Ep. 014:  Aldo Civico


Show Notes

  • Aldo Civico, an anti-terrorism activist, peacebuilder, anthropologist, author
  • 2003: met with top leader of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and became part of cease-fire negotiations. 
  • Build rapport and reframe conflict as an opportunity for growth
  • Instead of saying who is right, explore each other’s stories.
  • What planted the seeds to do this work
  • My grandfather in Austria during WWII, could be seen as a terrorist because in Germany he fought against the Nazis
  • He was heroic and mythic, he lived for something bigger than himself.
  • My family instilled the values of living for something bigger than yourself
  • The social movement against the Mafia was assembling and becoming vocal and active, a politician who was a mayor of Palermo was outspoken and courageous.  I saw him on TV and said I want to work for this guy.  I interviewed him as a journalist, and then I moved to Palermo and my journey started more actively.
  • Salmon Rushdie describes himself as a multi-rooted person, and I identify with that deeply.  Whereever I go, I put my roots and I feel at home. 

Working with intractable violent conflict

“I had the great fortune of working with a lot of perpetrators of violence.  Getting to agreement, “getting to yes” is actually not enough to make a lasting shift, especially if you work with more intractable situations.  The tools that conflict resolution was giving me were limited, the tools I had learned and been training were shortcoming in terms of making lasting and deeper shift. 

Tony Robbins

  • Curious to see what other people have used as tools.  I came across a video of Tony Robbins.  I saw the documentary on Indirect Negotiation, where he uses a variety of great tools, from NLP to hypnosis.  The effect was a lasting change.  These kind of deep changes are why I am in this field. So I emerged myself in Tony Robbins and that is how I discovered positive psychology, performance psychology.  There are tools out there that I can intertwine with the skills I have to
  • When I sit with a perpetrator or a victim and I am connecting with them and building rapport and trying to help, I am not really different from my everyday interactions I still have to have effective communications with partners, at home, with my students with my colleagues. 

Experiences in Colombia

  • In early 2001, I was associated with Andrea Bartoli at Seton Hall, founder of International Center for Conflict Resolution. 
  • I was asked to do a workshop in Colombia for a community who had gone through terrible massacre with death squads from the paramilitary far right.
  • I was excited to go into a war zone.  I read everything, I brought lots of notes. 
  • Then I realized that I couldn’t talk about the massacres, violence or peace, that I would have to be very neutral.
  • Because the paramilitaries were right wing, and the language of peacebuilding is more associated with the left, it might have put the people who invited me at risk. 
  • You use the language that you need to use. 
  • I was bringing my map and imposing it.
  • Everything I had prepared was worthless. 
  • Then I realized, maybe I don’t have to do anything. In that moment I understood that conflict resolution is about holding on and letting go.  I was not there to intervene, I was there to serve.
  • Storytelling is cathartic, so I thought why don’t we recreate the collective memory of this village, think about stories from your grandparents, your parents and your own stories. 
  • This connected them again and change the atmosphere and they were creative about what they needed to move forward
“I am amazed how a couple of simple tools can really help people to find in themselves the strength and courage that is needed to move on and how it is possible to create a space of peace even in the midst of the worst violence.”

Working with perpetrators of violence

The tools are self-awareness and listening with deep intent and curiousity

“I want to find out how you got where you are.  I never put a label on people when people are perpetrators, I would say 90% were victims first and perpetrators later.
“The capacity for rage and violence is within me because of my human condition.  Understanding that took away moral judgement of people and I was able to meet them as a person.”
The majority of us responding to violence in a peaceful way.  This doesn’t reach the headlines.  Violence and terrorism is actually a very small dynamic.  The majority of us do our duties with dedication as parents lovers and teachers and that is why the world goes ahead and is actually a good place to be.  We just have to be more aware of this peace capacity that we have every day.”


  • International Negotiator
  • High Performance Strategist
  • Author and Keynote Speaker

In the late summer of 2003, in a high-security prison of Colombia, Aldo Civico met with a top leader of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla. That first conversation turned into a series of encounters that eventually brought Aldo to become a facilitator of ceasefire negotiations between the Colombia government and the guerrilla. Shuttling between Colombia, Cuba and Washington D.C., Aldo used a variety of sophisticated skills in order to perform under incredible stress, to build trust with extremely difficult people, and to understand the model of the world of his interlocutors.

A powerful storyteller, Aldo enchants audiences from beginning to end as he shares the inspiring experiences as a catalyst for change from Colombia to Mexico, from Syria to Haiti, from Italy to the United States. Drawing from his work in the field, Aldo inspires people to become outstanding leaders by building rapport and reframing conflict as an opportunity for personal and organizational growth. His message of “Stop arguing over who is right and instead explore each other’s story,” exemplifies his approach and the philosophy top mediators use to resolve the toughest problems.  Aldo summaries it like this:

“In our complex and interdependent reality, leadership is a creative act. It is the ability to anticipate and to innovate. When you lead with your ears you tap into unexplored resources, you allow transformation to happen and you ascend to the next level of growth. In fact, you don’t get the life you deserve, but the life you negotiate. Thus, modeling the principles and skills of high-end negotiators, you can achieve top levels of leadership performance and be a catalyst for change.”

Aldo has 25 years of experience in conflict resolution. In the 1990s, he moved to Palermo, where he joined the anti-mafia social movement and worked as a senior advisor to anti-mafia fighter Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, designing communication strategies to promote a culture of lawfulness.

Since 2001, he has been involved in peacemaking in Colombia, where in addition to facilitating peace talks, he helped former child soldiers and combatants in their demobilization and reintegration process; and he strengthened the leadership and conflict resolution capacity of communities and organizations. Aldo has been advising local and national officials, as well as celebrities like pop star Juanes and soccer-star James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), who both looked for Aldo’s advice for their philanthropic works.

Aldo served as a director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, where he continues to teach advanced courses in conflict resolution. In 2011, he founded the International Institute for Peace at Rutgers University, where he is a passionate and engaging anthropologist professor and an appreciated mentor to his students.

In recent years, Aldo has broadened his contribution globally by helping family offices, corporations, and governments to upgrade their organizational culture, to resolve their conflict, and to connect with their deepest purpose and build a lasting legacy.

He is often interviewed by mainstream media on conflict resolution topics and the U.S. Congress has invited him to share the insights he gained on the frontlines of conflict resolution. He is an author of four books; his most recent one is The Para-State: An Ethnography of Colombia’s Death Squads (University of California Press) in which he shares the experiences and the lessons he learned from dealing with armed actors.

Because of his comprehensive and engaged approach to conflict resolution and negotiation, top mediator George Mitchell called Aldo “one of the most innovate leaders in the field of conflict resolution.”

Aldo Civico received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University.


Contact Aldo

You can contact Aldo via his email at Aldo@aldocivio.com.