Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series
“Foundation of Conflict Resolution”
with Jennifer Campbell of Abrome
[00:00:02.250] – Jennifer
Hello and welcome once again to everyone. Thanks so much for joining us. My name is Jennifer Campbell and I am in Austin, Texas, where it’s a balmy 79 degrees and getting balmier by the minute. And I have been a learning facilitator for just under a year now. I came straight from a master’s program in social work and I was looking for a place to do community practice. What that means basically is aiding in the development and the sustainability of healthy communities. And I thought, what better place to do that than, you know, with a bunch of kids?
So today we’re going to talk about conflict. There’s a lot to conflict and there’s a lot of information in this presentation. So today, the agenda is first we’re going to go over just some general housekeeping and group guidelines. We’re going to talk about what healthy conflict is and why conflict resolution is important in self directed learning spaces.
I’m going to talk about what our conflict resolution process at Abrome is, the theoretical underpinnings and kind of the practices, and then we’re going to reflect and y’all can offer feedback, either directly or, if you want to, just privately message Abby. Because, I don’t know, you feel weird giving feedback straight to the presenter. That’s fine, too! So let’s move on.
[00:01:51.750] – Jennifer
What is healthy conflict?
We learn how to address conflict by watching our peers and our caregivers and authority figures, from a very young age. And in many cases we observed conflicts that included aggressive words and actions, avoidance of the conflict entirely, or the interruption of authority figures who removed our ability to resolve the conflict ourselves and to develop conflict resolution skills as a result.
Addressing conflict in a healthy way requires two main ingredients: a supportive community environment and the development of several skills. (Well, I guess each skill could be an ingredient. But.)
The main skills needed are as follows: first of all, mindfulness. Mindfulness in this context means the ability to observe your thoughts, feelings and reactions. This is a big part of creating a trauma-informed, psychologically safe space. If you have questions about trauma-informed spaces, I have a whole other hour and a half on that, but I’m happy o talk about it more later.
But basically, all trauma-informed means is that we recognize that we’re all coming with different histories, and different stories, and different experiences of trauma. And we want to make sure that it’s a safe space for everybody. Not coddling everybody, of course, but recognizing that we all react to things in different ways and and often when we’ve experienced trauma, we can’t heal unless we feel safe. So that’s just a little bit about what a trauma-informed space is.
[00:04:02.610] – Jennifer
So, we all tell ourselves stories about what we’re feeling, and these stories affect how we react to those feelings. When we’ve experienced trauma or another emotionally charged event, those stories carry extra emotional weight. And so different sensory stimuli that remind us of these events can activate our stress response. It can be anything from a smell or a place or a word or a movement. But anything like that, any kind of like sensory stimulus. That’s why they’re called triggers.
When we practice mindful observation of our reactions, we start to recognize these triggers for ourselves and we start to hear the stories that we tell ourselves. So mindfulness helps you to to understand what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, maybe not why, but what, at least.
And so this leads to the next skill, which is de-escalation. Another term for the human stress response is the fight-flight-freeze-fawn response. Practicing mindfulness helps us to identify which response we go to when we are in that stressed survival mode. For example, I know that I tend to freeze in stressful situations.
[00:05:36.570] – Jennifer
And so when we’re in conflict with someone, then often we get into that survival mode, so we’re thinking about our survival and it may not seem like being-ready-to-defend-myself-from-a-bear survival, but the stress response is the same. Whether you are seeing a bear in front of you or staring down a deadline, it might be, like, in bigger or smaller measures, but that stress response, it’s the same mechanism in our bodies.
Young people are still learning about their feelings and it’s the adults’ responsibility to first calm themselves down and learn those techniques to self soothe. People have different techniques and you find what works for you. It can be taking deep breaths, taking a break from the situation. And then it’s also the adults’ responsibility to help the young person to develop those self-soothing skills as well and to support and scaffold when those skills are still being developed. So, that’s part of de-escalation.
[00:07:01.220] – Jennifer
Next is active listening. That means showing the other person that you are mentally and emotionally engaged with what they’re saying. Some ways of practicing active listening are paraphrasing the other’s words to make sure you understood them, showing through your body language that you’re listening, like nodding your head, facing the person with your whole body, putting down your phone and also using eye contact, if that’s comfortable for you. Basically showing the person with your whole body that you are engaged in the conversation and not just thinking about what you’re going to say next.
Feeling identification helps us to understand how we are reacting in the moment and the more precisely we can identify our feelings, the better we understand our reactions. For example, saying “I’m mad”, telling myself “I’m feeling mad” gives me information. But telling myself that I am feeling sleepy and irritated and confused tells me, “OK, well, I’m not furious. I could just be dehydrated. I could have not had my tea yet. I could need a nap.” Identifying different feelings gives us more information about why we’re reacting in the ways that we’re reacting.
[00:08:35.680] – Jennifer
And finally, imagining the other person’s perspective. This is another way of saying ’empathy.’ So if I’m in conflict with someone and I’m focusing on getting my point across and communicating my feelings and I’m not listening to what the other person is saying, then I’m escalating the conflict. But if instead I have calmed myself to the point where I can actively listen to the other person, then I can hear their points and their feelings.
And I still might think they’re wrong, and I still might have things to say. But now I have prioritized our relationship over being the correct person who’s also the winner.
And I want to repeat that it’s OK to, like, need time to calm yourself, to de-escalate yourself. Like if you’re the person who’s in conflict, it’s OK to step away and say, “You know, I’m having a hard time hearing what you’re saying right now, because I feel upset. I’m going to take a break and we can come back to this later.” If you are mediating a conflict, then it’s your job to stay de-escalated so that the people in conflict will be able to hear each other as well.
[00:10:08.570] – Jennifer
And then finally, an unofficial skill is knowing when to walk away. Sometimes the conflict is not worth it. This is where your personal boundaries come in. So, for example, I recently got into a conflict with a friend. And after we had argued a couple different times, different places, I set a boundary that I would not discuss the subject of our conflict with that person. It was emotionally draining for me and I didn’t want to compromise our friendship just to get my friend to think like I did. So in that regard, it wasn’t important to our relationship for that conflict to be resolved and it was hurting our relationship and so I said, “All right, we’ll just not talk about it with each other.”
Another great example is road rage. If you haven’t been to Texas, it’s basically like the Alamo and highways and there’s a park somewhere — but mostly highways. And so if someone is tailgating me, then I’m going to let them pass. It’s very difficult to de-escalate conflict in different vehicles, at high speeds and road rage can get pretty scary. So knowing when to walk away is also an ego thing too, making sure that the other person hears exactly what you want them to hear is sometimes not important. So, another part of mindfulness.
[00:11:41.180] – Jennifer
These are two feelings charts that I have used.
One of them has pictures, and if you’ll notice, one is “sleepy”. It used to be like under “sad”, but now it’s under peaceful because like, I was doing this with the kids and they were just like, “I’m not sad when I’m sleepy” and I was like, “You’re right.” So I colored it green. But this is a really helpful way of taking big feelings like mad and then understanding more precise ways of expressing those feelings. And a lot of times the visual is more helpful than a list.
The one with faces can help people who are still learning to read or people who need support with abstract thinking. I actually found the one on the right, with the Lego faces online because I was trying to find one that didn’t have just words. And then when I found that one, the five year-old who was my consultant for the moment, he was just like, “That’s great!”. I was like, all right, we found it. He just thought it was like the most ridiculous thing in the world.
[00:12:56.050] – Jennifer
So why is having a conflict resolution process important in self-directed learning spaces? Well, conflict happens between any member of the community. It can happen between adults, between an adult and a young person, between young people. It can happen sometimes between a member of the community and the community as a whole. There are a lot of different ways that conflict can happen. Healthy conflict is a sign that you are getting vulnerable with each other and it’s part of growing as a community.
I remember the first time a learner got super annoyed with me and raised his voice at me. I was just like “Yes! You trust me enough to get upset! This is great, like our relationship is progressing.” In the moment, I was not thinking that, but afterwards I was like, this is amazing.
So, yeah, conflict happens between young people and adults. And children are people. That’s a big Agile Learning Network tenet. Just because a young person is smaller than me and may have different vocabulary or fewer vocabulary for expressing their feelings to me, that doesn’t mean that their feelings aren’t valid. If we are in community with each other, then we’re going to get into conflict, and it’s oppressive for me to say that your conflict is not as important as the conflict that, I don’t know, I would have with another adult.
And finally, displacing conflict doesn’t resolve conflict. What I mean by that is, if I see two learners who are in conflict with each other, I’m not doing them a favor by interrupting and imposing my authority and coming up with solutions for them.
I’m actually preventing them from developing really important conflict resolution skills and giving them confidence and their ability to understand and express their needs and their feelings. I do want to say that there’s a huge exception to this, and if there is violent or oppressive behavior going on, then I am going to step in. Because as a learning facilitator, I am responsible for the physical and psychological safety of the learners. So if the conflict turns violent, I’m definitely going to step in.
Similarly, oppression is a kind of violence. And just in general, I hold a lot of privilege in this society and I can weaponize that privilege by interrupting oppressive behavior. I can also interrupt the perpetuation of oppression by helping young people understand why language or behavior is oppressive, the history of that and what to do instead.
[00:16:27.650] – Jennifer
So conflict resolution in action. Let’s have some definitions. This is the theory behind the conflict resolution process at Abrome. Restorative justice is a noncoercive model of repairing interpersonal relationships when harm has occurred.
When you hear the term restorative justice in the United States or Canada, also probably in Australia, too, you’re probably going to hear the name Howard Zehr. He codified a lot of what was going on in Native American and First Nations justice processes and basically imagined restorative justice as an alternative to what he called the punitive criminal justice system. So this is something that has been dreamed of and enacted by many different groups and many different people. It has a lot of different applications.
But for the purposes of learning spaces, I think that the main things to remember are that it is noncoercive and that you can think of a triangle with the person who was harmed, the person who caused the harm and then the community in which they reside. And they’re all interconnected by needs and obligations. The needs of the person who was harmed are centered and the goal of a restorative justice process is to repair that relationship if it’s possible, and if the person who was harmed feels safe doing that. To hold the person who has caused harm accountable to repairing that harmed relationship, both with the person they harmed and with their community, and to hold the community accountable to supporting the person who caused the harm, so that they can be successful and reintegrated into the community.
[00:19:07.820] – Jennifer
Transformative justice moves beyond these individual relationships and focuses on the systemic ways in which groups of people are marginalized and oppressed. So transformative justice isn’t necessarily about restoring relationships, but it’s about supplanting oppressive systems. This is work that isn’t necessarily done on a micro level, although it can show up.
Like, for example, the process of building consensus in order to make decisions. I would argue that that’s an example of transformative justice, because in a democracy like this one, voting often leaves out, well voting always leaves out some people’s needs, because the majority rules. Even if it’s everybody voting for and one person against. And often what’s happened is that voting rights are weaponized in order to maintain the social supremacy of certain groups. So backing up just a little bit, transformative justice means saying that your learning community is part of a larger whole and is responsible for looking at the ways that you can supplant oppressive systems at home and in the larger world. And that’s something that looks region specific, but there are also groups that I can point you to if you’re interested specifically about learning more about transformative justice.
[00:21:10.160] – Jennifer
And then finally, nonviolent communication. This is a method of having difficult conversations that emphasizes each party’s needs and responsibilities. Nonviolent communication was developed by a man named Marshall B. Rosenberg and there have been a lot of responses and critiques of nonviolent communication. I highly, highly recommend that if you do end up buying the book “Nonviolent Communication”, then you also buy “Decolonising Nonviolent Communication” because it has a better way of expressing the fact that we are interdependent when we are in community with each other. Even when we’re not, we’re interdependent. But especially when we’re in community with each other. And it thinks about, it speaks about nonviolently communicating in a more embodied way. That’s not just about using the nuances of language.
So, the basic formula for nonviolent communication is feelings — or observations — feelings, needs and requests. So let’s see: “When I came home from work and I saw the sink full of dirty dishes, I felt defeated and disappointed and anxious, because I need a home that is free of clutter in order for me to be in good mental health. Are you willing to do the dishes on days that I work and I can agree to do the dishes on the days that you work?”
The main point that Marshall Rosenberg was making was, it’s kind of like turning the “I feel” statements that we often hear on its head. Like “I feel blank when you blank”. Basically what he argues is that even that is blaming, in a way, and that instead it’s “I feel blank when I see blank and I tell myself a story about it”. And so, again, there are critiques to be made about the fact that, you know, we are individuals, but we are interdependent individuals.
A lot of times there are feelings that come up because of things like race-based trauma or economic inequality. And those things aren’t our responsibility, aren’t the responsibility of people who are experiencing them and feeling them, rather. But the basic nonviolent communication formula is observation, feeling, need and request.
Also, nonviolent communication, usually if you are teaching it to someone, it takes like 8 to 12 weeks. So if this is still feeling like really inaccessible or not intuitive, yeah, totally, I get that. It took me a long time to understand, like, an observation without judgment. Like, “You left your socks on the floor three times this week” vs. “You always leave your socks on the floor”, the little distinction there.
[00:25:27.020] – Jennifer
The conflict resolution process itself. Every community is going to have a different approach to their formal conflict resolution process. But at Abrome, if learners or facilitators are in a conflict that escalates or maybe it comes up again and again, we ask – we being the facilitators, but also a learner could ask as well or bring it up, and they do ask actually and they bring it up – we present the option of having a conflict resolution circle.
This goes back to restorative justice and the idea that the circle has no point and it’s flat, so it kind of eliminates as much as possible the hierarchy between members of the group. Ideally, everybody has the space they need to to say everything that they need to. And it’s centered around what’s most important, basically, which is the community. Or sometimes people use [something] like a candle in the middle. But different ways of expressing that we’re all in this together, basically.
[00:27:04.090] – Jennifer
Restorative circles are used in many different contexts. And what I mean by this one is a mediated discussion between people who are in conflict that is mediated by a neutral third party. It’s usually a facilitator in our case, but it can also be a learner who’s not involved in the conflict. Each member in the conflict takes turns answering the questions I put up on the screen now and coming up with solutions going forward.
The process is always voluntary unless someone’s safety is at risk. In that case, a facilitator assumes the role of the community in the restorative justice triangle – the person who harms, the person who is harmed and the community they are in. So the facilitator enters into a conflict resolution process with the person who has caused harm, and that would be the only situation in which it would not be voluntary.
This process centers the needs of the people who were harmed, and so they’re never required to defend themselves like they’re in a courtroom. This is very much not like a fact-finding mission or like gathering of evidence in order to prosecute. This is just a de-escalated space that the mediator is holding, is opening up, in order for the people who are in conflict with each other to have a chance to hear where they’re coming from and figure out solutions together. So the goal here is not to avoid the conflict, but to find a mutually agreeable resolution that ensures the safety of the people who are harmed, repairs harmed relationships to the extent possible, and hold the community accountable to supporting the person who caused harm in their own kind of accountability process.
So stepping away from work, I actually participated in accountability processes among my friend groups. And I can say that it’s really messy and really necessary. As somebody, again, who considers myself a community practitioner, I think that it’s my responsibility to build different ways of taking care of each other in the world, and that starts with figuring out the mess that is accountability processes and restorative justice. Because, again, displacing the conflict does not resolve the conflict. It just interrupts it. The feelings are still there and the needs are still there.
[00:30:16.310] – Title Card
Questions To Ask During the Conflict Resolution Process
How did you feel?
Moving forward, what do you need?
Moving forward, what can you agree to?
[00:30:17.880] – Jennifer
So, yes, the questions:
What happened? I remember once there was a conflict between about five learners and they had all come up to either Antonio or me at different points to like give snippets of events and it culminated in a violent act. And so I was just like, all right, we’re going to figure this out. So we had all of the learners sit down, and I was kind of like, “All right, everyone talk about what happened”. And then everyone said how they felt in the situation. It was interesting because in that moment, the kids didn’t think that they were about to be punished, so I think there was an incentive for them to truly express, in their opinion, what had happened and not hide it or or rationalize it or or point fingers at different people.
And so what happened was each kid told a very similar story about what happened, which is really helpful as a facilitator, because then you’re like, all right, great. We don’t have to reconcile everyone’s reality. And it showed to me at least that they felt safe expressing their feelings and trusting that the community would help them to resolve what was going on. It kind of mirrors the nonviolent communication formula. You know, what happened? How did you feel? What do you need moving forward and what can you agree to moving forward?
There are different ways of saying this. We want to make the language as simple as possible for, you know, for people of all ages. We don’t want to turn it into a legal language where you can get trapped by agreeing to something that you don’t actually want to do. The goal is not to punish. The goal is to restore the relationships whenever possible.
And you don’t need to call a conflict resolution circle to ask these questions. The idea is for the questions to become habit, to become part of the culture of our community. So sometimes a learner will come to me with a conflict they’re having, and if they need help calming down, then I’ll help calming them down. And afterwards I’ll go through the questions with them, help them think — what would you say to this other person that would help them to understand what you’re feeling? Or what do you need from that person?
[00:33:49.080] – Jennifer
While I will not usually intervene in situations where learners are in conflict, I still want learners to know that their feelings are real and important to me and that they can feel safe venting or problem-solving with me, because ultimately the first main ingredient of healthy conflict resolution is a supportive community. That’s the groundwork. Any questions about that process?
[00:34:28.630] – Jennifer
More definitions! A boundary is a limit or a rule that you set for yourself in the relationship. An agreement is a boundary that the whole group consents to honor.
Consent gets trickier with the younger learners because at Abrome, we have agreements that every learner signs as a condition of enrolment. And with the little little ones, you know, it’s hard to say “You explicitly agreed to honoring the meetings, and if you hadn’t, then you would have gone to Parkdale Academy down the street!”, because like, no, they wouldn’t. They can’t drive. It’s interesting, though, because….there’s been situations where the learners are just like “Those agreements aren’t fair!”, but there’s never been a situation where the learner is just like, “All right, well, I’m leaving”, you know. That day may come. Sometimes they leave temporarily. One time someone was just like, “All right, I’m leaving the premises.” And it’s like, “All right, great. Well, we can take a walk”.
But basically, just saying that an agreement is a form of boundary. At the beginning here, I said that one of the group agreements is that this is an anti-oppressive space. Presumably if anyone had had a problem with that, they would have left. By moving forward, it’s kind of like Plato’s social contract thing where it’s just like, by living in a society you agree to its rules. Except I don’t really like that because we don’t actually agree to…anyway, OK, you know what, we’re not going to go there.
So the main thing that I will say about boundaries is that they are flexible as needed and they can change over time. They are not rigid. In my experience, I mean, I’m not old, but in my experience, it never gets easier to assert boundaries. It gets easier to know what to say, but it doesn’t get much easier to say it.
Another thing that I want to say is that boundaries aren’t something that we decide through consensus, because everyone has different boundaries. Going back to making a trauma-informed space, some people do not like to be touched at all. Some people like to be hugged by one other person. And then even sometimes there can be days where you come in and just like, “No, no hugs today at all”. So it would be impossible for us to create rules around, like, when you can touch people. It’s impossible to schedule touch, basically.
[00:38:03.270] – Jennifer
That’s also where a consent based culture comes in. At Abrome we want consent to be at the forefront of social interactions in our community. And so that’s why we have one very rigid boundary. I guess you could call it a rule, which is the stop rule. We say that if somebody says “please stop” to somebody else and that’s regarding their body or their immediate personal space, then the other person stops immediately.
They can stop and say “Were you kidding about that, were you playing around?” And that person can respond to make sure. But regardless, the person stops and that’s just it. That, I think is probably one of the only rules, other than don’t bring weapons, don’t act violently and don’t bring drugs or pornography to the space. Those are the rules. Here are some examples. We actually had a really difficult time for a while because of an instance of harm in our community, and this was the result of us realizing that we needed to be way more explicit with kids about not just saying what a boundary is, but like giving examples and practicing, modeling different different types of boundaries. There are a lot of different types of boundaries and if anyone wants, I can dig up, which I meant to, I can dig up the document where I got these different categories of boundaries. And so, yeah, we just have these posted around the space. I think there’s six different boundaries that we put up.
And then it just includes the definition of a boundary and the difference between a rigid boundary and a – what’s it called – like a soggy, porous boundary, I forgot what the what the word was that we used.
[00:40:51.600] – Jennifer
Boundaries and agreements are great foundations for understanding what might lead to conflict and as you get to know people, you learn what their boundaries are and sometimes you mess up and, you know, you work through it together.
I’m pretty proud of where we’re at now. I’m really excited to see where it leads in the future and really sad that we’re not in person right now. I’m really glad for zoom, too. Those are all my feelings.
[00:41:36.900] – Crystal
I had something about boundaries.
[00:41:38.630] – Jennifer
Oh, please. Please.
[00:41:42.630] – Crystal
The first thing is that, what I’ve noticed with a lot of our kids coming from public school or other spaces, even though they don’t have a good sense of their boundaries, because maybe their parents don’t really let them have boundaries or they can’t make a boundary around themselves because their parent is exerting a lot of control over them. So it’s important to have that conversation and talk about what are boundaries, what are things you can set as boundaries because, you know, they’re usually going to come to you and be like, “Well, they did so-and-so and I don’t like that”. And then you can kind of encourage them to set those boundaries and actually talk it out.
The other thing about boundaries that I’ve learned is a boundary is something that you do. It’s not anything that the other person does. So that’s important. When you’re helping kids define what a boundary is, it doesn’t matter what the other person is doing. It’s how you are responding to a situation.
[00:42:42.060] – Jennifer
Right! Yes, thank you so much, Crystal. Two excellent points. Just as we are helping kids to develop their conflict resolution skills, we’re also helping them to learn about their bodies and what feels safe for them and what doesn’t feel safe for them in different interactions and how to communicate when it doesn’t.
[00:43:11.030] – Question
[Start of Q&As: Why is it called Abrome?]
[00:43:11.110] – Jennifer
It is called Abrome, because ‘A B’ is at the beginning of the alphabet and Antonio wanted it to be first in all the directories.
[00:43:26.070] – Question
[Have you dealt with misuse of the ‘Stop Rule’ before?]
[00:43:26.240] – Jennifer
So, yeah, the part where it says, like regarding your body and your personal space with the “Please Stop” rule, I think we already had it in the language of the Please Stop rule, but we ended up talking about it in a few meetings. Because in that particular situation this learner felt very anxious and out of control in a lot of situations. And so, like if somebody was going outside and it was muddy, then, you know, that learner would say, “Please stop – don’t go outside.” Or like if somebody was jumping around, then the learner would say, like, “Please stop jumping around. Don’t do that. I don’t like that.”
On the one hand, their feelings are valid – they don’t like that, they feel out of control, they feel anxious, they feel worried that the place is going to get messy. And on the other hand, they don’t have authority over other people’s bodies, and there are different ways of expressing those feelings. You know, if you ask someone to do something like “don’t go outside” and they don’t do it, I think that’s where the language about respect comes in.
People say, like, “I respect others if they respect me” or “if you don’t listen to me, then that’s disrespectful.” That’s kind of tricky. That doesn’t really… I don’t really like using that language, because ‘respect’ feels very hierarchical. And yeah, I’m going to have care and compassion for other people and I’m going to give people my regard. And, you know, when I care about them, I’m going to give them more attention and regard. I admire certain people. But ‘respect’ feels deferential. I understand that when you have been in out-of-control situations, then it feels important for the people around you to respond to what you say and to listen to what you say. But again, that’s part of having a trauma-informed space is figuring out ways to help that learner identify their feelings. I mean, if you ask them and they can list their coping skills. That’s part of what we mean by de-escalation, is that when we’re not activated, then we know exactly what is good for us or at least close to it.
But when we are activated, then it suddenly becomes like, all right, well, “I don’t know.” Basically, just “I am not sure how to react to the situation except to fight, flight, freeze, fawn”. So that’s why we said with the Stop rule, it’s around your body and your personal space. Because we do sacrifice our autonomy in some ways when we join a community. We don’t do everything that we want to do. We don’t eat everyone’s ice cream and we don’t yell the alphabet at everyone ceaselessly all day. But that’s why we have agreements, because it’s just like “In what specific ways I’m OK with sacrificing my autonomy in order to be a part of this community”.
[00:47:40.450] – Question
[What if a kid doesn’t want to discuss a conflict or their feelings?]
[00:47:40.650] – Jennifer
I guess it depends on the context. I would say that, you know, if that person doesn’t have a safe person to express their feelings to, then that would be different. But if they do, then, you know, maybe they do know what they’re feeling and they don’t want to tell you.
The conflict resolution process doesn’t have to be “What happened? How do you feel? What do you need?” Maybe they know how they feel and they’re just like, “I just want to tell you what I need and what I can agree to.” We’re being really vulnerable with each other when we’re in conflict and vulnerability is scary for a lot of people and in different orders of magnitude. And so I think, like… Are you saying that this person is in conflict with you and they don’t want to talk about it with you, or like, they’re in conflict with someone else and they don’t want to talk about it with you or with the other person?
[00:49:05.670] – Jennifer
Those are tough situations [you’ve laid out].
In the first one, where someone who is causing harm doesn’t want to address it I think that goes back to the exception for coercively involving someone in a conflict resolution process. Like, as a facilitator and learner. Because in that situation, the facilitator is taking on the role of the community and they’re saying, “OK, you know, like, I can’t make you resolve this conflict with other people, but I can say that what you’re doing is causing harm to the community.” And if not individually, then we can address it, like, as a collective. Because if someone continues to cause harm, and doesn’t… Well, I guess it’d be different if they don’t understand that it’s harm. But if they understand that it’s harmful and they are unwilling to think of solutions, then, you know….I mean, we have agreements for a reason. We have boundaries for a reason. If the agreements aren’t met, then that person can no longer be a part of the community.
And the second situation…That one’s really hard because… I will go back to saying that you can’t make anyone do anything. You can assert authority over people. But all you can do [there] is model what healthy conflict looks like and let that person know that they are in a safe space. Both in your words and in your actions.
Like, I definitely relate to the “I don’t want to make waves” thing. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable just disagreeing with the way that someone was treating me or, like, a situation that I was in. And it took practice and it took therapy and other supportive people in my life letting me know that they valued me and that it was important to them that I felt comfortable and and loved. So, yeah. You can’t make a kid tell you how they feel. Unfortunately. In some cases, it would be really helpful. But especially when you’re thinking about a trauma-informed space, like, safety can happen in days or in months or in years. And it can leave and come back again. The healing process is not linear at all.
[00:52:38.740] – Jennifer
So I’m just reading the chat. Yeah, I really like what Alicia is saying, that’s awesome: depersonalise conflict resolution multiple times so the nervous system can be at rest while they practice going through the motions. Yes. Definitely.
[00:52:58.410] – Abby
[Bad audio edit!] Sometimes what I need to say is “Cool that you don’t want to talk now.” Like…you know, “Can I come check in with you at noon or would you rather I check in with you at the end of the day? It’s cool. It doesn’t have to be me. Which other facilitator are you going to talk to?” But with the kids who don’t want to make waves because they’re not used to receiving care or they don’t trust the space or whatnot, sometimes what I have to do is get real like, like…get submissive and switch the power dynamic. Doing that, like, “Hey, out of love, like…I’m suffering, can you help me? Please help me.” I mean and then they can say no, but sometimes that moves kids who were projecting authority on me in a way that had them shrinking and quiet before.
[How do you involve families in conflict resolution processes?]
[00:53:49.750] – Jennifer
Others can jump in. I think personally, in my experience, when we have involved families I kind of made myself available to process things, kind of like… like a group like Processing Circle and anyone who wants to can come and just talk. I have not yet encountered a situation where I’ve involved family members in a conflict resolution circle, but that happens a lot in other restorative circles and contexts. And I can definitely see a time in which that would happen for sure.
[00:54:39.660] – Crystal
There was a conflict going on in the… at the center and we wanted to try and encompass the parents, and that’s…it was a really good lesson that, you know, kids who have difficulty resolving conflicts are going to have parents who also have difficulty resolving conflicts. So, you know, it comes back to the… you know, they’re having difficulty for a reason. And when you try to engage the parents, you kind of have to go back and do a lot of educating them about what our goals are, what our purpose is, that this is not just like a punishment thing, this is a conversation that we want to have. So, yeah, we definitely…that’s what I found with our families.
[00:55:22.950] – Abby
So we haven’t done any where we’ve invited the parents in to problem solve all together. But there have definitely been occasions either when I know the kids and the parents and know that, like, either the story the kid’s going to tell when they get home or the way the parent is going to hear whatever the kid says is going to lead to like, you know, some kind of explosive gossip whatever…. Like, in those cases, I’ll try to preempt that by sending out just an email being like, “hey, just a heads up, this is a conversation we’ve had. This is what we’re doing moving forward. I’ll check back in with you at the end of the week with an update on how it’s going.”
Or if there’s a kid who’s in multiple, like, conflict resolution — we do “culture committees” in our space. If a kid has two or three culture committees on the same issue and it feels like the other kids are getting to a place where they’re going to start suggesting like that the kid stay home for a day or some something, then…then I’ll also send emails to loop the parents into what’s going on, give them a chance… Similarly, I’ll do the like, “hey, if you if you have any insight, if you can help me understand what’s going on, why your kid is struggling with this agreement? What…if there’s anything I’m missing, let me know?” But… yeah, that kind of stuff…to make it easier for you as the facilitators later if things do come to a head.
[What are some critiques of NVC – Non-violent Communication?]
[00:57:02.280] – Crystal
I appreciated the perspective on nonviolent communication, that there has to be some decolonizing for that, because it is a favorite tool of progressive communities, and then you have these other communities that just don’t talk that way and they find that kind of condescending. You know, I tried that with a couple of people who, like my family members, and to them, it’s like, “you’re using this academic language now to talk down to me.” And that’s definitely not the way that I want to make them feel. And yes, I love Marshall Rosenberg. I love all his things. But sometimes it is not going to be helpful if you have people who are not able to moderate or understand cultural differences and incorporate that into their practice of NVC.
[00:58:06.350] – Jennifer
Thanks, Crystal. That’s helpful, too, for sure. I think one of the things that… One of the critiques of NVC is just…like for people who are learning English, Rosenberg talks about very, very subtle distinctions in language that even I sometimes struggle to see. And I’ve been speaking English all my life. So, yeah, for sure.
[00:58:38.590] – Jennifer
Thank you all so much. This was a treat. It’s great to have people on both sides of the pond, as it were. And have a great rest of your Sunday.