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How to Create a Drama-Free Work Zone

Columnist: Vicky Ness
September, 2018 Issue

Vicky Ness
All articles by columnist

Morale is down. Rumors are flying. Everyone seems to be unhappy, but nobody wants to step forward and talk about it. So how do you turn that around?

Begin with a more restorative approach to your workplace environment, based on attributes of inclusion, equity, mutual respect and personal accountability. At the core of this practice is what is known as “restorative dialogue”— a conversation that ensures all voices are heard and issues are addressed with honesty and compassion.

At Restorative Resources, a Sonoma County nonprofit dedicated to creating respectful and productive dialogue models, the following process creates a simple, solution given one-on-one discussion. In the case of a more complex group meeting, you might need a trained third party who can facilitate fairly. So, how do you lead restorative dialogue? Here are a few simple steps to help you get started and manage conflict.

You can use the following process for a simple one-on-one discussion, or in a more complex group meeting with a trained third party who can facilitate fairly. How do you lead restorative dialogue? Here are a few simple steps to help you facilitate discussion and manage conflict:

Getting started
Prepare for the meeting. No one likes to be “talked to”’—everyone wants to be a valued part of a conversation. So first, ask if those involved are open to trying a new process for bringing more transparency, respect and equity of voice to finding solutions. Let them know you’re as invested in finding an equitable solution as they are. Most people spend more time with each other at work than with anyone else, creating an office environment that is more trusting, honest and emotionally safe will benefit everyone.

Clarify your reaction to the situation. Take a moment to check in with yourself. Are you ready to hear opinions that could take you by surprise, or cause you to feel defensive? Consider that you might need to be accountable for actions that caused or aggravated the situation. Then take a moment to acknowledge the best qualities of each person involved. After all, you’re looking for solutions to an issue in partnership with respected employees, not blaming others or retaliating for harm.

Acknowledge appreciation
Attitude is everything. Begin by acknowledging your appreciation for the contributions of others in the workplace, and thank them for taking the time to engage in the process. Reiterate that everyone involved has a right to expect their input will influence the outcome of the discussion, and that their needs will be considered fairly.

State the problem clearly. And be sure to keep it brief. Sounds simple, but being able to sideline your own opinions and emotions for a moment is one of the most difficult tasks of a restorative dialogue. Make sure everyone is on the same page about what happened. Share the facts as you understand them, and then ask if this is correct. This keeps the discussion focused on understand-ing the problem objectively, without assigning blame. At this point, you may need to access more information before proceeding if others in the discussion disagree with your perceptions. If all agree to the facts, you can move forward.

Discuss the impact on the workplace. How is the problem impacting everyone? How is it impact-ing the bottom line? Listen to everyone’s side of the story. You can include your feelings at this point, if you do it respectfully and take ownership of your own reactions. For example, if an employee is chronically late to work, you could point out that this is unfair to others who show up on time. It slows the work process down, which affects everyone’s job, and it feels disrespectful. By doing so, you’re modeling a dialogue that states the truth, but does so with fairness to every-one, honesty of feelings and respect for others involved in the discussion. Listen to everyone’s response without interrupting or talking over the person speaking. If you feel unsure about what you heard, repeat what you thought you heard. Then ask, “Is that right?”

Search for solutions
Offer a solution to the problem, and ask for feedback or an alternative solution. If everyone agrees to your solution, the discussion can be ended. If alternatives are suggest-ed that seem questionable to you, request time to give it thought and promise to meet again. At this point, you may need another discussion, or the situation may need to involve more support to bridge the gap in understanding. But either way, you have agreed on the dynamics of a problem, have heard each other out and considered or agreed to the solutions.

There is always a possibility, of course, that the issue is so toxic and damaging that filing a report with your human resources department is your only option. But using these simple strategies over time, will help create a workplace environment that allows everyone to feel safe and respected, and ensures honest accountability for actions. You will probably also find that motivation and team relationships increase, while filing of grievances and destructive behavior diminish. And now you’re on your way to creating a drama-free work zone.

Vicky Ness is a freelance writer who works with Restorative Resources, a Sonoma County based nonprofit that helps to solve problems and build bridges of communication through restorative discussion practices. For more information about Restorative Resources, visit



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