Maureen Inglis works as a mediator, facilitator and coach. An IMI certified mediator she has a strong interest in intercultural situations and peace building. Maureen’s mediation experience includes workplace, civil court, not-for-profit and community organizations. She has worked with a broad range of people from executive level through to weekly paid employees in city, rural and remote locations. As a member of Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI), Maureen recently worked in Sierra Leone on a project “Building Unity for Peaceful Elections”.
What drew you to professional mediation and peace building?
When I am asked this question, I’m never sure if I chose this line of work or it chose me. I have always been fascinated by human nature and what drives and/or triggers us to respond in the ways we do. This along with a desire to heal and prevent further hurt in conflict situations has drawn me to mediation and peace building. There is always a story behind people’s reactions based on values, attitudes, personality and historical experiences. When these can be drawn out, listened to and understood by others, knowledge is gained, skills are improved for the future, people heal and potentially volatile situations become more peaceful.
You’ve done a lot of peace building work including in Sierra Leone which is miles from your home country Australia. How do you deal with any constraints arising from working in a very different culture in a field of work that requires trust?
I try to learn as much as I can beforehand about the culture so that when I arrive I am as prepared as possible. However, there is still much to learn on the ground and talking with local people. I am very conscious about working in another country under invitation, using the parts of Western culture that are appropriate with local culture and not imposing our way of doing things on another country. Being interested, curious and liking the people I work with in my experience builds connections quickly.
What do you do in your work that increases the chances that peace building efforts will be sustained when you and your team are done?
The Sierra Leone team from Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) concentrates on building local skills and knowledge with the community and civic leaders who then go back to their workplace, communities and families to impart those skills. We do follow-up coaching and support via internet platforms with local partners. The weak infrastructure in Sierra Leone can make connection via the internet challenging; however we do what we can.
Following our 2018 visit to Sierra Leone conducting “Building Unity for Peaceful Elections” workshops across the country, the outcomes of our work training over 300 peace ambassadors includes reduced violence to individuals and property as well as saving lives. This has been extremely satisfying.
The next steps we are planning are intensive residential training programmes for women and youth leaders followed by 12 months coaching. The carefully selected participants will be required to work on a peace building project in their communities as part of their training. This initiative has come out of an ongoing needs analysis conducted during visits to Sierra Leone and follow-up evaluation of training.
The word dialogue is bandied about a lot. How do you define dialogue and what’s the best way to advance it for peace?
To me dialogue is a process of listening and sharing in a respectful way that can assist us to understand different points of view, even if we don’t agree with them. A way it can be advanced is teaching basic communication skills. A conflict situation may require a third person, such as a mediator or facilitator in the initial stages of learning to keep the conversations on track. Dialogue is a great tool for building peace.
Some believe that women make peace quicker than men because they and their children suffer most during conflict. What’s your experience and what brings men to the dialogue table?
It has been documented that peace is more likely to prevail when women are involved in the process. My experience is that in most cultures, men generally (although not always) have more rank and power. When one can acknowledge that one is in the privileged position of having higher rank, one can use that rank and the power that goes with it to assist those with less. Therefore, when a man is aware of his rank, he is well equipped to join the dialogue table to use this power to advance peace to the benefit of all. We need men like this to assist gender balance and sustain peace for future generations.
What’s the most challenging conflict situation you’ve had to help with?
I was working with a group of men who held paralegal positions. There was a lot of tension in the group due to a relationship breakdown culminating in a recent incident involving violence. Personal preparation prior to a facilitated group meeting ensured that I was solidly grounded in myself and able to contain the volatility of the situation. I use this energetic technique going into mediations.
You also do work on conflict resolution in the workplace. What kinds of workplace conflict would you say would be most risky if ignored by managers?
When a person is in conflict with another and it has not been addressed, Party A may engage colleagues to support his/her side, as may Party B. Some people try to stay neutral and not get involved. The work group becomes divided into two or three camps, lots of covert and sometimes overt chatter develops which has the potential to become quite toxic. Not only does this affect the health and wellbeing of individuals and the team, productivity goes down too. Managers need not be afraid to address conflict because when successfully worked through, it can broaden perspectives, deepen relationships and improve creativity.
What are the personal pressures that come with being a peace advocate?
Peace advocates need a high level of self-awareness, the ability to see all sides, be adaptable, flexible and tolerant. I have invested much time, effort and resources into learning more about myself. It seems to be a lifetime’s work of discovery and sure, I’ve made mistakes along the way. Because we are all human, as peace advocates when we get knocked off centre by a difficult life experience, we need to find a way to get back to centre again as quickly as possible so we can continue our work.
When you are conflicted, how do you get to a place of being at peace with yourself?
When conflicted I tend to take myself to a calm, peaceful place, sit quietly or walk gently to reflect on the situation. If the conflict does not settle, I will put it to the side, immerse myself in a pleasant distraction and return to the situation later to do some more work on it. There are times I seek trusted support to help me through. .
It’s of course easier to maintain peace than to achieve. Any tips on how to be peace keepers?
Of most importance is to be at peace with ourselves. To quote Mahatma Ghandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. In my experience this can take years of letting go of what is no longer useful to us, building on what we do want and who we genuinely want to be. I’m still working on it.