My Grandmother, the Conflict Warrior

I had a different post planned for today, but my grandmother passed away yesterday.

I don’t usually talk about my personal life here, but this seemed like a day to make an exception. I wanted to take some time and tell you about how my grandmother made this blog possible.

My interest in conflict and negotiation has its roots in my family, particularly in how my grandfather and I got along when I was younger.Granny_triptic

We didn’t always, is the short story. Being from the same stock, we had the same bad habits when we argued: we stubbornly dug into our positions across the Thanksgiving dinner table and lobbed barbs back and forth between mashed potatoes and apple pie.

Many of our arguments were over politics, but sometimes we explored different areas in which to disagree. Unfortunately, most of our disagreements devolved to yelling and no one walked away feeling very good about what had happened.

I didn’t like that way of disagreeing and I didn’t like that way of handling conflict; being overtaken, suddenly, by powerful emotions that only seemed to make matters worse.

And so I started watching my grandmother and how she reacted when these disagreements would start.

Granny_BoppaWhen she could feel my grandfather’s blood pressure rising, she’d put a gentle hand on his arm. He’d almost immediately soften his voice and rein in his anger.

My grandmother let conflicts happen, trusting that we could handle the conversation like adults. When we made it apparent that we couldn’t, she’d speak, reminding both my grandfather and me of the values and views we shared in common.

Because she was judicious with her words, we listened when she spoke.

I admired how my grandmother wielded her power, in simple gestures and quiet words. I wanted to find power in whispers instead of yell with impotent rage and fear.

And so by watching her I began the very long journey that’s led me to what I do today: teaching people how to be powerful in conflict without anger or fear.

I’ve been lucky to have many teachers on my journey with handling conflict, but she was one of the first. And one of my favorites.


Margaret Ann (Howe) Bell

Thank you, Granny.

Categories: The Rest


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Fair Isn’t Always Fair »

3 responses to “My Grandmother, the Conflict Warrior”

  1. M.S. Patterson says:

    Beautifully said. *hugs!*

  2. Greg Labadie says:

    That was awesome Katie. I didn’t know that about you and Bill (although I can totally understand), but now I see how all the pieces fit in. And your recollection of how Margie handled it all, with such grace and dignity, was spot on! I saw her do that too over the years — not often, only when it was needed, but it always worked. You are very perceptive person Katie, and can easily read weak signals. I’m sure that’s why you are so good at your job!

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