(All names and signifying details have been altered to protect embarrassment to these two people)
Restorative Practice is like the proverbial coin with two sides. It’s both about prevention and cure. Recently I wrote about the preventative side (check out "a stitch in time"). Well today it's the turn to look at the reactive side, i.e. resolving conflict when it arises. And conflict can arise anywhere at any time, even in the supermarket aisle!!
I was doing my weekly shop lately when I overheard a louder than normal conversation between two people. It wasn’t the usual chit-chat you expect to hear and I tuned in to see what was going on. As I listened it became clear it was between two workers and, as it went on, it was clear one was a manager or supervisor of some description. A casual walk past the top of the aisle (ok I was proper nosey by now) revealed what appeared to be the store manager and an employee, who I suspect was actually a supervisor (he dressed in slacks and a shirt) to make the matter worse. The dispute seemed to center around the supervisor’s use or misuse of their phone at work and was being trashed out for all between aisles 3 and 9 to hear comfortably. It went for well over five minutes (I must admit I did loiter in the pasta section for some time – all in the name of research though). And essentially the argument just went back and forth with both sides repeating their respective positions and hoping against hope, one can only assume, that they would wear the other down. This did not appear to be going to happen anytime soon, and one could well picture the scene afterwards in the canteen.
All in all, pretty embarrassing stuff to witness as a customer, and I can only imagine what the individuals thought after the dust had settled (one hopes there was a successful resolution by the way). Anyway this got me thinking about what it could have been like had either, or both, understood a little about restorative practice. Now before I go any further, may I say I've had my fair share of humdingers (not thankfully broadcast from the meat section of a supermarket though), but enough to bring some degree of sympathy and humility to their plight I hope. Furthermore, if I'm right, most people reading this will have had their fair share of arguments also, which will presumably have caused pain and suffering both to themselves and to others. I’m sure it happens in every office, every school canteen and corridor, every factory floor from time to time. Anywhere you have different people, you will have different needs and wants and, as a result, conflict.
These two individuals however did not appear to know how to handle the conflict at all. But then, a person doesn't know what they don't know (think about it for a minute). If you've not learned a skill, how can you be expected to execute it, let alone execute it under stress? With your restorative practice hat on (and with a little experience) however you know this can be different. That threatening “You” statement can become a softer “I” statement. The conflict cycle, which otherwise can go on forever, can be broken with a little self-awareness and self-reflection. And a person can learn to ask what exactly it is they need from the other person, thereby bringing movement to the conversation and a possible end to proceedings. It is important to remember that we have these skills and what they are there for. It doesn’t mean we’re going to get it perfectly right, but at least we are in the ballpark for progress, unlike our two protagonists from above. You can’t avoid the conflict but you can avoid the combat.
My name is Joe Power and I am the restorative practice development officer in Limerick since May 2018. I first came to RP in 2016 when it was introduced to the residential centre where I also work. I thought I would start to write a little about my experiences in developing both my own understanding of RP, as well as my experiences in trying to spread RP across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it. Also please e-mail any thoughts/comments/stories you might have to me at email@example.com. Thank you.