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Understanding conflict and how to navigate it


Conflict is a part of life for everyone – whoever you are. But we’re not always given the tools to navigate it. In this episode, we talk to conflict experts about how to navigate conflict – and even turn it into something that can be a force for good. Listen in to hear what happens when we’re in conflict (or avoiding it), and how we can learn to navigate it better, plus top tips. 

Guest speakers: 

Brandon Ponce-Carvajal, Leap Confronting Conflict Youth Ambassador

Clifton MacDonald, Leap Confronting Conflict Senior Trainer

Sabrina Jackman, Parent Champion with Camden and Islington’s Violence Reduction Unit & Knife Crime Parent House Ambassador

You can listen on all the main podcasting apps by searching “Uniting Against Violence.” You can find us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube by searching for Uniting Against Violence, and you can email us at

Useful links: 

Leap Confronting Conflict 

Dr Gabor Maté’s The Wisdom of Trauma

Our funder and partners: 

The Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit

Islington and Camden Councils

The Parent House 

This episode was co-produced by Aldene Stone and Sarah Hutt, with editing by Sarah Hutt and Content is Queen, and the host was Denise Marshall.

Denise 0:08
Hello and welcome to Uniting Against Violence. We are a group of parents who have come together to create a podcast for parents and anyone else who is concerned about serious youth violence and wants to take action to reduce it. So our group consists of a mix of parent champions and ambassadors from London’s Violence Reduction Unit, and The Parent House, a charity based in Islington. I’m Denise, and today we’re focusing on conflict management, what conflict is and how we can learn to navigate it well in our day to day lives. So our guest speakers this week are both from Leap Confronting Conflict. We have Clifton McDonald and Brandon Ponce Carvalho and Sabrina from Islington’s Knife Crime ambassadors. So thank you for joining us today, I’m gonna ask the guests to introduce themselves. I’ll start with Clifton.

Clifton 1:05
My name is Clifton, Clifton McDonald. I’m one of Leap’s senior trainers, and I work freelance. And I’ve been with Leap for 13 years. My background is youth and community. And I’ve been working with young people for over 30 years in lots of different settings from school, young offenders institutions to PRUs, pupil referral units and youth clubs and youth settings.

Denise 1:33
Thank you. Brandon.

Well, my name is Brandon, I’m 24. I work with Leap as youth ambassador representing them with youth. I’m also opening up my own company, which is targetting youth and as well as that I work as a mentor, but that is independently.


Sabrina 1:50
Oh, hi there. I’m Sabrina. So I do voluntary with Parent House. I am a Knife Crime ambassador. That’s something that I’m passionate about, I want to understand a bit more about why these things are happening.

Denise 2:04
Okay, thank you. I was gonna throw out the question, maybe you can start Clifton, what is conflict?

Clifton 2:11
That’s a big question. And for me, I think conflict means different things to different people. For some people conflict is what happens internally. And it could be around making decisions about how they feel about themselves, and you know, the external world. And also external and actually conflict in relation to other people. I mean, if we’re talking about external, it could be, you know, disagreements, it could be arguments, which can lead to be bigger things. And in terms of the work that we do at least, we kind of look at that conflict can be something really, really small, to, you know, massive conflict that we see in the world. So you know, when we talk about war so and we see that’s really kind of really prevalent right now in terms of what’s happening in terms of between Russia and Ukraine, for example. So it can be very, very small. And I suppose let me give you an example, I remember working in a school. Young girl came to me, she was really, she was crying. And I said to her, “What’s wrong?” And in between the tears, she stopped. “I’m just having a bad day.” She was just having a bad day, right. And for me, what was interesting, all she needed was a little bit of time, I didn’t even have to do anything. She was fine. And she went out and she was cool. If you didn’t have that time, that bad day could lead to not only make even more conflict with herself, but it could lead to having conflict with other people. And so I see conflict as being inevitable, it’s going to happen, but it’s how you manage and how you deal with it that can have the most impact on it

Denise 3:49
Okay, thank you.

For me, just like Clifton said, it’s something personal and it’s something that could be exterior as well. You can find this in your workplace, in your day to day life, whether that’s through friendship groups, whether that’s at home, family relationships. I believe that conflict is usually something negative. Unless you choose to make it something positive, aka communicating with people trying to build up positive relationship and trying to actually find a solution to conflict.

Sabrina 4:17
So conflict to me, I would say, like what Clifton said, the battle within. That can be quite challenging, if you haven’t been given the tools, I feel like we’re not really given the tools. So that’s why the battle was more and if we actually communicated and got things out on the table, we can resolve stuff because we can resolve stuff, that’s what we’re here for so…

Clifton 4:43
and I think Brandon raised it, more often than not we look at and it comes across as being really negative. However, it can be a real, it can be a real source of change and transformation, if really worked with and explored. And also to say when you look at some of the major things, some of the things that we even see in the world, it’s because people had conflict and actually wasn’t willing for it to stay that way, and did something to make it change. You know, I mean, and I think that’s really, really important. So it can be a source of opportunity.

Denise 5:19
To sum that up, what I’ve heard with regards to what we feel conflict is, is conflict is either an interior, or an exterior aspect of ourselves. And it’s about the communication we have with others, as well as probably self as well. So how did you all get into working with conflict or in the area of conflict?

Clifton 5:42
For me, it’s been a real long journey. And on my journey as a leap, trainer and facilitator, I’ve learned so much about myself, and I continue to learn. My greatest teacher at the moment is my son, I’ve got a 17 year old son, every time I feel I’ve got something sorted or something lit, my son will present something that makes me recognize that I, you know, I’ve got some work to do. But I also want to say, it was through Leap’s model of looking at anger, that really got me, right. And when you look at the model of anger, it’s, you know, anger, it’s just a tip, and then there’s hurt. And then we’ve got look at what the needs are and fear. And I realized that most of my anger resulted as a result of my fear. And, and I’ve learned so much, and I continue to learn. And I love this work.

Denise 6:40
Cos one of the key things that you said there was about looking at self.

Clifton 6:44

Denise 6:45
I kept hearing that coming through.

I would say, I didn’t know what conflict was until recent years. It was bumping into Leap through one of my community members, one of the residents that referred me to a mentor program, a one to one mentor program, which was based around conflict and taken a dive into my own personal life was something that I hadn’t done before. And I hadn’t realized how much conflict I was actually going through my own personal life, as well as dealing with other young people’s personal lives that they were going through. So I guess that one to one session is what kind of built my knowledge, my care in conflict and wanting to help young people. Because for me personally, I believe that a lot of young people out there don’t realize what the word conflict is, don’t realize what’s behind it. So I ended up bumping into Leap, doing work for you Leap as a youth ambassador, building that knowledge more on conflict and realizing that you can find conflict in any place, including within yourself. So for me, after that, it was trying to better that negative cycle that I was constantly in and realizing that our mind is our strongest part of our body. And then once I’ve realized that solution of having a positive mindset to break that negative cycle, it’s what I then implement it to the younger generations.

So yeah, cuz I can hear once again, it’s about self.

Brandon 8:14

Denise 8:15

Sabrina 8:16
Again, didn’t realize I was in conflict, loved conflict, thrived off it, literally from a teenager to an adult. And I think when I realized I was in conflict, that’s when I was went into recovery. I had issues with drinking drugs, and realized I was hiding myself through this stuff, because I didn’t know how to be real. I felt like I’m gonna hurt that person’s feelings or do you know like. The people that I thought I was going to hurt was my parents. I didn’t want to be real with them because I didn’t know how to deal with the situation that I’d come from. So when I decided to hang up my cloak of different people, and actually stop living this lie of the different faces and went into recovery, I felt like recovery opened up a different world of conflict and people pleasing and giving yourself away and not filling up your cup. And not saying the word no. And I think the reason why I wanted to make changes because I come from a big family. There is cracks in the family. As we’ve all got cracks. But I’ve got six children, and I’ll be honest with you, I don’t want to live that type of life. It’s not good for, it’s not good for our mental health. I then decided to get in touch with the Parent House, slowly evolved with the Parent House, and I think they had a course with Leap. And you know, I’m not gonna lie I’m, I’m a bit judgmental when I get into something that I don’t like or I don’t know. It’s the fear. It’s the fear base. I want to do this and I recoil. But do you know what? The games that we did, I have never had so much fun. I think people got hurt as well. But it actually, it gives you the stepping stones that…I thought I had all the tools. I obviously didn’t. But it brought me back to the beginning of why there is problems. And why is the as a young person into an adult, I brought on these problems, because I saw the problems and avoided it. But I made the problems like it was for me. It’s not my stuff. It’s, that’s their stuff. And doing Leap just showed me I could deal with my children’s problems. Because again, I was avoidant, I didn’t want to deal with stuff. So it now has given me the tools to say and to be able to deal with stuff and not be avoidant. You know, a little bit of avoidance is there, but I can recognize it. And I’ve got a really gracefully say thank you to Leap actually.

Denise 11:00
Well, I guess that’s a really good advert for you anyway [laughter]. Because I was gonna ask you, how can you learn to manage conflict better? I’m seeing that there’s tools [laughter]. So could you just tell us how?

I feel like for me, in particular, it will probably be the mindset. A lot of us tend to put ourselves in that negative mindset. “I can’t do this, I’m ugly, and so on and so on.” Especially when it comes to conflict with other people as well. We tend to not want to surrender or want to be the bigger person. We want to be heard, we want to be seen, we want to be….So I feel like if we can maybe control our mindset, the way we think and process things, maybe, like there’s that saying, think before you speak. Trying to find a positive solution to that negative situation.

I like that, think before you speak, very important message.

Clifton 11:53
For me, what’s interesting, I’m what I love about the work is that first, we start with self. As a trainer, I’m always very clear that this isn’t about me, this is about you. And actually you’re the experts in your own life. And so the approach is, if what you’re doing is working for you, and getting you the outcomes you want, keep to it, you know what I mean? But if what you’re doing isn’t getting you the outcome that you want, then just, you know, you need to maybe stop and look at what is it. And for some people, they don’t even know what the outcome we, they want. So we begin to build relationships, we begin to look at: who am I? What makes me tick, what is it I want? And so the games and the and the exercises are things to begin to explore some of that.

Denise 12:44
What kind of strategies could help within dealing with that, or looking at self to understand those conflicts?

Clifton 12:51
I mean, one of Leap’s real core exercises or exercise called red flags. And red flags is to become aware about what triggers you in a conflict situation. What do people say, do or not do, that might trigger you. And then, what we do, we kind of actually roleplay that. I mean, because to give an example, one of my red flags is being ignored by my son, right? I’m talking to try to get his attention, and whatever it is, he’s ignoring me. Now, my immediate reaction is that I feel frustrated, I feel angry, I feel disrespected, and all of that. And I feel that. And then it’s also to notice, where do I feel that in my body? Yeah. And even when that happens, I feel, I tense up, right? I almost feel like I clench my face, right, as an example. And then, then, my thought process is also kind of going, and “I think you’re rude” and you know, and I kind of think, “How dare you?” and all of that kind of thing. And so what we get people to do, even with that, is to notice what’s going on with your body. What’s your thought process? And it’s one of those things that you act on. So if I feel that you’re really disrespecting me, and that’s a trigger for me, that that feeling disrespected, in the moment, is like, “How dare you” or “You’re out of order, blah, blah, blah,” it can get me to react. Yeah. And I say, the body gives us clues. Yeah. It gives us cues and clues about what’s going on. And so I even know at the stage, if certain things start happening to my body, it’s like, that’s a sign. Right? There’s something and then I’ve got a choice about what I do with it. And so that’s kind of an example of a trigger.

Denise 14:44
Yeah I was going to say that word trigger, so it’s the mind body connection.

Clifton 14:47

Denise 14:48
Yeah and just managing it when it comes up.

Clifton 14:51
And it’s not even about managing it. I think first and foremost, it’s about the awareness. Because if you’ve not got an awareness, then you can’t do anything. But anyway –

Denise 15:00
That’s what I was gonna say as well, the strategy basically would be trying to figure out what your red flags are. At the end of the day, it’s trying to find out what your weaknesses are. Because at the end of the day, I feel like us as humans, we don’t like to go to our negative spots, we tend to run away from it. So I feel like good advice for a strategy will probably be going into yourself and trying to see what certain things might upset you, might be a fear to you, because all of these things are what brings up the conflict.

Sabrina 15:31
It’s delving into the unknown. It’s so real, you don’t realize the impact it has. And what you project on to others and how you respond because you’re, you’re so in flight and fight mode, because that’s the fear that comes up from that. The way I’ve changed the way my mindset is like: do you know what? If something does make me feel frustrated, or gives me anxiety or whatever the case may be, right, I’m not going to tackle how I would, which would be to beat someone up or to abuse them, or whatever it is. [Instead] You know what, this has got me angry, I will complain about it or whatever. And then that helps me because I’ve dealt with that. I’ve not left that in limbo, I’ve not just left it at where it’s hanging, I’ve just realized that it actually is good to deal with stuff like this. I’ve seen the goodness for it now. It’s good. It’s amazing.

Clifton 16:27
And I think the other thing is, it’s about slowing it down. Because when I’m triggered, yeah, and even from doing this work, something could happen in an instant. Right? And my reaction will be almost instant. So the point, I mean, sometimes why we might do a certain thing is to slow it down. Because I mean, if somebody say really asked me what was going on, I couldn’t tell them. Right. But if it’s slowed down, I can get really in touch with what’s really going on.

Denise 16:59
How can we help young people learn these skills, because I mean, I can hear how it can help. Just want you to tell the listeners how they can help their young people to look at conflict.

Conflict is something that should be spoken about to young people quite often. That’s what I’m looking to do within my own business, trying to give these one to one’s on conflict as well to young people so that they can also get an understanding on what it is. Because a lot of young people go through it, they know a basis of what it is but they don’t know the full in depth. And if they maybe had a strategy, like if I had a strategy or had known the things that Leap had told me when I was younger, I would have possibly been able to prevent certain outcomes that didn’t end so well and ended up negative. I confronted a conflict, for example. One of mine was not understanding how my brother had passed away. And what was the reason behind it. From what I had known about it, it was sort of just a gang issue, he was a part of a gang, he had got killed because of money, drug situations. And then unfortunately, only this year, I had got told that it was somebody within my own family, like my own family member, that was in a different gang, got him, my own brother, set up, in other terms. And it was all due to a hierarchy, lower-archy, who’s in a higher position, who’s not. Due to poverty, the lack of money. So kind of being confronted with that conflict, it was like, what should I do? I didn’t know what to think really. It was kind of, on top of that, fighting BPD, which is borderline personality. Which is suffering, so suffering from social anxiety, depression, self harm. So this was kind of a point in my life where I kind of realized that conflict was intense. The way I managed to get around, it was (like I kept saying) positive thinking or mentality is the most strongest part of our body. So if I can make a positive outcome of what I seen or experienced, then I know I can possibly change how are things. And now I don’t think of it as so bad. I know who I can trust, who I can’t trust. That’s why I believe that trust is something that you need to have with young people because if a young person can’t trust you, they can’t open up the cause be they can’t feel comfortable around you. It prevents a lot of doors to open up for you. So yeah.

Trust and love.

Sabrina 19:36
That’s the basis of life.

Clifton 19:38
But also, not making sometimes how they feel be wrong. I think that’s also one of the things that actually, part of how young people feel, I mean, you know, and we look at it, and for me…..some of them every right to be angry. There’s a lot to be angry about. Trying to kind of minimize it and squash it and all of that is not getting it done. So it’s acknowledging that, “You know what? You’ve got a right to be angry.” Some of the young people have been let down consistently by adults who are supposed to support them. You know, I mean, consistently. You know, for me, when I hear their story, it’s like, I kind of think “I’m a big man.” Yet still, if that was happening to me, I’d get angry. So let’s not, you know, pretend. I think that’s the other thing. I also like what I mean, Dr. Gabor Mate talks about. He does a lot of work around attachment. And I mean, he’s got this amazing video called The Wisdom of Trauma. And he says that sometimes we ask the wrong questions. We kind of say, if they behave a way, we kind of say, “What’s wrong with you?” as opposed to sometimes asking, “What’s happened to you?” Two different approaches. Two different questions. Because what’s wrong with you makes it seem like there’s something wrong with them, and all of that, but more more often than not, there’s nothing wrong with them, in its kind of broad sense, right? It’s what’s happened to them. And we also, in the work that, you know, that I love about Leap, is we say, “Behavior is information.” A child and young person’s behavior, they’re trying to communicate something to you, right. And some of that behavior has been developed over time, from when they were pre-verbal. So they haven’t got the words and all that. And then sometimes people come and say, “What’s wrong?” or whatever. Some of them haven’t got the vocabulary and all of that kind of thing. And, and so, for me, it’s about finding other means that we could then access about what’s going wrong with them. Some of them, all they need is just to be held, tell them that everything’s gonna be okay, in the best way you can. So I almost feel that’s what some of the things that, you know, we need to be doing. Developing the emotional intelligence. Don’t make conflict be that when things get really bad that you’re having a conversation with them. It’s about looking at what the different ways you can support and work with them.

Denise 22:16
I feel like, that being said, as well, I feel like just being ears to young people. Especially me, me when I was younger, I’ve always wanted to kind of express the stories that I’ve been through. So I feel like that’s another big situation, giving young people their voice, like, what is their story? What is their message?

Sabrina 22:32
I just think what you said about agencies letting down kids, I feel like, that happens so much, yeah, that to this day, I’ll say to my children, “Do not hold yourself ransom, where you’ve got an issue with authorities.” And the issue of trying to seek help – it’s about you and what you get from them.

Denise 22:55
The consistency is key.

Sabrina 22:59
And they’re never going to have that.

Clifton 23:00
And role modeling. I mean, you know, I always share in the… I mean, for me, couple of things: we will say to a child “Don’t shout!” and we’re shouting at the top of my voice. And it’s like, “What, really?” you know, I mean? And it’s a running joke that I have, that, you know, my wife and I have in our household: I can see my son doing something that I know is from me. And I will, I will do this, “I haven’t got a clue he gets it!” Right? She looks at me as if to say “Yeah” and…But even recognizing that, actually, sometimes some of what my son does is based on what he sees me doing. I can tell him, I could talk to him till the cows come home. But if he sees me going on a certain way, he’s more likely to do that. So if I want that to change, I almost have to be different for him to be different. So there’s that and I think as I said, we can be terrible role models.

Denise 23:55
Monkey See, Monkey Do

Clifton 23:59
The last thing I want to say as well, and I remember, even as a child, I would say, I remember growing up and I’d say “When I have kids there’s certain things I’m never gonna say or do.” I’ve broken every single one of those vows. And I kind of think, “Oh my God, I’m gonna becoming my Mum. Oh my God, I’m becoming my Dad.” And I’m thinking whatever and it’s like “Oh!” you know what I mean? And even that i’ve had tolook at – and so it’s not even surprising that patterns, family pattern repeats itself, definitely.

Sabrina 24:31
I saw something yesterday about, you know, trying to not be like your parents. Your parents are a part of you. So how can you not be like that? So the more you try to come away, it’s about picking up the positives of them and recognizing, okay, they didn’t know how to do this, but I’m gonna come in and do it in a different way. It’s just, you know, learning how to strategize their problems, which maybe could come into your world and just learn how to deal with it differently.

Clifton 24:59
And that’s the other thing I love about Dr Gabold Matte’s work (and just to say, for anybody listening, Gabold’s spelt G A B O L D and Mate M A T E. And he also talks about parents and parenting, that actually we do the best we can with what we know. You know, I mean, and I know, hearing some of my mom’s journey of being a parent, it made sense. You know, I had some real aha moments, right? And it’s like, “Oh, so that’s why you are.” So, I mean, and so that was really, really helpful. And all of that. And even the difference between how my mum and dad raised me, you know, I mean, I grew up with both parents, but my dad was one of 10 children. My mum was almost raised as a single child. And of course, there are different ways of being in the world. I mean, sometimes I think, because having five of us was a bit too much for Mum, you know what I mean? In real termsrealtor,

Denise 25:59
Because one is one?

Clifton 26:01
Yeah, she grew up as one. So she wasn’t. And so sometimes we were making like, “Oh, too much noise in me head!” [Laughter] Sorry. And so yeah.

Denise 26:14
So two top tips? Just two top tips each.

Sabrina 26:18
Look into yourself. And if you do, like we do have triggers, I think it’s important to come away from a situation if it makes you feel uncomfortable and look into yourself. Because there’s signs within yourself that will kind of show you why these red flags or whatever is coming up. I think, I wasn’t taught to look at self, I didn’t know nothing about self but I look into self and I know who I am. And I listen to self.

Denise 26:18
Mine will probably be, just, like you said, it will probably be self love. Like discovering you. What is it that you like? Or is it that you don’t like? Trying to get in depth about yourself. Because we all like to say we know ourselves, but how well do we know ourselves.?And the other one is just take a moment to just think about the situation that you might be in when there’s something negative. Try and process a positive situation and see what outcome you gain out of that.

Clifton 27:18
The top two, almost, is to start by asking the question, “Is what I’m doing getting the outcome that I want? Is it getting me what I want? And if the answer is no, then it’s something to kind of pause and think about. What is it you do? And I suppose then the other thing for me, I mean, top tip, is actually looking at how we both come win. Yeah? How can we both win? Because if I’m in conflict with something and I get something but the other person don’t, Right, then there’s a winner and loser. And of course, we don’t really…I don’t like to lose. So for me, if we, if we’re striving that we can both get what it is we want, that is reasonable, that doesn’t harm each other, that’s what for me, it’s about that.

Denise 28:11
Okay, well. I’m hearing: look into yourself. Discover yourself, self love of yourself. Think before you take action, as well as, you said truth. So that would be about being true to yourself and having that analysis. So thank you so much. We really appreciate your time and everything you said. I mean, I’ve actually been laughing here yeah? Now I wanna play one of those games as well. Thank you.

Clifton 28:46
Thank you for asking me to be here, it’s been a pleasure.

Denise 28:50
Thank you for having us.

Thank you, Clifton. Thank you, Brandon. Thank you, Sabrina

Sabrina 28:54
You’re welcome.

Denise 28:57
So thank you for listening to Uniting Against Violence, the podcast about reducing serious youth violence in our communities. We’ve put useful links for the things we’ve talked about today in this episode’s description. If you found this episode useful, please subscribe, share and like on socials at uniting against violence. You can find that on Instagram. And if you’d like to get in touch with us, you can also email us at Reducing violence is a big topic and we know we can’t cover everything and every perspective. So if you are listening to this, thinking about something we’ve missed, we encourage you to start conversations where you are. So together, we can unite against violence. This episode was coproduced by Aldene Stone and Sarah Hutt. Guest speakers were Clifton McDonald and Brandon Ponce Carvehill and Sabrina Jackman, with editing by Sarah Hutt, and the host was me, Denise Marshall. So special thanks to our partners, Islington and Camden Councils, Public Health, The Parent House and Crux, and our funder, the Mayor of London, as well as of course, Leap Confronting Conflict and our guest speakers. So thank you for listening and tune in for our next episodes.

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