Deidre Combs provides leadership on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and to overcoming challenges. She is a management consultant, coach, mediator and professor. Her approach to conflict resolution integrates wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research. She works with individuals to creatively and confidently engage a dispute until the participants develop a win/win solution.
"Conflict indeed is messy and risky and scary and can be, as we all know, extremely dangerous," she says
. "But … I’ve come to understand that conflict is one of the best things we’ve got going for us." Deidre believes that we need conflict to push us forward and to be more courageous. "Conflict is calling us to our best. Conflict creates our hero’s quests -- those life-defining moments in our lives where we can sing our proudest souls’ anthems." Drawing on all the world's wisdom traditions, she counsels that when conflict comes, we should be grateful -- not only for the conflict, but for our opponent. "Our worst enemies have the potential to become our best teachers." When we forget this and turn our opponents into "things", then "the legacy is so long. ... We run into situations that not only live with us but live with those that follow us. How many generations does it take for a family to overcome physical and sexual abuse? When do we as a species recover from slavery, the Holocaust, and other forms of genocide?"
Deidre is the author of three books -- The Way of Conflict; Worst Enemy, Best Teacher
and Thriving Through Tough Times.
She has served as a professor at Montana State University for over a decade teaching intercultural leadership and critical thinking. Since 2007, she has also provided intensive leadership training to more than a thousand State Department, Muskie Foundation and Carnegie-selected students, K-12 teachers, activists and professionals from just about every country in the world. She has been a guest instructor at La Universidad de Sagrado Corazon, Puerto Rico, El Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico, and PP International School, India. She also teaches Dialoguing in Global Education for Columbia University new Global Competency Certificate masters program
As a management consultant, executive coach and mediator, she has worked with a variety of corporate, government and NGO clients including Aveda Corporation, US Postal Service, IBM, Agenda Ciudadana and Landmine Survivors Network. She has been a featured keynote speaker at the US Forest Service, Montana Library Association, and TedxBozeman.
She holds a BA in Mathematics and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a master’s degree in Information Systems Technology from George Washington University, and a doctorate focused on world religions from UCS/Naropa University.
Five Questions with Deidre Combs
What Makes You Come Alive?
Working with rising international leaders and supporting them with leadership, dialogue and conflict resolution skills. Getting to share what I have learned through teaching and writing. Supporting transformative dialogues around polemic current issues for State Department-sponsored fellows, in religious communities and in Mexico as students wrestle with the effects of the drug trade. I love to provide skills and avenues as a teacher, author and coach that turn challenges into amazing opportunities for growth and leadership.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
I was a project manager for IBM close to twenty years ago. I was coordinating the rollout of a very "bleeding edge" product that our dozen customers had bet their own careers on. IBM couldn't justify continuing product development and at our annual conference a few executives announced this unwelcome news. Clients were walking out or worse sittting in silence. I had worked with them from the beginning and many had become friend-colleagues. I had had no conflict training, but I think because I was supposed to be leading the meeting, and I cared for these clients, I started asking the questions I knew the clients wanted to ask but weren't. I then found myself translating from IBM language into hospital language what I was hearing. The meeting shifted markedly and the conversation opened. By the end, new creative solutions emerged. Conflict suddenly held opportunity and I was hooked on finding out what I had somehow done!
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
While walking the Camino de Santiago for 4 years ago, my son and I landed at an albergue late in the day made for 30 pilgrims. The hospitalero, or host's actions I never want to forget. We became the 46th and 47th pilgrims, which seemed impossible to accomodate. It was hot and busy in this small 300 year old home, but our host seemed unperturbed. Instead of bustling and worrrying, Jose Luis sat us down and asked after our feet and health. He acknowledged how far I had come from Montana to do this walk with my son; Americans were rare in those days. We visited and then with each of us, we had arrived in a group of 7, he somehow found each a perfect corner to sleep on a mat. Day in and out Jose Luis has continued in this manner for at least 15 years. My son helped him for a few weeks the following summer and I visited him last week while walking again. I found in the same sweater, wearing the same necklace gifted by a pilgrim cleaning floors. Each he touches, he seems to transform and is my model of how to truly serve well.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Walking the Camino from start to finish in one shot, but doing that right now! :) Finishing a fourth book on how to use cross-cultural conflict resolution techniques to lead well over the long haul; a book to support the brave international activists with whom I have worked.
One-line Message for the World?
When conflict comes be grateful; it is where all new possibility begins.