Barbara Barnes welcomes conflict.

As an experienced mediator and facilitator, she considers it to be an opportunity for change within the complexities of our personal and professional relationships. 

“For a long time, I was averse to conflict. Now I am very curious about it. I run toward it, learning toward exploring it fully.”

Conflict transformation practitioners like Barbara, who has been a member of Mediators Beyond Borders International for several years, consider disagreements to be “organic” and unavoidable and also great opportunities for transformation and understanding. Depending on how a person handles their conflict, their actions could lead to disruptive consequences or empowering solutions.

“Conflict will always be with us, but I believe that the more skilled we become to deal with it, the less people will need to employ violent strategies to cope with it. Conflict is often deeper than what manifests at the surface level. It’s often a sign of systemic trauma that can represent a personal or interpersonal trauma, and sometimes we aren’t even aware that this buried pain is still festering, waiting to heal and evolve.”

The goal of transformative mediation is to end with “people deeply understanding one another.” A majority of the mediation work is spent investigating the origin of the conflict, she said.

“The parties have the opportunity of having a deeper understanding of how they relate to conflict, how they put up walls, how they perpetuate misunderstandings,” Barbara said.  Transformative mediation is much broader than simply finding a temporary solution: it’s developing a major awareness of interpersonal bonds and the individual’s own situation. Discovering this awareness through powerful conversations can finally lead those involved to “thrive.” This process is also optimized by Barbara’s understanding of the roles that trauma can play in conflicts and ways to move forward.

A formative journey in the spirit of helping others.

Barbara credits her ease with navigating those difficult conversations through her life experiences and by learning from the strong women around her. 

She began her journey as a professional facilitator by earning a degree in human relations and business administration at the Westminster College in Salt Lake, City, Utah, USA, and soon after found herself directing a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence. By the time she was 21 years old, Barbara had also worked as a parole officer for a pilot project that supported women re-entering society after being incarcerated for violent crimes.

“This experience gave me precious insight into the fact that there are not bad people. There are only terrible circumstances leading people to engage in behaviors that are destructive.”

She continued to feel the desire to support those around her, and following the pilot program, was drawn to learn how to support the human body. Barbara became a licensed therapist, centered on mind-body centered psychotherapy, and through mindfulness and theHakomi method, she discovered that conflict often manifested itself “within the human body” in the form of physical pain. 

Barbara has trained in Nonviolent Communication and Inner Disarmament approaches for de-escalation and for deepening understanding of the sources of conflicts. Reflection through a strong meditation practice along with mindfulness exercises, she said, plays a crucial role in becoming a more effective mediator/facilitator and consultant. The exercises allow a person to get to know themselves better, including their “biases and emotional reactions.” By doing this, she feels she can show up ready to listen with an open heart and curiosity while being grounded at the moment. She feels it makes her more able to hold an anchor for safety, neutrality, and deep listening without judgments. In addition to her studies, Barbara is an informal student of the neuroscience of conflict, trauma, and the unconscious mind.

While continuing to educate herself on how to help “alleviate the suffering of others,” Barbara found a podcast featuring Kenneth Cloke, co-founder of MBBI and a leader in the field of meditation. She attended several of his workshops before collaborating with him on multiple projects, including a conflict facilitation training in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. 

Barbara has since created her “own flavor” of facilitation, leading mediations through her firm Brave Conversations LLC. Brave Conversations LLC focuses on teaching collaborative communication skills and facilitating conversations for organizations that want to transition from hierarchical structures to more flexible (and often more profitable) “horizontal” structures.

Barbara considers authenticity, transparency, and integrity necessary tools for the consummate mediator or facilitator. And instead of taking sides, “supporting people to be brave and honest with themselves and each other is a crucial cornerstone of transformative mediation.

She also practices end-of-life mediation, supporting families as they experience the death of a loved one, and working with them to approach their needs and conflicts with mercy and empathy. 

Peacebuilders and Pandemics.

Since coronavirus began Barbara has attended several of the MBBI town halls, which were created in response to the pandemic. She has found herself working more closely with businesses and families struggling to maintain their relationships and integral communications in a world where we all must stay physically apart to stop the spread of the virus.

Inspired by the town halls and her observations with her own clients, Barbara wanted to create a space for mediators around the globe to discuss the challenges generated by the virus and identify solutions, all on a personal, professional, and community level. These observations led her to coordinate the novel MBBI program Peacebuilders and Pandemics.” 

“The project is aimed to forward community discussion, and how MBBI can provide the space, platforms, and experience to track how this pandemic is impacting human beings around the world,” all from the socially-distanced safety of their homes.

Written by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer