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A Conflict Transformer: An Interview with Kristine Paranica

Kristine Paranica, J.D., is the Director of the University of North Dakota Conflict Resolution Center (CRC), where she also serves as Adjunct Professor of Law in Alternative Dispute Resolution. She is a Fellow and Administrative Director of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation (ISCT), and a trainer and facilitator of transformative mediation, and conflict management.

Personal Career Path

Gini: Good morning, Kristine. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences with us. What attracted you to the field of conflict management in the first place?

Kristine: I had been practicing as a criminal prosecutor for a few years and was introduced to restorative justice practices in the juvenile justice system. It seemed to make sense at the time. A few years later, I was working as a judicial referee and we were given a pilot project to test mediation in family cases and I took on the role of the mediator and coordinator and I was soon hooked. In a world where no one was ever satisfied with the outcome, never felt heard or understood, and rarely believed that they had voice or choice, this was a great opportunity to really help people. I really feel that this field chose me.

G: If you knew earlier what you know now, would you still have pursued the same career path?

K: That’s a tough question. I think I might have – and I always loved my work as a practicing lawyer. If I could go back to school, I’d probably study a combination of psychology, sociology, or religion, and yes, I’d still be in the field of conflict transformation.

G: What is the best advice you have been given? And what advice would you give a budding conflict specialist?

K: “It’s not about you [me]”. In other words, trust that people do have the answer within them and, if given the chance, they often can solve their own problems, heal from their inner and interpersonal conflicts, and demonstrate compassion and creativity. When we first start in this field, we often think it’s our job to “fix it” or “solve it” or somehow save the day. I believe that the mature mediator creates space for the parties to have difficult conversations, to make choices for themselves, to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, and to have a chance to say what they need to say and hear what they need to hear. They can reconnect to their own sense of self or agency, and find their voice, and feel strong again. They can also move and leap from self-absorption to compassion and understanding. With our ability to hold space, support them where they are, help them without impatience and judgment, transformation happens. What is transformed is often the conflict, and sometimes the parties themselves. And as Lau Tzu has said:

The wise leader does not intervene unnecessarily. The leader’s presence is felt, but often the group runs itself. Remember that you are facilitating another person’s process. It is not your process. Do not intrude. Do not control. Do not force your own needs and insights into the foreground. A good leader talks little and when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will remark, ‘We have done it ourselves!’ Conflict Resolution Heroes

G: Do you have a “conflict resolution hero,” and if so, who and why?

K: I’m not sure I do. If I had to choose I’d choose Gandhi and his way of compassionate listening and nonviolent communication as the path to peace. He was completely engaged yet never angry or personalizing the conflict.

Thrills and Spills

G: What has been your biggest thrill in being a conflict specialist?

K: Flying in a private jet to mediate a conflict with a construction crew outside in 90+ degree weather. Wow! Seriously, watching a fairly scary guy in a particular mediation shift from “I will make sure these kids hate you for leaving me [to his wife]… to a better place after the 3rd mediation session and about 2 weeks time… “I talked with my mom last weekend and forgave her for divorcing my dad…. I promise that, no matter what, I won’t do that to my kids or to you.” It was absolutely miraculous and taught me a great lesson. You just CAN’T make that kind of thing happen!

G: What was your biggest mistake?

K: Thinking I knew all the answers

The Biggest Questions

G: What do you think are the big questions to be answered next in the conflict management field?

K: I believe it has to do with global responses to conflict and war – ethnopolitical conflict. It seems to me that the pathways the West has taken to resolve global conflict have not been entirely effective. Some deeper thinking about values, differences, meaning, ways of living, worldviews, etc. need to be considered. Our normal responses have been based on western values, linear processes, and other methods that may not fit other cultures. However, we may need to listen more closely and deeply to find those answers rather than presenting ourselves as the experts.

G: What is the major ethical issue facing the conflict management field?

K: Understanding and honoring differing perspectives, worldviews, processes, and experiences and co-creating processes that are respectful of all.

G: Any regrets?

K: Not figuring out [my biggest mistake] sooner. Not understanding earlier in my life that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters most.

G: Thank you, Kristine.


Gini Nelson

Gini Nelson is a sole practitioner in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her practice emphasizes private dispute resolution, including distance dispute resolution, and domestic, bankruptcy and bankruptcy avoidance law. MORE >

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