual understanding and unity, a ripple effect that transforms not only us but also our families, organisations and society. We don’t need to wait until others have settled their conflicts.
Let’s live our peace, for a more peaceful world, where we celebrate diversity and our interconnectedness with nature and all living beings on this planet and move towards solutions that work for all and the common good.
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