of Aotearoa New Zealand
The relationship between the father and his adult son appeared on the whole to be healthy and working well. However, there had been some deep challenges throughout the years that put an underlying strain on their relationship. It all came to a head one night at the local club with verbal and physical outbursts between the two.
Restorative practice was recommended. Both came separately to talk with the Facilitator about whether this approach would be appropriate. The Facilitator agreed it would be a starting point for them through providing an opportunity for them to talk openly in a safe forum. They both agreed to initiate a restorative approach.
A restorative approach always involves two trained Facilitators who talk confidentially with each person involved and asks questions around the emotional impact on them, what their part in the harm is, and what they can offer to start to repair the harm. Facilitators also assess participants’ safety in bringing all parties together, identify support people and also consider who else may need to be involved. As only one support person was identified, participants agreed a support person from a local community agency would also be involved.
Restorative Practice Facilitators provided a safe environment for the participants to really listen to what was needed to be said. In this format they gained a new understanding of each other, acknowledged their own part in the problem and took responsibility in resolving the issues. They were then able to agree the actions they wanted to take, something they would not have been able to on their own, due to their strong emotional involvement.
As always the Facilitators followed up with the participants 6-8 weeks after bringing them all together. Out of the three actions they had decided, one had been carried out and the remaining two had been replaced with a more suitable action. This was encouraging as it reflected ownership by them finding a better action to help repair their relationship breakdown. In addition, the new action also supported the son to be a better father himself.
Restorative practice provided an opportunity for the father and son to re-connect and understand each other better. It also showed care, concern and respect for participants who were then in a better position to want to make positive changes.
“You are the first ones, since the formal investigation started, to ask how I feel about this situation.
“We’re not best buddies, and never will be, but we understand each other better now.”
“Restorative practice is new to me. It was difficult to begin with but I’m pleased I took part. I could finally see what made him do what he did and I could finally tell him how it [bugged] me!”
In a workplace experiencing a revolving door of ineffective Team Leaders over 10 years, it’s no wonder the team culture was increasingly toxic. Staff roles became blurred causing confusion, miscommunication, information holding and broken trust leading to a dysfunctional and unproductive team. Some staff left and replacement staff didn’t last long. Tension between two of the remaining staff became more obvious resulting in a number of physical eruptions. In response to formal complaints, the acting Department Manager and HR Manager commenced a formal investigation.
The long investigation revealed a number of issues and subsequent actions of performance improvement plans, mediation and others attempted to resolve the tension. After some time, it was acknowledged the relationship between the two staff hadn’t been addressed and also wasn’t improving. This is where restorative practice provides a positive approach to transforming the harm caused so that staff can continue working together in an improved way.
A restorative approach to serious breakdown in relationships, always involves two trained Facilitators who talk confidentially with each person involved and asks questions in relation to the impact on them, what their part in the harm is, and what they can offer to start to repair the harm.
Participants are also asked what their outcomes are from taking this approach and usually the outcomes are the same for all participants. Facilitators also assess participants’ safety in bringing all parties together, identify support people and consider who else may need to be involved.
In addition to the two staff members and their respective support people, the acting Department Manager and HR Manager were included. They were able to bring an organisational perspective to the team’s work and also hear first-hand the issues leading to the dysfunction.
A Restorative Workplace Meeting provides a safe environment for participants to voice their perspective on the difficulties and to really listen to each other face to face. When participants gain an understanding of each other and acknowledge their own part in the problem, they are more likely to take responsibility in resolving the issues.
In this case, following the exploration of various perspectives and the harm caused, the participants were able to discuss and agree the actions they felt were needed to start to repair their working relationship. As the acting Department Manager was present, they were able to receive immediate organisational support.
The actions were many and ranged from learning general communication skills, understanding each other’s communication needs, attending employer assisted counselling sessions through to learning anger management skills.
As always, Restorative Practice Facilitators follow up with participants 6-8 weeks after bringing them all together. There were some actions that needed more time to complete and others had been completed leading to some progress in improving their working relationship. The participants were still willing to ensure all actions would be completed and this gave everyone the confidence of future progress.
After many years of dysfunction with staff either “avoiding” issues or “attacking” others, restorative practice provided an opportunity for the staff in conflict to understand each other and therefore elicit the willingness to work better together.
A recent request came from Mayor Annette who believed a restorative approach could help resolve a tenant’s inappropriate behaviour at one of the Council’s housing complexes. The inappropriate behaviour had been occurring for over a year and when Council staff received complaints about the behaviour, they approached the tenant to resolve it. Unfortunately, the behaviour continued and as Council were concerned for the welfare of the other tenants, there were grounds for the tenant to find alternative accommodation.
Shelly Harkness and one of our Restorative Justice Facilitators, Rere Sutherland, implemented a restorative approach firstly meeting individually and confidentially with all those concerned to hear their stories about what they were experiencing. A number of issues were raised and the majority were not about the inappropriate behaviour of the tenant in question, but were about issues that contributed to it. Shelly and Rere decided the focus of the meeting, when everyone came together, would be to discuss the major issues of car parking, who tenants contact for particular needs and finally, what type of behaviour the tenants wanted to enjoy in the housing complex. The issue of the tenant finding alternative accommodation would be considered in private following the meeting.
Careful preparation before bringing everyone together led to a successful restorative meeting. Four tenants, a Social Welfare Worker and three Council staff experienced the magic of restorative meetings where the incredible tension and angst felt in the beginning was relieved through everyone sharing their stories and of course, everyone listening to others’ stories. There were certainly some heated moments! However, this is conducive in a restorative process where sharing concerns and releasing built up emotions in a safe environment, is the first step clearing the way for the group to then work together towards a positive outcome.
At the end of the restorative meeting, there were acknowledgements the process helped them to understand each other and what everyone needed to live compatibly in the complex. Council were to make changes to the car parking to alleviate that major issue, everyone now knew who to contact for what need (eg Council for landlord issues, Police for safety issues, Social Worker for welfare issues), and the group came up with a Code of Conduct to ensure appropriate behaviour was encouraged. Subsequently, the tenant in question had a meeting with Council and with the new Code of Conduct in place, did not have to find alternative accommodation.
A sound restorative approach always includes follow up to ensure what was promised in the meeting has been actioned and whether the changes needed had been sustained. Seven weeks later, Shelly and Rere were pleased to hear the following:
“everyone’s got the message [about the behaviour] and are getting on well now”
“it’s made me realise how I come across to other people”
“it was a worthwhile intervention…we could all see the reasons behind the inappropriate
behaviour and address those”
“it’s a good process”
“there’ve been no issues since”
“we’re not so closed minded now, we’re willing to discuss things”
The following quote reflects sustained behaviour change:
“[the tenant] has realised [their] behaviour was inappropriate and hasn’t done it again”
This example reflects how the principles of restorative practice can be applied in any environment where people interact. We’re thankful to Mayor Annette Main and to all the participants who were open and willing to resolve the difficult issues through restorative practice.
We look forward to continuing working closely with the Whanganui District Council, and other organisations / community groups in Whanganui to transform conflict in a respectful way. Every time we implement restorative practice we are working towards the Restorative City vision: creating an environment for all people to thrive and succeed together through respectful relationships.