FB PhotoHi, I’m Jagoda

…and I know a lot about managing conflict.

I grew up in a spirited household. Argument was the currency with which to purchase respect, and have the best chance to obtain what I wanted.

My father believes that conflict is the pathway to trust and intimacy. Okay, he might not use those exact words, but that’s what he means when he insists that I, or anyone, should be willing to argue with him. At the dinner table, at parties, and in the car, loud voices and persistence carried the day.

It was exhausting and exasperating at times. It did help me grow a thick skin. I developed a high tolerance for strong emotional expression (yup, yelling and crying, and the like), and conflict.

No wonder I became a professional mediator and facilitator.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also come from a conflict culture—the Balkans—as deep-rooted as the Middle East. My family is a mix of Croatians and Serbians (with intermarriage, oh my), so the Balkan wars of the 1990’s reverberated in our family with conflictive repercussions. We remained whole, but not without effort, and not without scars.

That background focused my attention on researching and teaching about how to bridge polarized conflicts.

I married into a family where open expressions of conflict are rare. I suppose I sought peace and quiet at home. However, this family’s mantra of, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all,” is, in its own way, just as wearying as my family’s loud debates.

I began to understand what my father means when he speaks of conflict and intimacy in the same breath. How can you build trust and get close to others, if you aren’t willing to let them know you fully—your warts along with your strengths?

I also began to appreciate the value of holding myself in check. How can you hear and understand others, if you are always thinking of your next retort rather than listening?

If my family’s dance is an energetic jitterbug, my husband’s is a slow waltz. To make our relationship last, we had to learn to dance together. We needed a dance that is both passionate and energetic to suit me, and smooth and soulful to meet my husband’s needs. So we learned to tango (metaphorically speaking, since we both have two left feet). I mean we had to find new ways to interact and connect that worked for us both.

So you see, I prefer using a neutral framework for conflict to show possibilities for how to handle differences and disagreements, and stop them from escalating to harmful and scary places.

That’s where the tango comes in. It has energy and passion, give and take, is sultry and sexy (come on, you know about make-up sex), and it definitely does take two (at minimum) to tango.

Besides the articles in this blog, I’ve published articles related to conflict in UTNE Reader, on futurist.com, on sharedsalmonstrategy.org and in The Handbook of Conflict Management.

I also write guest articles on several popular blogs including Linked2Leadership, BrazenCareerist, and TheSelfImprovementBlog.

Click here for my professional resume.

I should mention that since I am not a therapist, I will not address problems related to mental illness, personality disorders, drug, alcohol, or other addictions. I do acknowledge that these problems can be an underlying cause of conflict but must be dealt with separately. If you find yourself needing help in those situations, please seek help from a licensed therapist.

I am also not a lawyer, so will not be offering legal advice nor discussing conflicts of a legal nature (such as contract or custody disputes).

I invite your comments and questions anytime. Readers who have done so, have already taken this blog into territory I couldn’t have imagined when I began, but which make your experience here that much richer.

Will you join me in this dance?

Photo credit: Paula Rhyne Skarr Photography