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"Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means"
- Ronald Reagan - former US President

Handling conflict and navigating difficult conversations are challenges we all face in our personal, community and working lives. Often we come away from such situations realising that we could have handled things better, but not necessarily knowing how to go about improving our understanding and skills.

The good news is that we can all learn the approaches and acquire the skills needed to improve the outcome of a difficult conversation.

Conflict is inevitable – it’s how we handle it that matters.

At times we all find ourselves in disagreement and conflict with others in our personal, work or community lives. These situations might be short lived, they flare up and are resolved, sometimes to the satisfaction of those involved, but often not - one person wins, the other loses.

Sometimes flare-ups are symptoms of a deeper rooted conflict – oxygen is breathed onto the embers of a conflict, flames rise up and then die down, but the underlying fire continues to burn. Eventually, breaking point is reached and relations fracture - individuals and groups refuse to speak, or people leave splitting families, communities and organisations.

Conflict situations are stressful and we are easily caught off guard. We react, rather than respond, and afterwards realise we could have handled the situation better. But maybe we shouldn't be quite so hard on ourselves. Recent research shows that in a social situation where we feel threatened, similar protection mechanisms are triggered as if we were being physically threatened - we are programmed by evolution to survive. Sometimes we fight and end up in arguments in the belief that we are right. Maybe we keep quiet to avoid being attacked or fear we might make the situation worse by speaking up.

Unfortunately, in social situations our natural survival instincts rarely lead to good outcomes. More often than not our relations with others are damaged. Relations between individuals become strained or break down completely. The atmosphere between individuals becomes cold and distant, trust is eroded and possibly people stop speaking to one another. This can spread beyond those directly involved causing individuals to feel isolated or people taking sides. Ultimately, this can result in valued individuals leaving communities and organisations, or organisations splitting apart.

Few of us are naturally equipped to deal well with conflict. We lack the ability to handle difficult conversations. The good news is that we can all learn approaches and acquire skills that help us deal with disagreement and conflict in better ways. We can use positive alternatives to our natural instincts. The same approaches can be used to tackle longer term problems to help re-establish lost trust and restore relations. These approaches are not just for dealing with conflict when it arises, they are life skills to be used at the first signs of disagreement and as a better way of interacting with others. They help immunise us against the worst effects of the conflicts that inevitably arise in our lives.

Our purpose is to make information widely available by supporting a place where everyone can learn more about dealing with conflict and handling difficult conversations. We do this through the Restoring Relations wiki. Our 'open source' wiki provides a valuable online resource and has information from many sources about how to go about handling conflict and the approaches you can use.

We also run workshops (currently only in the UK). Our workshops provide a safe place to learn new approaches, share experiences and practise the skills that help deliver better outcomes.

Workshops

Two people sitting having a conversation

Our workshops are designed to be flexible so that you get out of the day what is important to you and work in the ways that suit your learning style.

During the day we provide many opportunities to work on handling difficult conversations and practise your skills in a safe environment.

Our workshops focus on what you want to achieve, including:

  • understanding approaches that can be used to handle difficult conversations.
  • practise the approaches that might be used in a specific situation.
  • understand and practise the skills that help in a conflict situation.
  • make sense of difficult conversations you have experienced or witnessed.
  • prepare for a potential difficult conversation.

Prior to a workshop, participants are encouraged to consider difficult conversations they have experienced, or witnessed, and use this as the basis of their learning. For those who prefer not to work from their own experience other scenarios are provided. The Restoring Relations wiki is available for those who prefer to know about the concepts and approaches of handling difficult conversations before the workshop. This is an option, not a requirement.

The main part of the workshop is made up of a number of 30 minute sessions, where participants can work individually, in pairs or threes, or as a larger group. Each session offers three types of learning activity;

  • Doing – time to work on a previous experience of a difficult conversation, a potential situation that is likely to be difficult, or a scenario. This time provides an opportunity to try out new approaches and work on skills such as, listening, observing and questioning, in a safe environment.
  • Reflecting – time to reflect on experiences of difficult conversations, what happened in a Doing session, or covered in an Understanding session, and consider what might be done differently next time.
  • Understanding – time to study approaches to handling difficult conversations. This provides an opportunity for participants to make sense of their experience in the wider context.

Online Resources

As well as running workshops, we maintain a wiki for those interested in understanding and sharing how we can all handle conflict better.

The wiki includes sections on;

  • the things that help and hinder when handling conflict
  • a process to follow when dealing with conflict situations
  • experiences of how others have handled difficult conversations
  • the skills that help manage a conflict better

Keeping In Touch

To keep up to date with what we are doing please subscribe to our news emails. We send out about one per month with information about our progress and upcoming workshops. We do not share your information with anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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