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.
Margaret Thorsborne, is the Managing Director of Margaret Thorsborne & Associates & Thorsborne and Associates UK.
This blog is written in appreciation for and dedication to the vision and commitment of Theo Gavrielides and Vasso Artinopoulou, and their hardworking team at RJ4all (especially Iro and Alexandra) to make this event happen.
I'm still feeling enriched by my experience and attendance at this event in June. This blog will not be an in-depth analysis of each presentation of those who attended, but rather the narrative of my experience at it, and some conclusions about the process we shared and how it might contribute in some way to the development of robust dialogue around the work we do as advocates, practitioners, researchers and authors of restorative justice, in all its forms.
My first response when an email invitation arrived from Theo Gavrielides and Vasso Artinopoulou (Directors and co-founders of RJ4all) was to check my diary to see whether or not it was a possibility. I had known of these previous symposia held every two years, having been a member of RJ4all for some time. It looked interesting, and people I knew from various parts of the world had attended previous symposia. My diary said “no way” so I went to bed that evening feeling a bit sad, and woke thinking that I really wanted to go. A few emails later having shifted some training dates in NZ around, I said yes. Good decision.
In watching the list of delegates grow over the next few months, I had (as usual) a small crisis of confidence…….wow, look at the folk who will be there. Look at their titles, experience, qualifications etc – what about what I’m proposing to talk about (restorative leadership) – will it cut the mustard? Thankfully, my session was programmed for the first day, so I could relax into everyone else’s. In any event, it seemed to go down well.
The press release about the symposium can be found here and the list of delegates can be found here, along with their abstracts.
The symposium week (June17 – 24):
The delegates and other guests (including our own families) attended the opening, fittingly in the ground of Plato’s Academy in Athens. I was never more aware of my own lack of education around ancient history in general, and the Greek philosophers in particular (especially Plato, Socrates and Aristotle) and their gifts to our knowledge and thinking about democracy so many centuries later. Dinner that evening was atop a restaurant overlooking the Acropolis. I also became more aware as the days wore on, just how many words in English are derived from the Greek language.
This image of Plato (on the left) and Aristotle (on the right) is from the famous painting The School of Athens by Raphael currently housed in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican……. I also found, when I went looking, this article about Socrates and his view of wrongdoing.
We all met the next day to travel by bus and ferry to the island of Skopelos, north east from Athens and part of the Sporades group of islands. This is not the usual destination of international tourists and as it was the week before the summer break for Greek schools, we weren’t overwhelmed by huge crowds. The sight that greeted us was beautiful when we arrived that evening. It boded well!
Sunday found us on a bus together doing the Mama Mia tour around the island. A day of sort-of rest before we began in earnest – and it helped us get our bearings in a geographical sense.
We had made sure we watched the Meryl Streep-Pierce Brosnan movie the weekend before we left :) , and were delighted to visit various locations where scenes from the movie were filmed (although the 220 steps up to the chapel here nearly did me in!). While we suffered a bit in the searing heat, it became clear that we were in for a visual treat over the next week, as Skopelos was breathtakingly beautiful. Skopelos is Greece’s greenest island, covered in conifers and olive trees with enchanting bays and little ports where ferries and private yachts pull in and moor.
We (the 18 of us from 8 countries – what a perfect size group) met each day in a different location around the island (monasteries, cafes, hotels, beaches, private gardens in homes of locals known to Vasso and Theo (thanks for that incredible generosity). We sat in circle and listened to/participated in each presentation (2-3 per morning) and this was followed up by debate and dialogue. A different process for most of us used to presenting in workshops and at conferences – no powerpoints or whiteboards!!
Theo had hoped for “fire” in our debates – we finally got some towards the end of our week, as the “storming” in group development kicked in. What was noticeable for those of us who facilitate in the restorative space was just how much we take for granted the skills around respectful democratic dialogue, taking turns, sharing the airspace, being mindful of our own behaviours and the impact of those on others in our group. We met again late afternoon each day to process the presentations and further our discussions.
One thing I really appreciated was the contribution of delegates who work in very different fields and cultures from mine, and in particular those who were not even aware of how their work was actually deeply restorative. You only need to read their abstracts to know what I mean. And because I speak only an Aussie form of English, I was in awe of those who could deliver (and write about) their session in English when it was not their first language.
It was not all work and no play, thankfully. Dining out was terrific (Greek food in Greece is pretty more-ish); swimming almost daily between sessions in the cold clear waters of the Aegean Sea was sheer heaven in the heat of summer, and the scenery was to die for. Just hanging out with new mates was a treat. I also discovered the Greek version of the frappé to keep me going mid morning.
In summing up the experience:
For future delegates: