Beth learned the art of compromise early in life. As a young girl she wanted to study guitar, her mother wanted her to study piano, and so they compromised with her studying art. In hindsight, it was a fortuitous move and the beginning of her ability to see creative solutions.
There were several strong women mentors and role models in her life. She studied art with a wonderfully eccentric and influential woman, Mrs. Jensen. Mrs. Jensen was an archeologist, went on exotic “digs,” and she inspired Beth to live an adventurous life. Beth left the Bronx for the HS of Music & Art in Manhattan and the experience opened up her mind to different perspectives as she interacted with a more diverse population.
Beth studied special education and art at university in Buffalo. After graduating, she took the requisite backpacking trip around Europe for 9 months. She became an expert (self-titled) on museums and churches. Churches for their stained glass windows and architecture. She fell in love with the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. She was very excited about his collection of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints and the paintings he made as interpretations of them. She wanted to paint and write poems in authentic Japanese calligraphy on them.
When Beth returned to the U.S., she studied Japanese calligraphy with a wonderfully eccentric Japanese woman. Another influential woman in her life. She introduced Beth to a family in Japan who wanted someone to live with them and teach their children English. Beth went off to Japan for 13 years over a 16 year period.
While in Japan, Beth studied sumi-e, Japanese brush painting for 6 years, along with calligraphy. The sensei -teachers- were like a grandfather and grandmother to her. At the beginning, though, she was struggling with adapting to the culture and the very different ways of being in the world. In the U.S. you are taught to be free, to express yourself through art. In Japan, the sensei would tell her, “This is the way to hold the brush, put on the ink, place the rock and tree,” and so on. She had been studying art for 13 years by that point and when he took his red paint and painted over her images, she was not pleased. Beth learned to shift focus and appreciate the experience.
This led her to studying and working with intercultural communications and conflict. She returned to the US and transitioned into working with adults in learning and development. Meanwhile, in her personal life, she married a Japanese man and had 2 daughters.
When Beth returned to Japan she began working for the McKinsey & Company Japan office. The economic bubble had just burst and there was a lot of focus on restructuring. As long as she “added value,” she was good. It was a fascinating, intense, and high powered environment. She had a chance to further develop her understanding of business practices, cross-cultural dynamics in the workplace, intercultural negotiation, and conflict.
Fast forward to when Beth returned to the U.S. with her daughters, bought a house, started a PhD program, her own consulting company, got remarried – very high on the stress scale. But her new career was forged. She was now more firmly planted in the field of negotiation and conflict resolution with a particular interest in diverse perspectives and intercultural communication. She works in the U.S. and globally, conducting workshops on leadership, culture, workplace conflict and negotiation. Her clients include fortune 100, the UN, non-profit sector, military, government, NGOs, and universities.
Beth began working at Columbia University in 1997 and full-time in 2002. She has directed the MS program in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution for the past 15 years. Her practice, writing and applied research are in three main areas.
One is in negotiation, particularly women and negotiation. She has collected research and experience coaching many professional women in the workplace and put it together in a new, practical book, New Stories, New Power: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiation. Her work needs to be practical because she started as a practitioner before moving on the continuum to being a scholar-practitioner. When Beth learns something new she always asks, “How can I use that?”
The second area of focus is workplace conflict. She has worked with groups that just want to do what they do better and with groups that are really toxic creating an unhealthy work environment. Starting with a confidential needs assessment she tries to answer the question, “What’s really going on here?” so they can co-create interventions on different levels. This could involve workshops, coaching, systemic change.
The third area is a focus on youth leadership, especially peacebuilding and transitioning out of conflict. Most of her work has been in Colombia working with youth and community leaders. She has had the good fortune to meet and work with an amazing group of very talented and aspirational leaders over the years. Many of them use the arts as a means of expression, social entrepreneurship, and sustainability. One of the ways in which Beth thinks she can add value here is writing to amplify their voices and provide opportunities for their advancement.
The threads from her earlier interests, travels, and studies have all woven together to create who she is today. When Beth looks back, it seems that it was all planned. However, not all of it was. Her MO was, if it was fun and interesting, she’s in. And here she is.