Be the one building relationships

There was a time when Anna Richards had a tendency to avoid conflict. Thanks to JIBC’s Conflict Resolution training, she now faces it head on and incorporates those lessons into her work as a counsellor. (Story by Wanda Chow /  Photo by Jimmy Jeong)


Anna Richards was working as a wildland firefighter when she got promoted to leader of a fire crew. But while she knew how to dig a fire line and use a chainsaw, negotiating interpersonal matters was all new to her.

“My strategy was to be ‘easy going.’ I thought that if I treated everyone like they already knew what to do, that they would feel comfortable and motivated and would just ask questions along the way,” she recalls. “When conflict arose, I just hoped it would take care of itself.”  

Ultimately, she learned that in that kind of leadership vacuum, people get confused about their roles and responsibilities. That experience helped her recognize that conflict intimidated her and that by avoiding it, she had not been as effective a leader as she wanted to be.

Anna left her firefighting career and went on to earn her master’s degree in counselling.

“When I decided to become a counsellor, I promised myself that I’d do whatever it took to gain the skills I needed to face conflict head on.”

Anna learned about the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) from a JIBC instructor who gave a workshop at her workplace and impressed her with his skills and ability to hold a room.

She was inspired to pursue a certificate in conflict resolution, specializing in third-party mediation. The Centre for Conflict Resolution emphasizes experiential learning, where students role-play difficult conversations with each other under the guidance of a coach.

“Each course pushed me further out of my comfort zone,” said Anna. “Having a coach there to give me feedback was incredibly helpful. I completed my certificate with a reliable roadmap for when new challenges arise, not to mention the confidence required to try something new. Perhaps most importantly, the whole thing was a lot of fun… challenging but fun.”

Anna now has a private counselling practice and is one of the directors at The Neutral Zone in downtown Vancouver. As a counsellor, Anna strives to make the client/therapist relationship a safe harbour in which learning and transformation can take place.

“I often tell my clients and students that I come by this work honestly, as someone who had to go through many growing pains along the way. My own frustrations are what motivated me to become an effective communicator and ultimately a counsellor and coach. Coupled with excellent support, including the instruction at JIBC, that motivation has led me to a career I’m very passionate about.”

Her conflict resolution training at JIBC has been indispensable not only professionally but also personally.

“The courses I took at JIBC changed my life in so many ways,” Anna said. ”I feel more confident now that when conflict arises, as it inevitably will, I’ll be able to stand on my own two feet.” 

For more information on the JIBC Centre for Conflict Resolution, click here.

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